Rob Demovsky has covered the last 26 NFL Drafts.
The longtime writer is an encyclopedia of Green Bay Packers history.
As for Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst, he’s in his sixth year running the draft in Green Bay. Gutekunst, who reflects some of the same tendencies as his successful predecessors Ron Wolf and the late Ted Thompson, has started to reveal his selection style.
With the Packers selecting Iowa linebacker Lukas Van Ness with the team’s top pick at 13th overall, Gutekunst stressed the importance of an edge rusher for the franchise.
Van Ness was the first of five defensive players taken by the Packers. The team nabbed seven offensive players — all at skill positions — and one special teamer to round out the class. The 13 draft picks ties Green Bay’s largest class, joining the 2000 group, in the seven-round era that began in 1994.
Demovsky, who will hit 10 years in July as ESPN’s Packers beat writer after 16 years at the Green Bay Press-Gazette, has noticed a pattern from the Packers’ brass.
“If you draw up the prototypical Packers draft, this is it,” Demovsky told Wisconsin Sports Heroics. “A defensive player in the first round, because they’ve done that with 11 of their last 12 first-round picks have been defensive guys. As one scout described Van Ness to me, he’s just the perfect Packers fit. He’s a Midwest guy and played in the Big Ten. He’s just one of their prototypical-type players. Then you go down to the second round and you’re like, OK, where do they take receivers? Well, they take them in the second round, and they’ve had some pretty good success. Then you go deeper into it. Obviously, (the Packers) drafting two tight ends is unusual, but you really look at it and this is the second year in a row they’ve drafted three receivers. And, I believe in Gutey’s first draft in 2018, that was MVS, Moore and EQ were all picked. So now three times Gutey’s drafted three receivers: 2018, 2022, 2023. Then load up on seventh-round picks and see what shakes out.
“To me, this is the formula. Whether it works or not I guess is in the eye of the beholder. But they clearly have a way of doing it, and this draft kind of reinforced that.”
Defense First, but Offensive Heavy
After going defense with its opening pick, Green Bay chose five offensive players out of its next six selections. That included a pair of tight ends in Oregon State’s Luke Musgrave (second round, No. 42 overall) and South Dakota State’s Tucker Kraft (third round, No. 78) along with two wide receivers in Michigan State’s Jayden Reed (second round, No. 50) and Virginia’s Dontayvion Wicks (fifth round, No. 159).
Who does Demovsky think is the best fit for the Packers in the draft class?
“It’s easy to say because he’s a high pick, but Jayden Reed out of Michigan State,” Demovsky said. “It’s a little high to take what you would call a slot receiver, I think. But it sounds like he’s more than just a slot receiver, he can play all three positions. LaFleur’s offense is motion, middle of the field type of stuff, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in kind of the pre-snap motion. Randall Cobb was a really good slot receiver, but I don’t know if putting him in motion was always the right way to go or jet sweeps with Allen Lazard, who wasn’t the fastest guy in the world. I think with Reed, assuming he’s the third receiver, I think you’ve got Watson’s a deep threat, Dobbs is kind of the do-it-all guy and Reed can kind of be the third playmaker in there. I think it could be a good fit.”
Reed, Wicks and seventh-round pick Grant Dubose out of Charlotte were added to fill out the wide receiver room. In the offseason, the Packers lost veteran pass-catchers Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb to free agency.
Nice Sleeper Pick?
Dubose, who could turn into a nice sleeper pick at No. 256, was three picks from being Mr. Irrelevant. But playing at a smaller football school like Charlotte conjures up the thought that competition may not have been the best week in and week out for Dubose.
But the Packers seem to like wide receivers that are successful at non-Power 5 colleges.
“They don’t always have to take receivers from the big schools,” Demovsky said. “James Jones was from San Jose State, Davante Adams, Fresno State. Jordy (Nelson) was a Big 12 guy, but he wasn’t a Big 12 guy at Oklahoma, Texas, he was at Kansas State. I’m not trying to repeat myself, but he sort of fits the bill of what they kind of do.”
