The 2023 draft is over and all the pundit rankings and predictions fall into the theme of the old Edwin Starr song about war. Good for absolutely nothing. But have we learned anything about Brian Gutekunst and the Packer brain trust?
There are a couple of running themes you could pull out of this Packer draft. But before going there, this truth: nobody knows if this is going to be the best draft ever or closer to the worst. Thirteen players makes for a lot of dice rolling at the same time, so the odds are in the Packers’ favor. And maybe that emboldened Gutekunst to take a bit more risk than in any previous draft. His first round choice never started a college game. His first pick in the second round has missed significant time to major injury in both high school and college.
Then, seemingly learning nothing from the J’Mon Moore 4th round disaster pick of 2018, Gutekunst picked two receivers in the draft with the dreaded “drop issue” tag. Both 2nd round pick Jayden Reed and 5th round pick Dontayvion Wicks have that dreaded ticket punched into their description by pundits who watched their film. The term also pops up, although less frequently and with less concern, on the Packers second tight end pick, Tucker Kraft.
The prior injury issue that caused Musgrave to drop is shared with Kraft and kicker Anders Carlson. Carlson, a fifth round selection, and 5th round pick, QB Sean Clifford were both listed with undrafted free agent grades prior to the draft by most pundits. Every draft selection has risk, but Gutekunst took seemingly every type of risk from every angle in this draft and it is clear his draft board was not in sync with many pundits.
List of Green Bay Packers 2023 NFL Draft Picks
|13 (from NYJ)
|Lukas Van Ness
|42 (from NYJ)
|50 (from TB)
|South Dakota State
|159 (from DET, via JAX and ATL)
|179 (from HOU, via TB)
|207 (from NYJ)
|235 (from DET via LAR)
|Lew Nichols III
|242 (from JAX)
|Anthony Johnson Jr.
Now, before fans start to throw in the 2023 season towel and start petitions to fire the entire Packer scouting department, it would be wise to remember the strategy of some great NFL draft strategists. In 1986, Bill Walsh had a spectacular draft for the 49ers. He drafted in order, Tom Rathman (FB),Tim McKyer (CB), John Taylor (WR), Charles Haley (Edge), Steve Wallace (OT), Kevin Fagan (DT), Don Griffin (CB). In all the 49ers got 85 NFL seasons played out of this draft, including 8 pro bowls. Walsh had a couple of habits that served him well. He picked players with high athletic skill, believing that if a player could make outstanding athletic plays on film, his staff could coach them to eliminate negative plays. He also believed in going after players he coveted instead of taking what the draft dealt him.
Draft Strategies and Outcomes
Walsh traded up and down to draft his targeted players, but always had backup lists in case he was foiled by other GMs. He also would draft multiple players at the same position if his team had a need. His 1981 draft where he secured Ronnie Lott, Carleton Williamson, and Eric Wright is his best example. He also believed in getting players that had fallen in the draft due to injury. Kevin Fagan had to sit out the 1986 season to recover from injury, but played 7 seasons with 74 starts.
Ron Wolf didn’t just follow his board either. The Brett Favre trade was the beginning of the transformation of the Packers, from losers to winners. In his first draft, Gutekunst jumped around and landed Jaire Alexander. In the latest draft, he traded down twice in the second round knowing he could still land Reed and his tight end target in later rounds. The bottom line is there is nothing Gutekunst does in his strategy or plan execution that is unsound. But as in many drafts, not all players excel in the NFL. The drive to excel must be off the charts and players must escape debilitating injury. Pundits busts are never discussed, but Gutekunst’s will be over analyzed for years. The draft is over. The bets were placed on the table and the roulette wheel is spinning. Time to lace them up and see who can hit the jackpot.