The way an NFL general manager approaches the use of his team’s 30 official pre-draft visits with prospects in an upcoming NFL Draft is a subtle nuance to the way he does his job, but it is an important one. The Green Bay Packers’ changing of the guard at that position in 2018 is starting to show a bit of difference between Ted Thompson’s and Brian Gutekunst’s tactics, and it is intriguing to see in the early stages.
On Tuesday, Adam Schefter of ESPN reported that the Packers are hosting defensive tackle Vita Vea from the University of Washington on a visit this week. Vea, a consensus first-round draft pick who is widely projected to be selected in the top 20, may be in play for the Packers with the 14th pick if he is available, though the team already has solid depth on the defensive line with starters Mike Daniels, Kenny Clark, and Muhammad Wilkerson.
However, the intriguing part of this reported visit is the fact that it is happening at all. Under Thompson, the Packers typically invited lesser prospects to visit, often selecting these prospects late in the draft or signing them as undrafted free agents. In 2017, for example, the Packers hosted three day-three draft picks for visits: fifth-rounder DeAngelo Yancey, sixth-round pick Kofi Amichia, and seventh-rounder Devante Mays. In addition to those players, four of the invitees signed with the team as free agents following the draft — edge rusher Johnathan Calvin, guard Geoff Gray, quarterback Taysom Hill, and tight end Aaron Peck — and a fifth, running back Joel Bouagnon, signed a futures contract following the 2017 season.
Seeing the Packers using multiple visits on projected first-round picks Vea and UCF cornerback Mike Hughes appears to be a significant shift in approach for Gutekunst from that of his predecessor, who seemingly only invited projected early picks if there were off-the-field red flags to investigate. For example, running back Joe Mixon visited Green Bay in 2017, and edge rusher Noah Spence came in 2016. While Hughes had a dustup with the coaching staff during his time at North Carolina, the 6-foot-4, 347-pound Vea has no apparent question marks.