Packers should benefit from quarterback-rich draft class

Ryan Wood
Packers News
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Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst speaks during a news conference at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis on Feb. 28, 2018.

INDIANAPOLIS – On draft night, the most rational scenarios can quickly become obsolete. This spring doesn’t figure to be any different. John Dorsey, the Cleveland Browns general manager who holds all the cards with the No. 1 pick, indicated Thursday just how unpredictable late April might become.

There Dorsey stood at a podium inside the Indiana Convention Center on Thursday, practically begging his fellow general managers at the NFL scouting combine to make him an offer he couldn’t refuse for the top pick.

“My door is wide open,” Dorsey said. “If somebody wants to come up and talk to me about a trade, I’m willing to trade.”

No, the Green Bay Packers won’t be approaching Dorsey, their former college scouting director, about moving up to No. 1. But Dorsey flashing his “for sale” sign was a reminder of the unstable landscape ahead. There’s a long way to go until the Packers are on the clock with their No. 14 overall pick.

The way a draft looks in February can change more than tenfold by late April.

At the very least, the Packers know they will have an opportunity to pick higher in the draft than they have in almost a decade. Starting in 2009, a franchise-record eight straight playoff berths left the Packers constantly picking at the back of the first round. Since drafting No. 9 overall before the 2009 season, their best first-round slot was No. 21 in 2014 (safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix). In the past eight drafts, their average starting position has been 27.5.

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But the No. 14 pick is especially valuable this year. Indeed, if their playoff streak had to end at some point, the Packers picked an ideal draft. Because of a quarterback class loaded with talent at the top, the Packers in effect have a top-10 pick this spring.

Quarterbacks Sam Darnold (USC), Josh Rosen (UCLA), Josh Allen (Wyoming) and Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma) all figure to be drafted before the Packers are on the clock, pushing down other enticing, non-quarterback prospects. Factor in Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson, an offensive tackle or two, and perhaps Alabama receiver Calvin Ridley — players who could be taken before No. 14 — and the Packers have an outside shot at grabbing a top-five defensive player in the draft.

Even if the Browns trade out of the top spot, the team they swap picks with would be almost certain to draft a quarterback.

“Whenever an area or a position group is strong,” Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst said, “that’s beneficial. Everyone talks about if you don’t have to take a quarterback at the top of the draft — if it’s a strong group — to have as many of those go before you pick is always positive.”

Historically, the No. 14 pick can yield big-time talents. Just last year, the Philadelphia Eagles used their 14th overall pick to draft Derek Barnett, who had five sacks as a rookie and recovered Tom Brady’s game-changing fumble in Super Bowl LII. Barnett gave Philadelphia the kind of depth the Packers desperately need with their edge rush.

The 14th pick has produced gems. Future Hall of Famer Darrelle Revis was picked 14th in 2007. Two-time Pro Bowl safety Malcolm Jenkins was picked 14th in 2009. Three-time All-Pro safety Earl Thomas was picked 14th in 2010.

The No. 14 slot has produced dependable starters, if not difference makers. Defensive tackle Michael Brockers was picked 14th in 2012. Defensive tackle Star Lotulelei was picked 14th in 2013. Cornerback Kyle Fuller was picked 14th in 2014.

But the real value of the 14th pick might depend most closely on the strength of a draft. This spring, the Packers could use having as many quarterbacks drafted before No. 14 as possible. It would be a big surprise if they did not draft a pass rusher or corner in the first round.

Neither position is expected to have as much depth as recent years, but outside linebacker might be especially thin.

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Gutekunst was the Packers' director of college scouting when they last picked this high in the draft. In 2009, they selected B.J. Raji in the first round, a pick made as much for need as for talent.

Back then, the Packers were transitioning from a 4-3 defense to Dom Capers’ 3-4 scheme. Gutekunst said the team felt it needed a stout nose tackle, important because the Packers expected to play a lot of their base defense. Now, with the influx of sub-packages, Gutekunst doesn’t expect the Packers' defensive scheme to change as much with incoming coordinator Mike Pettine.

It could allow for more draft flexibility this spring. Most important, Gutekunst knows, is that he picks the right player at No. 14. A lot can change before late April, but the rush of teams trying to find their franchise quarterback should benefit the Packers regardless of who picks ahead of them.

Gutekunst knows his team’s needs are very different.

“You have to have a dominant pass rush,” Gutekunst said. “You look at the teams that have been successful, that’s where it starts. The game is getting more and more speed-oriented on the back end. That’s important. With the new coaching staff, the communication part is going to have to pick up quickly, because everything’s new.

“That’s what I have my eyes on right now.”


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