What will Packers do with 5 NFL draft picks in Rounds 1-3?

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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Brian Gutekunst has just about done it all when it comes to the draft, even in his relatively short tenure as the Green Bay Packers' general manager. Since his first draft in 2018, he has traded up, traded back, picked a franchise quarterback in the first round, doubled up at positions in the same draft and even tripled up at positions.

Now he can do something no Packers general manager has done in 18 years: Make five picks in the top 100.

Gutekunst possesses five of the top 91 selections in the first three rounds of this year's draft. The Packers haven't picked five players that early in the draft since 2006, when Ted Thompson made five picks in the first 75 selections.

If Gutekunst doesn't trade one of those picks, it will be just the second time since the NFL expanded to 32 teams in 2002 that the Packers have had that many picks in the top 91.

"We'll probably have a little more volume at the top than we've had in years past," Gutekunst said this offseason. "So, yeah, it gives us flexibility. It allows us, whether it's just staying and picking, trading, moving around, maybe trading those picks for other players outside, veteran players. Who knows?

"It just gives us a little more flexibility. I think that along with just being in a little better cap situation and having a little more flexibility there, just gives us an ability to help the football team more. It would be nice to have five in the top three [rounds] every year."

Back in 2006, Thompson did some maneuvering. He turned seven picks at the start of the draft into 12 eventual selections. The top five in his draft that year were: LB A.J. Hawk (fifth overall), OT Daryn College (47th), WR Greg Jennings (52nd), LB Abdul Hodge (67th) and G Jason Spitz (75th).

This year, Gutekunst is starting with 11 picks. He has the Packers' picks in the first three rounds (Nos. 25, 58 and 88 overall) plus the Jets' second-round pick (No. 41) from the Aaron Rodgers trade and the Bills' third-round pick (No. 91) from the Rasul Douglas trade.

It gives the youngest team in the NFL last year the chance at that distinction once again in 2024, especially considering they currently have only one player over the age of 30 (Preston Smith, 31).

Of course, it doesn't mean Gutekunst will actually pick at those spots within the first three rounds. While he has never traded into the top 10, he would have the ability to do so in a couple of different ways if he were so inclined. According to one trade value chart, the combination of picks 25, 58, 88 and 91 would be about equal to the 10th overall pick. So would the combination of picks 25, 41 and 91 or the combination of 24, 41 plus multiple Day 3 picks (Rounds 4-7).

"I think it's very expensive to do that," Gutekunst said. "From what you have to give up to go that far up, you're giving up a lot. So unless it's a quarterback or a rare, rare player, I think you have to be careful there. You guys know the numbers, what it takes to get from back in the 20s up into the top 10, you're giving up quite a bit, and you may think at the time that it's the right thing to do -- and if it's a quarterback, there's some justification behind that because of how important the position is.

"But to give up the kind of picks you're going to have to do, which are probably going to be future picks and you don't know what's going to transpire down the road and what you might need, it's never really made a ton of sense for me."

Gutekunst has made eight first-round picks. Seven have been defensive players with the only outlier being quarterback Jordan Love (No. 26 overall in 2020).

Considering the change in defensive coordinators from Joe Barry to Jeff Hafley and the switch in base schemes from a 3-4 to a 4-3, it would surprise no one if Gutekunst favored that side of the ball again.

The top needs on defense include linebacker, safety and cornerback. Gutekunst released De'Vondre Campbell this offseason and did not add a starting-caliber linebacker in free agency. Gutekunst drafted an inside linebacker early once before (Quay Walker, No. 22 in 2022), but there isn't a consensus first-round pick among the off-the-ball linebackers this year.

In the secondary, Gutekunst has twice used first-round picks on corners (Jaire Alexander, No. 18 in 2018, and Eric Stokes, No. 29 in 2021) and once on a safety (Darnell Savage, No. 21 in 2019), which has led some to pair the Packers with the likes of Iowa cornerback Cooper DeJean or Minnesota safety Tyler Nubin at No. 25 overall.

The last time the Packers made this drastic of a scheme change on defense was in 2009, when Dom Capers was hired and switched the Packers from a 4-3 to a 3-4. That spring, Thompson picked two players earmarked for a 3-4: nose tackle B.J. Raji at No. 9 overall and outside linebacker Clay Matthews in a trade up to No. 26.

The switch this time may not require that kind of move.

"I felt comfortable with what we had," Packers coach Matt LaFleur said upon Hafley's introduction. "Because the last thing you want to do is just scrap everything that you've got going for you, especially when you've got some pretty good players that have performed at a high level and guys under contract.

"Gutey was a part of the process when we were interviewing these guys, I certainly wanted to make him feel on-board with it, and he was pretty comfortable with it, so we went out and got Hafley."

Perhaps that could free up Gutekunst to do something else he's never done: draft an offensive lineman in the first round. The release of All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari might necessitate it, although Rasheed Walker (a seventh-round pick in 2022) will be in the running for the job long term after filling in for Bakhtiari last season.

Gutekunst has drafted only two linemen in the top 91 (guard Elgton Jenkins at No. 44 in 2019 and center Josh Myers at No. 62 in 2021).