One of the quiet keys to the Green Bay Packers’ offense in 2018 will be the play of wide receiver Geronimo Allison. Tabbed as the de facto third wide receiver behind Davante Adams and Randall Cobb, Allison will take Jordy Nelson’s place in three-wide sets and, barring injury, he should set career highs in receiving stats.
Indeed, former NFL defensive end Stephen White sees this year, Allison’s third in the NFL, as a potential breakout season for the former Illinois wideout. However, White points to red zone usage as a primary reason why, something that does not particularly jibe with either his athletic skill set or his usage in the Packers’ offense in the past. Here are a few of White’s comments:
At 6’3 and 202 pounds, Allison is a big wide receiver who worked out of the slot quite a bit last year. Interestingly enough, the Packers didn’t really use him on any of the 50-50, back-shoulder type throws Rodgers is famous for last season, even when Rodgers was healthy.
This is an interesting idea regarding back-shoulder throws. For Aaron Rodgers, these throws are hardly 50-50, particularly when he is throwing to receivers with whom he has good chemistry. Indeed, back-shoulder sideline throws to Adams or Nelson over the past few years have been practically indefensible due to Rodgers’ pinpoint accuracy and those two receivers’ route-running and body control.
While Allison does appear to be due for an uptick in target share on these types of plays, they do not rely heavily on size and leaping ability to out-jump or box out a defender. Instead, those qualities come into play much more on deep vertical throws or goal-line fades — the latter of which might as well be taken out of the playbook with Rodgers under center due to his athleticism and ability to create throwing lanes with his legs.
However, White projects Allison to improve on his touchdown numbers due to his size:
That size should also make him a very attractive option down by the goal line as well. His biggest leap in production this season may be in touchdown catches, especially since he didn’t have any last year.
Indeed, Allison should be in for a bigger year, but improvement from him would likely come from more targets overall, particularly more vertical targets, and hopefully an improvement on his sub-60% catch rate (his hands were one quality that White accurately notes provide an area for improvement). But it will not and should not happen as a result of throwing more goal-line fades in his direction.
So far, we have a small sample size, and it is true that both of Allison’s two career touchdowns (both from 2016) came on shorter throws (four and ten yards, respectively). However, both are perfect examples of Rodgers’ athleticism providing an open throwing lane rather than Allison using his size.
On the four-yard score against the Falcons, Rodgers steps up into the pocket and scrambles to the right as Allison comes open. On the ten-yarder, Rodgers retreats in the pocket under pressure and evades multiple pass rushers, buying time for his receivers to work their way open before slinging the ball to a diving Allison for the score.
Was his size a factor on either of these plays? Not really. Instead, his awareness of spacing in the end zone and ability to separate from coverage when the play breaks down led to the scores.
Furthermore, the Packers have three targets who would be better targets for jump-ball throws than Allison anyhow. Davante Adams forfeits two inches in height to Allison, but he makes up for it with elite leaping ability (39.5-inch vertical at the Combine compared to Allison’s 33). Then there are new Packers tight ends Jimmy Graham and Marcedes Lewis (who each stand 6-foot-6 and recorded Combine verticals of 37 inches or more).
Oh, and the Packers’ three rookie wide receivers are all comparable or better jump-ball targets as well. J’Mon Moore has a 38-inch vertical and gives up only a half-inch in height, Marquez Valdes-Scantling is 6-foot-4 with a nearly 80-inch wingspan, and Equanimeous St. Brown is just under 6-foot-5 and would likely have tested better in the vertical.
Don’t misunderstand — Allison is going to be the team’s WR3 this year, and he should see a big uptick in all of his counting stats. He will almost certainly catch a handful of touchdowns and probably will post more receptions, yards, and touchdowns in 2018 than in his first two years combined. And White does compliment Allison’s route-running as one of his better qualities.
However, the reason he should do so will be based on the intangibles — route-running, improved hands, and his chemistry with Rodgers — rather than because his size theoretically distinguishes him as a jump-ball target.