It’s safe to say the Green Bay Packers are pretty banged-up. Critical injuries on both sides of the ball forced a “next man up” mentality, and for the most part, the Packers have persevered.
On the offensive line, Green Bay has yet to play their All-Pro left tackle. Their replacement left tackle (and key starter at guard) missed a few weeks, and now their promising rookie center will miss time with an ankle injury. On the defensive side of the ball, they sorely lack their best pass rusher and Pro Bowl cornerback, and their No. 2 options at both positions are in danger of missing the next game. Darnell Savage is in concussion protocol.
The injuries to the O-line forced the offense to adapt, using the tight ends as blockers more frequently and changing the tempo. But one of the most essential players missing right now on offense is Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who has been out since Week 3 with a hamstring injury. MVS’s absence creates a massive hole in Matt LaFleur’s game plan. No other skill position player on the roster is as fast and capable of stretching the offense as MVS, and as the team’s WR2, his volume of targets has gone elsewhere.
Without Valdes-Scantling, who has been the Packers’ WR2, and what exactly does that role mean?
Green Bay’s offense mainly runs through WR1 Davante Adams and the ground game thus far. Aaron Rodgers will stop giving the ball to Adams when someone can stop him, so Adams’ volume isn’t a problem. With 46 receptions on 66 targets, 668 yards, and two touchdowns, his role is cemented. But if you’re looking for a WR2, it’s a much more complicated question. What defines the role?
Even if you want to go for the literal definition of “wide receiver seeing the second-most action,” it still depends on what metric you use. If it’s targets you seek, MVS is still WR2 despite missing three games (16). Next by that metric is Allen Lazard with 15. Maybe you only count catches? In that case, your WR2 is the returning veteran Randall Cobb (11). Neat, but what about yards? Ideally, those caught balls go for some distance. Once again, your WR2 is Cobb, who has the third-most receiving yards on the team (157).
Okay, but what about touchdowns? Those are pretty important. In that case, both Cobb and Adams are tied for the second-most receiving touchdowns with two each. By most of these metrics, Cobb appears to take the mantle of WR2, and it’s clear he’s taken a much more significant role in the offense following MVS’s stint on IR.
However, things get more interesting if we look at the receiving stats without focusing on a specific position. Adding the running backs and tight ends into the mix paints a different picture.
Aaron Jones (23) and Robert Tonyan (20) are decently ahead of the non-Adams receivers in terms of targets. Jones has the second-most receptions (21), while Tonyan ties Cobb’s 11. Yards? Jones is second on the team with 166. Jones also leads the entire team in reception touchdowns with four (all numbers via pro-football-reference.com).
While Cobb is the Packers’ second-most impactful wide receiver, Jones is most deserving of the title WR2 even though he’s a running back. Paying running backs is always polarizing, but Jones proves he’s not just a running back — he’s an offensive weapon. His role in the passing game complements his explosive running ability, giving LaFleur a powerful option regardless of his official designation.
And that’s the beauty of LaFleur’s offense: The position ultimately doesn’t matter as long as the offense keeps moving. These aren’t the days of the Mike McCarthy offense, where you had WR1 Jordy Nelson and WR2 Randall Cobb. With his “illusion of complexity” mantra, LaFleur will use his players in different ways and feature different players every week.
Lazard might not have gaudy numbers for a wide receiver, but he’s such a great blocker that he’s always a threat to score. Marcedes Lewis is viewed as a blocking tight end, but when he catches the ball, he makes the most of it. Green Bay’s running backs have soft hands and sharp route running, and they play a massive role in the passing game.
So the Packers may not have a dominant WR2 in the same sense that the rest of the NFL does, but it doesn’t matter. This isn’t fantasy football. LaFleur has playmakers and role players that keep the train moving. Maybe Lazard catches two TDs one week and is quiet for the next three as Tonyan has some breakout games. As long as the Packers keep finding ways to win, the volume doesn’t matter.