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Previewing Packers OTAs: Receivers

A Packers receiver corps filled with question marks is led by Allen Lazard, who finished his 2021 season on a strong note.

GREEN BAY, Wis. – For the Green Bay Packers, the road to Super Bowl LVII in Glendale, Ariz., will begin this week with the start of offseason practices.

To be sure, nothing will be settled during two weeks of voluntary organized team activities, the mandatory minicamp, and one more week of OTAs. Still, what happens on the practice field will set the stage for the start of training camp in a little more than two months.

This series of positional previews continues with the receivers.

The Sure Thing: Allen Lazard

Lazard would be the “surest” thing on the receiver corps. In 2021, he caught 40-of-59 passes (67.8 percent) for 513 yards (12.8 average) and eight touchdowns. Playing in 15 games, the catches, yards and touchdowns set career highs.

He finished the season on a really strong note. In his first 10 games, Lazard caught 19 passes and scored three touchdowns. He had zero games of more than 60 yards. In his last five games, Lazard caught 21 passes and scored five touchdowns. He topped 70 yards in three of those games. League-wide, only Davante Adams had more receiving touchdowns than Lazard over that period.

Lazard relishes doing the dirty work. His blocking not only helps the running attack and quick passing game, but it helps him get open, too. Defensive backs are put on their heels in anticipation of getting blocked by the 227-pounder, helping Lazard blow past them in the deep game.

“Allen’s grown into his own,” receivers coach Jason Vrable said. “I love the guy. I love what he stands for when you talk about what we represent in our room. He is the exact definition, he and Randall, of what I want everyone to play like. You play for your teammates, you sell out, every inch matters and you love football, and they have the combination of all four of those. Every day when I walk in the building, you know what you’re going to get and it’s a winner.”

The Big Mystery: Everyone Else

Throughout Aaron Rodgers’ career, he’s always had at least one proven stud at receiver. Donald Driver led to Greg Jennings led to Jordy Nelson led to Davante Adams. James Jones and Randall Cobb were no slouches, either.

Entering 2022, Rodgers doesn’t have a stud. Not even close. Lazard is a solid role player but can he move into a feature role? Can Cobb stay healthy and produce for a full season, something he hasn’t done in years? Is Sammy Watkins anything more than the former fourth pick of the 2014 draft? Are Juwann Winfree or Malik Taylor anything more than bottom-of-the-depth-chart players? Led by second-round choice Christian Watson, can any of the rookies provide instant impact?

As Vrable said, someone’s got to catch all those passes that Rodgers is going to throw.

Worth Watching: Sammy Watkins

During his first two seasons with the Buffalo Bills, Watkins averaged 62.5 receptions, 1,014.5 yards and 7.5 touchdowns. He looked like the next great receiver. Instead, the past six seasons, Watkins has topped 40 receptions just once.

Last season with Baltimore, he caught 27 passes for 394 yards and one touchdown. According to PFF, he had a career-worst drop rate of 12.9 percent. While he started the season with four consecutive games of four receptions, he fell off the face of the earth. During the final three games, he played just 23 offensive snaps. During the final five weeks, he didn’t catch any of his three targets.

It's perhaps worth noting Vrable was on Buffalo’s staff in 2014 and 2015. And Matt LaFleur was the offensive coordinator of the Rams in 2017, when Watkins scored eight touchdowns.

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“The way he was running some routes and catching, it reminded me of when he first walked on the field,” Vrable said last week. “The biggest thing had been some injuries, but you know he’s going to work as hard as he can. One thing you’ll see with him is he plucks the ball different. He has hands where you’ll hear the pluck and running through catch and his play strength. There’s a reason why we drafted him that high and he’s had a lot of successful years in his career.”

Vrable pointed to the 2018 playoffs, when Watkins caught 14-of-17 passes for 288 yards and one touchdown in three games to help the Kansas City Chiefs win the Super Bowl.

“When they were doubling Tyreek, he had a one-on-one and he’s winning those when you watch the tape,” Vrable continued. “I’m fired up about him. He’s learning the playbook. He said to me, ‘Man, it’s different. I’ve been in four systems in the last four years. It’s been fun hearing you coach the same stuff then as now.’ He knows the details. He’s in a good place right now and I’m really excited about him.”

Green Bay Packers OTAs Previews

Aaron Rodgers and the Quarterbacks

Jones, Dillon and the Running Backs

Allen Lazard and the Receivers

Robert Tonyan and the Tight Ends

Injured Knees and the Offensive Line

Kenny Clark and the Defensive Line

Gary, Smith and the Outside Linebackers

Campbell, Walker and the Inside Linebackers

Three Lockdown Cornerbacks

Amos, Savage and the Safeties