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GM Gutekunst’s Influence Was Widespread on Sunday

Though Brian Gutekunst, in his third year as Packers’ personnel guru, had been heavily criticized in in the runup to the 2020 season (myself included), his decisions are looking better and better after the Packers’ beatdown of the Vikes.

Starting with the inside linebacker problem, Gutey didn’t pursue Blake Martinez, knowing he would command a high price as a free agent, and in fact the Giants gave him a three-year deal at $10.25 million per season.

Instead of going after the top free agent ILBs (Cory Littleton, Joe Schobert, Nick Kwiatoski), Gutey focused right away on Christian Kirksey, nabbing him for two years at an average salary of $6.5 million. Kirksey has been a very popular acquisition, and his 12 tackles on Sunday (in only 52 defensive snaps) – the same number as Martinez got for the Giants – suggests he’s a solid addition to the defensive unit.

In a similar vein, the GM sought out a mid-tier player to replace Brian Bulaga at right tackle. He signed journeyman Rick Wagner to a modest two-year deal for $11 million. Wagner did a fine job on his 42 snaps in Minnesota.

The salary cap prevents teams from paying everyone high salaries. Gutey has done a good job of allocating most of the money to those in the skills positions.

At draft time, Gutey shocked everyone by picking QB Jordan Love in the first round. We’ll have to wait to see how that turns out, but assume for a moment that Rodgers suffers another serious injury in the next two to four years. Unlike his backups in 2013 (Seneca Wallace, Scott Tolzien, Matt Flynn) and 2017 (Brett Hundley, Joe Callahan), Love conceivably will be able to keep Green Bay competitive for the remainder of the season.

Gutey shocked us again in the second round of the April draft, picking muscle-bound running back A.J. Dillon. The huge man already quieted many of the critics in the course of training camp. He could emerge as a great complement to Aaron Jones – and if Jones goes elsewhere next year, Dillon could be a great bargain as his replacement. Brian definitely keeps an eye on the future.

Then there’s Tyler Ervin, who showed his speed and ability on Sunday on all of his three rushes, his sole pass reception, and his free kick return. Where did Ervin come from? At the tail end of last season, Gutekunst spotted him on the waiver wire, and grabbed him just before Christmas.

The veteran 27-year-old was re-signed on March 30, for right around $1 million for the year. I would have liked to see a multi-year deal, but at any rate his versatility was on full display against the Vikes. A great pickup!

The Packers are obviously high on their stealth inside linebacker, Krys Barnes. His story is that Gutekunst immediately pounced on him after he went undrafted out of UCLA. Still, it was a shocker that Barnes was picked to start ahead of both Oren Burks and Chandon Sullivan. Barnes proceeded to rack up seven tackles, including five solos and two for losses – in just 15 snaps. Pro football Focus graded Barnes as the Packers’ top defensive player in the game. Could the youngster, who was a high school teammate of Jordon Love, prove to be the answer to Green Bay’s long search for a second base formation ILB?

Both LaFleur and Pettine don’t hesitate to go with who’s playing the best, not who has the best pedigree or was drafted the highest.

Gutekunst’s third-round pick was Josiah Deguara, a 238-pound tight end out of Cincinnati (the American Conference). He didn’t draw a lot of interest in training camp, as the Packers appeared to be deep at the position. However, in the season opener, Deguara was awarded with 24 offensive snaps, often as part of a two-tight-end formation.

Josiah was targeted twice and was the only Green Bay tight end to catch a pass. The coaching staff also singled him out for his rough-tough blocking.

Another Gutekunst “find” who excelled on Sunday was Allen Lazard. He was another late-season acquisition, acquired by waiver in December of 2018. He hung on, and barely made the team’s active roster on September 4, 2019. After not getting any action until Week 6, Allen got his chance, and proceeded to make 35 catches, for 477 yards and three touchdowns the rest of that season.

Lazard picked up where he had left off on Sunday – his line was four catches (in four targets), for 63 yards and a touchdown – and he looked comfortable, and in synch with Rodgers, in doing so. Remember Gutey saying, following the 2020 draft, that he wasn’t going to draft a receiver whose prospects were no better than those he already had on the roster? Lazard and Valdes-Scantling substantiated that bit of wisdom over the weekend.

Cornerback Chandon Sullivan, signed by the Eagles as an undrafted free agent in the spring of 2018, played sparingly that year and was waived on May 1, 2019. The Packers’ GM swooped in and signed him up five days later. Not only did Sullivan make the team, but he quietly had 30 tackles and 6 passes defended in playing in all 16 regular-season games last year.

