Green Bay Packers

Predicting WRs 1-5 Going Into Training Camp

Photo credit: Dan Powers (USA TODAY Sports)

The Green Bay Packers may finally get to see what a completely healthy receiver room looks like this year.

Aaron Rodgers, or whoever suits up at quarterback, will return to a fully-stocked pantry of pass-catching talent. General manager Brian Gutekunst spent the 2020 and 2021 off-seasons cultivating a grocery list of players that, when combined, should resemble an effective and cohesive receiving corps. The group that Packers fans see this year will be the culmination of Gutekunst’s efforts to bolster the position group over the last two offseasons.

Given free-agent addition Devin Funchess opted out last year, last year’s receivers outside of Davante Adams were consistently swinging above their weight class. It forced youngsters like Allen Lazard and Marquez Valdes-Scantling into the No. 2 role, which proved to be too much for them at times. The casual observer may be led to believe that this lack of overall performance is one of the main factors involved in Rodgers’s discontentment.

The expectation this year is centered around the improvement of the wide receivers. Given all of the outside noise surrounding the lack of a high WR pick in the last two drafts, the current group must perform at a high level. Anything less will not be accepted; the excuses have run out given the dire situation with Rodgers and the outside noise from NFL fans across the country. The scrutiny is, unfortunately, warranted.

External pessimism aside, it is worthwhile to look at where the fully healthy receiving group will stack up in terms of snap counts. Last year’s injuries and shifting lineups provided a murky but telling picture of what we can expect from the offense this year. With Funchess returning and the new addition of rookie Amari Rodgers, this personnel group should have more solidified roles that see players playing within the confines of their talent levels.

I’ll break down the snap counts and percentages from last year’s games to project where each player will play and what that will say about their role on the team. Breaking down the top five WR roles will help clarify who will have each defined role on the team moving forward.

WR1

Davante Adams. That’s all that needs to be said.

Adams is unquestionably a top-three receiver in the NFL, and I’m not sure he’s Nos. 2 or 3. Despite missing two-and-a-half games last year, Adams dominated in a way that turned heads across the league. His consistent play and crisp route running were on full display as he caught passes from the NFL MVP.

Excluding Weeks 2, 3, and 4, in which Adams either missed or went out injured, Adams played an average of 87.5% of the offensive snaps. This includes an outlier of a 71.2% snap share in Week 15, where the Packers blew out the Tennessee Titans 40-14. Adams was on the field almost the entire time when the games mattered.

A similar snap share should be expected this year, barring injury or gameplan dictations. Adams is firmly entrenched in the No. 1 role and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.

WR2

In the absence of Funchess, Lazard saw the lion’s share of the WR2 snaps on the field to start the year.

In Weeks 1-3, Lazard was on the field for 88.6% of the offensive snaps before going out with injury. He was the de-facto No. 2 guy for Matt LaFleur’s offense, providing that big-bodied presence on the outside that LaFleur has been looking for. At 6’5” and 227 lbs, Lazard provided the physical presence that Gutekunst was initially looking for when he signed Funchess in the 2020 offseason.

With Funchess back for this season, expect him to take most of the WR2 snaps. Funchess is 6’4” and 225 lbs., which is essentially the same physical mold as Lazard with a better NFL pedigree. Lazard filled in admirably but was never the same player when he returned from injury in Week 10.

In the final seven games of the season, Lazard only played 67.1% of the offensive snaps as he tried to round back into form. Funchess will be on the field for most of Green Bay’s offensive plays this year as he returns from his opted-out 2020 season. He will have fresh legs and something to prove in an offense that is craving consistency behind Adams.

WR3

Valdes-Scantling didn’t miss a single game last year, playing a cumulative total of 76.3% of the offensive snaps. While his inconsistent play and catching ability caught the ire of many onlookers, he was one of the lone consistent offensive pass-catchers behind Adams and tight end Robert Tonyan.

MVS saw a significant snap uptick in the middle of the season when both Adams and Lazard missed time. From Weeks 3-11, in which either Adams or Lazard were missing time, Valdes-Scantling averaged 88% of the offensive snaps. Outside of that eight-week split, MVS only played 64.8% of Green Bay’s snaps, seeing a decline every week from Weeks 10-17.

The third-year receiver was gradually phased out of the offense as players returned from injury. While he was playing a prominent role early on, this was a bit more than he likely could handle. I wrote earlier in the offseason about making a case for Valdes-Scantling as the next No. 2 guys. Still, he is realistically better served as a solid No. 3 or No. 4 wideout, given LaFleur’s propensity to shelve him for slightly under half of the offensive snaps with healthy personnel.

With a healthy Funchess, expect both MVS and Lazard to split time as the WR3 this season. Lazard will undoubtedly slot into the WR2 role if Funchess were to go down for any reason, and the WR3 snaps would be then be split amongst MVS and the new Rodgers.

WR4

The expectation here is that third-round pick Rodgers has a consistent role in the offense as the WR4 or WR5 until proven otherwise. Otherwise, Lazard will naturally be pushed down into this WR4 role until injury or gameplan dictates otherwise.

Last year, the fourth guy was usually Equanimeous St. Brown when he was healthy enough to play. He missed the entire 2019 season and played in 12 regular-season games last year. St. Brown averaged 25.4% of the offensive snaps in games that he played, but his defined role was wildly inconsistent. At most, he played 53.5% of the snaps (Week 12), and at the lowest, he played 4.8% of offensive snaps (Week 7).

St. Brown is entering the last year of his rookie deal and is no lock to make the team. Despite having the physical build of a LaFleur-type receiver (6’5”, 214 lbs.), he has been unable to stay on the field consistently during his young career. By taking Rodgers in the draft this year, it shows that the franchise is willing to look elsewhere for a more consistent pass-catcher who can regularly contribute to the offense. St. Brown will likely be no more than a WR5 this year if he makes the team, and Rodgers will stand to cut into St. Brown’s snaps. This leaves the fifth spot of the WR corps up for grabs in what is shaping up to be a contentious positional battle.

WR5

This position is not one that many casual fans will pay a great deal of attention to. However, in terms of building a championship roster with adequate depth, whoever wins that fifth receiver spot will have an integral role in making a visible impact during limited snaps on the field.

Excluding St. Brown, the next highest snap shares of the Green Bay receivers last year were Malik Taylor and Darrius Shepherd. Ordinarily on the roster to bolster special teams help, these two combined to make appearances that put their names on the radar of many Packers fans.

However, former sixth-round pick Juwann Winfree has been making waves in training camp this offseason.

Winfree will be making a heavy push to make the roster after spending last season languishing on the Green Bay practice squad. While many receivers initially skipped Packers OTA’s, Winfree has stood out at camp and will look to prove his worth as either a receiver or a special teams player. He will surely be a candidate vying for snaps in his second year with Green Bay. With recency bias and sunken cost prevalent, Rodgers should start the season as the No. 5 guy, and St. Brown would be after that if he makes the 53-man roster.

However, as we know, injuries always stand to change everything. The WR5 position and subsequent receiver slots are in flux and will become clearer as the season approaches. But with a completely healthy WR room, expect bigger and more consistent things out of this group in 2021.

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