Will Brian Gutekunst Prioritize Loyalty to His Draft Picks?

Brian Gutekunst has an opportunity to set himself apart from Ted Thompson this summer.

Brian Gutekunst has an opportunity to set himself apart from Ted Thompson this summer.

In the not too distant past, being a Green Bay Packers draft pick meant you had a job for at least two if not three years.

Rare was the Ted Thompson selection handed his walking papers before the end of his third training camp in Green Bay. More often than not, no matter how poor a pick’s performance, he was guaranteed ample time to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that he didn’t belong in the NFL.

This led to some unusually long stays in Green Bay. 2011 5th round pick D.J. Williams was undersized as a college tight end and (surprise surprise) remained so in the NFL, yet lasted two full seasons with the team. 2012 draft pick Jerron McMillian was in over his head from the word go but lasted 28 games with the Packers. 2014 4th round pick Carl Bradford lingered on the roster for parts of three seasons but was active for just four games, recording one tackle. And in perhaps the most notable example, Brett Hundley, for whom the Packers traded up in 2015, stuck around long enough on the merits of a strong (if misleading) first preseason to prove conclusively that he probably should never have been picked in the first place. 

This Thompson tendency made the Packers almost a perfect antithesis to the scouting truism “don’t cling to a mistake just because you spent a lot of time making it.” Thompson made mistakes (as every GM does) and doubled down on those mistakes by holding on too long.

Gutekunst’s chance to establish his own identity

This summer represents an important opportunity for Brian Gutekunst to differentiate himself from his predecessor. Fully entrenched in his second year as the Packers’ general manager, Gutekunst now has two full draft classes worth of players to consider as training camp heads into August.

With Cole Madison now back in the fold, 19 Gutekunst draft picks populate the Packers roster. But since no general manager is perfect, it should be taken as a matter of course that not all 19 of those players fit the bill as NFL-level talents. Either because they don’t fit in Green Bay or simply aren’t good enough to play professional football, some of those 19 players should soon be on the chopping block.

For pure numbers reasons, two 2018 draft picks could be on the outs. Fourth-round pick J’Mon Moore is easily the least promising of the three receivers selected in last year’s draft, if only due to his physical dimensions and relatively modest athletic gifts. He faces a steep climb up the depth chart to a roster spot this year. Likewise, seventh-round pick Kendall Donnerson, though an athletic marvel, resides in the bottom tier of this year’s edge-rushing group, falling well behind two high-priced free agent signings, the 12th overall pick in this year’s draft, and several other roster holdovers.

In the Thompson era, both would still probably be good bets for practice squad slots at the very least. Moore would probably get a long look at the 53 man roster, especially being a fourth-round pick.

But beyond their status as draft picks, there’s little obvious reason to keep either one right now, and here is where Gutekunst needs to set himself apart from Thompson. He can’t be afraid to part ways with draft picks, no matter how much time or how many resources the team has devoted to helping those selections pan out.

Will he, though? That’s the question he faces as the Packers approach their first preseason game. The answer will be telling.