Right or wrong, the Green Bay Packers did not add a draft pick to their stable of wide receivers for the 2020 season. A highlighted need of the offseason in the eyes of the media, the position went untouched until the undrafted signing period and surprised followers across the country. After the draft, General Manager Brian Gutekunst alluded to the belief that no pick after the second day would have made more of an impact on the 2020 season than the players currently on the roster.
That notion may be more concerning than comforting, but one thing is for sure: there will be competition.
At the top of the Packers’ depth chart are Davante Adams and Allen Lazard, one an established star and the other a blossoming third-year player that gained momentum and trust from Aaron Rodgers as last season progressed. Devin Funchess joins the squad as a seasoned possession receiver with size to help along the sidelines. Behind that trio, the water gets a little murkier and no one’s spot is safe on the 2020 roster.
Equanimeous St. Brown looked to become a potential impact player from the slot in his second year before injury wiped out his campaign before it started. Marquez Valdes-Scantling was a disappointment as a sophomore from a numbers standpoint and his stark decline in snaps starting in Week 10 reflected that. Jake Kumerow was unable to translate two years of preseason success into regular season production, even with severe inconsistency from Geronimo Allison.
Such uncertainty among the Packers’ third-year receivers will open the door for newcomers this summer, but it also provides plenty of reason for returners to elevate their own performances. Like in all sports, competition is key. While the Packers may not have the optimism that a high-end draft pick would have brought to the offense, they do have plenty of hungry talents on the 90-man roster that could pose challenges to their incumbent teammates.
Over the course of hopeful summer training activities, a pair of both newcomers and second-year Packers could find increased roles on the team. Here is a look at those players whose fight to win roster spots could help build a more impressive receiving unit next season.
A late bloomer coming from Lamar University, Begelton joins Green Bay after a breakthrough 2019 season in the Canadian Football League. The 26-year old caught the attention of the NFL after catching 102 passes for 1,444 yards and 10 touchdowns for Calgary in his third CFL season. Begelton plays bigger than his listed size at six feet and 200 pounds and routinely was a threat after the catch for the Stampeders. Begelton is not overly fast, sudden, or quick, but has good build-up speed that makes him deceptive in stretching the field and tacking on extra yardage when he gets the ball in space. Still developing, Begelton has the hands and YAC ability to earn a final roster spot.
Count this author as one that overlooked Taylor’s standing on the Packers’ roster heading into the draft. But that did not stop Gutekunst from listing him among the depth he was excited about post-draft. After spending his first year on the practice squad, the former Ferris State star will be looking to make a jump in year two after a season on the scout team. Taylor made a living off of elite size and speed for the Division II level, but will need to develop the other nuances of the position to be effective as a professional. Taylor adds a skill set that resembles a mix of Lazard and Begelton and could have that long-term potential Begelton also showed as a small-school product. There has not been enough live action at the NFL level to determine Taylor’s ability to contribute to the 2020 Packers, but he will be given an opportunity.
One of the pleasant surprises of last preseason and training camp was Shepherd, a tryout player that eventually won a final roster spot as an undrafted free agent. The former North Dakota State Bison showed enough as a return man and slot receiver in the exhibition slate to be given a chance in both roles as a rookie, earning a few comparisons to former Packer Randall Cobb who had left in the offseason. However, a disastrous Monday Night Football performance against Detroit, in which Shepherd fumbled a punt and dropped a pass that ultimately was intercepted, doomed the rookie’s chances. Shortly after, Shepherd was relegated to the practice squad for the remainder of the season. The question now is whether or not Shepherd can recapture the impression he made last preseason when he displayed toughness and quickness in the slot and was able to separate from the likes of Jaire Alexander in practice. In a receiving corps without many typical slot-type pass catchers, Shepherd will have a second chance to contribute in that role.
Darrell Stewart, Jr.
The Packers did add one receiver during draft weekend and it was Stewart as an undrafted free agent. Stewart adds another six-foot weapon to the unit, but will add competition in the slot along with Shepherd. A bigger-school signee from Michigan State, Stewart is not going to be a weapon on the outside, but he is built and plays like a running back. Often used in motion and on end-arounds, Stewart was part of the Spartans’ game plan to get him the ball and let him create as a runner. A decent blend of athleticism and speed allowed Stewart to be a multi-faceted option on offense and special teams, but drops were a consistent issue throughout his career. There could be enough upside and diversity to Stewart’s game to win a longer stay in Green Bay and, while it will be tough for him to make an immediate impact in 2020, it could put pressure on a player like St. Brown to step up.