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Playing rookie receivers vs. Lions could be important in the long term for Packers

We know Aaron Rodgers doesn’t want receivers playing if he doesn’t trust them. Week 5 could be a chance for these rookies to earn his trust.

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Green Bay Packers
Marqueze Valdes-Scantling could see a big boost in targets this week with all three of the Packers top receivers dealing with injuries.
Wisconsin-USA TODAY NETWORK

For roughly 24 hours, the Green Bay Packers were staring down the barrel of having to start three rookie wide receivers for their divisional showdown on the road against the Detroit Lions. Mike McCarthy assuaged those fears in his press conference Friday suggesting Geronimo Allison had a shot to play Sunday amid concussion protocol and Davante Adams would practice Saturday.

Crisis temporarily averted.

In fact, the situation playing out this week has the potential to post long-term dividends for the Packers offense. Even if Adams can go, he may not be 100%. Theoretically, the point of concussion protocol is that when a player clears it, he’s good to go (though isn’t it convenient how often that recovery time window works out to exactly 6 days?). No matter what plays out with these injuries, the Packers will start rookie Marqueze Valdes-Scantling as their third receiver with Randall Cobb out. J’Mon Moore appears to have elevated himself into next position with Equanimeous St. Brown falling behind for reasons we haven’t seen.

The Packers saw the good and bad from MVS against the Bills with a beautiful 38-yard over-the-shoulder catch on a go-route and a fourth down route where he got manhandled by the cornerback for a near pick-six. Rodgers looking to that side of the formation at all — he had Jimmy Graham and Adams running a combo route the other side of the formation and Adams was open — suggests QB1 already puts some trust in the rookie fifth-round pick.

The expansion of Allison’s role in this offense from place-holder to legitimate playmaker mitigates the need for all these young receivers to pan out as draft picks. The likelihood was never strong for such an outcome. Adams provides that No. 1 option. But Randall Cobb, despite a solid start to the season, showed horribly against Washington before pulling his hamstring in practice, yet another injury for a talented player. It’s fair to wonder what his future looks like on this team if he has one with his contract up at the end of the season.

Green Bay, had it needed to, would have had the luxury of playing a trio of talented backups in the stead of its preferred starters, a luxury it hasn’t always had. Fans will remember games in early 2013 where Rodgers had to win games with Jarrett Boykin and Myles White starting. At this point, it’s fair to believe the current backups possess more ability than those guys even if they’re unfinished products right now. That, in itself, is a positive from a team building perspective.

But the Packers have to keep expanding their development with these young pass catchers. Each has unique skills that could effectively translate to this offense. Building them up and helping them grow and mature will be essential for this offense this season and beyond. Injuries are part of the game and they’re going to happen every season. Chances are good this won’t be the last game MVS has to start for the Packers. And if he goes down, Moore would have to fill in.

It’s imperative for these rookies to earn the trust of Aaron Rodgers. Ask Jeff Janis. He’s not throwing it to guys he doesn’t trust unless he absolutely has no other choice. These practice reps with Rodgers help build that relationship. Game reps work even better.

So even if Allison and Adams can each play, McCarthy and Joe Philbin should consider rotating the third receiver, giving all these rookies a chance to make plays. They’re going to need them down the road — maybe not this year, but at some point relatively soon.

Against a thin secondary, the Packers would love to be able to put four and five receivers on the field. Give it a shot. Detroit can’t stop the run, so pound them with Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams and go play action down the field to these big, fast rookies. Give them a chance to make an impact. At the very least, it could open up this offense, allowing McCarthy to use more of his personnel and feel comfortable going to four and five receiver sets, something they did more than any team in football back in 2016.

The time is now to be planning for the future and because of injuries the Packers can do it without sacrificing the present.