That the emergence of the Green Bay Packers’ young wide receivers revealed itself once again in Los Angeles against a lauded defensive backfield was promising. That it happened just a matter days before Stephen A. Smith ripped Packers brass for not providing Aaron Rodgers with more help is humorous. And while Smith may have been correct as Green Bay failed to address the weaponry of the Packers’ star quarterback at times over the past decade, he is wrong to overlook the team’s pass-catching rookie additions of 2018.
While new general manager Brian Gutekunst led Green Bay into uncharted waters of spending large in free agency to bring tight end Jimmy Graham into the fold, he, like Ted Thompson before him, also tried to solve the receiving position through the draft. In 2018 alone, the Packers netted three third-day picks at the position in J’Mon Moore, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and Equanimeous St. Brown to bolster a corps that saw Jordy Nelson leave as a salary cap casualty. As the Packers have lost talent at wide receiver over the years in Nelson, Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, and James Jones, they have constantly replenished through the draft. While some shot-in-the-dark selections like Terrence Murphy, DeAngelo Yancey and Malachi Dupre have not panned out for various reasons, others such as Davante Adams and Randall Cobb have become major parts of the offensive game plan.
Unlike Green Bay, which has primarily worked through the draft, the New England Patriots have fit the Stephen A. Smith philosophy of aggressive pick-ups at wide receiver during the Tom Brady era, specifically via trade. It was the Patriots who traded for a risky proposition in Randy Moss when the Packers would not gamble. They pulled off a surprising first-round pick swap for Brandin Cooks in 2017 before trading him away just a season later. Similarly, they were aggressive on both the restricted and unrestricted free agent markets, acquiring the likes of Wes Welker and Danny Amendola.
But even the Patriots’ receiving crew in 2018 was acquired through the exact opposite of a draft-and-develop approach. Chris Hogan was a restricted free agent signing who has earned first-team snaps. Along with the Cooks trade in 2017, New England received Phillip Dorsett, a former first round pick of Indianapolis, in exchange for backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett. Dorsett fills a depth role for the Patriots, as does Cordarrelle Patterson (even at running back!) who was brought in from Oakland with a sixth-round pick for just a fifth-rounder. Of course, there is Josh Gordon, the often-disciplined former Cleveland Brown who wore out his welcome with John Dorsey and the new staff and was sent packing for a conditional fifth round selection. Trading for pieces continues to be a heavily utilized strategy by the Patriots.
While the versatile Julian Edelman was a rare wide receiver draft pick that developed into a significant role player (seventh round), the Patriots have frequently struck out in the draft. Including Edelman, the Patriots have drafted ten receivers since 2009 compared to 13 for Green Bay. None have developed as hoped, including top-four round selections Brandon Tate, Taylor Price, Josh Boyce, Aaron Dobson, and Malcolm Mitchell. The Patriots can only hope that undersized 2018 sixth-round pick Braxton Berrios, who landed on injured reserve in early September, becomes a contributor from the slot down the road.
The Packers have been criticized for not providing enough high-impact options for Rodgers and to some extent that is true. But Green Bay has not needed to make a splash in free agency at wide receiver because of its pre-draft scouting success on players like Cobb and Adams. And don’t forget that Nelson was also drafted in 2008, the year Rodgers took the reins as the starter. Although there was some reluctance to chase anticipated high-risk, high-reward players like Moss and Gordon by the Packers organization, Green Bay has not sought out veteran castoffs out of necessity like New England either.
And while both the Packers and Patriots absorb negativity for not being more active at this year’s trade deadline, especially New England with rumors of Golden Tate and Demaryius Thomas running wild, each team has consistently followed their own unique routes of success in providing future Hall of Fame signal callers with capable talent.