In April Gutey signed him for another year as an exclusive rights free agent. Sullivan, almost unnoticed (he’s #39), was on the field Sunday for 36 of the 52 defensive snaps, and he recorded three tackles.

Rashan Gary, Gutey’s puzzler of a first round draft pick a year ago, is coming along. After his sterling training camp, Mike Pettine found a way to play him Rashan on 32 of the 52 defensive snaps. Though he recorded no sacks, he was credited with two tackles, and he led the team with two QB hits on Kirk Cousins.

Offensive lineman John Runyon, chosen by Gutekunst this spring in the sixth round, didn’t figure to see action against the Vikes, but injuries caused him to be sent in for 15 plays. The rookie was error-free on eight pass plays and seven run plays.

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) dives for a first down against the Minnesota Vikings during their football game Sunday, September 13, 2020, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minn.

Summary

Brian Gutkunst’s draft picks over his three-year tenure have been controversial. Though we won’t know how well they’ll turn out for a few years, things are starting to look quite encouraging.

When it comes to acquiring undrafted free agents, or claiming players off of waivers, Gutekunst seems to have a knack for finding diamonds in the rough – and the coaching staff hasn’t been shy about giving such guys opportunities to play.

Gutekunst’s predecessor, Ted Thompson, put dozens of UDFAs, but with very few positive results. In particular, Thompson brought in around a dozen marginal defensive backs in just his last few years, and they almost invariably played poorly and quickly washed out of the league.

I’d say that Gutekunst has had more success in picking up unwanted or discarded players in his three years than Thompson had in 13. And if Thompson, who shunned the free agent market, were the GM, this team would be without Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith, Adrian Amos, and Billy Turner.

Other overlooked players that Gutey has brought onboard, and who saw action beyond special teams on Sunday (along with their offensive or defensive snap counts) are: S Will Redmond (24), DL Tyler Lancaster (23); OLB Tipa Galeai (9), WR Malik Taylor (1), and TE Jon Lovett (1).

In addition to sixth-round pick Jon Runyan, other late-round draft choices who got in Sunday’s game were two seventh-rounders: LB Jonathan Garvin (6) and S Vernon Scott (3).

The fact that all nine of the Pack’s 2020 draft picks are still part of the team is unusual. I’d day that Brian is a superior judge of football talent.

It also appears that Matt LaFleur is much more inclined than was Coach Mike McCarthy to give unheralded players a chance to show their stuff. And by the way, I see that Big Mike was absolutely savaged by the press and Cowboy fans for his predictable play calling in Sunday’s loss – which comes as no surprise to TP viewers.

Who will be next to get his chance to blossom: CB Perry Nickerson (just signed off waivers), T Yosh Nijman, G Simon Stepaniak, LB Randy Ramsey, LB Kamal Martin?

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Rob Born

I’m with Matt: “You gotta make those chunk plays!”

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22 Comments

  1. NobodysBurfect September 17, 2020

    …you know our first round pick from this year is third string, right? The guy sitting behind Boyle with the clipboard? Not really sure how he will keep us competitive if ARod gets hurt & he’s inactive on game day.

    The kudos go to LaFleur for off the field stuff – he’s calling fantastic games & is bringing a sense of comradery to the team we haven’t seen in years.

    By the way, what’s Gute’s 40 time?

    Reply
    1. Robster September 17, 2020

      The surest way to acquire a top-notch QB is to draft him in the first round. It’s all about a player’s (perceived) “ceiling.” The percentages tell us that QBs chosen in the first round of a draft often prove to be fine pro players. This is often true even in their first few seasons. As the 2019 season approached, SB Nation ran this (paraphrased): “The following quarterbacks flooded the 2018 postseason, however, making it the first time this millennium the majority of teams in the playoffs had QBs who started at least five games that season and who were all four-year veterans or younger. That group? Deshaun Watson (Texans – overall pick 12), Patrick Mahomes (Chiefs – 10), Lamar Jackson (Ravens – 32), Jared Goff (Rams – 1), Mitchell Trubisky (Bears – 2), Dak Prescott (Cowboys), and Carson Wentz. (Eagles – 2).” The only outlier in the group was Prescott, a fourth-rounder. By the way, I didn’t include Love’s first year in my scenario, but by his second year, I’m feeling that he’ll be capable of leading this (strong) team into the playoffs should Rodgers go down. Part of this belief is my rising respect for Gutey’s judgment.

