Packers turn attention to offense, add versatile lineman Jenkins and tight end Sternberger
GREEN BAY – Late Thursday night, after adding two more defensive players to his roster, Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst smiled with the acknowledgement that he has an offensive-minded first-year head coach sitting next to him in the draft room. Matt LaFleur was hired in January to replace Mike McCarthy as not just the head coach, but as the offensive designer and play-caller. Yet through free agency and one round of the NFL Draft, Gutekunst had only given LaFleur offensive lineman Billy Turner in terms of new players, and re-signed tight end Marcedes Lewis.
When pressed about “having” to bolster the league’s No. 18-ranked offense with some picks on Friday in rounds two and three, Gutekunst deflected like an offensive lineman getting into his pass set. No, the Packers could still pick the best players available. Yes, if those players are on defense the Packers have room for them.
But Gutekunst knew his head coach might figuratively be giving him the elbow nudge to the ribs for some additional talent on offense.
By the end of the second and third rounds however, LaFleur and the Packers did get some help — and some depth — on offense with the selection of guard Elgton Jenkins out of Mississippi State in the second round and tight end Jace Sternberger out of Texas A&M in the third round.
“He’s the head coach so he’s in charge of it all,” Gutekunst said late Friday night. “He obviously knows whether we take defensive players or offensive players, it’s helping our team. I think our offensive coaches were pretty happy about some of the things we did today. He’s been great. Both Matt and I, we’re very in line with what we want to do with this team. We understand that we’re going to have to be good on offense, defense and special teams to get to where we’re going. Whoever we add, I think he’s pretty happy.”
But, neither player immediately projects to slot into No. 1 positions on the depth chart.
“We took ‘em pretty high,” Gutekunst acknowledged. “I certainly would hope that they could make solid contributions to our team this year. But until they get here, and then they can prove it on the field, it’s really early. We like their long-term potential and we always feel the draft is kind of a long-term investment, but these guys were taken high for a reason.”
After the Packers selected Jenkins at No. 44 overall, Minnesota drafted Alabama tight end Irv Smith Jr. at No. 50. Six wide receivers, another tight end and a running back were then taken from picks 51-64.
Another two receivers and a tight went off early in the third round, so Gutekunst grabbed LaFleur and quarterback Aaron Rodgers a pass catcher with the No. 75 overall pick in the third round in Sternberger.
“It’s important to him to be a well-rounded football player,” Packers co-director of player personnel Jon-Eric Sullivan said. “When you watch him, his value is as a pass catcher today. But he is willing to block. He’s a very good athlete. He can play on his feet, he can hook and feel. He’ll get in there and mix it up.”
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In his lone season with the Aggies, Sternberger garnered Pro Football Focus’ top receiving grade as a tight end (91.1) and was the analytical site’s top deep pass receiver at 20-plus yards and No. 3 overall in deep pass yards (190).
“He’s a smooth, fluid athlete,” Sullivan said of the 6-4, 251-pound tight end. “He’s got hands, he’s got ball skills. He can stop and start. So we were attracted to that. He’s a guy who we feel like is on the come, he is an ascending player.”
Sternberger, considered a late bloomer by the Packers, isn’t expected to immediately come in and supplant Jimmy Graham or Lewis, but he did catch 48 passes for 832 yards and 10 touchdowns. In several seasons at Kansas before that, he caught just one pass.
Sternberger was the sixth tight end picked, and Sullivan acknowledged the position was important to address.
“It was important to us, if we could do it, no doubt,” Sullivan said. “Brian has addressed this with you guys, we always try to take the best player available. That’s just philosophically what we believe in, and he was the best player available for us at this time. It worked out, and it was a position we valued. We needed to get a young guy in the mix, and we did.”
Jenkins will be changing positions once he gets to Lambeau Field, as he started 26 games for the Bulldogs the last two seasons at center and was ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr.’s number one prospect at that position in this draft. Pro Football Focus called Jenkins its top interior offensive line prospect.
“Definitely a light bulb goes off when a guy falls to you with that much value, that much versatility, in our situation,” Packers southwest regional scout Charles Walls said.
But, Jenkins did play some tackle and guard earlier in his collegiate career.
Packers starting center Corey Linsley is signed through the 2020 season and Walls said the team selected Jenkins as a guard. Pro Football Focus graded Jenkins as its 10th-best pass protector with a 99.1 grade. According to PFF, Jenkins allowed just three sacks in four years
“With a guy with that size and athleticism, if you watch the tape, you’d feel comfortable about putting him anywhere you need him to be,” Walls said.
Jenkins said he last played guard consistently his sophomore season in 2016, which he said was six games.
“I probably just have to refreshen up on it,” Jenkins said. “I feel like I can play all five positions. It's just going to camp and then crisping my technique and things like that.”
Jenkins tested well in a couple of events at the NFL scouting combine, tying for sixth among all offensive line prospects with 29 bench press reps and tied for 14th in the broad jump with a leap of 9 feet, 1 inch. At his pro day, he ran a 5.08-second 40-yard dash, which would have been the 10th best time at the combine.
Walls considered Jenkins as an “off the charts” athlete.
“When you watch him, he’s got everything in his body,” Walls said. “If he wants to be dominant, if he wants to control guys, he can do it. And he gets it on a consistent basis. He’s powerful. We think he can control the line of scrimmage.”
The Packers did have some institutional knowledge of Jenkins, as quarterbacks coach Luke Getsy was the Bulldogs’ offensive coordinator last season.
“All positive feedback, from the player and the person,” Walls said of Getsy’s input. “(They) had trusted him quite a bit up front with some of the things they did with their responsibilities, calls and things of that nature. Luke was fired up about him.”
Along with Jenkins’ pass-blocking prowess, Jenkins feels he’s a fit with the Packers’ switch to an outside zone running scheme under LaFleur and new offensive line coach Adam Stenavich in 2019.
"His combination of size and athleticism, in this scheme that we're going to run, that's going to be a premium for us,” Walls said. “We think he presents us with that tremendous value. His ability to not only control the line of scrimmage but get up on the second level, get on the third level, cover up guys in space, he's unique at that. He's smart. He's intelligent. He just presents tremendous value for us with his versatility."