When Brian Gutekunst was named general manager of the Packers in early January of 2018, it seemed like a solid, though not an obvious, choice.
Gutekunst has been submerged in football most of his life. His father replaced Lou Holtz as the football coach at the University of Minnesota when Brian was 12. Brian was a ball boy along the sidelines. Brian then went to UW – La Crosse, where he was a linebacker with a shoulder that wouldn’t stay in its socket. His playing days over, he became a student coach.
He was obsessed with reviewing game film, and his player evaluations quickly earned the trust of the La Crosse coaching staff. Barely in his twenties, he got an unexpected call from Ron Wolf, and two days later he arrived in Green Bay to become a scout. He spent 13 years in that position, then was elevated to Director of College Scouting in 2012.
Continuing his rise in Green Bay’s front office, he served as Director of Player Personnel in 2016 and 2017. In all those years in Green Bay’s front office, he watched and learned from some highly-reputed guys: GM Ron Wolf, Reggie McKenzie (Oakland GM 2012-18), John Dorsey (Kansas City and Cleveland GM), Eliot Wolf (Cleveland Assistant GM 2018-19), and his predecessor, Ted Thompson.
No one can question his intelligence – as opposed to his “smarts.” His work ethic is great. He’s an excellent and open communicator. He’s almost universally well-liked – or was. He’s been a football junky since before he was a teenager. It’s not his experience or pedigree that’s the problem. So what went wrong?
The 2020 Draft
The Packers’ 2020 draft has been panned by everyone in sight: the professional critics, the pundits, and the fans. The reaction of Total Packers followers was shock, anger, and not a small amount of despair. After just the first day, Green Bay’s draft was being rated worst of all 32 NFL teams. In my mind, Day 2 even more non-sensical – and more inexplicable – than Day 1. I won’t go into it here – the TP commenters have said it all (here).
After selecting Utah State QB Jordan Love with the 30th pick, here’s what Gutey had to say:
“We go through the same process every year. . .we build our board and try to stay true to the board and take the best player available,” Gutekunst told the media. “The way the board fell this year, he was the best player left and we’re excited to get him.”
Can it be that simple? Gutekunst took his notion of the best player available, regardless of what position he played – and with utter disregard to the team’s needs?
More (meaningless) words of wisdom from the GM:
“He’s a very good athlete. He has the size we look for. There’s some rawness to him but he’s got everything in front of him. He’s willing to work and he kind of fits with our culture.”
“Some rawness?” Love rarely even plants his feet properly before throwing. He tends to loop his passes, not rifle them. Playing in the Mountain West conference, he has seldom faced top college opposition – and he still performed erratically in his third and final year there. He didn’t make either first or second all-conference team; instead, he got a consolation prize: honorable mention.
If you believe, as one critic put it, that the Packers were on the cusp of going to the Super Bowl in 2020, that dream has been torn asunder. Gutekunst must feel that Super Bowl runs come along regularly. But everyone knows that the acquisition of Jordan Love will do nothing to aid the Packers’ chances of Super Bowl glory for the next three years. Even if Rodgers were to miss some action due to an injury, is there any doubt that Tim Boyle, and not Love, would go in as the backup? So much for “win now.”
The picking a quarterback in Round 1 also likely signals that Aaron Rodgers will finish his career with a team other than Green Bay.
The Packers chose running back A.J. Dillon with pick #62. Where, other than on Gutey’s board, is there any indication that the Packers are in dire need of a running back? For that matter, Dillon is really a fullback: he’s 6 feet tall and weighs 247 – amazingly, he seems to have a trim waistline despite that weight. We had a fullback a year ago, Danny Vitale; he did everything asked of him, but the Packers either weren’t interested in, or don’t know how to utilize, a fullback.
With pick #94 in the third round, the Packers went with tight end Josiah Deguara. From all indications, the Packers are already high on their Round 3 tight end pick of a year ago, Jace Sternberger – and they have a reliable veteran in Marcedes Lewis. Gutekunst keeps stacking players on top of each other, like he did n 2018 when he picked three wide receivers in a row in Rounds 4 through 6, and like he did with the Smiths and Rashan Gary. Has Gutekunst already lost faith in Sternberger?
By trading up to get QB Love, Gutey gave up the team’s Round 4 selection, ending his last likely chance to draft a player who might contribute in some way to making this team better in 2020.
I’m not personally knocking any of the Packers’ picks. They just aren’t a fit for the situation. They don’t fulfill the Packers’ needs. And, Brian, they weren’t the BPAs (best players available) either.
Not so by the way, critics are applauding the Vikings, who the Packers beat twice last season on their way to winning their division. The Vikes have selected seven players in the first four rounds, versus the Packers’ three picks. CBS Sports rates WR Justin Jefferson (#22) an A; OT Ezra Cleveland (#58) an A-; and LB Troy Dye (#132) an A.
CBS Sports has rated the Pack’s top four picks like this: QB Jordan Love (#26), D; RB A.J. Dillon (#62), C-; TE Josiah Deguara (#94), C-; and LB Kamal Martin (#175), D+. Thanks to Gutekunst’s deplorable choices, the divisional race is all but decided.
There’s no blaming Mark Murphy (other than in retrospect for the hiring decision in 2018), the GM’s two dozen or so scouts, personnel people, and advisors, or Coach La Fleur. This is all on Gutekunst’s shoulders.
Let this be Brian’s epitaph: “He Stayed True to the Board.”