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Packers focus on defense in round 1 of 2022 NFL Draft, still need playmakers on offense

The Packers made a pair of surprising picks in Thursday’s first round, but the team’s defense looks better on paper than it did 12 hours ago. Now the focus must shift to the offense on Friday.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 31 CFP Semifinal - Capital One Orange Bowl - Georgia v Michigan Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

To hear Brian Gutekunst tell it, the Green Bay Packers let the board come to them.

The wide receiver run happened early. To be sure, the Packers were interested in the top wideouts in the 2022 NFL Draft class — players like Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson, and Jameson Williams were undoubtedly among the front office’s preferred players. But when all three of those names (plus USC’s Drake London) went off the board between picks 8 and 12, it was clear that Green Bay wasn’t going to be able to prioritize the receiver position on day one of the draft. Instead, they let the board come to them with the 22nd and 28th picks in round one and looked to bolster their defense instead.

Taking two players from the national champion Georgia Bulldogs, though? That was a bit of a surprise.

It’s difficult to say whether linebacker Quay Walker or defensive tackle Devonte Wyatt was the bigger stunner on Thursday night. In a sense, neither should be a surprise — both are exceptional athletes who played at a blue-chip program. But there are reasons to be shocked by both selections.

For Walker, it’s the fact that the Packers drafted an off-ball linebacker with their first selection. Not since A.J. Hawk in 2006 have the Packers invested a first-round pick at that position; in fact, the highest pick on a linebacker since then was on Oren Burks (third round, 2018). Making matters more surprising is the fact that Green Bay just signed reigning All-Pro De’Vondre Campbell to a five-year, $50 million contract.

This selection is a signal that the Packers did not necessarily want to play a heavy 5-1 nickel package in 2021 (three interior linemen, two edge rushers, and Campbell as the lone linebacker). Instead, defensive coordinator Joe Barry likely felt forced to do so based on the personnel available to him. Look for Campbell and Walker to push Barry to use a much more conventional 4-2 nickel with two down linemen and two off-ball linebackers in 2022.

For Wyatt, it is not positional value nor is it his play on the field that raises questions. Instead, Wyatt’s age and off-the-field incidents are the reason for pause.

First is the easy item to discuss. Wyatt turned 24 years old in March. That makes him the first Packers round-one pick who was older than 22 years old on draft day since Justin Harrell in 2007, who was 23. Whether youth is a specific quality that the Packers look for or not, it remains a notable trend.

More sensitive is the question of Wyatt’s off-the-field concerns. While in Athens, Wyatt faced multiple instances of legal trouble in relation to domestic and family violence incidents. Packers GM Brian Gutekunst addressed Wyatt’s history in Thursday’s post-draft press conference, referencing “two or three” incidents in Wyatt’s past that were concerning. One of those situations took place in February of 2020, when Wyatt was arrested on three criminal counts for family violence, criminal trespass, and damage to property, after allegedly kicking down the dorm room door of a female student at the University of Georgia.

The Packers did plenty of due diligence on Wyatt over the past few months. Gutekunst confirmed that they met with him multiple times, including bringing him to Green Bay for a formal top-30 visit before the draft. He indicated that the team “feels good about him as a person” and discussed the incidents with him in depth, further noting that they believe in those situations “he never put his hand on anybody.”

Hopefully, Green Bay’s vetting of Wyatt’s character checks out and he will be a productive member of the organization, both on and off the football field. If the off-the-field concerns prove to be non-issues, then Wyatt could well end up being a tremendous pick late in round one — rarely do interior pass-rushers come along with the athletic profile and talent that he possesses.

Setting aside the specific players that the Packers selected on Thursday, the Packers enter day two of the 2022 Draft with the same questions lingering on offense that they had before round one. The team still needs playmakers, most critically at wide receiver but also at tight end. But after missing out on the top wideouts — a whopping six players at that position were drafted before the 20th pick came off the board — the Packers will need to jockey for position to draft receivers in a lower tier than those available in round one.

Some receivers to watch in round two include George Pickens (who could be a third Georgia Bulldog headed to Green Bay), Christian Watson of North Dakota State, or Jalen Tolbert from Southern Alabama. Look also for the Packers to invest in a tight end soon, perhaps with their third-round selection at 92 overall. That could be an ideal range for a player like Ohio State’s Jeremy Ruckert, Virginia’s Jelani Woods, or Washington’s Cade Otton.

Without question, the Packers’ defense got better on paper on Thursday night. But the offense remains a work in progress as the franchise looks to maximize the latter years of Aaron Rodgers’ career. Thankfully, the team has three picks on day two of this year’s draft and a tremendous track record of finding productive wide receivers in the second and third round, a run of success that they will surely look to continue in 2022.