By now you’ve seen the stats, the scouting reports and the comments about the Green Bay Packers 2021 draft picks. By observing the way General Manager Brian Gutekunst handled the draft, we can draw several reasonable conclusions that help to understand why the picks were made.
The Aaron Rodgers flap had no effect on Green Bay’s draft strategy.
Gutekunst apparently resisted any pressure to try to appease the disgruntled Rodgers by drafting a bunch of “weapons” for him. Of the nine players drafted, only two were so-called “skill position” players, and one of those was a seventh round flyer on a running back who will be third string. This was a draft that was going to be based on needs…..the team’s needs, not Rodgers’ needs.
The Packers evidently feel fairly confident that Rodgers will play for them this fall.
The fact that the Packers did not draft a developmental quarterback on day three, someone who could serve as Jordan Love’s back-up, indicates one of the following things:
They feel good that this whole Rodgers thing will blow over and they will negotiate his return this summer, and they will be okay with Rodgers and Love as signal callers.
There is already a deal in the works that involves another quarterback if they are forced to trade Rodgers.
There is an undrafted free agent out there they like as Love’s back-up if the second year signal caller has to start.
Gutekunst did say the team will add one and possibly two camp arms before practices begin.
The Packers don’t really anticipate David Bakhtiari will be available to open the season and have serious concerns about the quality of depth in their offensive line.
This explains the triple dip at the offensive line positions. The selection of Josh Myers in the second round means they would prefer not to have to move a current starter over to center. They were looking for someone to plug and play there immediately. This would allow other veterans to stay in their established positions. Picking Royce Newman in round four and Cole Van Lanen in the sixth upgrades the quality depth, with both being able to play tackle or guard. This means last year’s late round OL picks, Simon Stepaniak and Jake Hanson, along with UDFA Yosh Nijman, will face a battle to retain their place on the team, especially when Bakhtiari returns.
Matt LaFleur wants a true slot receiver.
Since the departure of Randall Cobb, Green Bay has lacked a receiver with the measurables designed for the slot. They have rotated Davante Adams, MVS, Allen Lazard and EQ at the position. But in round three Gutekunst traded up seven spots to grab Clemson receiver Amari Rodgers. At a smidge over 5’9” and 212 lbs. with 4.4 speed, Rodgers is prototypical for the role. Green Bay has long held to a height standard for its receivers, but coach LaFleur obviously wants an exception he can line up all over the field with focus on the slot. A self-described “gadget guy”, Rodgers would also seem the perfect replacement for Tyler Ervin as the jet sweep and pre-snap motion player.
The Packers feel they need to upgrade at the slot corner, or “star” position.
Chandon Sullivan is the returning starter at nickel back, but In the first round, Gutekunst passed up defensive line and offensive tackle prospects to take cornerback Eric Stokes. The expression I keep seeing connected to Stokes is “freakish athlete”. His incredible 4.2 speed and long arms make him ideally suited to compete for Sullivan’s job. The slot corner covers a receiver who comes out to the middle of the field and can cut to either side, or accelerate down the seam. Stokes’ has the recovery speed to react to the cut and maintain coverage. There is another possibility. If the coaching staff likes Stokes as an outside corner, they could move him out there and move Jaire Alexander to the star.
Then, in round five, Green Bay moved to bolster the secondary even further by taking small school DB Shemar Jean-Charles. Gutekunst says he, too, has the talent to play inside and will get a look there. The Packers may also see him as a depth upgrade over Josh Jackson and Ka’dar Hollman on the outside.
Gutekunst wanted no part of the defensive line prospects in this draft.
Despite D-line being a major need, the Green Bay GM refused to reach for a prospect in the first four rounds, settling for massive Tedarrell Slaton of Florida in round five, a value at that tier. It was simply not a good year for this position, as illustrated by the Packers passing on players like Christian Barmore and Levi Onwuzurike. Slaton will be a boulder of granite that will be difficult to move out of the way against the run. He will come off the field on passing downs, so he is rotational at best. The Packers will need to look further to improve the D-line room.
Green Bay continues to place low value on the inside linebacker position.
As it currently stands, the Packers starters at IDL are undrafted free agent Krys Barnes, and fifth round pick Kamal Martin. Both had promising moments in their rookie seasons, but many felt this was an area in need of upgrade. Gutekunst addressed it only in the sixth round with the selection of Isaiah McDuffie. Reading the scouting reports, McDuffie sounds a lot like Ty Summers. Great speed, runs sideline to sideline quickly, gets to the ball, but has trouble with angles and closing the deal. Struggles to cover well. Gutekunst did say after the draft he would like to have addressed ILB in earlier rounds but the board did not fall that way. He says the team will continue to mine the free agent market to look for upgrades.
Running back was the last position addressed, but may be the most effective one.
The number three running back spot behind Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon is wide open. The candidates are Dexter Williams, Patrick Taylor and Mike Weber. Enter Green Bay’s seventh round pick, Kylin Hill. This seems to be a great find at the bottom of the draft. You can’t be a slouch and lead the rugged SEC in rushing, which he did in 2019. Gutekunst no doubt noticed his running for over 1,300 yards that year, but what may have caught his eye even more was Hill’s pass catching prowess. In 40 games, he caught 67 passes for 631 yards and six scores. A pass catching running back who is strong enough to run with power. Sound familiar? Yes, the Packers see Hill as another Jamaal Williams. I have a feeling this is going to be the most pleasant surprise of the 2021 draft.
Special teams ability played an important role.
What is the common thread among Eric Stokes, Amari Rodgers, Shemar Jean-Charles, Isaiah McDuffie and Kylin Hill? The answer is speed and athleticism, two of the qualities that make a good special teams player. It seems evident Gutekunst was drafting with an eye toward players that could upgrade his kicking units. Stokes, Rodgers and Hill may all get a look at the kick returner post.
In a year when teams could not get much in-person contact with prospects because of Covid protocols, it was clear the Packers leaned toward proven big school programs with a history of success. Eight of the nine picks were from Power Five conferences, four of them from the SEC, widely considered to be the premier college league.
This was not a sexy draft for the Packers, but it addressed needs in the secondary, offensive line and special teams. Now we wait to see how this quarterback mess plays out to know what kind of team we really have in 2021.
Ken Lass is a former Green Bay television sports anchor and 43 year media veteran, a lifelong Packers fan, and a shareholder.