GREEN BAY, Wis. – Green Bay Packers training camp starts on July 27, with the first practice on July 28. Our Training Camp Countdown series continues with the fourth of our positional previews, the receivers.
Packers Receivers Depth Chart Quick Reads
Davante Adams: In producing the best season of his career, the sheer numbers were staggering for arguably the NFL’s best receiver. Adams caught 115 passes for 1,374 yards and 18 touchdowns. He set the team record for receptions and tied Sterling Sharpe’s franchise mark for touchdowns – the third-most in NFL history. He became the first player with at least 100 receptions and 18 touchdowns in a season. And he did it while missing two-plus games due to a hamstring injury. With two more scores in the playoffs, Adams’ 16-game total was 20 touchdowns. Not always the best catcher of passes throughout his career, Adams dropped just one ball.
Allen Lazard: Highlighted by his six catches for 146 yards and two touchdowns with Adams out vs. New Orleans, Lazard posted 13 receptions for 254 and two scores in the first three games. However, he suffered a core muscle injury in that game and missed six games following surgery. In the final seven games, Lazard caught 20 passes for only 197 yards and one touchdown. He returned to form in the playoffs, though, with a 58-yard touchdown vs. the Rams and a pair of 23-yarders vs. the Buccaneers. He’s a big man and excellent blocker with sneaky speed.
Marquez Valdes-Scantling: MVS is one of the NFL’s premier deep threats. Since entering the NFL as a fifth-round pick in 2018, the speedster leads the NFL with his 17.8-yard average and is second in 40-yard touchdowns (seven) and 40-yard catches (15). In 2020, among all players with at least 32 receptions, he led the NFL with a 20.9-yard average. For the season, he caught 33 passes for 690 yards and a career-high six touchdowns. Four of those scores went for 40-plus yards. On the other hand, he dropped seven passes to give him a drop rate of 17.5 percent – fourth-worst in the league among receivers with 45 targets.
Amari Rodgers: The team’s third-round pick, Rodgers dominated as a senior, posting career highs of 77 receptions for 1,020 yards and seven touchdowns for Clemson. Given the ball frequently on screens and jet sweep-style passes, he ranked first in the nation in slot catches, second in screen catches and seventh in missed tackles, according to Pro Football Focus. According to Sports Info Solutions, he was fifth in the draft class with 8.0 yards after the catch per reception.
Equanimeous St. Brown: After not playing in the opener and spending the next three weeks on injured reserve, St. Brown caught 7-of-13 passes for 117 yards and one touchdown. Three of his catches went for at least 20 yards. In 12 games, he played 196 snaps. He dropped one pass in the regular season and flubbed an easy one on a two-point play in the NFC Championship Game against Tampa Bay. At 6-foot-5 and with 4.48 speed in the 40, there’s a lot to like. Will the whole ever equal the sum of its parts?
Devin Funchess: A second-round pick by the Carolina Panthers in 2015, Funchess has career numbers of 164 receptions for 2,265 yards and 21 touchdowns. He missed almost all of the 2019 season due to a broken collarbone and all of 2020 as a COVID opt-out. Drops have been a chronic problem. In his four healthy seasons, he had a drop rate of 11-plus percent in three. He skipped OTAs but made a couple noteworthy plays during the minicamp.
Malik Taylor: Remember how Aaron Rodgers wasn’t happy about Jake Kumerow not making the roster? Taylor was the man who nudged Kumerow aside. In 15 games, he caught 5-of-6 passes for 66 yards and one touchdown. He blocked on about half of his 166 snaps, though not nearly to the level of those ahead of him on the depth chart. He took over kickoff-return duties down the stretch but averaged just 18.6 yards per runback. Taylor went undrafted out of Division II Ferris State in 2019.
Juwann Winfree: The Denver Broncos moved up in the sixth round of the 2019 draft to select Winfree. His rookie season was thrown for a loss by a groin injury in training camp and a hamstring injury late in the year. After playing in three games (no offensive stats) in 2019, he failed to make Denver’s roster last year after it drafted three receivers. He joined Green Bay’s practice squad on Oct. 1 and was elevated to the gameday roster twice, logging eight snaps on offense but recording no stats. With Green Bay’s primary receivers missing most of the offseason practices, someone had to step up. That player was Winfree.
Reggie Begelton: Begelton was one of the great stories entering training camp last season. He went undrafted in 2016, wasn’t signed by an NFL team and toiled away in Canada for three seasons before finally getting his chance with the Packers as a 26-year-old rookie last summer. “It’s truly a blessing for me,” he said last year. Begelton didn’t turn enough heads to make the roster and spent the entire season on the practice squad. Elevated for one regular-season game, he logged two snaps on offense. He’ll turn 28 at the end of camp.
