GREEN BAY, Wis. – With the NFL’s trade deadline coming up on Tuesday, the Green Bay Packers could be buyers at a key position.
According to The Athletic’s Aaron Reiss, the Packers “are among the teams to inquire” about Houston Texans receiver Will Fuller.
A first-round pick in 2016, Fuller is playing under the fifth-year team option. Considering his draft status, he’s had a relatively ho-hum career. He’s never caught 50 passes or topped 700 yards in his career, though he’s well on his way in this, his fifth season. With 31 catches for 490 yards and five touchdowns in seven games, he’s on pace for 71 receptions, 1,120 yards and 11 touchdowns. All would be career highs, as would his 15.8-yard average.
According to Pro Football Focus, Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson has been rewarded with a 115.8 passer rating on passes to Fuller this season. While he has only one drop this season, his small hands might have played a role in his seven drops last year.
In 2014, Packers coach Matt LaFleur was the quarterbacks coach at Notre Dame. That was Fuller’s breakout sophomore season, when he caught 76 passes for 1,094 yards and 15 touchdowns.
“First of all Will, what a great guy,” LaFleur said before last week’s game against Houston. “Always would prepare the right way. Man, does he have a lot juice. He’s been a lot of fun to watch over these last couple years. You can really see him improving every year he gets out on that field. I think he’s a legitimate No. 1 receiver and he definitely has the speed that you’ve got to know where he’s at at all times. There’s been a lot of explosive plays.”
Adding another receiver could provide a major lift for an offense that ranks second in the NFL in scoring but has only two reliable playmakers in receiver Davante Adams and running back Aaron Jones. Another key player, receiver Allen Lazard, is on injured reserve following core-muscle surgery but will practice this week.
“We’ve got a lot of confidence in the guys that we have in this building and, if the right opportunity presents itself, I’m sure Gutey (general manager Brian Gutekunst) will be all over it and then he’ll make that decision,” LaFleur said before Wednesday’s practice.
While Pro Football Talk suggested the Packers inquire about Dallas receiver Amari Cooper – quite likely a financial impossibility given Cooper’s five-year, $100 million contract – Fuller’s contract could help get a deal done.
While his cap number for this season is $10.162 million, that figure would be split between the Texans and Packers. If a deal were made today, the remaining 10 weeks of the season would go onto Green Bay’s cap, or $5.98 million. If a deal were done next week, it would be nine weeks or $5.38 million.
That would work, with the NFLPA showing the Packers have about $8 million of cap space.
However, any deal could be done with a corresponding contract extension with reduced cap charges for this season and next season, when the cap is supposed to take a nosedive, and then bumped considerably for 2022 and beyond.
Fuller caught 3-of-6 passes for 35 yards and one touchdown last week against Green Bay. According to Zebra Sports, Fuller ran 28 of his 41 routes against Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander. He was targeted only once, which Alexander broke up in the end zone.
Adams and Lazard have been incredibly efficient. According to PFF, of 102 receivers with at least 16 targets, Adams ranks fifth with a catch rate of 81.8 percent and Lazard is seventh at 81.3 percent. However, Marquez Valdes-Scantling ranks 100th at 46.9 percent.
At the 2016 Scouting Combine, Fuller measured 6 foot 1/8 and 186 pounds with 8 1/4-inch hands. He ran his 40 in a rocket-fast 4.32 seconds.