Members of 2023 draft class graded

By: 
Jacob Westendorf
Green & Gold Express

The 2023 draft class for the Green Bay Packers could go down as one for the ages. If they win a Super Bowl in the next few seasons, it’s likely that many of the foundational pieces for that championship team will have come from this draft class.

Brian Gutekunst entered this draft loaded with ammo at the top end of the draft due to the trade of Aaron Rodgers to the New York Jets.

While Rodgers’ move to the Jets was the ending of an era, it was necessary to move to the next stage of Green Bay Packers football.

The Rodgers trade paved the way for Jordan Love to become the team’s starting quarterback, something that he was uncertain was ever going to happen at the same time one year earlier.

Rodgers had just signed a new contract, and Love felt resigned to remaining on the bench in Green Bay until a new opportunity arose.

“I’ll admit I think the hardest time was when he signed the contract last year,” Love said to Green Bay media last May. “It was kind of like, ‘OK, well, where do we go from here? What do I do?’ I think I just sat back, kind of thought to myself, and just came back with the approach, like, just go ball out. Any opportunity I get – I’m going to get the preseason – who knows what happens after that.”

Instead, Love was installed as the starter and Gutekunst went to work trying to build a team around him.

The wide assumption, as it has been for the last four seasons around draft time, was that the Packers would end the drought of selecting a first-round wide receiver. That drought extends back to 2002 when Mike Sherman traded up to take Florida State’s Javon Walker.

Those claims got louder when the trade of Rodgers moved the Packers up two spots in the first round.

Consensus was building that the Packers were targeting Ohio State wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba.

Gutekunst did not take him. Instead, his draft class started with a pass rusher and ended with a wide receiver.

First Round Pick 13 – Lukas Van Ness, OLB, Iowa

Van Ness was a player the Packers clearly targeted in a move from 15 to 13 in a trade with the New York Jets that sent Rodgers to the East Coast.

Van Ness was a rotational pass rusher, mostly behind Rashan Gary and Preston Smith for most of the season. His development track looks a lot like Gary’s from when he was a rookie.

By the end of the season, however, Van Ness looked to be finding his sea legs as an NFL player.

He finished the season strong and should be able to take starting caliber reps during his second season.

Grade: B

Second Round Pick 42 – Luke Musgrave, TE, Oregon State

Musgrave was the Packers’ starting tight end from the moment he was drafted. Part of that was a byproduct of Robert Tonyan and Marcedes Lewis moving on in the offseason, but it was mostly due to what the Packers thought of him.

Musgrave flashed explosive ability to stretch the seam and gave one of the great locker room moments of the year when he was able to stay on his feet for a long touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys.

Musgrave and draft classmate Tucker Kraft will allow Matt LaFleur to have plenty of tools at his disposal to toy with opposing defenses.

The key for Musgrave is to stay healthy. If he does that, the sky is the limit.

Grade: B

Second Round Pick 50 – Jayden Reed, WR, Michigan State

Reed’s chemistry with Love was on display early in training camp. By the end of the season, he was Love’s go-to guy. Reed led the team in receiving yards and tied for touchdowns with Romeo Doubs.

He made plays in the run game as well.

Reed was seen as a consolation prize to the first round receiver fans and pundits were clamoring for. Instead, he just outperformed any of the receivers taken in the first round.

Reed’s game reminds many of what Randall Cobb was like in his prime, but Reed is probably faster.

He’ll be a big part of this offense for years to come.

Grade: A

Third Round Pick 75 – Tucker Kraft, TE, South Dakota State

Kraft had a tough start to the season. He admittedly felt like he was swimming upstream.

There were times he was surpassed on the roster by Ben Sims, an undrafted free agent.

By the end of the season, Kraft was in the discussion as the team’s best tight end on the roster.

Whoever the best guy at that position is does not really matter. Kraft and Musgrave can combine for one of the best tight end combinations in all of football if they continue to develop.

Grade: B

Fourth Round Pick 116 – Colby Wooden, DL, Auburn

Wooden was surpassed early by fellow draft classmate Karl Brooks. The plays he made were few and far between, but he did finish the season strong, blocking a field goal against San Francisco.

