The Green Bay Packers chose to address their defense in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft, selecting a pass-rusher and a safety with their two day-one picks. Then the team passed up on some talented receivers in round two, grabbing an offensive lineman in Elgton Jenkins.
For some NFL writers and analysts, particularly those who cover the league at large rather than the Packers specifically, this has been painted as a mistake by general manager Brian Gutekunst. After all, the Packers have one star receiver in Davante Adams and little else.
Or so they would have their readers believe.
Football Outsiders, which employs a talented and intelligent collection of writers, has also made this argument. In an article published on ESPN.com this week discussing each team’s most significant roster hole, they criticized the Packers’ decisions to avoid acquiring a top receiving option either through free agency or the first few rounds of the draft. Here’s what they had to say about the Packers:
It is tough to fault the Packers for doubling down on defense with Rashan Gary and Darnell Savage Jr. in the first round. After bringing in an offense-minded head coach in Matt LaFleur, the belief may be that LaFleur can do a better job of maximizing the current offensive talent than Mike McCarthy did.
Still, the sacrifice of investing so heavily in defense is that the Packers did not draft a pass-catcher until the third round, when they took tight end Jace Sternberger. Considering many tight ends struggle to contribute much right out of the gate, Sternberger likely does not move the needle for the offense in 2019. Jimmy Graham, who disappointed last year, will still be the primary tight end. Furthermore, Green Bay did not invest at all at wide receiver despite losing Randall Cobb. Aside from Pro Bowler Davante Adams, the Packers’ wide receiver corps is thin and inexperienced.
There are legitimate reasons for concern in this group, to be sure. Last season, a crop of rookies was forced into significant action earlier than the team likely anticipated, due in large part to a season-ending injury to Geronimo Allison. However, Allison’s return is precisely the reason why this supposed lack of depth and experience is overblown.
Allison has the potential to be the true game-changer among this group, and he was doing just that last season before he landed on injured reserve. He was averaging four receptions and over 60 yards per game, numbers that jump to 4.8 and 72 if you ignore the week 7 game against the Rams (when Allison was injured for good early on). Furthermore, Allison was setting career highs by catching two-thirds of his targets and recording 10.1 receiving yards per target. That last stat, if he had sustained it over a full season, would have put him in a tie for 14th among all qualifying NFL players last year.
Putting those stats in contrast with Allison’s stats from his first two seasons makes it clear that he was in the midst of a breakout, which coincided with his expanded role as the Packers’ #2 boundary receiver. In 2016 and 2017, Allison averaged just 1.4 receptions and 18 receiving yards per game; those numbers tripled in 2018. His catch rate jumped ten points, up from 57%. Allison also did some of that damage from the slot, where he will likely see some more work in 2019 with Randall Cobb gone.
One of the Packers’ oft-discussed issues in 2018 was a lack of trust between the Packers’ coaches, quarterback, and young receivers. If Allison, a player whom Aaron Rodgers has grown to trust, had remained on the field, it’s easy to imagine the Packers’ offense functioning better. The team’s rookie receivers would have played a more complementary role, rather than being asked to step in as starters immediately, entirely changing the complexion of the offense.
For 2019, however, Allison should be a focal point of the passing game opposite Adams. The development of Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown probably will — and should — take a handful of snaps and targets away from Allison, but downplay his return at your own peril.