      Reply
      1. PF4L September 18, 2020

        Lets not go off the rails here….
        So what is your level of respect for Gute…if Love hasn’t grasped the pro game by years 2 or 3?
        .
        The above QB’s you’ve mentioned below have all started NFL games their first year including…
        .
        Deshaun Watson….2X Pro Bowl
        Lamar Jackson…Pro Bowl…..First Team All- Pro…MVP
        Jared Goff…2X Pro Bowl
        Carson Wentz…Pro Bowl….2nd team All-Pro
        Dak Prescott….2X All Pro …All Rookie team..rookie this, rookie that…..
        Mitch Trubisky…..Pro Bowl….nobody cares
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        2nd year starter…Who i think… we could all agree, could have started his first year.
        Patrick Mahomie…SB QB…SB MVP….2X Pro Bowl…1st team All-Pro….NFL MVP..yadda yadda yadda.
        .
        Yes Jordan Love was a 1st round pick, that’s where the commonalities end.
        Most football people regarded Love as a “project” even before camp.
        He then proved he was a project in training camp.
        There were multiple fundamental flaws in Love’s transition to the NFL reported in camp and substantiated by coaches, etc.
        Things i never heard of, even with Brett Hundley.
        .
        I guess you can point out that all those QB’s also taken in the first round found success, but i don’t know where that is any indicator that Love will find success. Just because he was taken in the 1st round…..really?
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        IDK. my man….Sure it’s true that QB’s chosen in the first round have proven to be fine Pro players. But isn’t it also true that just as many or more 1st round QB’s didn’t become fine Pro players? Just trying to understand the logic.
        .
        We’ll find out…like i’ve said before, Gute picking Love, bought himself more time, possibly a contract extension.
        If Love works out…praise to Gute.
        If he doesn’t…i just feel bad for Packer Nation that this went on as long as it did. Not to mention giving up on Rodgers to build for Jordan Love.
        .

        Reply
    2. R.Duke September 18, 2020

      Blow bowl doesn’t mean too much. All PRO means something. This draft represents Gutedkunst listening to his scouts. To not notice Krys Barnes on the UCLA d and Pac 12 play you would have to bee the blind,deaf and dumb RAS ball wizard from PFF. Deguara was amazing for the Bearcats. Dillon pounded the ACC for three years. Maybe the Silage Committee told Gutey to stay away from the computer room and focus on game film. Runyan is a RT in my book. Lindsley is trade bait.

      Reply
  2. Howard September 17, 2020

    Very good Rob.
    .
    Gutekunst has made his share of good moves and bad moves. It appears Gutekunst traded up In his first year to get a ST player in Burks, and I don’t think Jackson played much this last weekend?
    .
    I do think Gutekunst didn’t have the people in the scouting and player personnel he wanted in his first year. The Packer scouting and player personnel departments were stale and picked over when Gutekunst took over as GM. I guess that is the breaks in getting paid the big bucks, but should not be an excuse.
    .
    I do believe Gutekunst has made some positive additions after his first year in hiring Milt Hendrickson. I think Hendrickson is a good evaluator of talent. In addition some of the promotions/additions in the scouting and player personnel departments have helped stabilize the talent evaluators around Gutekunst. That does not mean there are not going to be mistakes made on certain players.
    .
    If Clark is gone for an extended time, and hopefully that is not the case we should maybe look or hope for Billy Winn to be a good FA pickup. Winn may help in plugging the middle of the run defense, if he can stay healthy.

    Reply
  3. PF4L September 17, 2020

    First…just so there isn’t any misunderstanding, I appreciate the effort and the time involved in writing article’s. I don’t have to agree with Rob to respect, and appreciate what he does for us and this website. That’s keeping it 100. Do NOT let my viewpoints or input concerning my voice of reason, to identify me as being a dick towards Rob or anyone else. But it’s a free Country. so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
    Checks and balances, that’s all it is.
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    Wow….I have never been so entertained (giggling), nauseated, and dizzy, all at the same time.(i need to lay down).
    .
    Props…As Public Relations people will tell you….start out with a bit a comedy. “Personnel Guru?” That’s Gold Rob….GOLD!!
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    I feel like if i commented….it wouldn’t end. Maybe i do it in piece work…idk
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    Perhaps i just pretend it didn’t happen and continue being known as one of the nice guys in here as to not hurt anyone’s feelings and keep the peace.
    ,
    What a difference 1 game makes.

    Reply
    1. Robster September 17, 2020

      One game can be sufficient for guys with my decades of following the game, guru-like.

      Reply
      1. PF4L September 17, 2020

        Well :) ….i can’t argue with reason and logic :)

        Reply
  4. PF4L September 17, 2020

    After one game….

