Competition a cornerstone for Packers as they round out roster in NFL draft

Internal competition played a key role in the development of a young Packers’ team last season, especially on offense, and GM Brian Gutekunst wants to ensure that it remains strong in 2024, even though the team is more well-established this year.

Along the offensive line and in the receiver room in 2023 is where the Packers saw immense growth throughout the season. Those also happened to be the two position groups with the most competition. At receiver, there were legitimately six or seven players worthy of snaps each week. At right guard and left tackle, a rotation that began in Week 9 largely carried through the rest of the regular season.

“I think the one thing that really came out of last season, that was evident,” said Brian Gutekunst at the NFL combine, “was that the competition within the rooms allowed us to grow and grow at maybe an accelerated pace. I think that’s the biggest thing.”

In the previous two drafts, the Packers have had 24 selections–a league-high. However, after losing several key veterans in each of those offseasons, along with facing salary cap restrictions, the Packers needed to infuse their roster with young, developmental talent.

In this year’s draft, the Packers have 11 picks, which is again tied for the most in the NFL. Given the number of selections the Packers have made the last few years, the young talent that emerged in 2023, and very little roster turnover this offseason, it’s fair to wonder if the Packers have room on their eventual 53-man roster for 11 selections.

This, in turn, then could impact Gutekunst’s draft strategy, perhaps leading to a more aggressive approach if he’s more willing to part with draft picks to trade up. But from Gutekunst’s perspective, there is no such thing as having ‘too many draft picks,’ especially when the focus is on cultivating competition once again.

“More at-bats, right,” said Gutekunst on Monday about having 11 draft picks. “You’ve got more chances for hits. There’s never enough. I don’t ever subscribe to the thought process, ‘Hey, we’ve got a pretty good team. These guys might not have a chance to make the team.’ I think  I’ve talked a lot about competition in every room and how much it accelerates the growth of your football team. I think that’s the best way for your team to move forward, so to me, there’s never enough.

“You never have enough ammunition to build your room, so there’s significant competition in every room. I think that’s really important. We have 11 right now. I’d love to end up with 13, 14 or more. I would never shy away from that.”

While on paper, it certainly seems like the Packers roster is well-established – and it is in very good shape – Andy Herman of the Pack-A-Day podcast recently pointed out that by his count, he has 31 players as roster locks for the upcoming season. And that figure doesn’t factor in potential injuries either. His point being that the Packers can certainly use all 11 draft picks.

There’s an old adage in football that the players currently on your team are the ones who are going to shape it. Gutekunst believes that. But after the 2023 season, he’s also gained more confidence in the process of letting young players go through growing pains.

Now, it’s not as if Gutekunst didn’t prescribe to that line of thinking previously, but if we look at past Packers teams, the rookies, or young players in general, weren’t always given that runway to go through the ups and downs that come with being new to the NFL.

“I don’t know if it’s really shifted,” said Gutekunst, “maybe given me more confidence in the fact I always felt that you’re right, the players you currently are going to be the ones who are going to shape your team. I do think if you give them the opportunity early to make the mistakes and get to the other side of it, they can profoundly impact your team in the second half of the season and maybe into the playoffs. I’ve always felt that.

“I think last year that certainly helped us. It doesn’t work out that way every time, every year, but I do think you’ve got to be willing to live through the growth period if you want to get to the other side of it.”

General managers wanting to add more competition to their roster certainly isn’t groundbreaking news–every team wants that. But it’s been a common theme that has come up in just about every one of Gutekunst’s media availabilities this offseason.

It feels like anyways, that to a degree, how last season unfolded is having an impact in how the Packers will round out their 2024 roster. Despite being a team with Super Bowl aspirations, rather than hyper-focusing on bolstering just a few position groups that hopefully puts them over the top, building upon the competitive environment that was built in 2023 will be a big point of emphasis in the draft.

“I really think the more competitive we can make it, the better,” added Gutekunst. “So we’ll see how it goes. But it’s one of I think the hallmarks of around here has always been that the best players play, regardless of where you were taken or how much you’re getting paid. The best players are going to play. That’s kind of how we want to approach it.

“Again, our roster numbers right now are a little higher than they have been, probably a little higher than I’d like at this point. I think we’re at 72 right now. Certainly with 11 picks going in there, so there’s hopefully going to be a strong undrafted free agent class as well, so we’ll kind of see how that goes by the time we get to Saturday.”

Story originally appeared on Packers Wire