This will be a crucial NFL Draft for Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst. With all signs pointing to Aaron Rodgers heading to the New York Jets, it appears to be a reset for the Packers franchise. Since taking over as the general manager, Gutekunst has done a strong job filling certain positions. It appears the offensive line and cornerbacks are the strongest units for the Packers. But there are several areas that will need a strong replenishment. That means Gutekunst will need to make the right decision when it comes to the Green Bay Packers first-round draft pick.
Positions the Green Bay Packers Should Target With Their First-Round Pick
Obviously, Gutekunst will look to hit on all of the Packers 10 draft choices. But when it comes to the Green Bay Packers first-round draft pick, he needs to get it right. That choice will set the stage for how the Packers will do throughout the 2023 NFL Draft.
There isn’t a shortage of positions that will require attention by Gutekunst and the Packers in this year’s draft. Because of past misses in recent Packers drafts by Gutekunst, the Packers have several big holes to fill. Today, we look at each of those positions that require some re-stocking. Along with that, we rank which position could be used with the Green Bay Packers first-round draft pick.
The last time the Packers used their first pick on a wide receiver was in the 2002 NFL Draft. That is when they selected Florida State wide receiver Javon Walker. Since then, former general manager Ted Thompson and current general manager Brian Gutekunst utilized other round picks to fill the position. However, this year might just be the year the Packers break that streak.
2022 second-round pick Christian Watson and fourth-round pick Romeo Doubs should be solid weapons for expected first-year starting quarterback Jordan Love. But a lot is riding on Love being the next great Packers quarterback. Gutekunst put his job on the line by trading up and selecting Love in 2020. Not only is Gutekunst’s job on the line, but the future of the Packers franchise is also on the line with Love playing well.
Knowing all of that, you know that Gutekunst is going to give his quarterback as many weapons as possible to succeed. Teaming Watson and Doubs up with another quality wide receiver could help the development of his handpicked quarterback. So if Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith Njigba or TCU’s Quentin Johnston are available, it wouldn’t be surprising if Gutekunst uses the Green Bay Packers first-round pick on either of them.
EDGE Pass Rusher
Since taking over as general manager in 2018, Gutekunst has used six first-round picks on defensive players. So it wouldn’t be surprising if Gutekunst used another Packers first-round pick on another defensive player.
The Packers have two defensive positions that are strong candidates to be addressed in the first round. EDGE pass rusher appears to be the top candidate out of the two. Rashan Gary will miss time from recovering from a 2022 season-ending injury. But once he does return, he is expected to be the Packers top pass rusher for seasons to come.
However, there are questions in regard to the outside linebacker opposite Gary. Veteran Preston Smith has been solid for the Packers for the past two seasons. When Gary was lost in 2022, it was Smith who stepped up and provided the Packers with the necessary pass rush. But at 30 years of age and carrying a large salary cap number, it appears Smith’s days as a Packer are numbered. Finding a young pass rusher to team with Gary could be the way Gutekunst goes in this year’s first round.
There could be some solid candidates available for when the Packers are on the clock at 15. Clemson’s Myles Murphy, Georgia’s Nolan Smith, and Iowa’s Lukas Van Ness are possible players that could still be available. Each one could hear their name by the Packers.
The Packers tight end position is in dire need of help. Robert Tonyan, the Packers top pass-catching tight end from last season, signed with the Chicago Bears as a free agent. Marcedes Lewis, the Packers best blocking tight end, is expected to sign with another team, if he continues his playing career. Currently, the Packers top tight ends on their roster are Josiah Deguara and Tyler Davis. Deguara is more of an H-back than a tight end and Davis really shouldn’t be on any NFL roster.
If this was any other position, this would be at the top of this list. But as fellow LWOPF writer Jonathan Barnett wrote, there is a very strong case to wait on addressing the tight end position. Gutekunst has shown that he doesn’t value the position like other teams. That is a major factor in why they are in the position they currently are in.
Also, this year’s crop of tight ends who are available in this year’s draft is stacked. Michael Mayer and Dalton Kincaid are the top two prospects, both expected to go in the first round. But the Packers could wait until the second to grab one. Georgia’s Darnell Washington, Oregon State’s Luke Musgrave, and Iowa’s Sam LaPorta are very strong prospects and should be available in the second. This would allow Gutekunst to wait to address the position.
Gutekunst hasn’t valued the position in recent drafts. But he could surprise many (like he did when he traded up to select Love) and finally prioritize the position.
It isn’t like the Packers don’t need help at safety. Currently, the Packers position is a mess. If the season were to start today, their starting safeties would be Rudy Ford and Darnell Savage. Ford stepped in when Savage faltered. While he had some promising moments, Ford’s best position is as a major contributor on special teams. At best, Ford is a stopgap for the position.
Savage has been a disappointment since Gutekunst used a first-round pick on him. While he did show some promise early on, overall, he has been a massive disappointment. He hasn’t made the plays they had expected and his tackling ability has been atrocious. If Gutekunst hadn’t picked up his fifth-year option last spring, it is doubtful he would even be on the roster. But with such little talent or depth, Savage is expected to be one of the starters to begin the season.
So why isn’t safety at the top of this list? The lack of quality prospects at the position is why. Right now, the only safety prospect with a first-round value is Alabama’s Brian Branch. But even he has some questions. Some believe that he is better as a nickel back than as a safety.
Still, if Branch is on the board and he is the best player on the Packers draft board, he could be the selection.
Main Photo: Adam Cairns