    Christian Kerksey ….12 tackles..6 solo….6.5 million/year
    .
    Josh Jones..(yes, that Josh Jones)…12 tackles, 6 solo…..$690,000/year.
    .
    Now……i’m NOT crowning Josh Jones in any manner for a one game performance…that would be foolish….wouldn’t it?
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    Not to be confused with (special teams guru) Josh Jackson. Brian Gutenkunst (personnel Guru) 2nd round pick in 2018

    Reply
    1. R.Duke September 18, 2020

      Some dis-connect w/ the Pettine scheme, it would seem likely.

      Reply
  5. PF4L September 17, 2020

    Tyler Ervin….
    .
    He’s a fast kid…everyone knows it, even the other teams that cut him in previous seasons knew it.
    .
    Ervin showed against the vikings that he was fast enough to get around the edge, We as Packer fans like to see that as it’s pretty damn rare around this team.
    So sure…you could use him in spot situations. But he’s small and can’t block, so he’s limited. His living in the NFL has been made as a returner on special teams, where, for his career, he’s been average. He has zero TD’s as a returner in 114 returns over 5 seasons.
    .
    For his career, in 5 plus years he has a total of 108 receiving yards on 17 catches.
    For his career in 5 plus seasons he has a total of 63 rushing yards.
    Does this not tell you anything? Maybe Gute is just outsmarting the other GM’s…idk
    .
    So…we (i) got excited watching him get around the edge a couple times with his speed, i’m just not sure if the guy who signed him, is then labeled a “Personnel Guru” partly because of it.
    .
    Tyler Ervin will have no impact on the success or failure of this Packer season, as his previous teams found out. To label him a “great signing” is like saying Jimmy Graham was a great signing. Jimmy G…one of our past Personnel Guru’s free agent signings.
    So far……Z Smith has been a great signing. Lets not insult Smith by putting Ervin in that company.

    Reply
    1. Ferris September 18, 2020

      He is Darren Sproles. Get the ball in his hands. He is running at a different speed than everyone else. TT would have tried to make him a corner.

      Reply
      1. PF4L September 18, 2020

        The next Darren Sproles huh….hmmmm :) I love you man
        .
        In rushing, receiving and return yards…Ervin’s only 19,482 yards behind Sproles, he’s only 64 behind him in touchdowns.
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        So…you’re tellin me there’s a chance!…….i hear ya :).
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        Actually Ervin isn’t even that far behind….i didn’t count in the yards he gained against the queens :)

        Reply
        1. Ferris September 18, 2020

          OK let me clarify. He reminds me of Darren Sproles when he runs with the ball.

          Reply
        2. R.Duke September 18, 2020

          Maybe DeAndre Swift or Hellaire.

          Reply
  6. Skinny September 17, 2020

    After week 1 Gutekunst is the front runner for executive of the year i would say.

    Reply
    1. PF4L September 17, 2020

      He’s won 100% of his games, what’s not to like.
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      Probably win against Detroit also.

      Reply
  7. PF4L September 17, 2020

    I gave props to Barnes on gameday.
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    I agree with Rob that it was shocking he started ahead of Sullivan……Muscle head Burks, not so much.
    .
    We all know Oren Burks..Personnel Guru Gute’s 3rd round pick in 2018.
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    Congrats Mr. Barnes (again).
    .
    I can’t crown you, or whoever signed you yet. But you’ve made the most of your 15 career snaps in the NFL.

    Reply
    1. R.Duke September 18, 2020

      Safeties are not LBs. Time to flush the rover concept in the Pro Game.

      Reply
      1. PF4L September 19, 2020

        That’s ok, i don’t know shit sometimes, i didn’t even know who Randy Ramsey was, or that he was a linebacker and Preston Smith’s back up. I’m looking forward to see his first NFL tackle.
        .
        One 2nd string back up OLB is an UDFA without a tackle, the other 2nd string back up OLB is a #12 pick from the 1st round. It’s a mad, mad world out there.
        .
        It ain’t easy keeping up with all these UDFA’s.
        .

        .

        Reply
  8. SJS September 18, 2020

    The Elephant in the room is the D. Huge chunks of yards given up late. Horrible containment. If Rodgers doesn’t hit that long first down to pretty much seal it, the game is very much in doubt. I’m going to use the impressive offense along with a porous D to make money by betting thePacker games over for the time being. I hope if this offense continues to post numbers like this, the talking heads that almost unanimously were in disbelief that Gut didn’t draft a WR will finally STFU!

    Reply
    1. PF4L September 19, 2020

      Yea..stfu all you know it all’s
      .
      Did you not see the game last Sunday. BOOM!!!….in your face bitches!!
      .
      Welcome to the site SJS.

      Reply

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