Why the Packers didn’t draft a WR, their UGA connection and more takeaways from Day 1

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The Packers were still 10 picks away and the top four wide receivers were already gone.

USC’s Drake London went No. 8 to the Falcons, Ohio State’s Garrett Wilson No. 10 to the Jets, his Buckeyes teammate Chris Olave No. 11 to the Saints and Alabama’s Jameson Williams No. 12 to the Lions.

In order to trade up that far, the Packers likely would have had to part with their No. 22 pick, one of their second-round selections and maybe more. Fifth-year general manager Brian Gutekunst said he “explored some options” to move up, but ultimately felt “really good about sitting and picking” at No. 22 (they took Georgia linebacker Quay Walker) once the run on receivers happened (Penn State’s Jahan Dotson went No. 16 to the Commanders and Arkansas’ Treylon Burks went 18th to the Titans).

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Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, appearing on the “Pat McAfee Show” on Thursday night, said he believed the Packers had first-round grades on six receivers, the six that were taken before they picked.

Thus, the Packers’ streak of not drafting a wide receiver in the first round extended to 20 years on Thursday night. In those two decades, however, they’ve drafted Davante Adams, Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings in the second round and James Jones in the third. And in 1999, they drafted Donald Driver in the seventh round. Those are the six best wideouts Rodgers has ever thrown to.

Gutekunst, who said he doesn’t think the Packers have to draft a receiver on Day 2, said, “I think there’s some really good receivers left in this draft and we’ll kind of see how it plays out. We have nine picks left, so we’ve got a lot of ammunition. Whether we stick and pick or move around, we’ll kind of see how that goes.”

“We play in September, and we’ve got nine picks the next couple days and a whole summer before we get to that first game,” Gutekunst added. “So I think certainly by the time we get to that first game, we’re going to add some one way or another to that room. Hopefully it’ll fall right for us the next two days, but if it doesn’t, I don’t think we can reach and make bad decisions just because they’ve got a WR by their name.”

Perhaps more notable than what the general manager thought of not taking a wide receiver was how it sat with the quarterback whose current arsenal of wideouts features Allen Lazard, Sammy Watkins, Cobb, Amari Rodgers and Juwann Winfree, among uninspiring others.

“Well, I think it’s something we’ve got to address for sure, but I think what you’ve got to remember as well is, of all the positions in the draft, if you go back through the history … a lot of receiver busts in the first round,” Rodgers said. “It didn’t seem like, from what I heard, that there was maybe a Justin Jefferson in this draft.”

Rodgers, who said Williams looked the most NFL-ready of the wideout prospects, noted the Packers’ success with second- and third-round receivers during his tenure as the starter. He also expressed an understanding of not trading for a veteran wide receiver such as Deebo Samuel, DK Metcalf or A.J. Brown in the aftermath of dealing Davante Adams to the Raiders. Not only did he acknowledge that the 49ers likely wouldn’t trade a player like Samuel to a conference rival like the Packers, but also…

“Going out and paying another guy (after trading Adams), I don’t know if that makes a ton of sense,” Rodgers said. “Now, there are some veteran guys out there that I think could be possibilities and also we have two picks in the second round tomorrow, and I’m sure there are some guys on the board that they probably like.”

Rodgers said that unlike last summer, he’ll attend the Packers’ three-day mandatory minicamp from June 7-9, in addition to spending time in Green Bay in May. On his visit to Wisconsin for a Bucks playoff game against the Bulls last week, Rodgers made a surprise stop to Lambeau Field after initially telling head coach Matt LaFleur he wasn’t visiting the facility. He and Gutekunst discussed the direction of the team, and Gutekunst said of their communication, “where we were and where we are now, I would say, is night and day. I’m very appreciative of that.”

Two years after Rodgers was blindsided by the Jordan Love pick, LaFleur was texting him updates from the war room.

And a year after Rodgers seemingly wanted out, in part because his input in decisions that directly affected his job weren’t valued enough, he said this:

“I’m sure the Packer nation will be wondering why we didn’t take a receiver or trade up or whatnot, but just gotta have some faith in the organization and faith in whoever we bring in tomorrow and the rest of this draft. I’m gonna put in the time to make it work with those guys, and we’re gonna find a way in Matt’s offense to be successful, like we always have. It’s not going to be any different this year and we’re gonna be in the mix.”

Wyatt’s off-field questions

In February 2020, Devonte Wyatt, the Packers’ second first-round pick at No. 28, was arrested on a misdemeanor charge of family violence criminal trespass. The following is from an ESPN story on the incident:

According to a UGA Police Department incident report obtained by ESPN, a person called 911 on Friday and told police that a man and woman were arguing outside of a dormitory.

“During the argument, [the woman] left Wyatt’s Room in Vandiver Hall and returned (to) her dorm in McWhorter Hall,” the incident report said. “Wyatt followed behind and kicked her exterior apartment door multiple times from the hallway, damaging the door and forcing it open.”

A UGA police officer wrote in the report that “neither party indicated they were in fear of their safety.”

The charge was eventually dropped. Gutekunst addressed Thursday how the Packers got to a point where they were comfortable taking Wyatt.

