GREEN BAY — Bigger may not always be better. But when it comes to wide receivers and the Green Bay Packers, it sure helps — and it’s one of the reasons the Green Bay Packers added Devin Funchess earlier this week.
Last month, as he prepared to depart for the annual NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis and get his first up-close look at a wide receiver draft class that is being described as possibly the greatest collection of talent at the position in the history of the draft, third-year general manager Brian Gutekunst outlined what his ideal wide receiver would look like.
Not that Gutekunst had to articulate it, really. While his star receiver is 6-foot-1 Davante Adams, Gutekunst has shown what his “type” is through myriad moves, including the three receivers he selected in his first draft as GM.
During that 2018 NFL draft, Gutekunst picked Missouri’s 6-3 J’Mon Moore in the fourth round, South Florida’s 6-4 Marquez Valdes-Scantling in the fifth round and Notre Dame’s 6-5 Equanimeous St. Brown in the sixth round. He also re-signed 6-3 restricted free agent Geronimo Allison last offseason and added 6-5 Allen Lazard late in the year off Jacksonville’s practice squad.
Now, he’s brought in the 6-4 Funchess on a one-year, prove-it deal — the deal has been agreed to but terms have not yet been made available — with the hopes he can recapture his 2017 form, when he caught 63 passes for 840 yards and eight touchdowns for the Carolina Panthers.
Of those big receivers, none came out of college running a blazing 40-yard dash time other than Valdes-Scantling (4.37 seconds). St. Brown (4.48) was the next-fastest, followed by Lazard (4.55), Moore (4.60), Allison (4.67) and Funchess (4.70)
When asked if he favors size over speed during a Q&A session with a small group of beat writers before departing for the combine, Gutekunst replied: “You’d like them both. You’d love to have a 6-4, 225-pound guy that can do it all. I do like tall, long athletes, and we certainly have some of those guys. And I’m excited what they can do moving forward.
“I think you’ve seen across the league what a group of guys who can really run — with how the game is called today and the rules of the game and stuff — I think that’s something we’ll certainly put an emphasis on this year.”
Before agreeing to terms with Funchess, though, the Packers hadn’t added anyone at the position, opting not to pay a premium price for ex-New York Jets wideout Robby Anderson, who got a two-year, $20 million from the Panthers to play for his college coach, Matt Ruhle; and losing out on ex-San Francisco 49ers receiver Emmanuel Sanders, whom the Packers pursued before he took a two-year, $16 million deal with the New Orleans Saints.
While the Packers made the requisite qualifying offers to Lazard and ex-UW-Whitewater star Jake Kumerow to retain their exclusive rights, Allison is an unrestricted free agent and may not return after a down year in which he caught only 34 passes for 287 yards and two touchdowns in his first year in coach Matt LaFleur’s offense.
It's possible Gutekunst will pursue another veteran free agent receiver — he did say last month he wants to use the salary-cap casualty market, as he did with inside linebacker Christian Kirksey and right tackle Ricky Wagner — before or perhaps after the draft, and it’s likely that he’ll pick at least one in the draft, which the NFL said Thursday evening will remain intact on April 23-25.
Gutekunst also said he’s open to “doubling up” on wide receiver and taking more than one, as his predecessor Ted Thompson did in his final draft in 2017 at running back (Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones) and as Gutekunst did with Moore, Valdes-Scantling and St. Brown a year later. Gutekunst recalled how Pro Football Hall of Fame GM Ron Wolf used his first three picks in the 1999 draft on cornerbacks — Clemson’s Antuan Edwards, Vanderbilt’s Fred Vinson and Memphis’ Mike McKenzie — a year after Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Randy Moss took the NFC by storm.
“If the right opportunities present itself, I don’t have a problem doing that,” Gutekunst said. “Early in my career, Ron, I remember that we had a corner need and he took three in a row, and I think the third one was the one he hit on. So yeah, I don’t have a problem doing that, but I don’t think it’s something you set out to do because you just don’t know what opportunities will present themselves. But I certainly think that’s a way to attack an area of need.”
Gutekunst also insisted he won’t rule out any receivers who aren’t the towering players he seems to prefer, pointing to the success 5-10 Randall Cobb had in the Packers offense before moving on to the Dallas Cowboys last year and now the Houston Texans in free agency.
“You’re always looking to be bigger, faster, stronger if you can be. But it’s really about the football player, whether they can play,” Gutekunst said. “Every player has different attributes that makes them who they are, and if a guy doesn’t have the height that we certainly would like, but makes up for it in other ways, I don’t think we would not draft a player just because he wasn’t tall enough.
“We had Randall Cobb here who was a really good player for us for a long time. He certainly didn’t meet some of the height requirements. It’s truly about what they can do for our football team, and obviously with Matt’s system there are some tweaks as far as what he does with the slot and stuff that may lend itself to different skill sets. But even in the past, I don’t think we would have shied away from that.”
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