As the draft dies down and Green Bay Packers GM Brian Gutekunst now has two offseasons under his belt, it’s time to evaluate and analyze some of his draft and free agency trends.
Even if it’s only been two years, trends are developing, especially in the draft.
The past two offseasons have been different in terms of who was signed to each side of the ball, but this year’s free agency certainly highlighted some of his philosophies.
There are three points that I believed were emphasized the most through the past two years:
- Build from the trenches up – Protect Aaron Rodgers and keep the defensive line fresh
- Prioritize high Relative Athletic Scores (RAS), and rely on good coaching to support prospects
- Stay aggressive – Be active in the draft, grab value, and pay big for potential stars
We will go over all of these individually. Ultimately, the trends that Gutekunst has established appear to be a lot more aggressive than Ted Thompson‘s final years as a Packers GM. From what we have seen, it appears that Gutekunst is much more willing to gamble in free agency to find the best fits for the team.
Much of the Packer faithful were clamoring for Thompson to invest in free agency towards the end of his tenure, but it never came to fruition. It may have been a wake-up call for Packers president Mark Murphy, and Gutekunst has certainly not disappointed in that regard. With that being said, let’s understand some of the pillars of his offseason strategy.
Gutekunst has valued both the offensive and defensive line heavily, and has invested quite a bit of draft and free agency capital in bulking them up. This is certainly one of my favorite priorities that he has established. Depth on the defensive line has been an issue for a while, especially later into the Ted Thompson era, when the defenses were heavily depleted heading into the playoff runs.
Gutekunst has made it a priority to replenish the defensive line this offseason, with the signings of Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith, as well as following it up with drafting Rashan Gary and Kingsley Keke. It was clear that establishing depth was important.
It is quite similar to the model the Philadelphia Eagles followed in their Super Bowl run in 2017. Howie Roseman always prioritized defensive line and constantly having depth to cycle in and out of games. He kept the line fresh through the playoff run, and it was ultimately the factor that helped them win the Super Bowl.
On the other side of the ball, the signings may seem lighter for the offensive line, but Gutekunst has prioritized versatility on the offensive line. The signing of Billy Turner gives the Packers options at right tackle and right guard. While he is an average lineman, the fact that he can play those positions is already helpful.
A similar sentiment can be shared with rookie Elgton Jenkins, who has played every position on the offensive line in college. While he has played heavily at left guard and center, he has the versatility to be plugged in anywhere on the line.
Given the depth of the offensive line and the recent versatility added, both lines have a solid foundation to protect Aaron Rodgers and stay aggressive on the defensive side of the ball. The Packers may be ways away from January football, but this is the sort of mentality and team building strategy that can foster deep playoff runs.
Prioritizing high Relative Athletic Scores (RAS) may not be the best strategy for all teams, but it has a great chance of panning out in Green Bay. At the end of the day, teams can’t teach players incredible athleticism, but they can refine a player’s technique to fit their athleticism.
In the draft the past two years, this was quite apparent. The only two players who did not display an elite RAS score (>8.00) were Jace Sternberger and Cole Madison. Every other player has displayed elite athleticism according to the RAS scale.
The question remains, why is this a good strategy? Shouldn’t teams be prioritizing refined technique over raw athleticism? That answer usually depends on the coaching, but there is heavy trust in the staff to develop these players.
Mike Pettine has been in this situation before, and has coached up raw players such as Muhammad Wilkerson. Mike Smith, the OLB coach, was involved in the development of Dee Ford and Justin Houston, and now has the chance to develop the likes of Preston Smith, Za’Darius Smith, and Rashan Gary.
The staff is built well with experienced coaches in a unique scheme to fit their athletic strengths. The real test will be a few years down the road, but the aggressive scheme Pettine runs, coupled with the ability of players such as Gary and Za’Darius Smith to move around because of their build and athleticism, is a good starting point for these players to build unique blitz packages and personnel groupings around.
Finally, the aggressive nature of Gutekunst’s offseason approach gave the Packers opportunities to move around in the draft and pay for young, potential stars. The Packer faithful has been asking for the front office to be active in free agency, and Gutekunst answered that call. My favorite part of his approach through the offseason was heavily restocking positions of need.
In free agency, he doubled down on EDGE rushers, and both Preston and Za’Darius Smith are relatively young. This gives the defensive staff the opportunity to continue their development after four years on their respective teams.
Gutekunst followed it up with restocking the secondary, adding Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage. Amos is still 26 and is playing some of his best football.
Not only did he aggressively restock the defense and form a completely different picture from last year, but he also made sure to approach players entering their prime who showed a lot last year. This gives the coaching staff a lot to work with, given that the team is still quite young and could be menacing a year or two down the road.
This is contingent on good coaching and adapting the defensive scheme, but there is quite a lot to be excited about following the draft and free agency additions.
This post focused a lot on the defense, mainly because that seemed to be the focus of the offseason, given that Matt LaFleur is new to the team and adding too many offensive personnel in his first year would not make as much sense.
It made sense to add more to the defensive side of the ball, given that Mike Pettine is more established. His scheme improved the defense heavily from the Dom Capers days, and adding a lot of young talent would only foster its improvement.
The offensive scheme LaFleur plans to implement will most likely be boosted in next year’s offseason, as it makes sense to see what players on the roster currently fit and where improvement is needed after a regular season of football.
The team seems to be going in the right direction given all the changes. What matters now is coaching and execution.