GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The longer the Green Bay Packers go without drafting a receiver in the first round, the harder it will be on the one they finally take in that position -- whether it's next week, next year or next decade.
It’s too late for it to be any other way.
Most of the receivers worthy of consideration at the top of the NFL draft were still in diapers the last time the Packers picked one in the first round (Javon Walker, 2002). The University of Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman was 2 1/2 years old. Mississippi’s Elijah Moore was just shy of his second birthday. Chances are they’ve never heard of Walker, the Florida State receiver the Packers took at No. 20 overall in 2002.
Former general manager Ted Thompson went his entire 13-year tenure without taking a wide receiver in the first round. Current GM Brian Gutekunst is three drafts in and hasn’t picked one.
There’s not a position that Packers fans -- and perhaps the Packers' past two quarterbacks -- have clamored for more in the first round than receiver.
Imagine the pressure on the one who finally becomes the Packers’ next first-round receiver. It could be so intense that it’s a setup to fail.
It’s more than just the first round, however. Gutekunst hasn’t taken a receiver higher than Round 4, and the Packers are one of only three teams not to take a receiver in either of the past two drafts (joining the Dolphins and Saints). According to Bill Huber of SI’s Packer Central, the Packers are the only team that hasn’t selected a receiver in the first three rounds over the past five drafts.
So what is Gutekunst to do come the night of April 29 with the 29th overall pick?
For the second straight year, the draft class at receiver is considered strong. Last year, a record 13 receivers went in the first two rounds and 37 were selected in all. Six receivers went off the board before Gutekunst traded up from 30 to 26 to take quarterback Jordan Love. Gutekunst said afterward that he liked the receivers at the top of the class but didn’t think it was as deep as some believed.
Some believe Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers wanted LSU’s Justin Jefferson, who went No. 22 to the Minnesota Vikings. He was the fifth receiver taken behind Henry Ruggs (12), Jerry Jeudy (15), CeeDee Lamb (17) and Jalen Reagor (21). Brandon Aiyuk went 25th right before the Packers traded up to take Love.
“Just didn’t work out that we weren’t able to select some of the guys that we had rated really highly,” Gutekunst said of the receivers after last year’s draft. “And once we got to the middle and towards the end of the draft, I just didn’t think there was great opportunity to add a player that was going to make an impact on our roster this year.
"You guys know how hard it is for young players at that position to make impacts early on, certainly with some of the guys that we’ve had in the past -- that became really good players but it took them two or three years to get there.”
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A similar -- if not stronger -- run on first-round receivers could be in the works this year. In their alternating picks mock draft released Tuesday, Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay picked seven receivers in the first 28 picks. It’s a lock that LSU’s Ja'Marr Chase plus the Alabama duo of Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith will go well before the Packers pick. The rest of the potential first- and second-round receivers could be available to Gutekunst at 29. The list includes Moore, Bateman, Florida's Kadarius Toney, LSU's Terrace Marshall Jr., Louisville's Tutu Atwell, Purdue's Rondale Moore and North Carolina's Dyami Brown.
Neither Thompson nor Gutekunst has ever said why they’ve shied away from first-round receivers. But Rodgers is notoriously demanding of receivers so perhaps there’s the feeling that using a first-round pick on one the quarterback might not mesh with is too risky.
However, Thompson was more than willing to use second- and third-round picks on receivers and found success with the likes of Greg Jennings (second round, 2006), James Jones (third round, 2007), Jordy Nelson (second round, 2008), Randall Cobb (second round, 2011) and Davante Adams (second round, 2014). Nelson wasn't a first-rounder but was the Packers' first pick in 2008 after Thompson traded back from No. 30 to 36.
Gutekunst hasn’t drafted a receiver higher than the fourth round (J'Mon Moore in 2018). He certainly has other needs. The Packers didn’t lose the NFC Championship Game because of a lack of weapons; they lost because of shortcomings at cornerback (see Kevin King), tackle (David Bakhtiari's injury) and some questionable coaching decisions (the botched defensive call at the end of the first half, going for 2 in the third quarter and the field goal decision late in the fourth among them).
The Packers re-signed running back Aaron Jones and tight end Marcedes Lewis, ensuring that most of their skill position players will return. The only major loss was running back Jamaal Williams, who signed with the Detroit Lions, but last year’s second-round pick AJ Dillon should step right into Williams' role.
So perhaps it will be another year without a first-round receiver. But if this is finally the time, that receiver should be ready for nearly 20 years' worth of expectations on his shoulders.