GREEN BAY – One way you could gauge the importance of general manager Brian Gutekunst’s first draft with the Green Bay Packers would be to compare the value of his picks vs. those of the Cleveland Browns.
Using one of the NFL’s draft trade value charts, the point value for Gutekunst’s 12 picks Thursday through Saturday is 2,001.9.
The number is high compared to most Packers drafts this century, but Cleveland’s point value of 6,333.8 for its nine selections dwarfs it completely.
By that measure, there would seem to be a lot more pressure on a Browns organization that has won one game in the last two season to get this draft right.
But while Gutekunst and Browns general manager John Dorsey are in their first seasons in charge of their respective organizations, the pressure really is on Gutekunst when you consider how much closer his franchise is to winning a Super Bowl.
Dorsey, who previously ran Kansas City’s draft, could hit on every single one of his picks — including the Nos. 1 and 4 selections — and might still be years away from competing for a championship.
Gutekunst has an established head coach, quarterback Aaron Rodgers, a good stable of pass catchers, the prospect of a solid running game and stable offensive line and a new proven defensive coordinator. If he strikes gold in this draft, his franchise could be back in the running in the NFC after a disappointing 7-9 season.
Given it has been eight seasons since the Packers last won a Super Bowl, there really is a lot riding on Gutekunst’s first draft. Not only will this draft influence the 2018 season but it also could determine Gutekunst’s future.
“All your drafts are important, but it’s about establishing the direction you’re going to take,” said an NFL personnel executive who has served as a general manager. “First you look at the organization, the Green Bay Packers. They’re a stable franchise and you want to continue that.
“Then you have to go about it your way and trust the people you have around you to evaluate talent. It comes down to evaluation and listening. You’re the No. 1 person now and you have to sort through everything.”
Or as one former general manager said, “Don’t do anything stupid.”
Gutekunst’s models for success are the Ron Wolf and Ted Thompson years. Wolf hired Gutekunst as an area scout in 1999 and Thompson promoted him to college scouting director in 2012 and director of player personnel in 2016.
In the 20 years that Gutekunst has been in the personnel department, the Packers have had three losing seasons. He has never walked the halls of the storied franchise with a concern about the quarterback position.
Wolf and Thompson both took care of the latter in their first year as general manager. Wolf traded a first-round draft pick to Atlanta for Brett Favre prior to his first draft and Thompson selected Rodgers with the 24th pick in the 2005 draft.
Gutekunst could shock the world — much like Thompson did — and select one of four or five quarterbacks expected to be taken in the first round, potentially setting up the franchise for success beyond the Rodgers years and giving the team a fighting chance if Rodgers were to suffer another injury that sidelines him for half the season or more.
But Wolf and Thompson were rebuilding at the time they took over and even though Favre was only one year older than Rodgers (34) is now when Thompson selected his successor, there is an opportunity for Gutekunst to push the Packers over the top addressing current needs.
In making a big splash with their first drafts, Wolf and Thompson drew respect — maybe more inside the building than outside it — for being decisive and forward-thinking. It took a while for those picks to transform the organization, but the confidence in which they made the moves showed they were in charge.
“There’s a lot of pressure,” said the former NFL general manager. “It (the first draft) sets the roadmap moving forward. It sticks in people’s minds. The first one helps with people’s perception, both in the organization and around the league.
“You earn a lot of respect behind the scenes if you show you have the right mentality to handle it. You never know about someone until they get into the battle.”
In this case, it’s not just that Gutekunst has 12 selections, it’s that he has the 14th pick in the first round and six picks (14, 45, 76, 101, 133, 138) in the top 140. In 13 drafts, Thompson had six picks in the draft’s top 140 three times (’08, ’12 and ’16) and in two of those drafts he made major inroads in building a competitive roster.
In ’08, among his draft picks were Jordy Nelson, Jermichael Finley and Josh Sitton. In ’12, among his picks were Nick Perry, Casey Hayward and Mike Daniels. His ’16 draft featured starters Kenny Clark and Blake Martinez and may wind up contributing more starters to the ’18 team.
The 2001.9 value points Gutekunst holds ranks third among Packers drafts since ‘05, trailing Thompson’s second (’06, 3,173) and fourth (’09, 2,387.2) drafts.
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The Packers have not picked as high as 14th since picking ninth in ’09. The number of quality picks Thompson had that year allowed him to move up from the second round into the first for a second bite at the apple. He came out of that round with nose tackle B.J. Raji and linebacker Clay Matthews, who were instrumental in turning the defense into a championship unit.
Gutekunst has a chance to do the same thing with his picks, but he’s going to have to know the draft board as well as Thompson did.
“I think over the last two weeks now, you're starting to do more scenario-driven things, where, ‘OK, this is the capital we have and this is where the board is strong,’” Gutekunst said in a pre-draft news conference Monday. “’If we're able to move here, this gets us better options than if we stay where we're at.’
“So, we're going through all those things, we've been going through those things the last couple weeks. But you've got to get the first part right (the board) before you move into these kinds of scenarios.”
The former GM said the real test for Gutekunst will be when some of those scenarios pop up completely unanticipated or with minutes left on the clock. Phones will be ringing and calls will be made and it will be up to Gutekunst to sort through it all.
“It’s the unknown scenario,” the former GM said. “You get a trade offer and you’ve 30 seconds to make a decision. That’s where you show how well-prepared you are and whether it’s too big for you.”
A former associate of Gutekunst’s said Wolf's and Thompson’s first drafts loom large over the new general manager because of the quarterbacks they obtained. He said Gutekunst has the luxury of addressing quarterback in another draft, but the pressure to land a transformative defensive player like Raji or Matthews will weigh on him just as heavily.
As badly as Wolf needed a quarterback in ’92, Gutekunst could get a street named after him if he were to have a draft like the one the New Orleans Saints had last year, which produced offensive and defensive rookies of the year and multiple starters.
“This draft is important, but I find it hard to say that it will define Brian or make or break him,” the associate said. “They do need some help, though. Green Bay has their quarterback, but no one to get after the opponent’s quarterback.
“Brian is smart, humble and steady. As long as he trusts himself and keeps his circle tight, he will be fine.”
The clock starts ticking Thursday night.