Ted Thompson blew it.
T.J. Watt should be a Green Bay Packer.
Blah, blah, blah.
That’s the narrative you’ve heard over and over since April, 2017, when Thompson — the Packers’ general manager at the time — traded back and missed the opportunity of a lifetime to draft Watt, the former Pewaukee and University of Wisconsin star.
That noise got cranked to Metallica-like levels this week, with the Packers set to travel to Pittsburgh Sunday to face Watt and the Steelers.
Make no mistake, passing on Watt — and eventually picking mediocre cornerback Kevin King — was one of Thompson’s greatest sins. But if you’re looking for the biggest reason the Packers are 3-5 today and likely to miss the playoffs for a second straight season, it’s the unexceptional drafting of current G.M. Brian Gutekunst.
Gutekunst took over as Green Bay’s G.M. in Jan. 2018, and has had six draft classes and 61 total picks since then. For the most part, the groups have been underwhelming.
It’s unfair to grade rookies largely because the jump from college to the NFL is so immense. So we’ll reserve judgement on Gutekunst’s 2023 class — although that group looks extremely promising.
Instead, we’ll break down Gutekunst’s first five drafts — a total of 48 players — into four categories: Home run pick, average selection, below average and dreadful.
Considering first round draft picks are expected to become impact players, they’re held to a higher standard here than seventh rounders — a group that rarely succeeds.
By subjective account, 30 of Gutekunst’s 48 picks fall into the category of below average or dreadful. And that, more than anything, is why the Packers are just 11-16 in their last 27 games (including playoffs) and struggling to deal with life after Aaron Rodgers.
Here’s a detailed look at Gutekunst’s drafts:
HIGH END STARTER (4)
Jaire Alexander, CB, 2018 — Two-time all-Pro is the NFL’s highest paid corner. Injuries have been a huge issue, though, since 2021.
Rashan Gary, OLB, 2019 — One of the NFL’s elite pass rushers made it back from 2022 ACL injury. Recently signed a four-year, $107 million extension.
Elgton Jenkins, OG, 2019 — Two-time Pro Bowler was sensational early in his career. And while Jenkins remains a quality starter, he hasn’t been quite as good since tearing his ACL in 2021.
Zach Tom, OT, 2022 — A first-year starter, Tom has been the Packers’ best offensive lineman in 2023. He was an absolute steal in the fourth round.
AVERAGE SELECTION (14)
Marquez Valdes-Scantling, WR, 2018 — Speedy wideout averaged 31 receptions per season from 2018-2021, then signed three-year, $30 million deal with Kansas City.
Darnell Savage, S, 2019 — Has made 68 career starts, but never developed into the difference maker you’d expect from a first round draft pick.
Jordan Love, QB, 2020 — Sat behind Aaron Rodgers for three years and has been so-so in 2023. The Packers are trying to decide if Love is their long-term answer at the position.
A.J. Dillon, RB, 2020 — Second round running back who has been mediocre, at best, and seems unlikely to receive a second contract.
Jon Runyan Jr., OG, 2020 — Three-year starter has been a pleasant surprise for a sixth round pick.
Eric Stokes, CB, 2021 — Had a terrific rookie season, but has played in just nine games since then due to injuries.
Josh Myers, C, 2021 — Second round pick has been a respectable starter up front. The only problem? He went one pick before Kansas City’s Creed Humphrey, the best young center in the league.
T.J. Slaton, NT, 2021 — Fifth round draft pick played just 28% of the snaps his first two seasons, but is having an extremely solid 2023 campaign.
Isaiah McDuffie, ILB, 2021 — Has made 46 tackles in just eight games this year after making 45 his first two years in the league.
Quay Walker, ILB, 2022 — First round draft pick has flashed the ability to be elite, but has also been plagued by several boneheaded decisions.
Devonte Wyatt, DE, 2022 — First round pick did little as a rookie, but has been a serviceable starter in 2023.
Christian Watson, WR, 2022 — Speedy, big play wideout has had an extremely hard time staying on the field due to injuries.
Romeo Doubs, WR, 2022 — Possession receiver has been a solid contributor for a fourth round pick.
Kingsley Enagbare, OLB, 2022, — Solid, reserve linebacker who’s posted 35 tackles and 4.0 sacks in his first 25 games.
