The Lass Word: This Camp is Making the 2018 Draft Look Better

Maybe we gave up on this draft a little too soon.

Three weeks ago I was convinced that Brian Gutekunst's first draft back in 2018 was largely a big flop. To refresh your memory, here is how it played out:

Gutey originally owned the 14th pick in the first round but traded it to New Orleans for a first round pick in 2019. By doing so he passed on players like Marcus Davenport and Derwin James. Gutey then traded back in to the first round at number 18 and selected defensive back Jaire Alexander. Alexander is an aggressive, physical corner who will tackle and break up passes if he can get his hands on you. But he has yet to show he can cover the better receivers in the league and has not demonstrated very good hands, having dropped several interception opportunities. He does have significant upside but as of now he is just a little above average. You would like to see more from the number 18 pick.

It should also be noted that the extra 2019 first rounder Gutey acquired turned into safety Darnell Savage, another promising but so far average player.

In the second round the Packers, in dire need of help in the secondary, took another defensive back, Josh Jackson. In two years Jackson was found to be too slow and too handsy and struggled to cover. He fell steadily down the depth chart and there was doubt he would make the team this year.

Round three saw Green Bay tab linebacker Oren Burks. He could run but not much else. Plagued by injuries, Burks seldom got on the field, and when he did, he didn't make much happen.

Receiver J'mon Moore in round four turned out to be the biggest bust. Showing almost nothing, Moore caught two passes his rookie year and was cut in the 2019 training camp.

Picking at the very top of the fifth round, the Packers took offensive lineman Cole Madison. Madison chose not to play football because of personal reasons. He did come back in 2019 but as a reserve lineman he tore his ACL in practice in November and went to injured reserve. He was released this past July.

Late in the fifth round Gutekunst took a punter, J.K. Scott. In two seasons Scott has ranked near the bottom of the league in net yardage.

With the last pick in round five Green Bay took receiver Marques Valdes-Scantling. He showed promise as a deep ball threat in his rookie year and the first half of year two. But after developing a bad case of the drops he lost the confidence of Aaron Rodgers and disappeared through the final half of last season.

Notre Dame's Equanemious St. Brown was the choice in round six. EQ, as he has come to be known, seemed to come on toward the end of his rookie year. But a serious ankle injury in the 2019 preseason caused him to miss the entire year.

The Packers had three picks in the 7th and final round. The first one was used to take defensive lineman James Looney. He seldom saw the field. The Packers released him this summer after a failed experiment to switch him to tight end. Gutey then opened some eyes by taking a long snapper, Hunter Bradley, who still has that job, and then linebacker Kendall Donnerson who was kept on the practice squad one year and then released during 2019 camp.

That was it.   One starter, two inconsistent young receivers, a long snapper and a mediocre punter.   Four of the eleven picks not even with the team anymore.   Yep, seemed like a pretty disappointing draft to me.

But now comes training camp 2020.   One of the stories of this camp is the apparent resurgence of Josh Jackson.   He is battling hard in coverage and making plays.   He still has to work on staying away from illegal contact penalties but he has definitely changed the narrative.   Instead of speculation as to whether he will make the team, now the talk is whether he can take over the starting corner job if the Packers choose not to bring back Kevin King.

Another big story is MVS.   Claiming his disappearing act last year was because he was injured, Valdes-Scantling has come out fighting this summer.   Not only has he continued to use his speed to stretch the field, but he has been reliable and productive in shorter, ball-control routes.   He has demonstrated his third down catch ability and could even be pushing Alan Lazard for the number two receiver spot.

EQ is also healthy this camp and has quietly had a solid summer.   As of the time I am writing this, Oren Burks stands to take over the starting inside linebacker spot alongside Christian Kirksey, at least when the Packers don't replace the position with a hybrid safety.   Burks, sensing this is his last chance, has flashed moments of improvement in coverage and tackling.   As camp began, Burks was working with the number one unit but was getting a strong challenge from rookie Kamal Martin.   Martin is out for a reported six weeks with a knee injury.   That makes this a huge opportunity for Burks, although he has also been in and out of practice with injury issues.   J.K. Scott has been booming punts in special teams work.

