Big Training Camp Battles: Receiver
GREEN BAY, Wis. – With Davante Adams, the Green Bay Packers have one of the premier receivers in the NFL. Over the last four seasons, he’s eighth in receptions, seventh in yards and first in touchdowns.
The supporting cast, on the other, is much more uncertain. While Adams has 343 receptions the past four seasons, Marquez Valdes-Scantling (64 catches, four touchdowns), Allen Lazard (36 and three touchdowns), Equanimeous St. Brown (21 catches, zero touchdowns), Jake Kumerow (20 catches, two touchdowns), Darrius Shepherd (one catch, zero touchdowns) and the rest of the receiver candidates (zero catches) have a career total of 242 receptions. Their nine career touchdowns are fewer than Adams had in 2016 (12), 2017 (10) and 2018 (13).
Having failed to adequately replace Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, Green Bay’s offense was plagued by so-so receiver play last season. Even Adams expected the Packers to make a splash.
“It’s no secret, we were all expecting to have a receiver drafted, but that wasn’t the case,” he said last week.
However, after not drafting a receiver and losing veteran Devin Funchess to a COVID-19 opt-out, the Packers will roll with mostly the same group as last year. Leading that group will be Lazard. The big receiver came up big in big moments last season, including pivotal touchdowns in both games against Detroit, after being released at the end of camp.
“It’s all about opportunity and timing,” Lazard said on Sunday. “You can’t really control those two things. For me as a person, I’ve never really tried to sweat too much about the things that I couldn’t control. I prepared every single week, going up into Week 6, like a starter. I made sure I had my plays down. I didn’t want to go out there and be put in a position where I was playing and the team was counting on me and I let them down. You look at that Lions game and everybody sees the big catch and everything but they also forget about the play before that, I had a dropped pass. It’s all about keeping that positive mind-set, always believing in yourself and never shying away from the moment.”
Valdes-Scantling has an elite combination of size and speed. He entered camp last summer as the anointed No. 2 receiver and got off to a decent start. However, his production fell off a cliff following an ankle injury. In the final nine regular-season games, he caught 5-of-19 passes for 36 yards. His 0.32 yards per pass route and catch rate of 26.3 percent were last among the 105 receivers with at least 19 targets during that span, according to Pro Football Focus. He played only one snap in the NFC Championship Game.
“I do think there was some confidence that was probably lost there by him,” coach Matt LaFleur said. “We need him to regain that. It seems like he’s in the right frame of mind in terms of just how hard he’s attacking it, and we need that from him. We need him to be a consistent performer for us because he does have incredible speed and he scares the defense when he’s out on the field.”
St. Brown suffered an ankle injury in the preseason and spent the year on injured reserve. With size (6-foot-5) and speed (4.48 in the 40), there are high hopes. He caught 21 passes for 328 yards as a rookie sixth-round pick in 2018. General manager Brian Gutekunst said he expects St. Brown to be ready to go for Saturday’s first practice.
“I think just kind of the way that he finished 2018, the way he goes about his business, the way he was performing in ’19 in training camp before he got injured, we’re really bullish on him,” Gutekunst said on Monday. “I think he’s got a bright future ahead of him. I’m glad he’s healthy. I’m glad he’s back, and expect him to make impacts this year.”
The injury to St. Brown opened the door for Kumerow to catch 12 passes for 219 yards. Including playoffs, four of his 13 catches went for at least 23 yards, and he earned playing time because of his excellent blocking. With Funchess’ opt-out, Canadian import Reggie Begelton is the team’s biggest addition. He went to Lamar to get a degree in chemical engineering and left as a pro prospect.
Rounding out the group are Shepherd, who made the roster out of camp but couldn’t parlay a strong preseason into regular-season production, Travis Fulgham, who was claimed off waivers on Monday, Malik Taylor, who spent last year on the practice squad, and Darrell Stewart, a productive slot receiver at Michigan State.
Final roster prediction (6)
In: Davante Adams, Allen Lazard, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Equanimeous St. Brown, Jake Kumerow, Reggie Begelton.
Out: Travis Fulgham, Darrius Shepherd, Darrell Stewart, Malik Taylor.