The Green Bay Packers made 13 selections in the 2023 NFL draft, starting with edge rusher Lukas Van Ness at No. 13 overall in the first round and ending with receiver Grant DuBose at No. 256 overall in the seventh round.
It’s time to break down the class. Best picks. Sleepers. Winners. Losers. Strategy. Let’s dig in.
Here’s a closer look at the Packers’ draft class in 2023:
First pick: OLB Lukas Van Ness
A receiver was possible at No. 13, but the Packers stuck to long-established tendencies and went with the big, powerful and athletic edge rusher from Iowa. Lukas Van Ness is far from a finished product, but his combination of size, athleticism, relentlessness and work ethic make him a high-ceiling, high-floor prospect at a premium position in the mold of Rashan Gary. The Packers can give him a similar developmental pathway as Gary in 2019, although Van Ness’ length gives him a chance to be an interior rusher right away and the Packers may need him to play more snaps as Gary returns from a major knee injury early in 2023. The Packers think he has tremendous upside given his relative lack of football experience (transitioned from hockey, played only two seasons at Iowa). Taking Van Ness is another major investment on the defensive side, giving the Packers multiple first-round picks at each level of the defense. No more excuses.
Best pick: TE Tucker Kraft
Can Tucker Kraft break the third-round curse in Green Bay? He’ll have an excellent chance. The South Dakota State product can catch and block, and he’s one of the best athletes ever at the position. It’s very easy to envision Kraft doing all the things Robert Tonyan was asked to do in Matt LaFleur’s offense, but doing everything at a higher level, especially after the catch. He’s going to be terrific in the play-action passing game. Becoming a more dangerous threat down the field will require route-running refinement, and he might not be a dominant inline blocker, but Kraft is going to have a lot of opportunity in a scheme that fits him well. Although drafted 36 picks after Luke Musgrave, who has incredible pass-catching upside, Kraft could end up being the better player. His floor is higher, and the athletic profile provides big-time upside.
Sleeper pick: DL Karl Brooks
Brooks is a fascinating prospect. He was a dominant player in the MAC and led Bowling Green in sacks for five straight seasons, but he’s entering the NFL without an exciting athletic profile or obvious position in the 3-4 defense. Still, don’t sleep on his potential. He has a quick first step for a 300-pounder and a motor that always runs hot, and his experience winning in many different ways both on the edge and inside gives him intriuging pass-rushing potential. It wouldn’t be surprising if he becomes a disruptive player even in a rotational role along the defensive line. Mike Daniels is a believer.
Most intriguing pick: S Anthony Johnson Jr.
How many seventh-round picks have a legitimate opportunity to start as rookies? Johnson was the 242nd overall pick, but he’ll come to Green Bay with the experience, toughness and versatility to compete for a starting role at a weak spot in the Packers secondary. Johnson, who appeared in over 60 games at Iowa State, started for four seasons at cornerback before moving to safety in 2022. The physicality of playing safety fit him just fine, and he retained his ability to cover athletes in space. Some playmaking aspects of his game suddenly appeared while playing safety as well. Don’t forget his special teams experience; Rich Bisaccia is likely going to have him on several units in the third phase, giving Johnson four-down potential early in his NFL career.
Biggest surprise: Sean Clifford in the fifth
The Packers saw a run on quarterbacks ranked below Clifford and decided to pull the trigger on the Penn State passer at No. 149 overall. There’s belief in Green Bay about his ability to become a quality backup, but it was still surprising to see the Packers use a top-150 pick on a quarterback many believed would go undrafted. We’ll see if the Packers’ evaluation of the player was correct or dead wrong. The guess here is the team didn’t want to lose out on the only quarterback left on the board they liked, so they took him earlier than expected and knowing they would be back on the clock in 10 picks (159).
Biggest winner: Jordan Love
The Packers didn’t get him a first-round receiver, but Jordan Love still got six new skill position players, including five pass-catchers. All of Day 2 and some of Day 3 was about getting him help. Jayden Reed gives the Packers a fast, tough, playmaking receiver who can play in the slot and do some of the gadgety stuff in the offense. Luke Musgrave and Tucker Kraft are big, fast tight ends with real upside as both receivers and all-around blockers. Dontayvion Wicks and Grant DuBose are prototypical Packers receviers with size, athleticism and production. Lew Nichols III could be the No. 3 running back in 2023 and a potential part of a 1-2 punch as early as 2024. There will be growing pains ahead, but Love and this young, talented group of players will get to grow together over the next 1-2 years.
Strategy breakdown: Doubling and tripling up
It’s becoming clear: Brian Gutekunst likes doubling and even tripling up on picks at need positions. He took a pair of tight ends, a pair of defensive linemen and a trio of wide receivers, adding multiple players at three of the team’s biggest need positions. You could even lump Lukas Van Ness in with the defensive front players and say Gutekunst took three there, too. Clearly, the Packers wanted to beef up the front on defense and add pass-catchers around Jordan Love. As the saying goes with the draft overall, the more swings, the more likely you are to get a hit.
One other strategy breakdown: The Packers traded back twice from No. 45 before taking Jayden Reed at No. 50. So, the No. 45 pick turned into Reed, Dontayvion Wicks and Karl Brooks. Not bad. Then again, talented players such as Brian Branch, Keion White, Quan Martin, Cody Mauch and Keenau Benton came off the board between No. 45 and No. 49.
Assessing a draft at this stage has to be mostly about process and less about evaluations because, even if we think we know the players, even the professionals get evaluations wrong. The process is what can be properly evaluated early on. The Packers got an elite athlete at a premium position, took two of the top six tight ends in a possibly historically great class and grabbed a receiver in the second-round sweet spot during the first two days. On Day 3, the Packers used two picks on interior defensive disruptors, two picks on prototypical Packers receivers, two picks on athletic defensive backs and three picks on potential answers at backup quarterback, kicker and No. 3 running back, respectively. The process looked sound. We’ll reserve judgement on the players for a few years, but this could be a very productive and deep class for a team in transition.