Mike Pettine must be grinning on this Friday morning. Last night, Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst provided him with two exceptional athletes in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft, one for the front and one for the back of the defense. Gutekunst was aggressive on Thursday night, identifying the players that the Packers wanted early — months early in the case of 12th overall pick Rashan Gary — and making a big move upward to grab safety Darnell Savage at 21.
New head coach Matt LaFleur, however, could be excused for thinking “what about me?”
After all, the new head man in Green Bay is an offensive guy who will call the team’s plays and is installing a new scheme this spring (or at least a significantly different version of the West Coast offense). And so far, of all the Packers’ significant additions this offseason, only one — offensive lineman Billy Turner — has come on that side of the football.
Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith, and Adrian Amos in free agency, and now Rashan Gary and Darnell Savage in the draft ... that’s a lot of capital, both in terms of the draft and future salary cap money, invested to give Pettine every tool possible to improve the Packers’ defense. Now, with picks 44 and 75 on day two of the draft in his pocket, Gutekunst must look to the other side of the football.
He even alluded to this in his press conference late Thursday night. “This obviously was a focus of ours,” he said about the overall investment in the defense. “We’ve added a number of bodies to that and guys we’re really excited about.” But he joked that LaFleur might like to see some more athletes as well: “I’d like to think we’re gonna still stay true to allowing the best player available to come to us (but) I do have an offensive coach sitting to my left in the room.”
All told, the board set up for a strong draft on defense to start, but it was still a bit of a surprise that Gutekunst did not draft an offensive lineman on Thursday. Perhaps the biggest shock was the Savage pick coming — that trade up felt at the time like a spot where the Packers were moving up for a falling tackle like Washington State’s Andre Dillard. Either the team views Turner as a long-term answer at tackle, a real possibility, or they feel that they can find contributors on days two and three this weekend, because there are still major question marks at guard and right tackle.
Heading into day two, Dalton Risner and Jawaan Taylor look like the most plausible Packers linemen with that 44th pick, if they fall all the way there. Gutekunst’s one prior offensive line draft pick, Cole Madison, had a less-than-stellar workout; Risner’s athletic testing was better than Madison’s, plus he can play multiple positions. Taylor is a tackle only, but he did not work out this spring and has a knee injury that reportedly caused his fall out of round one. Adding Oklahoma’s Cody Ford to the mix and you see a group of linemen who should be in the mix at least the next time the Packers are on the clock.
Then there are questions about pass-catchers, particularly tight ends. The two Iowa players, Hockenson and Fant, both went in the top 20 picks. That leaves Alabama’s Irv Smith as a possibility if he falls to 44, though his overall athleticism does not match the kind of level that Gutekunst has tended to draft so far in his brief career. Instead, a player like San Diego State’s Kahale Warring (who visited the Packers before the draft) or LSU’s Foster Moreau are much better athletic fits for the Packers and will likely be available on day three.
Gutekunst could also grab a free-falling wide receiver. DK Metcalf’s fall out of round one probably should not be a shock, but between him, teammate A.J. Brown, South Carolina’s Deebo Samuel, and Ohio State’s Parris Campbell, there should probably be one exciting receiver available when we reach 44. There are a number of players who could slip all the way to 75 as well — keep an eye on Missouri’s Emanuel Hall as a sleeper there.
Regardless of what specific position they target, however, after all the investment in the defense it’s now time for Gutekunst to turn his attention back to providing protection and options for Aaron Rodgers. The defense has its impact players now; the offense can use some help on day two.