If you watched the Packers play at all during the 2018 season, you may have noticed that they were being the opposite of creative on offense.
Although Mike McCarthy had a mostly successful coaching career in Green Bay, his refusal to innovate on the offensive side of the ball is basically what led to his downfall. By the time McCarthy Aaron Rodgers., the Packers offense had become stale and mostly predictable, which are two words you don’t usually associate with an offense being run by
The man who has been tasked with fixing the Packers offense is new coach Matt LaFleur. Offensively speaking, going from McCarthy to LaFleur is like going from a minivan to a Ferrari and that’s because LaFleur has been developing his offense while coaching under some of the most innovative minds in the game.
LaFleur was the quarterbacks coach in Atlanta when the Falcons went to the Super Bowl in 2016. The new Packers coach was also Sean McVay’s offensive coordinator during McVay’s first season with the Rams in 2017. What this means is that LaFleur has slowly been putting together a Frankenstein offense that’s a hybrid of what both McVay and Shanahan have been doing.
Of course, the only way LaFleur’s offense is actually going to thrive is if Rodgers has someone to throw the ball to, which brings us to our key battle of training camp in Green Bay: The Packers need to find some receivers who will complement Davante Adams and they need to find those receivers now.
Why the receiver battle is key
Although Rodgers had an uncanny connection with Adams last season, the Packers basically got zero production from all the other receivers on their depth chart. Adams finished the year with 1,386 yards, which was more than the next three receivers combined as Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Equanimeous St. Brown and the recently departed Randall Cobb combined for just 1,292.
What the Packers are going to need to figure out in training camp is who the No. 2 receiver should be behind Adams. Then, after they figure that out, they’re going to need to figure out who the No. 3 receiver is. Basically, the receiving depth chart is a jumbled mess behind Adams, and the Packers have between now and Sept. 5 to get things finalized.
LaFleur’s offense is only going to succeed if Rodgers can run it efficiently and Rodgers is only going to be able to run it efficiently if he has a receiving corps he can trust.
So who will be involved in this training camp battle at receiver?
Let’s take a look.
Players in the mix
The most intriguing receiver who will be involved in this battle is probably Allison. Going into his fourth year with the Packers, Allison was on the verge of a breakout season in 2018 until injuries derailed his year. Not only did Allison miss one game due to a concussion, but he also dealt with hamstring issues last year. Oh, and he also had surgery on his core muscle, which is a big reason why he was limited to a total of just five games in 2018.
Although he didn’t play much, Allison did produce when he was on the field, catching 20 passes for 303 yards and two touchdowns. If Allison’s first few months of practice in LaFleur’s offense is any indication, he might put up monster numbers in 2019. Adams has been watching his fellow receiver closely and he believes that Allison has the potential to be dangerous in the Packers’ new offense.
“He’s the guy who’s been working a lot in the slot, and he’s used to playing a little more outside, but this is making him a little more dynamic,” Adams said, via the team’s official website. “I think Matt has really tested him or challenged him to widen it out so he can play multiple spots… Him being able to move around right now and be healthy, be himself and just play, being able to have all those things, it’s going to be dangerous.”
That’s quite the vote of confidence to get from Adams. If Allison can stay healthy, he has potential to be a big play threat.
Valdes-Scantling is one of the three receivers that the Packers drafted in 2018, and right now, he seems the most likely of the three to turn into a star. During his rookie season in Green Bay, Valdes-Scantling caught 38 passes for 581 yards and two touchdowns. The 24-year-old also averaged 15.3 yards per catch, which was the most of anyone on the Packers roster who caught 10 or more passes in 2018. Although Rodgers apparently wasn’t a big fan of the receiver last year, it seems that Valdes-Scantling is slowly winning over his quarterback.
“I think Marquez has had a fantastic spring and really stepped up as a guy who can be an every-down player,” Rodgers said in June, via ESPN.com.
With the chance to be the Packers’ No. 2 receiver this year, Valdes-Scantling has been stepping up his game this offseason, instead of taking some time off for a vacation or two over the past few weeks — like most NFL players — the receiver has spent some serious time working on his craft with Randy Moss.
“I’m still training with him now. We train Monday through Thursdays,” Valdes-Scantling said during a recent appearance on NFL Network, via Pro Football Talk. “He’s teaching me the game. He’s a 14-year [veteran], Hall of Famer. Couldn’t ask for a better mentor to go out and teach you how to be a great wide receiver.”
If Valdes-Scantling can soak up just a small percentage of what of Moss is teaching him, the MVS could be the the guy who earns the No. 2 spot.
