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Wednesday Walkthroughs: What do we think of Brian Gutekunst?

The Packers’ GM cut two 2021 draft picks this week. Let’s assess our feelings about the Gutekunst era.

NFL: JUL 24 Green Bay Packers Shareholders Meeting Photo by Larry Radloff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Brian Gutekunst self-corrected this week, releasing two players from his 2021 draft class for very different reasons. Amari Rodgers was shown the door due to his maddening (and long-running) fumble issues, while off-field concerns ended Kylin Hill’s tenure in Green Bay.

Hill not working out is one thing. Even factoring in the off-field stuff, he was a long-shot in 2022 anyway. But Rodgers is emblematic of the Packers’ struggles in the third round, and the Packers’ stuck with him for poorly explained reasons even though he was a poor fit from the get go.

So what do we think of Gutekunst in all this? We asked our writers. Here’s what they had to say.

Rcon14: He’s probably about average, maybe a little bit better, I don’t know?

Analyzing GMs is really difficult. First and foremost, team building is a team effort. If your scouts aren’t very good it ends up making you look like an idiot. And how long until you can tell if your scouts are actually good or bad? I don’t know. It probably takes awhile to really figure that out.

Gutekunst’s draft ‘ideology’ appears to be star swings early in the draft and betting on elite athletes, which I think is probably the right way to go. While I probably would have taken different players than he did, I can’t disagree too much with the general ideology (while I wouldn’t have taken Stokes, I also wouldn’t have taken Gary so…).

Where things seem to fall apart is when Gute strays away from his early round ideology. His third round picks tend to do the same things Ted’s used to: They don’t match what GB actually looks for in other prospects. Ted was always good for drafting a mediocre athlete at DL, and Gute seems to be trying to ‘system match’ or ‘role match’ in round 3 a little bit. I doubt this is how the FO thinks about this, but drafting a RB-sized yet meh athlete WR, a TE who is sort of kind of a fullback, and an undersized dime linebacker (who was drafted in the Pettine all-dime all-the-time era) fit this description. Jace Sternberger is almost the reverse, as he was a spread offense big-slot WR at Texas A&M who had no place in the offense, but also was almost exactly average as an athlete. The mid-rounds seem to become a combination of scout pet projects and coaches wanting guys to fit specific roles. There has to be some give-and-take with the staff, but the Packers have largely done well when they stick to their athlete + production principles, and seem to miss more often when they stray from them.

Gute is certainly more active in churning the roster and utilizing free agency and the waiver wire than Ted was, and I think the hit rate has been really high. The pro scouting staff deserves a tip of the cap. How he uses this to build out the roster going forward will be interesting once Green Bay gets out of the COVID-caused cap hell they’ve been occupying since 2020.

Paul Noonan: Some good ideas, but a lack of internal discipline

Amari Rodgers’ release is probably as good a time as any to focus on just how he happened in the first place, because honestly, there was no really good reason to draft Rodgers at all, let alone in the 3rd. Proper use of their own processes would surely have led to Nico Colling, a high-RAS, big bodied receiver who went just a few picks later. Collins didn’t play as a senior, during Covid, which maybe scared some teams away, but he is such a great fit for what this team does.

And that’s maybe where we would all like some answers from Gutekunst. How did Amari Rodgers happen in the first place? What is the process for choosing a player outside of your preferred athletic profile? What did scouts offer to support their case? What sold Amari versus those available like Collins, or even Amon-Ra St. Brown?

I’d push on that a bit further because the Sternberger pick in 2019 seems so very similar, choosing an unathletic, small tight end who isn’t a good fit for the offense, again going outside the preferred athletic thresholds. Why? What’s the self scouting on this pick, and did the team do any kind of lessons learned based off of this failure?

The Packers are fine when they stick to the basics, and their pro scouting seems quite good, but the draft seems like an all-over mess. Why Josiah Deguara in the 3rd? Do we have any positional value metrics? Do we reach for need now? More than anything, I appreciate a coherent philosophy, or some general pattern. The Packers seem far too all over the place in the draft. They are a blackjack player standing on 16 against a 10 one hand and hitting it the next.

Jon Meerdink: Consistently inconsistent

Like Paul and Rcon, I’m generally positive toward Gutekunst but frustrated by inconsistency and a lack of follow through.

Going off script on his tendencies is one thing, and my colleagues have followed it well, but I’d like to add that Gutekunst’s inability to follow through on proclamations about adding talent on offense is maddening. The Packers don’t need to be trading for everybody, but you could fill out an entire roster’s worth of guys the Packers allegedly tried to acquire but couldn’t (Allen Robinson, Emmanuel Sanders (twice!), Odell Beckham Jr. and others, even prior to this season). And boy does he want you to know that he tried. He won’t talk to the media in season, but there sure is a never-ending train of sourced reporting coming out from the national media about how the Packers gave it their best shot but awww shucks they just couldn’t get it done.

It just seems like there isn’t always a plan. And I get it, sometimes you end up in uncharted territory. But Gutekunst has seemed to get himself stuck between a rock and a hard place sometimes just by virtue of that inconsistency, and showing a little more ideological alignment might be a good step toward improving in that area.

Tex Western: Thumbs up to pro personnel scouting, but iffy draft track record

What I find most fascinating about the Packers’ personnel department under Brian Gutekunst is that they have consistently hit on bringing in outside NFL players into the organization. Think back to the free agent class of 2019 – Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith, Adrian Amos, and Billy Turner were all hits to varying degrees, and all three fulfilled major roles for three years or more of their four-year deals (acknowledging that Z missed much of last season with weird issues). Then think back to the offseason and midseason acquisitions of castoff players like Chandon Sullivan, De’Vondre Campbell, and Rasul Douglas. (And maybe Rudy Ford will be added to that list in a few weeks? Who knows!)

That’s an impressive track record of successes, almost as impressive as his track record of missing on third-round picks in the NFL Draft. When looked at as a whole, Gutekunst’s draft classes have precious few big hits early, a handful of solid-if-unspectacular day-three picks, and a host of outright busts in the middle rounds. To successfully lead a team that has historically prided itself on a draft-and-develop philosophy, you need to draft players whom your coaches can develop. Too often, Gutekunst’s draft picks have not been that.

So what does that make him overall? It’s a mixed bag, to be sure, and his handling of the Aaron Rodgers, Jordan Love, and Davante Adams situations amid COVID cap crunches only add to the difficult evaluation of his tenure. It’s not time to move on from him now, but unless the 2022 class ascends quickly in the next year or so, those pro personnel additions won’t be able to keep covering up for the misses on draft day.