If Aaron Rodgers doesn’t believe a receiver will be in the right spot when the ball is thrown, he’s not throwing it. That’s No. 1 on the list for any young receiver: know where to be. Even when Davante Adams struggled with making catches early in his career, Rodgers would go to him because he’d at least be where he’s supposed to be.
To this point in offseason work, all three young rookies with the addition of camp star Jake Kumerow demonstrated baseline levels of understanding and timing with QB1. That, above all else, was why Jeff Janis never realized his estimable physical tools.
We’ve seen flashes of the talent players like J’Mon Moore and Marqueze Valdes-Scantling possess, but we’ve also seen the inconsistency. Valdez-Scantling struggles to make adversity plays, failing to consistently win in contested situations or in crowds. The disappointing drop to end Family Night punctuated an up-and-down evening for the rookie.
Moore made the best play of Family Night and has had some nice moments in camp with his route running and ability to use his body control to adjust and haul in targets. The incredible sideline grab in the end zone over Josh Hawkins Saturday night provided a perfect example.
But one player stood out above the others for a simple reason: he caught everything. Equanimeous St. Brown, the splendidly named and incredibly gifted ex-Notre Dame star isn’t just a big body with 4.48 speed (though he is, of course, that). The only pass in his area in team drills on Saturday that St. Brown couldn’t haul in was a seam throw from Rodgers that sailed just out of reach. That’s on the All-World quarterback, because EQ torched Quinten Rollins.
If everyone knows where to be, and it seems as though all these young receivers quickly caught on to the playbook, developing chemistry with the Green Bay quarterbacks, then knowing your guy is coming down with the ball comes in a close 1B to knowing where to be. Rodgers has long trusted his receivers to go make plays on the ball. Just give Jordy Nelson a chance on the sidelines and he’ll snag it. James Jones blanketed at the pylon? He’ll come up with it in the right spot.
St. Brown runs crisp routes, especially for a man his size, can play outside and in the slot, and can make plays for this offense all over the field. And when it comes to hands, he’s clearly the furthest ahead of the rookies — and not just based on Family Night, though the difference there was equally stark.
Pro Football Focus charged him with just three drops last season at Notre Dame in 71 targets with sub-par quarterback play. St. Brown needs to get stronger to make catches through contact and in traffic. We haven’t seen him have to go up and fight for the ball much to this point, in part because he’s so big and he’s been able to get open enough to create windows for his quarterback.
The fourth receiver spot after Geronimo Allison remains wide open and EQ will have to fight off roster holdovers Trevor Davis and DeAngelo Yancey along with his fellow rookies for playing time. But St. Brown showed Saturday why he can win that WR4 job, we he deserves to be playing, and how he can fit into this offense.
Green Bay showed myriad spread formations with multiple receivers and McCarthy will rotate receivers in with regularity. If EQ keeps this up, he’s going to find the field. It’s not about splash plays, or beating guys over the top. The thing Aaron Rodgers prefers above all else from his receivers is consistency. If he can trust them, they’re getting targets. Nothing we’ve seen from Davis or Yancey suggests they’re trustworthy. The same is true for MVS and Moore, though each has considerable talent.
The last of three receivers taken has a chance to move to the front of the line. St. Brown is far from a proven commodity, but he’s moving in the right direction.