BELOW AVERAGE (21)
JK Scott, P, 2018 — Fifth round pick was Green Bay’s punter from 2018-2020 and averaged 44.6 yards per attempt. Cut in Aug. 2021, after the Packers traded for Corey Bojorquez.
Josh Jackson, CB, 2018 — Second round pick spent three disappointing years in Green Bay before being cut by five other teams. Currently playing in the XFL.
Oren Burks, ILB, 2018 — Third round pick averaged just 23.0 tackles per season during his four years in Green Bay.
Equanimeous St. Brown, WR, 2018 — Had 37 catches in four years with Green Bay, then signed with Chicago in free agency.
Hunter Bradley, LS, 2018 — Most teams don’t use draft picks on long snappers. Gutekunst did, then Bradley — a seventh round pick — struggled for 3 ½ seasons.
Kingsley Keke, DE, 2019 — Role player saw action in 41 games and had 6.5 career sacks.
Ka’dar Hollman, CB, 2019 — Played 18 games with the Packers, and has been released nine times by various teams since Aug. 2020.
Ty Summers, ILB, 2019 — Seventh round pick was a solid special teams player for three seasons in Green Bay.
Josiah Deguara, TE, 2020 — Strong blocker has 47 career receptions, but you’d expect more from a third round pick.
Kamal Martin, LB, 2020 — Fifth round pick had just 20 tackles during his one year with the Packers, then was waived in Aug. 2021.
Jake Hanson, C/G, 2020 — Started just one game during his three seasons as a Packer.
Vernon Scott, S, 2020 — Had 11 tackles in two seasons, then was released after the 2021 campaign.
Jonathan Garvin, OLB, 2020 — Seventh round draft choice played in 38 games, making 32 tackles and registering 1.5 sacks.
Royce Newman, OL, 2021 — Started 16 games as a rookie, but lost his job and has been a role player since.
Shemar Jean-Charles, CB, 2021 — Made 11 tackles during 20-game Packer stint, before he was released in August.
Kylin Hill, RB, 2021 — Seventh round pick might have had a future, but a knee injury ruined his time in Green Bay.
Sean Rhyan, OL, 2022 — Suspended six games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy during a wasted rookie year. Has made strides in Year 2.
Tariq Carpenter, S, 2022 — Seventh round pick was added to beef up special teams, but lasted just one season in Green Bay.
Jonathan Ford, DL, 2022 — Seventh round pick has been inactive or part of the practice squad for every game since his arrival in Green Bay.
Rasheed Walker, OT, 2022 — Gigantic man (6-6, 324) was given a chance at left tackle this season, but flopped and was recently benched.
Samori Toure, WR, 2022 — Seventh round pick has managed just 10 receptions in his first 1 ½ seasons.
J’Mon Moore, WR, 2018 — Fourth round pick caught two passes for 15 yards during his one forgettable year in Green Bay.
Cole Madison, OG, 2018 — Sat out 2018 campaign due to mental health issues, then tore his ACL in practice in 2019 and never played a down for the Packers.
James Looney, DT, 2018 — Played just 19 snaps as a rookie, was moved to tight end in 2019 and waived shortly thereafter.
Kendall Donnerson, DE, 2018 — Seventh round draft pick never appeared in a game and was waived by six different teams.
Jace Sternberger, TE, 2019 — Third round pick had just 12 career receptions and ranks among Gutekunst’s worst picks.
Dexter Williams, RB, 2019 — Played in just seven games and had seven carries (2.7 average) with the Packers. Part of the USFL’s Philadelphia Stars today.
Simon Stepaniak, OT, 2020 — Sixth round draft pick never played a down with Green Bay, then was released in the summer of 2021.
Amari Rodgers, WR, 2021 — Third round draft choice had nearly as many fumbles (seven) as receptions (eight) during his 26-game stint with Green Bay.
Cole Van Lanen, OL, 2021 — Appeared in just one game in 2021, then was traded to Jacksonville for a seventh round pick.
As you can see, Gutekunst hasn’t done well enough on draft days.
Even though Gutekunst has been more aggressive in free agency than Thompson ever was, the organizational philosophy is “draft and develop.” And the Packers have been subpar at drafting — and developing — since Gutekunst took over nearly six years ago.
It’s why only four teams in the league currently have fewer wins than Green Bay. It’s why the Packers hold a top-10 selection in the 2024 draft.
And it’s why Green Bay’s future looks muddy — at best.