GREEN BAY, Wis. – Who has the best personnel in the NFC North?
We took that question to a high-ranking scout whose focus is pro personnel. He ranked each team’s position groups. Part 4 of this 10-part series focuses on the receivers, a group the scout said is “pretty close from top to bottom.”
No. 1: Minnesota Vikings
Minnesota is a surprising No. 1 in the scout’s eyes, even after sending Stefon Diggs to Buffalo in a blockbuster trade before the draft.
The Vikings have a star in Adam Thielen. He was a Pro Bowler in 2017 (91 catches, 1,276 yards, four touchdowns) and 2018 (113 catches, 1,373 yards, nine touchdowns) but plunged to only 30 catches for 418 yards and six touchdowns in 10 games last season. He’s not much of a YAC threat but he gets open and catches the ball. Kirk Cousins was rewarded with a 124.2 passer rating on passes to Thielen last season, according to Pro Football Focus. He’ll turn 30 during training camp. He needs a big bounce-back season.
They replaced Diggs with first-round pick Justin Jefferson. There might not be a more important rookie in the division than Jefferson, who must deliver given the uncertainty with the rest of the receiver corps. With Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Joe Burrow, he posted 111 receptions for 1,540 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2019 for LSU. In his final three games, Jefferson was dominant. In the SEC Championship Game against Georgia, he caught seven passes for 115 yards and one touchdown. In the national semifinals, he had a day for the ages with 14 receptions for 227 yards and four touchdowns against Oklahoma. In the national championship, he caught nine balls for 106 yards against Clemson.
There’s not much depth, with Tajae Sharpe (92 catches for 1,167 yards in three seasons with the Titans), Olabisi Johnson (31 catches for 294 yards as a rookie seventh-round pick), Chad Beebe (six catches in six games in two seasons) and fifth-round pick K.J. Osborn (50 catches, 547 yards, five touchdowns last year at Miami) in the battle for snaps.
No. 2: Chicago Bears
The Bears have a sneaky-good group, which is led by Allen Robinson – a 6-foot-2, 220-pound matchup problem. Even with Chicago’s quarterback troubles, Robinson posted a career season with 98 catches for 1,147 yards and seven touchdowns. He’s not much of a YAC threat but he’s got one of the best sets of hands in the NFL with only five drops vs. 153 receptions the past two seasons.
The depth is potentially strong, with Anthony Miller (85 catches 1,079 yards and nine touchdowns in two seasons), do-it-all Cordarelle Patterson (seven kickoff-return touchdowns in seven seasons), ageless deep threat Ted Ginn (just turned 35) and recent draft picks Javon Wims (woeful 46.2 percent catch rate last year), Riley Ridley (brother of Calvin Ridley) and rookie speedster Darnell Mooney (4.38 40 at this year’s Combine).
No. 3: Detroit Lions
A third-round pick in 2017, Golladay has emerged as a star. After a breakout season of 70 catches in 2018, he caught 65 passes for career highs of 1,190 yards, 11 touchdowns and 18.3 yards per reception in 2019. Despite quarterback Matthew Stafford missing the second half of the season, he led the NFL in touchdown catches and was third in yards per catch. On passes thrown at least 20-yards downfield, he led the NFL with 16 receptions, according to PFF.
Marvin Jones is a long-ball threat, too. In 2017, he led the NFL with 18.0 yards per reception and had a league-high 16 catches on passes thrown 20-plus yards downfield while posting a career-high 1,101 receiving yards. However, injuries have limited him to only 22 of a potential 32 games the past two seasons. At age 30, can he have a turn-back-the-clock season?
Danny Amendola, who is 34 but has averaged 61 catches the past three seasons, mans the slot. There’s some Wisconsin flare with the depth, with the addition of veteran Geronimo Allison, who ranked next-to-last among NFL receivers in yards per pass route and yards per catch with the Packers, and fifth-round pick Quintez Cephus, a sure-handed receiver for the Badgers.
No. 4: Green Bay Packers
The Packers are an easy pick to pull up the rear. Davante Adams, of course, is a star and the consensus best receiver in the division. Had he not missed four games with a toe injury, his 83 receptions for 997 yards and five touchdowns would have projected to 111 receptions for 1,329 yards and seven touchdowns. Of 79 receivers to be targeted 50 times, Adams ranked sixth with 2.33 yards per pass route, according to PFF. However, he dropped far too many passes (eight last year).
Allen Lazard went from the practice squad to the No. 2 receiver. Lazard caught 35-of-52 passes (67.3 percent) for 477 yards (13.6 average) and three touchdowns. All of that came over 11 games. Projected to 16 games, that works out to 51 receptions, 694 yards and four touchdowns. The question: Is Lazard the No. 2 receiver by default or a legit No. 2?
Green Bay signed Devin Funchess in free agency. He missed most of last season due to injury and has a career filled with drops. He’ll challenge Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who fell off the face of the Earth during the second half of last season, and Equanimeous St. Brown, who missed last season due to injury for snaps. Jake Kumerow and Canadian import Reggie Begelton shoube in the mix, too.