We can debate whether Brian Gutekunst is a good general manager, but I’ll say this for him: he is fearless. He’s going to do what he thinks is best for the long term future of the Green Bay Packers, and he doesn’t care what you or I, or Aaron Rodgers, thinks about it. I like that.
After Rodgers’ camp dropped the bomb on draft day that he didn’t want to return to the team, and after Gutekunst responded with a statement that the Packers remain committed to Rodgers “for 2021 and beyond”, it would be understandable if, with his first round selection, Gutekunst felt pressured to take a wide receiver, or at least a tackle, to demonstrate to Rodgers his commitment to get him some help.
Instead, the Green Bay GM stayed true to his board and used his first round pick on cornerback Eric Stokes, choosing to address a more critical need on the defensive side of the ball. Stokes is a remarkable athlete, with speed and size, who may start immediately at slot corner, or give Kevin King a run to start on the outside.
Most NFL scouts agreed there were only 15 to 18 true first round graded players in this draft. Unwilling to burn the draft capital it would take to move up that high, Gutekunst was content to wait it out and use his own pick at 29. It might have been tempting to go up to the low 20’s for tackle Christian Darrisaw, but either Gutekunst didn’t have him valued high enough, or he couldn’t find a trade partner. When the Vikings picked off Darrisaw at number 23, the decision to stay put became easier.
The Packers lost little ground through the next two picks, running backs Najee Harris and Travis Etienne. There may have been some heartburn at pick 26 when corner Greg Newsome II was grabbed up by the Browns. And Packer fans hoping for receiver Rashod Batemon were disappointed when the acrobatic Golden Gopher went 27th to Baltimore.
After the Saints selected edge rusher Payton Turner with the 28th pick, Gutekunst found himself with a wide selection of options at various positions. Among the players he passed on were defensive lineman Christian Barmore, safety Trevon Moehrig, tackles Teven Jenkins, Jalen Mayfield and Liam Eichenburg, defensive back Asante Samuel Jr. and receivers Elijah Moore and Rondale Moore.
Most draft analysts projected Stokes as a second round prospect. But picking in the 29th slot pretty much puts you in second round territory anyway. Stokes is going to give the Packer secondary a lot of versatility. Scouting reports indicate he can play press or zone, slot or outside. He may even be a candidate for kick returns. One of the knocks on him is a weakness against the run, but if the Packer corners are consistently having to stop runners, they have bigger issues. The NFL is a passing league and Stokes, playing in the most elite of all college leagues, held his own against top receivers from schools like Alabama and LSU. Considering what was there at 29, I find it hard to have serious problems with this choice.
So the Packers wind up with yet another highly drafted cornerback. If Eric Stokes develops as well as most of Gutey’s other first round picks (Jaire Alexander, Rashan Gary, Darnell Savage), Green Bay should finally be set at the corners for a long time to come.
QUOTES FROM GUTEKUNST AFTER THE PICK:
“I think we’ve gotten to the tipping point of being a dominant defense.”
“We had some options to move up into the low twenties, the mid twenties……but the board didn’t fall that way.”
“We might have had a chance to move back if Eric had been taken ahead of us.”
(On whether he expects Stokes to start) “Eric is a pretty quick study and he’ll be in that mix pretty quickly.”
“He’s really got a great upside. He’s a really good football player and the sky is the limit.”
(On his speed) “4.29 (time in the 40) kind of gets your attention.”
(On watching film of him playing against Alabama & LSU) “We always start by watching him against the best competition…I’ve seen those games more than I wanted to.”
“We interviewed him. He’s such a genuine human being. Packer fans are going to love him…As we checked the boxes, he added up.”
Ken Lass is a former Green Bay television sports anchor and 43 year media veteran, a lifelong Packers fan, and a shareholder.