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Brian Gutekunst’s view of the 2020 WR group sheds light on why Packers came up empty

Green Bay’s top personnel man explained that after the big early runs at receiver, the team just didn’t see the rest of the class as being as good as others did.

NFL: Combine
Brandon Aiyuk watches from the sidelines during the 2020 NFL Combine
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

For fans, analysts, and media alike, the Green Bay Packers committed the worst possible sin in the 2020 NFL Draft. The team managed to leave the weekend without selecting a wide receiver, despite a glaring need for an explosive playmaking athlete on offense and the 2020 wideout group being hailed as one of the best classes in history.

Grades for the Packers’ draft from analysts are largely in the D and F range. Fans’ outrage on social media has ranged from confusion at best to all-out mutiny at the most extreme. Even Packers media members asked the team’s leadership after the draft if they were feeling any pressure from outside the organization.

Perhaps it is the social distancing requirements and home lock-down that have kept general manager Brian Gutekunst from feeling the heat, but on Saturday evening he said that he has paid no attention to the screams from outside the front office. What Gutekunst did provide was an explanation for why the Packers ended up eschewing the position entirely until undrafted free agency.

“We thought (the receiver class) was really strong at the top. I don’t know that as we got to the middle and the end that we thought it was as strong as others did,” Gutekunst said. “The runs went pretty early and once we went to a certain spot ... we just felt there wasn’t a lot of great candidates who were locks to make our team.”

Ultimately, when it came to day three, Gutekunst just didn’t see the value in taking a receiver, looking instead to the defense and the offensive line. “Towards the end of the draft there wasn’t a great opportunity for a player to make an impact on our roster this year.” While that may be true of the receiver group, one draft selection calls into question whether that is a consistent thought process across the Packers’ day three picks. Gutekunst used a sixth-round draft pick on Simon Stepaniak, an offensive lineman who tore his ACL in December and will likely spend all of 2020 on injured reserve, so year-one impact can only provide so much explanation for why the Packers did not take a flier on a wideout on Saturday.

Ultimately, faith in the players on the roster appears to be the greatest deciding factor on Saturday, as the team seems to believe that the young, ascending receivers simply have a higher ceiling than anyone they might have drafted on day three. Gutekunst praised the players under contract, led by Davante Adams and featuring one new addition in Devin Funchess plus a large group of younger players. He mentioned by name literally every receiver on the roster, saying “We really think we have a lot of guys who are pushing for playing time and production.”

The Packers missed out on some of their preferred options in the first round, with the 49ers’ move up to take Brandon Aiyuk likely being the last straw. They saw Denzel Mims go off the board at pick 59, three slots before their second-round pick at 62. And perhaps they had an eye on Devin Duvernay in round three, but he too heard his name called within a few picks of the Packers’ selection, going 92 before the Packers went on the clock at 94.

But since the Packers did not make a move up for any of those players, it suggests that they were content enough with their current group to let the board come to them, rather than forcing their way up for a specific target. The continued development of Allen Lazard, Equanimeous St. Brown, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and others, plus the additions of Funchess and Reggie Begelton give the team myriad options. And as Matt LaFleur’s offense takes shape, it seems that the Packers will line up less and less often with more than two wide receivers on the field,

But with that said, putting Aiyuk or Mims on the field opposite Davante Adams would provide an entirely different dynamic than that of the players currently on the roster, given those players’ explosive abilities. It is no coincidence that the 49ers were the team to move up for Aiyuk — LaFleur’s ideal offense will clearly share many similarities to Kyle Shanahan’s, and Aiyuk should be a perfect fit in that system. It’s easy to imagine his quickness and yards-after-the-catch ability stressing out defenses, particularly on play-action sequences.

For now, the Packers will move forward to 2020 with Adams as the one wide receiver with consistent explosive ability, as the team plans for the other players at the position to take steps forward. The team’s misses on the big runs at receiver early and their determination that none of the receivers available on day three would provide the team with an upgrade are the reasons why they did not select one of the 37 wideouts who heard their names called this weekend.