World’s Best Preview: The State of the Receiver Corps

The Packers are either 8-2 despite the lack of a clear-cut No. 2 receiver or because of it
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The Green Bay Packers are 8-2 despite a passing game that doesn’t have a reliable pass-catching option other than Davante Adams.

Among the team’s receivers, Adams leads the team with 39 receptions for 537 yards even while missing four games. On the other hand, despite Adams missing those four games, Green Bay’s second-leading pass catcher among the receivers is Geronimo Allison with 23 receptions. The Packers are one of only four teams in which at least two receivers don’t have 24-plus catches.

Then again, maybe the Packers are 8-2 because their No. 2 receiving threat changes from game to game.

Green Bay has seven players with at least 18 receptions: Adams (39), running back Aaron Jones (35), tight end Jimmy Graham (27), running back Jamaal Williams (25), Allison (23), receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling (22) and receiver Allen Lazard (18). Kansas City and the Giants are the only other teams with such a diversified attack.

Perhaps that’s why quarterback Aaron Rodgers believes the Packers can continue to win the way they’ve been winning – with the lack of a clear-cut No. 2 option being seen as a positive more than a problem.

“We’ve been finding a way to win different ways and I think we can, is the answer,” Rodgers said. “It’s going to take guys buying into their roles and understanding that one week they might have a couple of big catches and 140 yards and a touchdown and the next week they might not be as a big a factor in the game. That’s just the way the game plays out, the plan, the defense we’re playing against. I think great teams understand their roles and embrace them and make it more about the team. Obviously, everybody wants to go out there and compete and put up numbers and make splash plays. But I think the character and the unity of this team is that every week it could be something different, someone different, and you have to play your role to the best of your abilities and that’s how we’ve been running.”

Seemingly everyone has had a time to shine.

Valdes-Scantling had 16 catches in the first four games.

Jones led the team with 22 catches in the four games without Adams.

Williams had 17 catches in the four games after missing the Dallas game with a concussion, including a touchdown in each of those games.

Allison hasn’t had any big games but he is second on the team with six third-down receptions that resulted in first downs.

Lazard leads the team with 19 catches in the last five games.

Jake Kumerow had a 37-yard touchdown vs. Oakland and a 34-yard catch against Kansas City in back-to-back games.

Even fullback Danny Vitale and tight end Robert Tonyan have had a pair of 20-yard gains apiece in limited action.

Valdes-Scantling would like to re-assume that mantle of clear-cut No. 2 receiver. He was off to a good start until being bent backward in the first half of the Week 6 game against Detroit and suffering knee and ankle injuries. While he didn’t miss any games – and even had gains of 59 and 74 yards (for a touchdown) vs. Oakland six days later – he hasn’t been the same player.

“It’s frustrating dealing with injuries but it’s the National Football League and no one’s ever going to be 100 percent healthy,” he said this week. “There are things you’ve got to fight through. We’ve been winning, so I’m not in too bad of a spirit, but you want to help the team out in any way you can. If I’m playing only a couple plays or I’m playing 30 plays or 50 plays, whatever the case, I’ll do whatever I can to help this team out. It’s always about the team.”

After playing only 11 snaps against Carolina, Valdes-Scantling says he feels better after the bye. That was noticed by Rodgers.

“He’s getting his confidence back to where he needs it,” Rodgers said.

Valdes-Scantling said this was the first time going through a nagging injury, so while he was tough enough to play on Sundays, it impacted him throughout the week.

“The bye week helped out a lot,” he said. “It’s one of those things that it’s a lingering injury. At my position, you definitely need those two body parts to do your job well. It definitely affected my practice habits the last few weeks. It’s no excuse. Now that I feel a little bit better, I’m able to practice a lot better.”

Even with just one catch for 4 yards the past three games, Valdes-Scantling’s five receptions of 40-plus yards are only one off the league lead. The Packers need more of that. Since MVS’s two big plays against the Raiders, the team has only three passing plays of 40-plus yards – none of them by a wide receiver – with two by Jones against Kansas City and one by Graham vs. Carolina.

“He’s still Quez and he’s still a guy that we’re going to try to feature in the offense because he does have a unique skill-set,” receivers coach Alvis Whitted said during the bye.

The Packers have a little something for everyone at receiver, which might be why there’s been a revolving door at receiver in terms of playing time and production. Valdes-Scantling has the game-breaking speed. Lazard has towering size and has delivered some key blocks. Allison has size and experience inside and outside. Kumerow has size and blocking skill, too.

“I just think that we are a very unselfish group right now,” Whitted said. “I think our mind-set is, ‘Hey, whatever we need for our team.’ Guys aren’t really worried about targets. They’re not worried about how many reps they get. That’s uncommon for a position like the receiver position. They’re really mature. We want to help the next guy out, we want to help each other out, we want to help our room get better. That’s the approach we’ve taken and it’s been working well.”

It's going to have to work on Sunday night for a huge showdown against San Francisco. The 49ers lead the NFL in pass defense and sack percentage and are second in opponent passer rating. Other than an early-season victory over Cincinnati, they’ve smothered the opponents’ No. 1 receiver. That means they could force Rodgers to turn to Valdes-Scantling. Or Allison. Or Kumerow. Or Lazard. Or Graham. Or the running backs.

“It’s definitely a good time to get healthy,” Valdes-Scantling said. “We’ve got a big stretch coming up these last six games and hopefully into the postseason.”

Added Lazard: “I just go out there and just play. Whatever play gets dialed up, I just go out there and try to execute it 100 mph and do whatever I can to help this team win. Obviously, I love getting the ball, I love being able to make the plays. At the end of the day, our end goal’s going to Miami and I’m going to do whatever I can to get us there.”