Packers Not Even Close to Top 10 in ESPN’s ‘Playmaker’ Rankings

The Green Bay Packers’ potential-packed group of offensive playmakers is well behind their NFC North peers in Bill Barnwell’s rankings.
Green Bay Packers wide receiver Dontayvion Wicks (13) catches a touchdown pass while being covered by Dallas Cowboys cornerback Stephon Gilmore (21) during their playoff game.
Green Bay Packers wide receiver Dontayvion Wicks (13) catches a touchdown pass while being covered by Dallas Cowboys cornerback Stephon Gilmore (21) during their playoff game. / Mark Hoffman / Milwaukee Journal
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GREEN BAY, Wis. – Are Green Bay Packers fans and reporters overrating the team’s skill-position talent? Or are the national pundits underrating the team’s receivers, tight ends and running backs?

In Bill Barnwell’s annual playmaker rankings at (subscription required), the Packers ranked only 17th. They were far, far behind the rest of the NFC North.

That doesn’t mean Barnwell sees mediocrity, though.

“There's no star or household name (yet) in this mix, but this is the youngest, deepest receiving corps in the league, with four different wide receivers credibly competing for the top spot in the lineup when they're healthy,” Barnwell stated at the start of his lengthy segment about the Packers.”

The Packers were 29th in 2022 and 28th entering 2023.

It’s important to note that Barnwell is considering a team’s top five playmakers, since only five skill-position players can be on the field at once. That somewhat nullifies the Packers’ biggest offensive strength, which is their outrageous depth at receiver, their two playmaking tight ends and their revamped backfield. Barnwell leans toward “elite” players; the Packers don’t have an established star.

Christian Watson is the receiver with the most “upside,” but Barnwell was drawn to Dontayvion Wicks.

Then, he offered this nugget: “Over the past decade, 21 wideouts have averaged more than 2.0 yards per route run in their debut campaign, and the vast majority have had impressive careers so far. Green Bay has three on its roster: Wicks, Watson and Jayden Reed.”

Last year, according to Pro Football Focus, 27 rookie receivers were targeted at least 17 times (one per game). Reed was fourth with 2.05 yards per route and Wicks was fifth with 2.04 yards per route.

Meanwhile, second-round pick Luke Musgrave and third-round pick Tucker Kraft became the second rookie tight end duo since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger to each have 30-plus receptions, 350-plus receiving yards and at least one touchdown catch. The other tandem? New England’s Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in 2010.

Barnwell’s “concern” is at running back, where the Packers swapped explosive Aaron Jones for workhorse Josh Jacobs. Based on stats from Sports Info Solutions, this comparison of the 49 running backs with at least 100 carries last season backs up Barnwell’s worry:

Yards after contact per carry

Jones: 11th, 3.15. Jacobs: 46th, 2.35.

10-yard runs

Jones: 31st, 15 (while 38th with 143 carries). Jacobs: 41st, nine (while 11th with 233 carries).

Note: Jones had six more than Jacobs while having 90 fewer carries.

Percentage of runs that gained a first down

Jones: 16th, 23.9 percent. Jacobs: 48th, 14.6 percent.

Success rate

Note: A “successful” run gains at least 40 percent of the yards on first down, at least 60 percent of the yards on second down and all the required yards on third or fourth down.

Jones: 1st, 62.0 percent. Jacobs: 31st, 45.9 percent.

Jones topped 100 rushing yards in each of the final three regular-season games and both playoff games for a franchise-record streak of five in a row. While Jordan Love was exceptional down the stretch, the Packers didn’t take off until Jones was fully healthy.

Can Jacobs have that kind of impact? Playing alongside Love and all those young pass-catchers should create more space for Jacobs, whose 79 missed tackles in 2022 were 23 more than the runner-up, Jones.

“We saw what Jacobs' ceiling looked like in 2022 – he had 1,653 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns – but he was one of the league’s worst backs last season by rush yards over expectation, has six fumbles over the past two seasons and has one fully healthy year in five tries,” Barnwell said. “He should be better in Green Bay, but I'm not sure he's the difference-maker the Packers had when Jones was at his best.”

From Green Bay’s perspective, they swapped a 29-year-old running back for a 26-year-old running back. From a health perspective, Jacobs played in 45 games the past three seasons compared to 43 for Jones. Jacobs might be a better cold-weather option, too.

Concluded Barnwell: “If Jacobs gets back on track and one of the wideouts makes a leap, the Packers should be in the top 10 next year.”

The Top 10 is where you’ll find the Packers’ NFC North rivals. The Minnesota Vikings with Justin Jefferson and Jones are fifth, the Chicago Bears with the additions of Keenan Allen and Rome Odunze are sixth, and the Detroit Lions with Amon-Ra St. Brown and second-year standouts Jahmyr Gibbs and Sam LaPorta are seventh.

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Bill Huber


Bill Huber, who has covered the Green Bay Packers since 2008, is the publisher of Packer Central, a Sports Illustrated channel. E-mail: History: Huber took over Packer Central in August 2019. Twitter: Background: Huber graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, where he played on the football team, in 1995. He worked in newspapers in Reedsburg, Wisconsin Dells and Shawano before working at The Green Bay News-Chronicle and Green Bay Press-Gazette from 1998 through 2008. With The News-Chronicle, he won several awards for his commentaries and page design. In 2008, he took over as editor of Packer Report Magazine, which was founded by Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Nitschke, and In 2019, he took over the new Sports Illustrated site Packer Central, which he has grown into one of the largest sites in the Sports Illustrated Media Group.