Up to now the emergence of free agent Lazard eased the pain of the lack of production from the three 2018 drafted receivers.   But the Packers still need more from this position group, and if MVS and EQ take their strong camps into the 2020 season, Green Bay's passing attack will be hard to stop, especially when mixed in with a greater emphasis on the run game and multiple tight end possibilities.   If Josh Jackson emerges as a first team level defensive back, the Packers would have a formidable secondary to the point that Alexander could drop down into the slot if necessary.

All told, at least at the moment, I'm feeling better about that 2018 draft.....much better.   I'm just hoping what has happened on the practice field the past three weeks is not a mirage.

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Ken Lass is a former Green Bay television sports anchor and 43 year media veteran, a lifelong Packers fan, and a shareholder.

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Comments (15)

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nostradanus's picture

September 03, 2020 at 03:09 pm

Yes getting the extra first round draft choice was A huge bonus. Alexander looks to be one of the best Packers cornerbacks in a decade. Josh Jackson showed in camp that he has the skills To succeed at outside corner. Burks was pretty good and special teams last year but not much else. JK Scott has had his moments of punter good and bad but it usually takes rookie punters several years so I have high hopes. MVS Has had a really good camp let’s hope he carries it into the regular season. EQ coming back from my high ankle injury Has had a bit of a slow camp but I think he has great upside. As for Bradley the long snapper he’s not Brett Goode but he’s also not Brett bad either, pardon the pun.
That’s why they always say takes two or three years to truly evaluate a draft. If we figure in Savage whom they got with the extra draft choice this could be a very solid draft.

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splitpea1's picture

September 03, 2020 at 03:47 pm

Let's see what some of these players do in real games before we get carried away with the optimism; I'm sure they've all had their moments in camp. Coaching may make a difference in the secondary, however.

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PF4L's picture

September 06, 2020 at 07:55 am

Most veteran Packer fans have learned that "camp" and real games, are two very different things. See Josh Jackson
Splitpea is spot on about being overly optimistic, but that's what the kool aid crowd does.

I read this article because i'm trying to find out how EQ did in camp so far. Not sure how to read EQ's progress when a guy like Burks gets more print and J'mon Moore gets about the same amount as EQ.
Any info on EQ is appreciated.

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Leatherhead's picture

September 03, 2020 at 03:59 pm

Alexander has been a good pick. I wanted Lamar Jackson but I'm over it now.

Josh Jackson was behind three guys who played well and stayed healthy.....King, Alexander, Williams. And then Sullivan played well, so Jackson couldn't get on the field.

Scott is an awesome punter. Very happy he's our guy.

The WRsssss were to find one or two guys you could put on the field with Adams. Right now, it looks like MSV and EQ have excellent upsides for the next two years. Moore was a clear miss but getting Lazard helps make up for that.

Burks is the big question mark, and it'll be answered for good pretty soon.

I would consider this a good draft even without the extra pick he got for the next year. With the exception of Moore, every one of these guys were in the active 45 of a 13-3 team.

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Lare's picture

September 03, 2020 at 04:07 pm

The offseason, where writers make average players appear to be stars.

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13TimeChamps's picture

September 03, 2020 at 04:04 pm

Boy, I wish I could share your confidence in these players. And I'm sure I'll get plenty of down votes for my take, BUT.....basing this on a very truncated training camp and no off season to speak of, and a few practices without tackling...I just can't.

I have very cautious optimism that the light has gone on for MVS, but would be surprised to be very honest. EQ, I think, has a better upside, but with his limited playing time thus far, remains a huge question mark.

The players I have the biggest doubts about are Jackson and Burks, especially Burks. I think it's a huge stretch to say they're going to morph into legitimate NFL starters. And when you whiff on BOTH your 2nd and 3rd rounders in the same draft, that's a bad draft, no other way to look at it.

I truly hope I'm 100% wrong, and will gladly eat a huge helping of crow if I am.

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dobber's picture

September 03, 2020 at 04:51 pm

" BUT.....basing this on a very truncated training camp and no off season to speak of, and a few practices without tackling...I"

At this stage, it's really more of a "these guys are still on the roster and have moved from periphery spots on the depth chart to spots where the Packers will rely on them to play." I think most of us are at least satisfied--if not pleased--with Alexander and Scott. After that...well, this is what draft and develop is all about: you need these guys to ascend and be ready to play when called upon. Maybe this is the year. If so, the Packers just filled a series of inside straights. If not? Well...

