There was a clear consensus heading into the 2020 draft that the Packers had some serious needs. Experts and fans alike listed wide receiver, inside linebacker, interior defenseman, and offensive tackle as players Green Bay should be going after.
Instead, GM Brian Gutekunst chose a quarterback, running back, and tight end in the early rounds. Bizarre!
How did the Packers’ chief rivals address their needs? For the most part, very well and responsibly.
Kansas City Chiefs
The reigning champs, the Kansas City Chiefs seemed to have their biggest need at running back. Their principal RB was Damien Williams, who went undrafted in 2014, and gained fewer than 500 yards last year. So, the Chiefs, drafting two spots behind the Packers, went out and got LSU running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire.
You might have heard more about “Taylor Swift”: Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor and Georgia’s D’Andre Swift. However, I’d say that most mock drafts had Edwards-Helaire as the nation’s top college back in 2019. Among his honors: 2019 LSU Football MVP; 2019 LSU Permanent Team Captain; 2019 All-SEC First Team, Paul Hornung Award Finalist.
Who do you think will be the starting RB in Game 1 for the Chiefs? Kansas City now appears to have a dynamo rushing game to complement the passing brilliance of Patrick Mahomes. Having plugged their roster holes, KC has got to be the prohibitive favorite to repeat as NFL champs.
The Vikings selected WR Justin Jefferson with the 22nd pick. Many Pack fans and many experts felt that Jefferson was the perfect guy to instantly become the team’s WR2. Where Jefferson was on Gutekunst’s board is something the GM won’t talk about.
Jefferson just had one of the best receiving seasons in LSU history. His 111 receptions was tied for the national lead, and he had 18 TD catches, second best in the country.
But the Vikings were just getting started. They had a second first-round pick, one spot behind the Packers at #31. They Vikes lost two defensive backs going into 2020: veterans Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes. Sensibly, they grabbed TCU cornerback Jeff Gladney, who Our Lads has already projected to be the Vikes’ starting right cornerback. Gladney was a First-Team All-Big 12 selection in 2019, and his 15 passes defended led the conference.
Once again, some players the Packers were eyeing landed instead in the enemy’s nest. Offensive tackle Ezra Cleveland was chosen at #58, just a bit before Green Bay got to choose at #62. And with the 132nd pick, Minnesota took Oregon linebacker Troy Dye, another player the Packers were said to be wanting.
With their bounty of 15 draft choices, Minnesota shored up any number of roster spots – they selected 3 cornerbacks, 3 defensive linemen, and 2 WRs, OTs, and safeties. A bunch of pundits have rated the Vikings as having the best draft of the season.
San Francisco 49ers
The best team in the National Football Conference had rock-solid offensive and defensive lineups in 2019 – except that they lost veteran receiver Emmanuel Sanders, their second most productive receiver. The 11-year vet signed a two-year, $16 million contract with the Saints on April 6.
Many Green Bay fans felt Gutekunst would take WR Brandon Aiyuk at pick #30. NFL Executive of the Year GM John Lynch, however, pulled a fast one: he jumped ahead of Green Bay, by moving up from pick #31 to #25, and snatched Aiyuk. Did Gutekunst originally trade up to #26 in order to pick Aiyuk? We’ll probably never know for sure.
The team with the best record in the AFC was left with the 28th pick. They quickly grabbed a name familiar to Packers diehards: LSU linebacker Patrick Queen. Queen entered his junior year on the watchlist for the Butkus Award (as the nation’s top college linebacker). He finished the regular season with 69 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, 5 passes defended, an interception and a fumble recovery. He capped off his college career by being named Defensive MVP of the 2020 College National Championship Game.
Of all the Packers’ weak spots, I identified the two inside linebacker slots, as needs that had to be met if the Packers were to repair their shoddy run defense. Christian Kirksey arguably filled the need created by the departure of Blake Martinez, but Queen could have become the second ILB in the Pack’s next starting lineup, as he was available when the Packers got to choose at #26.
Instead the Packers took the long-term approach in selecting a backup quarterback. RIP Win Now.