“Obviously he had a couple hiccups there at Georgia, so we brought him in and spent a lot of time with him, not only when we brought him in here to Green Bay, but really did kind of a deep dive into the human being and making sure that he could fit in our culture here,” Gutekunst said. “Like I said, I give a lot of our staff here credit because we walked away feeling really good about who he was and how he would be here for the Green Bay Packers.

“We went into that pretty deep with him to make sure we felt comfortable with the human being, to make sure that the incidences he had, he never put his hand on anybody, he never hurt anybody. It was two or three incidences that I think as a young person, he stubbed his toe. Again, we don’t have a lot of tolerance, but we wouldn’t have brought him here if we didn’t feel good about the person.”

Green Bay Bulldogs?

The Packers’ last three first-round picks have all been defenders from Georgia. First it was cornerback Eric Stokes last year, then Walker and Wyatt on Thursday.

“Well, we kept the ‘G’ on the helmet, so I figure that’s easy,” Gutekunst quipped. “But obviously they’ve had a lot of success down there in Athens. These guys were two really prototypical fits, not only as players but as people that we wanted to bring in the building. We’re really excited about that … their speed and explosiveness is off the charts. And I think their ability to create havoc in the run game and in the passing game, I think just the all-around nature of those players was something that really drew us to them.”

Walker was on a Zoom call with Green Bay reporters when he learned the Packers picked his former college teammate at No. 28.

“We picked Devonte Wyatt? No. Aw man, crazy,” Walker said. “It’s a reunion. … I can’t even really say nothing. I’m probably fixing to cry again … That’s crazy. ‘D-Wy.’ Three Georgia boys.”

“Our relationship is like we’re really brothers,” Wyatt said of him and Walker. “Once he saw me get picked, he was like the first person to call me. We’re just so excited. We’re just ready to go to Green Bay and help the team, learn the books and become great players for the Packers.”

In Walker, the Packers added a linebacker who will allow them to stay in certain packages because of increased versatility at the position, while improving their depth behind De’Vondre Campbell. Rodgers said his trainer, who also has worked with Walker, texted him after the pick to say how much he enjoyed working with him.

“I think it’s been a while since we’ve been able to stay in certain packages (base or nickel, namely) with two inside ‘backers that we think can handle everything in run defense and the passing game,” Gutekunst said. “And I think this really gives our defense a ton of flexibility. … I think you see in the league sometimes there are certain defenses that don’t have to get out of certain personnel packages and it makes it really tough on offenses. Again, his range and his speed and his explosiveness as a tackler is just something we didn’t feel we could pass up.”

Gutekunst wasn’t deterred by Walker having only a year and a half of starting experience — he said that wasn’t atypical for a linebacker — even if Walker had only 11 tackles for loss, five sacks and three passes defensed in 52 college games. Walker first mentioned pass coverage when discussing what he needs to improve on, but he has the luxury of learning behind a first-team All-Pro linebacker in Campbell. His prowess against the run is what the Packers need most right away, anyway, as they ranked last in the NFL in defensive total rush EPA (expected points added) and 30th in successful play rate on opposing team’s rushes, according to TruMedia. The Packers also surrendered 4.7 yards per rush, the third-worst mark in the NFL.

“With his lateral twitch and movement skills, Walker has outstanding mirroring skills vs. the run and uses his long arms to punch himself off blocks or lasso ball carriers out of his reach,” The Athletic’s draft guru Dane Brugler said. “Although he doesn’t have the statistical résumé of a playmaker, he has a high batting average as a tackler, and his traits and trajectory suggest his best football is ahead of him.

“Walker is still developing his instincts, especially in coverage, but he aces the eye test with his exceptional combination of size, length and athleticism to dominate vs. the run. He has the potential to be a four-down impact linebacker in the NFL.”

It’ll be intriguing to see where Wyatt fits in the defensive line rotation to start. Kenny Clark made the Pro Bowl last season, and he’s the anchor up front. But Dean Lowry has had a mercurial last several years, Jarran Reed is new to defensive coordinator Joe Barry’s defense and T.J. Slaton flashed sparingly as a fifth-round rookie last season.

Wyatt not only improves the Packers’ run defense on the interior, but gives them a boost rushing the passer from the inside. Clark’s 11 percent pressure rate ranked 32nd among defensive linemen with at least 300 defensive snaps played in 2021, per TruMedia. Lowry ranked 59th and Reed ranked 114th for the Chiefs last season.

Wyatt, who ran a 4.77-second 40-yard dash at 304 pounds at the combine, said he was grouped with linebackers instead of linemen during his pre-draft training in Arizona because of how fast he was.

“He’s a dynamic pass rusher,” Gutekunst said. “His ability to scrape and get to the ball in the run game is almost linebacker-like. We didn’t expect him to be there sitting at 28. We kind of thought at 22, when we picked Quay, we probably lost our opportunity to take him, so when he was sitting there, we were certainly encouraged.”

With the additions of two more Georgia Bulldogs, the Packers have one of the NFL’s best defenses on paper if they pan out like their first-round picks are expected to this season. Clark, Lowry, Wyatt and Reed up front, Rashan Gary and Preston Smith on the edge, Campbell and Walker manning the middle and a secondary of Jaire Alexander, Eric Stokes, Rasul Douglas, Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage Jr.

That might win games alone, no matter who is catching passes from the quarterback.

Said Rodgers: “Obviously our defense is going to be really good, and defense wins championships.”

(Photo of Packers’ first pick: Jeff Speer / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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