Of the top five defensive linemen on the roster, it’s Wooden’s spot that feels the most tenuous should the Packers decide to add another guy in the draft.

Grade: C

Fifth Round Pick 149 – Sean Clifford, QB, Penn State

Clifford was a backup quarterback who showed well in preseason. He played well in mop-up duty. The Packers are happy with him, and he never had to play. That’s all most teams will ask for with their backup.

Grade: B

Fifth Round Pick 159 – Dontayvion Wicks, WR, Virginia

Wicks was the second half of a dynamic duo that emerged with Reed before the end of the season.

He was sensational down the stretch while battling through a multitude of injuries. Wicks was always open and saved his best for a playoff clincher.

He scored two touchdowns against the Bears and another the following week against the Cowboys in what might have been Love’s best play of the season.

Wicks’ future is bright, and this is one of the steals of the draft.

Grade: A

Sixth Round Pick 179 – Karl Brooks, DL, Bowling Green

There’s an argument to be made that Brooks was the second-best defensive lineman on the roster last season.

He had four sacks and flashed some violent hands in the pass rush game. He should be given more opportunities to get after the quarterback in Jeff Hafley’s even fronts. That should excite Packer fans.

Grade: B+

Sixth Round Pick 207 – Anders Carlson, K, Auburn

Carlson led the league in missed kicks during his rookie season. After starting the season hot, he missed a kick in every game save for one following the bye week.

Carlson’s struggles were mostly brushed off by the coaching staff, but he missed a crucial 43-yard field goal in the team’s divisional round loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

The Packers have brought in a veteran, Greg Joseph to compete with Carlson this offseason.

Unfortunately, the competition was brought in too little too late. Carlson’s leash was too long a season ago, and his miss to help end the season would have been forgivable if it were not so predictable.

Everyone gets low marks for drafting an ineffective kicker and being stubborn enough to stick with him throughout a playoff run.

Grade: F

Seventh Round Pick 232 – Carrington Valentine, CB, Kentucky

Valentine was one the pleasant surprises of the 2023 season. He was pressed into duty during the season with injuries ravaging the cornerback group and acquitted himself well.

During training camp, he was the star of the show. He was always around the ball and felt like he made at least one big play per day in practice.

That did not translate to regular season games. Valentine did not record an interception on the season, but he was sticky in coverage. The passer rating he allowed against him was 81, which is more than ever could be asked for from a rookie cornerback picked in the seventh round.

Valentine started every game after Rasul Douglas was traded before the deadline and looks to be in line to start across from Jaire Alexander in 2024 as well, depending on the injury status of Eric Stokes.

Regardless of what happens, this pick is already a massive success.

Grade: A

Seventh Round Pick 235 – Lew Nichols, RB, Central Michigan

Nichols was injured early in camp and subsequently released with an injury settlement. Even when he was healthy, Emanuel Wilson looked like a better player. Nichols doesn’t get a failing grade as a seventh round pick but gets low marks considering Gutekunst typically keeps all of his draft picks, especially as rookies.

Grade: D

Seventh Round Pick 242 – Anthony Johnson Jr. S, Iowa State

Johnson Jr. was a preseason darling after showing up as a potential first-round pick in a mock draft over at PFF by Cris Collinsworth. Instead, Johnson Jr. was picked in the seventh round. He hauled in one interception on the season and was seeing some time as a safety at a position that was in flux for most of the year.

Johnson’s primary contributions come on special teams. With the addition of Xavier McKinney in free agency, and no other players being brought in as of yet, Johnson Jr. is in line to start next to him. Whether he does or not remains to be seen, but he has at least proven himself as a quality backup.

Grade: C

Seventh Round Pick 256 – Grant DuBose, WR, Charlotte

DuBose spent most of the season on the practice squad. He was elevated for the final game of the season against the Chicago Bears but was made inactive when Wicks was able to play that day.

DuBose is competition for the back of the roster, but his spot is far from safe. The Packers could add someone that has more value on special teams.

Grade: Incomplete