Equanimeous St. Brown
Like Valdes-Scantling, St. Brown is also member of the Packers’ 2018 draft class, but unlike his fellow rookie, St. Brown wasn’t as productive last year. The Packers receiver finished the season with 21 catches for 328 yards over 12 games, which isn’t horrible for a rookie season, but the problem for St. Brown is that he had a tendency to completely disappear at times to the point where Rodgers probably thought St. Brown was wearing the invisibility cloak from Harry Potter. Although he racked up 21 catches for 328 yards, 13 of those catches and 267 of those yards came in just four games, which means he wasn’t very productive in the other eight games that he was on the field.
Due to his potential, St. Brown is a lock to make the roster, but he’s going to have a tough job earning one of the top two receiver spots behind Adams. One advantage that St. Brown has over pretty much every other receiver on the Packers’ roster is his size (6-foot-5). Even if St. Brown isn’t on the field as much as he’d like, there’s a chance he could turn into a solid red zone target in LaFleur’s offense.
If there’s one dark horse in this receiver battle, it might be Davis. During his three years playing for the Packers while McCarthy was coach, Davis had a key role on special teams, but was basically an afterthought at receiver. During his first two seasons in the league (2016-17), Davis caught eight passes for just 94 yards. In 2018, Davis was limited to two games after suffering multiple hamstring injuries that led to him being placed on injured reserve.
Although Davis never thrived in McCarthy’s offense, it wouldn’t be crazy to see him turn things around in LaFleur’s system. The receiver has apparently been making highlight reel catches in practice and people — like Rodgers — are definitely starting to take notice.
“He’s making a lot of plays,” Rodgers said of Davis, via the team’s official website. “We joke about how the perfect throw to Trevor is behind him, way in front of him or above his head where he’s got to jump, because he’s almost 100 percent on those plays. … Every day, there’s been one play he’s made that jumps out on the film.”
There are a lot of ways to get the ball to a receiver — the Rams ran the jet sweep more than anyone during LaFleur’s one season in L.A. — and it’s not crazy to think the Davis could be the biggest benefactor of a more creative playbook in Green Bay. Also, don’t be surprised if Davis is the first player to show up at training camp, and that’s because I’m pretty sure he’s pretty over California right now.
If Davis didn’t have enough incentive to make the roster before, now he has even more: If he gets cut, then he’s going to have move back to the earthquake-filled death trap known as California.
If anyone has the chance to quickly move up the depth chart during training camp, it’s Kumerow. Although Kumerow didn’t put up big numbers last season — he caught just eight passes for 103 yards and a touchdown after spending most of the year in injured reserve — he’s quickly earning the trust of Rodgers. The former 2015 undrafted free agent, who spent part of the 2017 season on the Patriots‘ practice squad, might have been the most impressive player of the spring for Green Bay.
“He is an extremely intelligent guy who is in the right place at the right time,” Rodgers said in June, via Madison.com. “He makes contested catches, he makes the plays that are there and he does the little things.”
If Kumerow does end up seeing some serious playing time, one thing’s for sure: He won’t be doing anymore somersaults on the field. The only reason Kumerow ended up on IR last season is because he injured his shoulder after doing a somersault to celebrate an 82-yards touchdown catch against the Steelers during a preseason game.
The fact that Rodgers is a fan of Kumerow makes it very likely that the 27-year-old ends up making the Packers’ roster.
Like Valdes-Scantling and St. Brown, Moore was also part of the Packers’ 2018 rookie class, but unlike the other two, Moore had disastrous rookie year. In 12 games, Moore caught just three passes for 15 yards. Moore knows he wasn’t great last season, as a matter of fact, he’s been spending the offseason trying to put last year behind him.
“I feel like a fresh start to something that I’m familiar with,” Moore said in May, via PackersNews.com. “But just a new beginning. I’ve got a year under my belt so I know what to expect with what the expectations are, but it’s a fresh start, clean slate. It’s a clean slate for everybody, which is the best feeling. Especially for me. It’s just another opportunity. A lot of people don’t get that.”
As the highest drafted receiver in 2018 — he was selected in the fourth round — it’s unlikely that the Packers would release Moore this year, but the 24-year-old can’t feel too safe about his spot on the roster, especially with all the depth the Packers now have at receiver.
So who will end up with Adams on the field?
There’s a lot of ways the Packers’ receiving battle could shake out, but as things currently stand, it seems like Allison and Valdes-Scantling are the best bets to earn the starting spots behind Adams. If Allison looks as impressive in training camp as he did early in the 2018 season, then he could end up as the No. 2 guy behind Adams. Even if Valdes-Scantling earns the No. 2 spot. Allison should likely see plenty of playing time in the slot spot that was vacated when Randall Cobb left in free agency. If Kumerow and St. Brown both make the roster, that could leave Davis and Moore battling it out with several other contenders for possibly the final receiving spot on the Packers’ roster this year.