With top tight end Robert Tonyan signing with the Chicago Bears in the offseason and veteran Marcedes Lewis still unsigned, the Packers were extremely thin at tight end entering the draft.
The Packers had the opportunity early in the second round to possibly move up to select Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer, considered one of the marquee tight ends in this year’s draft class, but they opted to hold with their picks at Nos. 42 (which came from the New York Jets in the Aaron Rodgers trade) and 50. Mayer ended up going 35th to the Las Vegas Raiders.
“From what I was told, Mayer’s just a guy,” Demovsky said. “He does everything OK and nothing great. I know he had some injury issues, but Darnell Washington, that’s the one that I thought sort of maybe they would target. Again, Musgrave’s another kind of typical Packers’ pick. He had some really good production a couple years ago, and they seem to like guys that maybe had down years the next year, whether it was injuries or whatever reason, but they flashed it.”
A Backup for Love
What was the biggest surprise pick for the Packers during the three days?
“Probably the quarterback, and not because they picked a quarterback. I thought they would pick one a little higher, to be honest,” Demovsky said.
Green Bay selected Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford in the fifth round at No. 149 overall. Clifford spent six seasons with the Nittany Lions and is actually 3 ½ months older than Packers new starting quarterback Jordan Love.
“I thought maybe there would be a third-round quarterback instead of a fifth-round quarterback,” Demovsky said about the Packers selecting Clifford. “Or maybe they’d move up at the start of Day 3 and then pick a quarterback earlier. This guy was the 11th quarterback off the board. To me, once you get that deep into it, are you better just going after a free agent? I just don’t know what the upside is to that, other than maybe you find a diamond in the rough.”
The Packers are hoping to get longevity from as many of this year’s draft picks as possible. Hypothetically, if one player could still be on the roster 10 years from now, who could that be? Demovsky said it’s usually an offensive lineman, but the Packers opted not to select a lineman this draft.
“I’m going to go out on a limb here and say the kicker,” Demovsky said.
Green Bay selected Auburn kicker Anders Carlson in the sixth round, No. 207 overall. He was the third placekicker taken in the draft.
Longtime kicker Mason Crosby, who the Packers picked in the sixth round in 2007, is a free agent.
The Packers’ kicking job is Carlson’s to lose at this point.
“I know his numbers weren’t great last year, but you don’t draft a kicker very often and, I think Crosby was the last time they drafted a kicker and that worked out pretty darn well,” Demovsky said. “Now you have 13 picks, so maybe you’re a little bit more willing to take a chance on a kicker and if it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out. But they drafted this guy to be the kicker. It’s his job to lose. You know how it is, if the Packers find a kicker, they’re going to stay with him for a while — even Crosby had some struggles.”
An immediate Defensive Starter
Circling back around to the Packers’ top pick Van Ness, the kid has talent. During his two seasons at Iowa, he amassed 13 ½ sacks and 19 ½ tackles for loss.
The wildest statistic for the 21-year-old? He never started a game in college.
“I think he’s the only guy ever drafted in the first round who never started in college,” Demovsky said. “I know he played more snaps than the starters and all that, it’s just kind of funny. Look, Rashan Gary’s not playing Week 1, I don’t see how he is. Those guys don’t play, especially rookies, they’re not going to play 90% of the snaps at that position every game. It’s not like cornerback or safety where you play every play. Those edge rushers and defensive line positions are just too hard to play every down. But Gutekunst even said, he’s comparing him to Rashan Gary that they had Za’Darius [Smith] and Preston [Smith] when they drafted Gary, and they didn’t necessarily need him to play right away. They need this guy. This guy will play right away, Gutekunst said that.”
The Packers’ big draft class has all the makings of a solid group, but until the guys hit the field for real in the fall, everything is speculation.
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