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USA Today Sports Media Group
USA Today Sports Media Group
Brandon Carwile

GM Brian Gutekunst passes on premier pass-catcher for defensive help

The Green Bay Packers didn’t move up or down from the 13th overall pick in the 2023 draft. Instead, Brian Gutekunst stood pat and drafted Iowa edge rusher Lukas Van Ness.

The pick was shocking to some, with Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba — widely considered the best wide receiver in the class — still on the board at pick 13. While the Packers considered adding an offensive weapon for Jordan Love, they ultimately went with Van Ness.

“We had really good choices. We don’t pick this high very often, so we had a lot of choices. I think it was just kind of how we had him rated. Obviously, we very much believe in rushing the passer, and edge rusher is a very premium position for us. I think that’s why we made that decision,” said Gutekunst.

By drafting an edge rusher, Green Bay’s streak of not drafting a wide receiver in the first round is now up to 21 consecutive years. Many thought now was the time to use a top pick to surround Love with adequate talent as he enters his first season as the starting quarterback. However, that was always in doubt as Gutekunst has taken only one offensive player in the first round of his six drafts as the general manager.

The good news is, despite a run of four straight wide receiver selections in the first round, only one tight end came off the board on Thursday, and plenty of pass catchers are still available entering day 2. Some of the top tight ends and wide receivers who are potential fits for Green Bay include, Michael Mayer, Darnell Washington, Luke Musgrave, Sam Laporta, Jalin Hyatt, Rashee Rice and Jonathan Mingo, among others.

The Packers still hold two top 50 picks and a third-rounder. Gutekunst stated he thought “the board held up pretty well” on the first day. He also doesn’t expect to give up the 42nd pick received in the Aaron Rodgers trade after working hard to pry it from the New York Jets.

Meanwhile, now that night one is in the books, it’s hard to ignore that Gutekunst has used seven out of eight first-round picks on defense. Unfortunately, that unit underperformed under defensive coordinator Mike Pettine and has done the same with Joe Barry at the helm. Gutekunst couldn’t explain his tendency for using first-rounders on defensive talent but said the expectations for will be high for that side of the ball heading into the 2023 season.

“I think it’s just a little bit of a coincidence, it’s certainly not something we intentionally try to do, but at the same time, it is unusual,” he said. “I do think that expectations are high. I sat here last year and said the same thing, and I think we had really good moments last year, but the consistency has to be better.”

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