Utah St Fresno St Football

The Packers traded up four spots to No. 26 in the first round of the NFL draft Thursday night to select Utah State quarterback Jordan Love, who threw 20 touchdown passes and 17 interceptions last season. 

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The book on Brian Gutekunst is thin.

This year's NFL draft, which began Thursday night, is only the third Gutekunst has conducted as general manager of the Green Bay Packers, which is hardly enough time to make definitive judgments about his drafting approach or acumen.

His first two draft classes have been hit-and-miss, though it's too early to give him anything more than a mid-semester grade. Still, Gutekunst has offered up hints about what he thinks are important in the draft.

He likes to move around in the first round. In 2018, he traded down from the 14th overall pick to the 27th, then traded back up to the 18th pick to land cornerback Jaire Alexander. Last year, he used the first of his two opening-round picks, No. 12 overall, on outside linebacker Rashan Gary, then traded up from No. 30 to No. 21 to secure safety Darnell Savage.

He likes to attack weak positions with saturation drafting. In his first draft, he took cornerbacks — Alexander and second-rounder Josh Jackson — with his first two picks and added three wide receivers on the third day. Last year, he took Gary even though he had signed edge pass-rushers Za'Darius and Preston Smith to huge contracts in free agency.

He likes players who kill it at the scouting combine, guys who have impressive measurables in speed and agility tests. Alexander and third-round inside linebacker Oren Burks were at the top of their class athletically in 2018. It was much the same last year. Gary lacked production in college but was a workout warrior and Savage showed blinding speed.

To date, the only Gutekunst draft picks who have knocked it out of the park are Alexander in 2018 and second-round guard Elgton Jenkins in 2019. Again, it's too early for lasting judgments and overall Gutekunst has done a solid job of improving what was a horribly depleted roster two years ago.

Still, if the Packers are going to take the next step and get back to the Super Bowl during Aaron Rodgers' remaining years at quarterback, Gutekunst needed to have a signature draft. He needed to have a draft where he nailed pick after pick and added enough talent to push his team over the top, much like his mentors, Ron Wolf and Ted Thompson, did one season before winning Super Bowls in Green Bay. Wolf in 1995 and Thompson in 2009 had drafts that helped Green Bay win it all.

With the Packers falling a game short of the Super Bowl last season and not having the salary-cap room this year for another deep dive into free agency, this year's three-day draft is pivotal. The question going in was whether Gutekunst could bend the draft to fit the team's fairly lengthy list of needs despite picking 30th in every round.

The draft is remarkably deep and diverse at wide receiver and offensive tackle, two areas of need for the Packers. If Gutekunst stayed put at 30, it seemed he likely would have a good shot at an immediate-impact player at one of those positions. Or, if he wanted to press the issue, he could trade up for a wide receiver or an inside linebacker, another position of need.

Instead, Gutekunst showed a side of him we haven't seen before. With one bold move, he changed the course of the franchise, long- and short-term.

When Gutekunst traded up from the 30th to the 26th pick in the first round Thursday night, many thought it was a move to get an inside linebacker such as LSU's Patrick Queen or a wide receiver since six of them had already been drafted. Instead, Gutekunst drafted the Packers' quarterback of the future — Utah State's talented but raw Jordan Love.

You have to admire Gutekunst's courage taking Love 15 years to the day after Thompson took Rodgers with the 24th pick to be Brett Favre's eventual successor. As much as that move worked in 2005, however, the move to go get Love failed to make sense.

The biggest reason the move was a head-scratcher is that Gutekunst had worked diligently to rebuild the roster for more than two years and the Packers were one step away from the Super Bowl last season. Then, with the Super Bowl in sight, he did an about-face by drafting for the future.

Rodgers will turn 37 during the season but has four years remaining on his contract and releasing him in the first two of those years would create huge salary-cap problems for the team. But instead of giving his future Hall of Fame quarterback a second legitimate weapon at wide receiver or a pass-blocking tackle to replace Bryan Bulaga, Gutekunst started preparing for life after Rodgers.

Even more curious, Gutekunst traded up to get Love, who he clearly thinks has the talent to continue the Packers' amazing, 28-year run at quarterback. It was a surprise because none of the four teams just ahead of the Packers needed a quarterback. Perhaps the Packers got wind that another team was trying to move up to get Love, but it cost them a fourth-round pick in a draft Gutekunst said was both good and deep.

Love was impressive physically at the Senior Bowl and the combine, but his mechanics and awareness were considered shaky. Clearly, Gutekunst is banking on coach Matt LaFleur to develop Love over the next few years. The only problem is he might have sacrificed a shot at the Super Bowl this year.

Contact Tom Oates at toates@madison.com

This article originally ran on madison.com.


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