GREEN BAY, Wis. – In some ways, receiver is a dime-a-dozen position. There are countless receivers in the NFL who are pretty good, and countless more who aren’t in the league who probably are good enough to be on a roster.
In other ways, receiver is a complete game-changer.
The Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles, two teams headed in opposite directions headed into Sunday night’s game in Philadelphia, are cases in point.
The Packers won 13 games in 2019, 2020 and 2021, a feat unprecedented in NFL history. Aaron Rodgers won MVP awards in 2020 and 2021. A big reason for that success was the overwhelming dominance of Davante Adams, who led the NFL with 18 touchdowns and 98.1 yards per game in 2020 and added 11 touchdowns and 97.1 yards per game in 2021.
The Eagles won the NFC East by default last season, their 9-8 record built almost entirely on a powerhouse rushing that produced 200-yard games like Butterball produces turkeys.
This offseason, the Packers traded Adams to the Las Vegas Raiders for first- and second-round draft picks. The first-round pick was used on linebacker Quay Walker. The second-round pick was used to help land receiver Christian Watson.
Walker and Watson could be stars – they’ve certainly shown signs the last couple weeks – but the four-pronged attack of Watson, fellow rookies Romeo Doubs and Samori Toure, and veteran Sammy Watkins hasn’t come close to replacing Adams. Adams has 64 receptions for 925 yards and 10 touchdowns. Combined, Green Bay’s four additions at receiver have 66 receptions for 862 yards and nine touchdowns.
Green Bay’s offense, not surprisingly, has been bad for most of the season, going from first in scoring in 2020 and 10th in 2021 to 26th in 2022. Rodgers is enduring one of the worst years of his career. The issues run deeper than losing Adams but that’s the obvious starting point.
Through talent and connection, Adams was practically unstoppable – especially in key moments. It’s all collapsed this season. The Packers are 4-7 due in part to an offense that has made little tangible progress and hasn’t had that go-to receiver to make the big play in the big moment.
Meanwhile, about an hour before the Packers selected Walker, the Eagles shook up the NFL Draft by trading first- and third-round picks for premier receiver A.J. Brown. A second-round pick by the Titans in 2019, he caught 185 passes for 2,995 yards and 24 touchdowns in three seasons with Tennessee.
Just like that, third-year quarterback Jalen Hurts had the marquee receiver that Rodgers had lost. Rodgers could only dream of throwing to a trio of Brown, 2021 first-round pick DeVonta Smith and tight end Dallas Goedert.
Brown has 49 catches for 785 yards (16.0 average) and six touchdowns in 10 games. Paired with Smith, he’s a big reason why the Eagles went from 25th in passing per game and 14th in passing per attempt in 2021 to 12th in passing per game and second in passing per attempt in 2022. Hurts’ passer rating has gone up almost 20 points to a fourth-ranked 106.5. He’s right in the mix to replace Rodgers as NFL MVP.
The Eagles are 9-1 and in control of the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs.
“You never know when you come to a new place, a new team, how it’s going to work out, but we definitely started dreaming,” Brown said recently. “And, to tell you the truth, everything we talked about has come true. It’s been amazing. We’re playing good football. We’re winning games. I love the locker room. I love the organization. The fans, man, they’ve been giving me love since Day 1. I would say, yeah, it’s been as great as I could ever imagine.”
While Brown has been as great as the Eagles imagined, the Packers have struggled as everyone predicted.
“We’re a little too robotic at times,” Rodgers said recently. “And then the details in some of the things aren’t showing up consistently, where there may be on-paper route stems and sometimes the robotic is going to work. There were multiple plays in the game (vs. Detroit) where if we do the robotic part of that, if we do the Day 1 teaching, if we take the proper steps, we have a big play, but it’s not showing up. So, it’s a fine line between the robotic schematics at times which can scheme people open, and then the ability to leave room for instincts.
“Now, when you’re playing with a Davante Adams, you leave a lot of room for instincts because he’s able to do a lot of things that other guys just can’t do. When you don’t have that, you obviously lean on the scheme, but you still have to understand the details, so we’re not just out there going through the motions. We still have to leave room for the instinctual part of the game to kick in for some of our guys.”
Watson has shown he can be more than one of those dime-a-dozen guys. So has Doubs. If they grow and stay healthy, Green Bay’s receiver corps could be in good hands. However, with Brown, the Eagles’ receiver corps is in good hands now. That’s a big reason why Sunday night’s game will feature one legit Super Bowl contender, and it’s not the Packers.