Chris Blair: Playing for the same school at which Packers Hall of Famer Donald Driver once starred, Blair caught 44 passes for 931 yards and seven touchdowns in 2019. He topped 100 yards five times, had four receptions of 60-plus yards and finished sixth in FCS with his 21.2-yard average. With COVID cancelling pro days and limiting NFL roster sizes, Blair went undrafted and unsigned in 2020. Finally, Green Bay signed him to a futures deal in January. At 6-foot-2 and athleticism (unofficial 4.47 in the 40), he’s a long shot worth watching.
DeAndre Thompkins: With the five veteran receivers skipping the start of OTAs, the Packers signed Thompkins for added depth. Thompkins went undrafted in 2019 out of Penn State after catching 83 passes for 1,245 yards and six touchdowns in four seasons. Plus, he averaged 10.2 yards with two touchdowns on punt returns. He spent training camp with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2019 and the final week of training camp in 2020 with the Pittsburgh Steelers. At Penn State’s pro day, he ran his 40 in 4.34 seconds.
Bailey Gaither: A full year beyond the torn Achilles that ruined his 2018 season at San Jose State, Gaither recorded 41 receptions for 725 yards and four touchdowns in seven games during the COVID-abbreviated 2020 season. He had at least 94 receiving yards in five games and averaged 16.5 yards per catch. He ran a 4.48 in the 40 at pro day, went undrafted and signed with a $7,000 bonus. “Coming back from an Achilles injury, there’s no guarantees,” Gaither said.
Big Story Lines at Receiver
One: Adams is coming off one of the great seasons in NFL history. Not only did Adams lead the NFL in touchdowns, but he led the NFL with 98.1 receiving yards per game and 8.2 catches per game. Had he not missed the two games, he might have joined Jerry Rice (1990), Sterling Sharpe (1992) and Steve Smith (2005) as the only players in the Super Bowl era to win the receiving triple crown of most receptions, yards and touchdowns in a season.
There are no questions about the 2021 season. Adams will dominate, regardless of who’s the quarterback. All Adams can do is beat the man across from him, obviously. The questions are more about what comes after 2021. Adams is in his final season under contract. If Aaron Rodgers isn’t coming back, will Adams want to come back? At the same time, Adams will turn 29 on Christmas Eve. Will the Packers want to open the vault for a receiver approaching age 30?
Two: Can Rodgers contribute immediately? Once upon a time, that was a tall order for a rookie. In 2015, for instance, only four rookie receivers had 35-plus receptions and only five topped 500 yards. In 2020, 10 rookie receivers had 35-plus receptions and 10 topped 500 yards. Colleges are passing the ball more than ever, and that means receivers entering the NFL are more prepared.
The Packers haven’t had a natural slot receiver since Randall Cobb was rolling several years ago. With coach Matt LaFleur’s ability to create opportunities for his playmakers, Rodgers figures to be a featured performer.
“I watched so much tape on him and just kind of had a good feel for some of the things that I loved and the things I thought that maybe he needed to work on,” receivers coach Jason Vrable said. “The one thing that I’d say I’m really just personally excited about is just his professionalism. I mean he takes notes, just to be a student of the game, like no other. His notebook is immaculate and he’s texting me at night. He just wants to be the best version of himself and that’s all I can ask for.”
Three: If Adams, Lazard, Valdes-Scantling and Rodgers are locks, who else will make the roster at receiver? Will it simply be the best six receivers? The Big Four, the best of the big guys (St. Brown vs. Funchess) and the best player on special teams?
Four: If it is St. Brown vs. Funchess, that will be a big battle. Literally. St. Brown is 6-foot-5 and 219 pounds. Funchess is 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds. While St. Brown has struggled to put it all together, so has Funchess. He has only one season of 45-plus catches and 500-plus yards – 2017, when he caught 63 balls for 840 yards. He played 33 snaps for Indianapolis in 2019 and zero for Green Bay in 2020. It’s generally not helpful to not play.
“He’s a dog, I can tell that,” Adams said. “He’s as big as hell. He’ll be able to offer up a lot to us.”
Five: If Rodgers does earn a bunch of snaps in the slot, whose playing time will suffer? Last year, Green Bay’s best player in the slot was Adams. Obviously, Adams’ playing time won’t be impacted by the rookie’s arrival. So, will the playing time come from Lazard, who received 60 percent playing time in nine of his 10 games, including 77 percent in five? Or Valdes-Scanting, who played 76.3 percent for the season? Or will both see declining playing time? That question will be determined by which player is the most consistent.
Receivers coach Jason Vrable says
On the team’s group of young receivers:
“I always take the motto in our room of ‘Next man up’ because last year, Reggie, Malik and Juwann all played in games for us. Guys get hurt, issues arise, so I prepare them all the same. I don’t treat any guy different, whether they just got drafted as a rookie. The standard’s set in our room and we try to hold that standard, and these guys have done a great job buying in and understanding what we’re looking for as a coaching staff.”
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