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dblbogey's picture

September 03, 2020 at 06:50 pm

I'll gladly help with the crow eating. Big question marks about Burks, Jackson, MVS and EQ.

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Stroh's picture

September 03, 2020 at 06:12 pm

Now if fans would start to realize it takes 3 yrs to honestly evaluate a draft, we'd all be happier for it!

I'm still not counting on all of them , but a couple of them kn prominent or starting roles would help the Packers immensely!

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stockholder's picture

September 03, 2020 at 06:42 pm

It's all about the FIT. I believe what BG did in rd.1 was excellent. It was the rest of his draft that turned in to Mission Impossible. How do you draft Jackson, when you spent a 1 and 3 on Alexander? Didn't he realize the difference in talent? The smarter move was to go after a LB. After all, BG drafted Burks on a trade up. Shouldn't You go after a better LB, and trade up for the FIT// First?. Even WR? (After all he drafted 3 of them.) Jackson was a project like Burks. And so were the rest of the picks at Wr. I believe BG could of had better fits. Not Just fits. So as much his drafts give me fits. Bgs draft board, wasn't about the fit.

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hodge555's picture

September 04, 2020 at 06:15 am

If I remember correctly Jackson was projected to be a first rounder, graded higher in some draft analysis than Jaire, so to get him in the 2nd round was considered a steal. Obviously it's not worked out so far, and I have my doubts it will in future, but fingers crossed.

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Branden Burke's picture

September 03, 2020 at 10:19 pm

Preseason hype. Last preseason MVS, trevor davis, and Montravious Adams were future stars. I have little faith in burks, MVS, or Josh jackson. I would love for the light to click on, but it's pretty rare.

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Archie's picture

September 04, 2020 at 08:36 am

Let 2020 play out, then we will know how to judge Gute's first draft. If either Burks or Jackson steps up to be a quality player and both MVS and EQ do the same, suddenly that draft looks very good.

Pack GMs haven't had much luck when trading up for a long time now. Maybe Savage will be the exception.

It does look like they are finally drafting good players in R1: Alexander, Gary and Love.

And this year, finding Martin, Scott and Gavin from the 5th round on is pretty special. Then throw in the three interior OL in R6 and tough to complain. Many say Love was a reach. I disagree but time will tell. Many say Dillon and DaGuara were taken at least one round too soon (me included at the time). But LeFleur obviously wanted both guys really badly so Gute went and got them. No guarantee either would have been there one round later. And right now both are generating lots of excitement.

So if it turns out Gute1 was a bad draft, so be it. Gute2 and Gute3 look really good. I remain cautiously optimistic that Gute and LeFleur are both very very good at what they do. Gute/LeFleur vs Thompson/McCarthy = no-brainer.......greatest trade in Packer history perhaps. Mark Murphy had little or no effect on this football team for years and years but when the sh*t hit the fan, he came through.

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13TimeChamps's picture

September 04, 2020 at 08:52 am

"Gute/LeFleur vs Thompson/McCarthy = no-brainer.......greatest trade in Packer history perhaps."

Thompson/McCarthy put together 9 playoff seasons, 8 in a row, 4 NFC Championship Games, and a Lombardi Trophy.

You might want to pump the brakes on the "no-brainer" talk after one season.

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NoNonsense's picture

September 04, 2020 at 03:55 pm

I'm going to preface this with, if he can stay healthy but I truly believe the light has come on for MVS and by the end of the year he will be a 1000 yrd WR. You pick him up on fantasy if your wise, grasshopper.

By all accounts he has greatly improved his release from the line of scrimmage, is running a wider variety of routes with a lot more precision and he bought a jugs machine this offseason to really work on his hands. Hes committed to being the best player he can be and its showing on the practice field. If he and Rodgers can get the deep ball dialed in, look out.

Wont say the same for Josh Jackson just yet but I'm optimistic about the amount of progress hes made this offseason and how much better he can get under Jerry Gray.

Burks on the other hand is a risky bet but I'm still saying theres a chance.

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