GREEN BAY — Brian Gutekunst didn’t like any of the wide receivers left on his draft board enough to use his first-round pick on one. But the Green Bay Packers general manager should have a few still to choose from on Friday evening when he goes on the clock for his second-round pick.
In choosing quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ heir apparent in Utah State quarterback Jordan Love, Gutekunst passed up on a number of wideouts who were still left after six went in the first 25 picks. To hear Gutekunst tell it, he didn’t have high enough grades on any of the remaining receivers to merit using the 30th overall pick on one. That, at least in part, he said was why he traded up four spots to take Love at No. 26 overall after a trade with the Miami Dolphins.
“The way our board fell this year, it was one of those things where (Love) was the best player left and we’re excited to get him,” Gutekunst said in a conference call with reporters late Thursday night. “We think he has a really good future in this league and he’s coming from a place where he’s done some really good things but he’s got a lot to learn too. I thin we’re a very good fit for his development.”
Asked he contemplated trading up higher to pick a wide receiver who could help the team in 2020, Gutekunst replied, “We talked to a lot of teams in areas where we felt we might be able to move up (to), just so we would kind of know what it was going to cost us. As the board fell, it was just the way we kind of had it stacked, to be quite honest. It was all about options left and obviously I had a conversation with Miami. They called and it seemed like the right thing to do. And giving up a fourth-round pick wasn’t all that much to get up and take a guy that, again, we felt pretty strongly about and think has a future.”
In the days leading up to the draft, Gutekunst had wondered aloud how the depth of the wide receiver class would cause the teams picking ahead of the Packers to go. He thought either there’d be an early run on receivers, or team would look at the depth at the position and wait to take one. As it turned out, both things happened during the first 25 picks.
Remarkably, despite the buzz around the top three wide receivers on most draft boards — Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy, Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb and Alabama’s Henry Ruggs III — no wide receivers went in the first 11 selections, which made it look like Gutekunst’s theory about teams waiting on the position.
Then the run began. At No. 12, the Las Vegas Raiders took Ruggs. His Alabama teammate, Jeudy, went three picks later to Denver at No. 15, followed by Lamb at No. 17 to the Dallas Cowboys — with ex-Packers head coach Mike McCarthy looking awfully excited about Lamb falling all the way down to them after being viewed by many as the top wideout of the class.
Three more wide receivers then went over a five-pick span, with TCU’s Jalen Reagor going to the Philadelphia Eagles at No. 21, LSU’s Justin Jefferson going to the Minnesota Vikings at No. 22, and Arizona State’s Brandon Aiyuk going to the San Francisco 49ers at No. 25 after a trade with the Vikings.
Nevertheless, the Packers still had a handful of seemingly appealing wide receivers on the board when Gutekunst boldly opted instead to trade up for Love. Presumably the highest-rated among them was Clemson’s Tee Higgins, but USC’s Michael Pittman Jr., Baylor’s Denzel Mims, Colorado’s Laviska Shenault Jr., Notre Dame’s Chase Claypool, Penn State’s KJ Hamler and Texas’ Devin Duvernay were also there for the taking.
Now, they still are.
“I think in general, historically, really young receivers, the production hasn’t been great,” Gutekunst said earlier in the week. “I do think that has started to change a little bit of late, just kind of the way the high schools and colleges are playing these days, it tends to lean toward receiver development more than anything else.”
No love for Love?
Give Love this much: He was ready for the question about how his selection might not be well-received by a fan base that saw its team reach the NFC Championship Game in January and then choose to add a developmental quarterback whom Gutekunst called “raw” at one point Thursday night.
But Love insisted he’s not worried about fans being disappointed in his selection.
“The way I take it is obviously they know what they’re doing with the Packers. They took a chance on me,” Love said. “I’m coming in just ready to work. Outside opinions, they don’t matter to me, for the most part. Just ready to get in there and work.”
For all the issues there could have been because of the virtual nature of the draft because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gutekunst said he and his personnel staff didn’t encounter any technical issues during the first round. The fact that the Packers could get a trade executed despite not having their entire scouting staff in a draft room at Lambeau Field appeared to be proof of that. All 32 NFL teams’ facilities remain closed because of the coronavirus crisis, so Gutekunst ran the draft from his home with head coach Matt LaFleur and all of Gutekunst’s personnel lieutenants in their respective homes, too.
Gutekunst praised director of football technology Mike Halbach for wiring his home and the rest of the scouts’ homes in advance of Thursday night.
“The process was really good,” Gutekunst said. “(With) Mike Halbach and how he set our situation up not only for me but for all the guys at their houses and stuff, it went really smooth. The conversations with the other teams, again, I thought it was very smooth, I thought I was able to get information.
“It’s never going to be like it is in the draft room when you have everybody together in your own facility but I did think this was as good as it possibly have been.”