Even the biggest critics of Ted Thompson would admit one thing about the Thompson era: the Green Bay Packers were among the best teams in football at identifying, drafting, and developing receiver talent.
But going into the 2018 season, the Packers have their thinnest healthy group in the Aaron Rodgers era with just Davante Adams as a bona fide top-tier player as Randall Cobb’s skills decline. Beyond that, Geronimo Allison is the only receiver who has shown much of anything in actual live NFL games in his career.
Trevor Davis has shown some flashes, but his best asset right now is his return skill. And Michael Clark is a project with upside, but little polish and even less experience. Jimmy Graham will be a de facto receiver for the Packers which makes an Adams-Cobb-Graham three receiver set a potent potential group, but one injury would precariously derail this passing game.
After letting Jordan Matthews sign with the Patriots (even a token attempt to work out a contract would likely have resulting in Matthews in Green Bay considering the deal he ultimately signed) Brian Gutekunst’s only real resource for an impactful pass catcher is to wait for the draft.
June 1 cuts could bring more options, but expect the Packers to add someone in the draft, even if it’s not with a priority pick. Who they take, when they take him, and perhaps most importantly what type of player he is, could reveal how this offense will look in 2018, and where they want it to move forward.
When the Packers draft a receiver may not be as revealing for them as it is most teams, as Green Bay has consistently shown a willingness to add there with high draft picks despite not “needing” a receiver. Taking a receiver at 14, however, would be a damning statement about the non-Adams receivers on this roster.
Beyond that, I don’t think the “when” tells us much. It’s more about who, or in this case “what,” as in what type.
This draft, because the class lacks true tiers and elite talent, will come down to preferences. There are slot-only or slot-majority players, some big-bodied possession types, deep threats, and project players.
A project player in the middle rounds would signal the team’s confidence in the current roster. DeAngelo Yancey could become something. Maybe Cobb has more in the tank than it appears. Clark or Davis take a leap forward. Whether this is the right move—I’d be dubious—isn’t the point. We’d have a good idea where they stand.
In a scenario like this, I wouldn’t be surprised if they nabbed someone like Dallas Goedert at 45 who could play inline or split out, giving them even more flexibility in 12 personnel with two tight ends on the field.
A slot receiver sends obvious shockwaves through the future of Randall Cobb. He’s signed through 2018 and although the team reportedly discussed an extension, that’s not the same as actually inking him to a contract. The Packers don’t have a history of drafting slot-only players—Cobb is an outlier in both that principle and their athletic profiles—which would make a potential change every more obvious.
That said, the Packers appear to be softening some of their strict athletic profile requirements, meeting with cornerback Mike Hughes, who previously would have been too short of Ted Thompson. Someone like Memphis WR Anthony Miller could be in play for Gutekunst, when he wasn’t for Thompson. Breaking the team’s mold for a slot would be an even bolder and more direct shot across the bow for Cobb’s long-term status on the team.
Another boundary receiver, or at least someone capable of playing outside, brings added flexibility and could portend a marginalization of Cobb in the offense next season. With Graham likely to play often in the slot, Cobb will already play some out of position on the outside. Expect to see Graham on the outside as Mike McCarthy often did with Jared Cook, even playing Cook as the lone receiver to a side at times.
Adding a boundary receiver, particularly let’s say at 45 (this is the one way in which the “when” may have predictive value), could signal a desire to play Graham more exclusively in the slot and have two true receivers outside. Considering how often the Packers play with three pass catchers split out (we may have to adjust how we think of “11” and “12 personnel with Graham) that could enormously deaden Cobb’s impact and role in the offense.
On the other hand, such a move could suggest the Packers want to play more spread, going with three receivers and a tight end in true 11 personnel with both Cobb and Graham in the slot. It would essentially be a four-wide set, something McCarthy has rarely gone to the last few years, but with only three true receivers on the field. This could be a more palatable way for McCarthy to get to such a formation.
Whomever the Packers pick, expect him to have deep speed, something this team desperately lacks. LSU’s D.J. Chark, Alabama’s Calvin Ridley, Maryland’s D.J. Moore, and Clemson’s Deon Cain all qualify, though that’s not an exhaustive list by any means. We won’t have to wait and see who they pick to know that’s something they need.
But regardless of who they pick, the type of receiver they pick will tell us everything we need to know about how this team views its skill players moving forward.