The 2021 NFL Draft is today and one we can say when thinking about the Packers picks in this year’s draft is this: expect the unexpected.
Since he took over as general manager of the Packers in 2018, Gutekunst has kept draft experts, members of the media and the Packers fan base on their toes by making moves that can easily be described as “unexpected.”
For example, in 2018, Gute traded out of the first round initially, picked up an extra first round pick in 2019 and then traded back up in the first round to select cornerback Jaire Alexander. Alexander developed into a Pro Bowl cornerback in 2020.
The surprises in 2018 didn’t end in the first round. Gutekunst added another cornerback in the second round when he chose Josh Jackson and then picked three wide receivers on day three along with a punter and long snapper.
In 2019, Gutekunst signed two edge rushers as unrestricted free agents in Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith. Despite that, his first round choice with the 12th overall pick was another edge rusher in Rashan Gary. While the pattern of addressing positional needs with multiple players in the same year clearly emerged, few people expected another edge rusher in the first round.
Last season, Gutekunst created the biggest surprise of his tenure so far. While most people expected the Packers to select a wide receiver in the first round or at least early in the draft, the Packers ultimately did not draft a wideout at all in 2020. Instead, they traded up to select a quarterback even though Aaron Rodgers was coming off another Pro Bowl season and was still under contract for another four seasons.
In the second round, Gutekunst added a running back even through the Packers already had talent and depth at that position in Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams. In round three, Gutekunst selected another tight end/H-back even though a year earlier, he had added tight end Jace Sternberger in the third round.
Now, as we approach the 2021 draft, one thing is certain: anybody who says they know exactly what the Packers will do in the first round and beyond is guessing. It may be an educated guess, but nonetheless, with the Packers, it’s difficult to predict exactly what the team will do.
This year, the Packers didn’t add any significant free agents to address their needs, but they did re-sign most of the players who they could have lost in free agency. Of the team’s 22 starters, only center Corey Linsley signed elsewhere. Swing tackle Rick Wagner and inside linebacker Christian Kirksey were both released while backup running back Jamaal Williams and second-string quarterback Tim Boyle both signed with Detroit.
The Packers managed to retain the services of Jones, Marcedes Lewis, Kevin King, Chandon Sullivan and Tyler Lancaster while restructuring several other players’ contracts to get under the salary cap.
There are some things we do know heading into this draft, such as:
1. The Packers do not have any wide receivers under contract for 2022
While there have been ongoing talks about extending Davante Adams, none of the top five players on the depth chart at wide receiver are presently signed beyond this season. Even if the Packers sign Adams and one more receiver to an extension, expect them to add at least one receiver if not more in this year’s draft.
2. The Secondary Remains a Need
King’s deal is essentially a one-year contract with voidable years and he is unlikely to be back in 2022. The Packers will pick up the fifth-year option on Jaire Alexander but will still need another cornerback to start opposite their shutdown corner next season. Expect the Packers to add a cornerback early in the draft, possibly even in the first round.
The Packers also are looking for more depth at safety and possibly to add a nickel or dime back who has the potential to develop into a bigger contributor in a year or two. Multiple players will be added in the secondary this year.
3. The Packers Will Address the Offensive Line
Gutekunst has selected at least one offensive lineman in each of his three drafts. Even though Gute indicated that David Bakhtiari was ahead of schedule rehabbing his injured knee, his status for the start of the season is still up in the air.
The Packers need a swing tackle who can fill in until Bakhtiari is ready to go and in case additional injuries hit at the position.
The Packers may take a tackle in the first two days of the draft and even if they don’t, expect at least one offensive lineman to be selected this year.
4. Defensive Line and Inside Linebacker Remain Needs
The Packers still need more depth and talent at the interior defensive line and inside linebacker. Gutekunst did select Oren Burks in the third round in 2018 but he never quite developed into a steady contributor on defense. Other than that, it’s been mostly day three picks at these positions.
The continued improvement of Kingsley Keke may be vital to the improvement of the defensive line. Thus far, Kingsley has shown flashes of ability but needs to become more consistent and take a leap forward in his third season to become a difference maker next to Kenny Clark.
How and when Gutekunst addresses these positions will go a long way towards determining how much improvement the Packers run defense may have under new coordinator Joe Barry.
You can follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers