Draft is Gutekunst’s chance to chart course

By Chris Havel
Special to Event USA
GREEN BAY, Wis. –   The Packers’ more aggressive approach to free agency this offseason is a reminder that there’s a new sheriff in town.

Packers’ GM will be under microscope when NFL draft kicks off in 17 days

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All avenues leading to player acquisition will be explored.
That sounds good, but the results are what counts.
Frankly, the addition of tight end Jimmy Graham, defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson and cornerback Tramon Williams was important if the Packers hoped to contend in the NFC North.
That trio isn’t the solution, in and of itself, but rather a necessary upgrade to what eroded into a shaky foundation.
It’s clear the Packers will be active in free agency’s “secondary” market once the dust settles after the draft. General manager Brian Gutekunst’s actions thus far suggest he will get busy in the post-draft market to fill whatever gaps remain.
But let’s be real: That represents only part of the cure for 7-9.
The Packers’ draft-and-develop approach has been the team’s lifeblood for more than two decades. That isn’t going to change under Gutekunst, mostly because it has worked.
Green Bay has had just three losing seasons in the past 26 years. The cause for anxiety is that 2017 was one of them.
The abysmal 7-9 season is a godsend only if it compels the Packers to do a major revamping.
The most serious problem is that the 53-man roster lacks veteran impact players. Graham’s presence will help to make the offense great again, but the defense – even with Wilkerson and Williams – is devoid of game-changers.
The best defenses boast playmakers at every level surrounded by above-average veterans and feisty, talented youngsters. That said defensive coordinator Mike Pettine faces a big challenge.
Furthermore, the Packers’ bottom third of the roster was woefully inadequate last season. Injuries are part of the game so using that as an excuse is a waste of time. To say that players were thrust into action before they were ready is lame.
It’s why I believe the bottom of the roster will be routinely recycled under Gutekunst. Expect street free agents to be flying the friendly skies to Green Bay more than ever.
Beyond that, what matters most is whether Clay Matthews and/or Nick Perry can provide stability while wrecking havoc on opposing offenses. That is yet to be determined.
All of that leaves the draft as the team’s salvation … again.
Fortunately the Packers have the 14th pick, the top picks in the fourth and fifth rounds, and 12 selections overall. They also hold four of the top 101 picks. That affords great flexibility.
So how can Gutekunst maximize his ammunition?
The Packers have to be committed to focusing on quality over quantity. Trades need to be a key part of Gutekunst’s draft-weekend arsenal.
Trading down only makes sense if the Packers are certain they can still get the top impact player remaining on their draft board.
Trading up is the proper direction.
I anticipate Gutekunst staying put at 14 unless another team makes him an offer he simply cannot refuse. After that, I’m praying (for Packers’ fans sake) that Green Bay is constantly looking to package picks and non-essential veterans to go up.
The Bears own the 8th pick and it appears they’ll be selecting a cornerback such as Ohio State’s Denzel Ward, or an all-world guard out of Notre Dame, Quenton Nelson.
The teams directly ahead of the Packers all have major needs on the defensive side. The Raiders, at 10, have been linked to Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith. The Dolphins, at 11, seem to be in love with Florida State safety Derwin James. The Bills, at 12, have many needs, including defense.
That leaves the Redskins, at 13, with their eyes on Virginia Tech’s Tremaine Edmunds. The Packers can only wish that Edmunds is still on the board when they’re on the clock.
If that’s the case, Edmunds is their guy.
If not, there are still excellent options in UT-San Antonio’s Marcus Davenport and Boston College’s Harold Landry. The downside for Davenport and Landry is that right now they are considered one-trick ponies: They can generate pass rush, but will need time to develop into every-down players.
To that I say, “So what?”
Green Bay doesn’t a three-down defender nearly as much as it needs a third-down pass rusher. The rookie can develop into something more in time, but would be in position to make an impact almost immediately.
After the 14th pick, Gutekunst needs to find a way to trade back into the late-first round or early second round to add a playmaker on the corner, and another pass rusher.
Beyond that an offensive tackle makes sense. So does a receiver.
The draft is just 17 days away.
It isn’t critical because it is Gutekunst’s first. It’s critical because this is a pivotal time for the Packers’ franchise. It’s incumbent on the GM to set the tone and chart the course.
If the Packers aren’t moving forward, they’re going backward. That is especially true of this year’s draft.