Months before Josiah Deguara was drafted to the Green Bay Packers, Matt LaFleur used the Cincinnati prospect as an example of “effort and grit” for his team.
During his post-draft teleconference on Saturday night, LaFleur sang Deguara’s praises and spoke to the value the third-round pick brings to the Packers offense as a tight end-fullback hybrid. He also admitted he has known about Deguara for quite some time and even used one of his most impressive college highlights as an example for his Packers team in 2019.
“When you watch Josiah, you just see such a gritty, tough player,” LaFleur said. “The play that comes to mind — and we actually showed this to our team last season when we were talking about effort and grit — there was a play versus UCLA where there was an interception and just the effort he displayed to run down the defender and make an unbelievable play on the ball, it really epitomizes who he is as a football player.”
Deguara was the Packers’ first — and only — pass-catcher selected out of the 2020 class after they neglected to take a wide receiver with any of their nine draft picks. He caught a team-high seven touchdown passes for the Bearcats during his final season and finished 2019 with a second-most 504 receiving yards on 37 catches, but LaFleur envisions a more diverse role for him in 2020 than just catching passes.
“The thing that he brings to our offense is we can be in the same personnel grouping and we can line him up on the line of scrimmage or in a wing alignment, or we can line him up in the backfield,” LaFleur said. So I just think he adds stress to a defense in terms of how are these guys going to line up and what is it exactly they’re going to do.”
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Did Packers Draft Deguara Too Early?
LaFleur is fired up about Deguara and how he might be able to deploy him in his 2020 offense, but the pick wasn’t without scrutiny considering how early the Packers selected him.
NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein projected Deguara would stay on the board until the sixth round, while The Athletic’s Arif Hasan ranked him the No. 161 overall prospect and ninth-best tight end on his 2020 big board. Instead, the Packers took him at No. 94 overall in the third round behind only Notre Dame’s Cole Kmet (Chicago) and UCLA’s Devin Asiasi (New England).
Now, the Packers could definitely make use of another tight end, especially one who can fill the fullback-type role LaFleur likes and never got to fully explore in 2019 with Danny Vitale. They do have Jace Sternberger — last year’s third-round pick — on an inside track to the starter job left vacate when the team cut Jimmy Graham, but Deguara pads the position with veteran Marcedes Lewis nearing the end of his career.
That said, were the Packers’ evaluations of Deguara really that much higher than everyone else with just about every other tight end in the class still available? The Patriots grabbed Virginia Tech’s Dalton Keene seven picks after Deguara, while the New Orleans Saints used their compensatory selection to take Dayton’s Adam Trautman.
Other notable tight ends taken behind Deguara included: Harrison Bryant (Browns), Albert Okwuegbunam (Broncos), Colby Parkinson (Seahawks) and Brycen Hopkins (Chargers).
Of course, pre-draft rankings don’t mean anything to the NFL teams that do the professional evaluations. Just look at Washington’s Hunter Bryant, who went undrafted after being widely considered one of the top three or four tight ends in the class by multiple outlets. Rankings also can’t possibly predict who will make a genuine impact in the league, as hundreds of later-round stars proved throughout their pro careers.
Only time will tell if the Packers’ investment was well-timed and well-earned.