By Chris Havel
Special to Event USA
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Brian Gutekunst didn’t blink.
Green Bay’s new GM gets Alexander to pair with King as bookend cornerbacks
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The Packers’ new GM came into Thursday night’s first round of the NFL Draft in search of a defensive playmaker, preferably a cornerback, with the 14th overall pick.
He came away with Louisville’s Jaire Alexander, regarded as the second-best player at his position, to pair with last year’s first pick, Kevin King.
What made Gutekunst’s debut memorable was the way he dared to take a calculated risk. And the way he made it pay off.
It would’ve been easy to take Virginia Tech linebacker Tremaine Edmunds or Florida State safety Derwin James at 14. Neither was expected to be there.
He also could’ve taken Alexander and easily defended the pick.
Instead, he traded the 14th pick to New Orleans in return for the Saints’ 27th pick this year and their first-round pick next year.
Gutekunst had no guarantee that he’d be able to find a trade partner and move up from 27 to select Alexander. But as he said, first-round picks don’t come around often.
Neither do shutdown corners.
Nevertheless, he kept working the phones and eventually landed a deal with Seattle to acquire the Seahawks’ 18th pick in exchange for the Packers’ 27th pick from New Orleans and Green Bay’s third-round pick.
Essentially, Gutekunst landed a top-tier cornerback and the Saints’ first-round pick in 2019 in a single round.
Alexander (5-11, 196) was one of the fastest players in the draft. He ran a blazing 4.38 seconds in the 40 at the NFL combine, and his ball skills are on par with a sure-handed receiver’s.
Clearly, the Packers’ grade on Alexander was similar to where they had Edmunds and James. They simply preferred a corner.
So Gutekunst took the plunge and made it work.
“I felt confident we could (trade up),” he said. “The draft is one of those things you can’t predict, but I felt confident we could.”
Alexander didn’t have any contact with the Packers.
It seems Gutekunst intended to keep his interest in the Louisville cornerback as low-key as possible. Alexander was the second cornerback selected behind Ohio State’s Denzel Ward, who was selected fifth overall by Denver.
The Packers’ director of college scouting, Jon-Eric Sullivan, explained what they liked about Alexander.
“Jaire is a guy we targeted all along,” he said. “We liked him from the outset. He’s very much a competitor. I think you can see that in his play. He’s twitchy. He has really good ball skills. He can play inside and outside. He’s a very good punt returner. He’s the kind of person we wanted to add to the locker room.”
Alexander believes his height isn’t a disadvantage.
“I’m a big believer in heart over height,” he said. “If you look back at the field, I only gave up five passes (in 2018). I’ve played against bigger receivers who are 6-5. It doesn’t really matter. My mentality is I’m going to be the man in front of me. That’s just a part of being a student of the game. I don’t pay any attention to size or anything like that.”
Alexander said he is familiar with Packers great such as Charles Woodson, and is looking forward to being a teammate of one of the NFL’s top quarterbacks, Aaron Rodgers.
“I’m very excited about that,” he said. “He’s a legend. I know going against him is only going to make me better and prepare my game, so I’m definitely looking forward to going against him in practice and just being around the type of person that he is, the competitor that he is.”
Currently, the Packers have their second-round pick, the 45th overall, as well as two in the fourth round, four in the fifth, one in the sixth and three in the seventh.
Gutekunst strongly suggested the Packers aren’t done trading.
“The way our board looks right now, I would assume we would move around a little bit,” he said. “We have a lot of picks.”
The Packers still may be able to acquire a pass rusher or a receiver with the 45th pick, barring trades.
Georgia’s Lorenzo Carter (6-5, 250) is a highly regarded pass rusher who would be a godsend to the Packers. He would help immediately in sub-packages and should develop into a starting outside linebacker in a 3-4.
Florida State’s Josh Sweat (6-5, 251) is graded lower because of injuries, but like Carter is a gifted pass rusher when he’s right.
At receiver, Texas A&M’s Christian Kirk (5-10, 201) and SMU’s Courtland Sutton (6-3, 218) are good prospects. Kirk is a slot receiver similar to Randall Cobb, while Sutton is a big, perimeter receiver with strong hands who can go up and get it.
A wild-card might be LSU receiver D.J. Chark (6-3, 199) who ran a blistering 4.34 at the NFL combine. If the Packers can land any of these players it would be a good second round.