GREEN BAY, Wis. – After a flyover at Lambeau Field, Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone” blares through the stadium.
Part of the soundtrack to “Top Gun,” it’s an appropriate song. One of the memorable lines from that movie was spoken by Maverick, the character played by Tom Cruise. “I feel the need. The need for speed.”
For years, the Packers had a need for speed at receiver. And not just speed but functional speed. Marquez Valdes-Scantling, a fifth-round pick in 2018, has delivered that game-changing speed.
Last season, Valdes-Scantling led the NFL with 20.9 yards per reception, more than 2 yards better than runner-up Nelson Agholor of Las Vegas. The last Packers player to lead the NFL in that category? James Lofton, an Olympic-class long jumper, in 1984. In fact, Valdes-Scantling’s 20.9-yard average was the best mark in the NFL over the past decade.
Valdes-Scantling helped fuel an explosive offense. On the way to leading the NFL in scoring, Green Bay and Tennessee paced the NFL with 18 plays of 40-plus yards, and Green Bay and Dallas led the league with eight touchdowns of 40-plus yards. Those 18 big plays were the team’s most since 2011.
Kansas City Chiefs speedster Tyreek Hill gets acclaim as being the NFL’s best deep threat, and rightfully so, but Valdes-Scantling tied Arizona’s DeAndre Hopkins and Carolina’s D.J. Moore with a league-leading six receptions of 40-plus yards in 2020. Only Hill (five) had more 40-yard touchdowns than Valdes-Scantling’s four.
Since entering the NFL as a fifth-round pick in 2018, Valdes-Scantling leads the NFL with his 17.8-yard average and is second in 40-yard touchdowns (seven) and 40-yard catches (15). Since 2019, he is first in 70-yard touchdown catches (three).
Of his 33 receptions during the 2020 regular season, 10 went for 20-plus yards. With four receptions for 115 yards, he was one of the best players on the field in the NFC Championship Game. He hauled in a 50-yard touchdown in the second quarter and added receptions of 29 and 24 yards in the second half. Like other things about that game, it was a trend-buster; the Packers were 5-0 in games in which he scored last season and 7-0 the past two seasons.
As noted in the team’s season-ending Dope Sheet, Valdes-Scantling joined Boyd Dowler and Lofton as the only players in Packers history to average 25-plus receptions and 15-plus yards per catch in their first three NFL seasons. With his penchant for field-flipping plays, Valdes-Scantling’s good has easily outpaced his bad.
As the 2021 NFL season approaches, Valdes-Scantling is entering his final season under contract. It will be a big one for him. The next step will be consistency.
Drops, first and foremost, have been a glaring issue. In 2020, he dropped seven passes to give him a drop rate of 17.5 percent – fourth-worst in the league among receivers with 45 targets, according to Pro Football Focus. Three of those were on deep passes, making those miscues stand out like a sore thumb.
Over the final six regular-season games, Valdes-Scantling caught six passes for 85 yards and one touchdown at Detroit and had a 72-yard touchdown in the finale at Chicago. He had zero catches, however, in the other four games.
The good and bad are condensed to this stat: Of the 89 receivers who caught at least 32 passes, Valdes-Scantling ranked 86th in catch percentage (52.4 percent) but fifth in yards per target (10.95).
“It’s all about growth,” Valdes-Scantling said after an up-and-down game at Indianapolis. “It’s all about getting better and being better every day, being the best version of yourself. As long as I’m a better version than I was the day before, that’s all I care about.”