Missing out on a player you had targeted in the NFL Draft is a disappointing scenario. For Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekusnt, that seemed to happen a few times so far in the past few days, particularly with wide receivers coming off the board in close proximity to his picks, which ultimately went in a very different direction on offense.
The Packers looked to the run game instead, as the team drafted running back AJ Dillon with the 62nd selection and versatile tight end Josiah Deguara at 94. These picks suggest a focus more on the ground attack than the passing game, and according to Gutekunst, that aligns well with head coach Matt LaFleur’s vision of how to construct an offense.
“Matt certainly wants to run the ball. He’s talked about wanting to run the ball and run the play-pass game off of that,” Gutekunst told the media on a conference call after the conclusion of day two of the draft. That philosophy is reflected in the team’s two selections on Friday.
Starting with Dillon, Gutekunst praised the big back’s movement abilities, but underscored that he has skills as a receiver as well. “In our offense there’s probably more room for creativity in our offense than what he did at Boston College. especially in the passing game. We went through him in the spring but his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield really drew him to us.”
In particular, watching Dillon at the 2020 NFL Combine opened Gutekunst’s eyes to those abilities to contribute in ways other than simply his powerful running style. The Combine was Gutekunst’s first opportunity to see Dillon in person, and it was evidently an impressive performance. “I was really impressed with his size, speed, athleticism,” Gutekunst said. “We got a chance to see him do some of the things that he didn’t do: run routes, catch the ball, things like that.” He added that the team felt that the running back class was strong through the second round, and that the Packers “just thrilled to death” to bring Dillon aboard.
That comment hides some disappointment about a run on receivers, however. When asked about the team’s decision not to draft a player at that position, Gutekunst fell back on trusting the board that the front office puts together and sticking to it. “Picking at the back end of the second round, we thought there was an outside opportunity (for a receiver to fall) but it didn’t fall that way.” Denzel Mims may be the receiver he was alluding to here, as the big, fast Baylor product came off the board at 59, three picks before the Packers selected Dillon. Still, Gutekunst said he was surprised that Dillon was still available at 62, so he was very pleased with the value at that pick.
In round three, the Packers landed a player that they seemingly hope will be the equivalent to Kyle Juzszyzk of the San Francisco 49ers. Josiah Deguara is ostensibly a tight end, but he played all over the offense at the University of Cincinnati, lining up everywhere from the boundary to in-line tight end to the backfield as both a fullback and even a running back in the shotgun. That versatility was tremendously appealing to Gutekunst and to LaFleur: “I think that’s the really exciting thing about Josiah: (he lined up) everywhere. Matt was very, very excited about that ... He’s a matchup piece that can move and line up in all those spots.”
Although Deguara is on the smaller side for a tight end at about 6-foot-2 and 242 pounds, his blocking abilities are strong, and not just from an in-line spot. “The stuff on the move is where he excels,” Gutekunst explained. “A lot of the movement blocks that Matt likes to do in his offense, he’s going to be able to really excel at that.” But Deguara was also a productive receiving weapon, which will add to his value. “(He was) not only a lead blocker, but creating mismatches in the passing game.”
Both players appear to fit in to LaFleur’s vision of what he wants his offense to look like in its final, ideal form, even if Gutekunst argues the case that the team did not necessarily target them solely because they align with LaFleur’s ideals. “Whatever players we bring in, (the coaches are) good about trying to tailor what we do to their skill set, and I don’t think that will ever change. With some of the run game and the play-pass off of it, our staff continue to try to acquire players that fit that.”
Two-tight end sets will likely be the norm in Green Bay when football resumes, as they were in use for much of 2019. And the team appears set to roll out a three-headed monster at the running back position, which Matt LaFleur commented on himself at the Combine. The head coach said he hoped that the Packers would add a quality third running back to help ease the burden on Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams over the course of a long season and to help wear down defenses late in the year.
Dillon provides that, while Deguara should serve as a blocker and play-action receiving threat. So while the board may have dictated that the Packers add playmakers in the middle of the offense instead of ones who play out wide, it also feels like this is the direction that LaFleur wants his offense to go regardless.