Allen Lazard is the Green Bay Packers‘ best option to start the season as a WR1. He has had decent production over the last three years, has a good connection with quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and knows Matt LaFleur’s offensive system. Moreover, Lazard was the wide receiver with more yards and touchdowns in games that Davante Adams didn’t play between 2019 and 2021. But that doesn’t mean he’ll play in the classic X receiver role – the tall, physical pass-catcher primarily aligned as an outside left receiver.
LaFleur has shown willingness to move his receivers around, and Lazard has been a big slot for most of his productive snaps. The lack of ability to create separation in space, the big body for a wide receiver, and the elite blocking skills make it ideal for him to play in the slot.
However, the Packers don’t have great proven options to play in the boundary. The best one should be Sammy Watkins, whom Matt LaFleur praised as a prototypical WR1. The rookies might develop, too, but they are longer shots to contribute immediately. LaFleur may use Christian Watson as a deep threat, and Romeo Doubs is a polished route runner, so they should be aligned as Z receivers – but in a limited number of snaps.
“Excited about Allen Lazard,” Aaron Rodgers said. “He’s been our dirty-work guy for most of his career here. Now he’s getting an opportunity to be a No. 1 receiver. So, I’m not worried at all about him stepping into that role. I talk to him a lot. I know how he takes care of his body. I know he’ll be ready when he’s here.”
Considering Green Bay’s recent history of easing rookies into the offense, the starting trio at the beginning of the season might be Watkins and Lazard outside and Randall Cobb in the slot. But that’s not the best way to explore Lazard’s capabilities. Therefore, when Cobb is out of the field, a good alternative is to move Lazard to be a big slot, with Watson or Doubs as the Z receiver.
The lack of outside options is a genuine concern, especially because Sammy Watkins has a lengthy injury history. He can’t play a large number of snaps, and the risk of losing entire games is real. In this case, Lazard will have less room to play where he can be more effective and to his strengths – unless the Packers are comfortable breaking their recent logic and giving more snaps to their young players.
Even though Lazard is viewed as a big slot, his numbers are balanced. He had 53% of his targets when aligned in the slot, but in reality, he had only 46.4% of his total snaps coming from the middle of the field. Those numbers are significant but lower than the ones from true slot receivers – Randall Cobb (76.4%) and Amari Rodgers (66.7%). There shouldn’t be that much of a difference in 2022, but the number of Lazard’s outside snaps may increase.
Percentage of snaps in the slot in 2021:
- Randall Cobb 76.4%
- Amari Rodgers 66.7%
- Allen Lazard 46.4%
- Davante Adams 33.0%
Outside Watkins and the rookies, the only outside receiver is Juwann Winfree, who is a long shot even to make the 53-man roster. Still, he is a good bet to be on the practice squad if he clears waivers.
As the Packers did with Davante Adams, the best way to operate in today’s NFL is to move their WR1 all over the field. But that won’t necessarily be an easy task considering the lack of options in Green Bay’s WR room.