Green Bay Packers

Can Marquez Valdes-Scantling Make the Leap to WR2?

Photo Credit: Jeff Hanisch (USA TODAY Sports)

If the Green Bay Packers want to get over the hump and reach the Super Bowl this year, they will have to address the WR2 position. Giving Aaron Rodgers another reliable pass catcher behind Davante Adams would open the offense. At the end of the 2019 league year, many Packers fans figured management would fill the position in one of three ways:

  • The first option would have seen rare free-agent signing Devin Funchess seizing that role and providing some consistency for Rodgers and the offense.
  • The second option was to hope undrafted fan-favorite Allen Lazard would break out for his third year in the green and gold.
  • The third and perhaps most obviously effective order of business would have involved Green Bay selecting at least one wide receiver in the early rounds of the highly praised 2020 draft.

Of course, none of these visions panned out. Funchess opted out of the season due to COVID concerns. Lazard picked up an abdominal injury during the season and never quite found a rhythm when he returned. Most notably, and much to the chagrin of the fan base at large, general manager Brian Gutekunst opted to pass over the WR position in the 2020 draft completely. This decision left many questions about whether or not Green Bay would be able to surround Rodgers with adequate talent before his patience with the franchise wears thin enough to force his way out of town.

Fortunately, the players on the current Packers roster provided serviceable positional play up until last season came to a heartbreaking but predictable end at the hands of Tom Brady. Defensive woes aside, many fans quickly started asking the same questions that they did in the 2019 offseason: Who will step up and become a consistent WR2 for Aaron Rodgers? 

Much like in years past, the front office seems to believe that the answer to this question lies on the current roster. The Packers have a penchant for sticking with and developing homegrown talent, and many signs point towards one player emerging from the slew of middling WR production behind Adams.

Of course, I am asking that Packers fans place their trust in none other than…

Marquez Valdes-Scantling

I know, I know, I know, I know, I know.

Valdes-Scantling didn’t exactly endear himself to Packers fans this last year, at least not consistently. Few players elicited such polarizing reactions during the 2020 season, ranging from God-killing pride to This dude wouldn’t make it on a D3 squad disappointment.

For every eye-popping touchdown grab that MVS would catch, it would either be preceded or followed by a drop so unforgivable that it would unite NFL fan bases across the country in their quest to meme the play to death. There is a reason I am linking his highlights and not his lowlights. Believe me, I am acutely familiar with the Valdes-Scantling roller coaster.

However, beyond the maddeningly inconsistent play lies a player who reminds many diehards (like myself) of some of the most popular receivers of the Aaron Rodgers era. Green Bay seldom brings in outside help for its WR core; instead, it chooses to build upon the players it drafts for its system. These draftees are often allowed the opportunity to blossom around their third or fourth years, and the franchise is consistently rewarded for its patience with these players.

Trusting the Process

Take, for example, Davante Adams, who is now unquestionably a top-three receiver in the NFL. He wasn’t always this good. In fact, many pundits across the league were writing him off as a draft bust after his first few years:

It’s still extremely early, but someday the 2014 draft might be discussed as glowingly for its wealth of wide receivers. Unfortunately for the Green Bay Packers, they seemed to be one of the teams to swing and miss. … Meanwhile, a bevy of players taken before Adams, such as Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans, the New York Giants’ Odell Beckham Jr., and New Orleans’ Brandin Cooks, have had remarkable starts to their careers. Others taken after Adams such as Jacksonville’s Allen Robinson, Miami’s Jarvis Landry, and Arizona’s John Brown have also played much better than Adams. (via Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

On a statistical level, this skepticism was certainly fair at the time. Adams’ first two seasons were plagued with middling productivity and back-breaking drops. Even Adams’ third season, where he nearly eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards for the first time in his career, was fraught with a level of inefficiency that drew the ire of Green Bay fans — fans who were desperately clamoring for anyone besides Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb to step up.

If we take a look at Valdes-Scantling’s stats over his first three seasons in the NFL (and squint just a little bit), we can certainly see some similarities between the two players:

For one, they both showcased durability over the course of a 16-game season. While Adams’ catch percentage is certainly higher than Valdes-Scantling’s over their first three years, we can see how MVS was able to create the most of his opportunities in his third year, having career highs in receiving yards, yards per reception, touchdowns, yards per game, and catch percentage — all categories that Adams also had career highs in during his third year in the league. Each of these players is trending upwards, and that bodes well for MVS’s role within the Packers’ offense moving forward as he continues to get comfortable and build rapport with Rodgers.

There is also a knack for Green Bay pass-catchers at large to figure it out in their third and fourth years playing for the team. Jordy Nelson had his breakout year in 2011, his fourth year with the Packers. Robert Tonyan had a career year this past season, which was his third year with the squad. Even Donald Driver was a bit of a late bloomer, not coming close to sniffing 1,000 receiving yards in a season until his fourth year playing at Lambeau with Brett Favre.

Practicing Patience

Now, I must clarify: I do not believe Valdes-Scantling will reach the heights of players like Davante Adams and Jordy Nelson. MVS plays a different offensive role than Davante and Jordy as a big, athletic field-stretcher. That role is not likely to change, though I am advocating for the Packers faithful to practice patience with a player who was thrown into a much larger role than he was prepared for this last year.

There is enough evidence to suggest that, when put alongside Rodgers’ trust and Green Bay’s propensity for sticking with drafted players, MVS will take yet another leap and serve as a bonafide WR2 in this offense. MVS has proven that he has the ability to take the top off of the defense in any given game. If he can clean up some of his mental errors and catch the ball at an even marginally higher rate, he will be able to have a more productive year working behind Davante Adams as a potential WR2 option.

For those who have stuck with Green Bay all these years, it’s understandable how watching Marquez Valdes-Scantling conjures up feelings of frustration. Seeing yet another Packers receiver drop a high number of passes isn’t exactly a recipe for viewer satisfaction, nor does it ease concerns that Rodgers may one day grow tired of the lack of talent surrounding him. However, if the fans can have a bit more patience and R-E-L-A-X, we will see the homegrown talent step up in a big way this upcoming season.

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