Packers' draft approach signals shift of offensive philosophy in Green Bay

The Packers offense is changing directions right before our eyes.

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If it wasn't apparent in the second and third rounds of the NFL draft, it became abundantly clear in the sixth.

The Green Bay Packers offense is changing directions right before our eyes.

Many have questioned — if not ridiculed — general manager Brian Gutekunst's decisions in the draft, but it became obvious during the three-day draft that this wasn't just a Gutekunst production. Six of the Packers' nine picks went to offense and the goal with every one was the same — to give second-year coach Matt LaFluer the type of players he needs to run the type of offense he wants to run.

Once Gutekunst landed his quarterback of the future — Utah State's Jordan Love — with a controversial first-round pick, the die was cast. The general manager was on a mission to supply his coach with players who they both hope will help turn the Packers into a run-first offensive team.

Friday night, the Packers took 247-pound running back AJ Dillon of Boston College in the second round and Cincinnati tight end/H-back/fullback Josiah Deguara in the third. Both are perfect fits for the scheme the offensive-minded LaFleur brought to Green Bay when he replaced Mike McCarthy.


Saturday, Gutekunst did what he usually does when he sees a weakness, he threw bodies at it. In the sixth round, he drafted three — yes, three — offensive linemen, adding Michigan guard Jon Runyan, Oregon center Jake Hanson and Indiana guard Simon Stepaniak to the already-crowded offensive-line room.

So while Gutekunst failed to address some positions of obvious need over the three days, he did accomplish one thing in his third Packers draft. He started the ball rolling on an offensive makeover that will render the Packers less dependent on 36-year-old quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the spread passing game and more reliant on the running attack as a means to set up the pass.

"Matt certainly wants to run the ball," Gutekunst said. "(He) really wants to tie everything to the run game and off the run game, and these guys will help us do that."

Perhaps we should have seen this draft coming. Indeed, it was inevitable that change would take place this offseason no matter how well the Packers did last season, if only because LaFleur has worked with the players for a year.

"I think as we've gone through a full season, we have a much better idea of who we are, of what we do well and now it's on us to put that plan in place," he said.

LaFleur was hired for his offensive acumen and he learned his trade under San Francisco 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan and Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay, the last two NFC coaches to reach the Super Bowl. Using the outside-zone running game to create room for the play-action passing game and having versatility among wide receivers, tight ends and running backs are staples of both teams.

When you hire a coach, you do so based on his track record and you have to give him the type of players he needs to succeed. That was strongly reflected in the Packers' draft and it guided many of Gutekunst's decisions.

He appeared to reach for both Dillon and Deguara, who likely would have been available a round or two later, but they fit the profile Gutekunst was looking for so he made sure they became Packers. The three linemen are physical run-blockers who eventually might make the all-important outside-zone running scheme more effective than it was with last year's personnel.


The most glaring omission in the Packers' draft was a wide receiver. Teams selected 37 of them in the deepest wide receiver class in history, but the Packers took a pass. They did that despite having a wide-receiving corps that consisted of Davante Adams and a group of players whose contributions ranged from inconsistent to non-existent.

That's not to say the Packers are de-emphasizing the wide receiver position. One look at the Rams and 49ers will tell you how important they are to the offense. But after years of building a pass-first offense around Rodgers' golden arm, the Packers' priority has shifted and establishing the running game with a deep, versatile group of skill players is the first step in that process.

That seems like an admission that the Packers think Rodgers has reached a point where he is no longer capable of carrying the team, and they might be right about that. It seems more likely that LaFleur got an idea of the talent he had on offense last year and now wants players who better fit his scheme.

Dillon gives the Packers the big, powerful, between-the-tackles back they didn't have last year, even though Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams were a fine tag team. Now, the Packers will have a back for any situation. And having someone with Deguara's ability to line up anywhere in the formation is a staple of LaFleur's offense. The departed Danny Vitale played that role well last year, but Deguara is bigger and faster and can do more things than Vitale could.

One reason people fixated on getting a playmaking wide receiver in this draft was to give Rodgers more weapons. Rodgers was probably hoping for that, too. But the Packers chose to help Rodgers in a different way, by easing his burden with a better running game.

Time will tell whether that pays off, but it does help to explain a sometimes inexplicable draft.

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