Don’t ask the Detroit Lions if the Green Bay Packers have a receiver problem. Darius Slay still doesn’t know where Davante Adams is on any number of double moves, but it’s the “other” guy in Green Bay they will know just as well. Allen Lazard came off the practice squad to torch the Lions in the second half of their first matchup last season, then caught the game-tying score against them in Week 17. In between, the former Iowa State star and short-time Jacksonville Jaguar proved he has the goods to be Adams’ running mate in this offense.
Forget about 40 time (though Lazard’s is good for his size at 4.5) or draft pedigree for a moment. Just take the statistical profile of a player who finished sixth on the team in targets. He led the team in completion percentage, in passer rating when targeted, in success rate, and in yards per attempt according to Sharp Football Stats.
And it’s not as if it was a terrible small sample: this receiver saw two fewer targets than Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and four fewer than Geronimo Allison. Despite not even beginning the season on the roster, Lazard managed to become the most effective and efficient receiver not named Adams the Packers had.
Perhaps that’s damning with faint praise. If one believes the Green Bay receiver group after Adams is a graveyard, then being the least dead guy with a headstone isn’t exactly a compliment. Except Lazard finished 15th in success rate in the entire NFL. By DVOA, he was better than Michael Gallup, Marvin Jones, Emmanuel Sanders, Keenan Allen and Deebo Samuel just to name a few, managing the the 18th-best mark in the league.
This sample size question does still need answering however. We see this in basketball in particular: a player does well in a spot scoring role off the bench, another team pays him to be a starting player, and as the touches go up the responsibility goes up, the competition focuses more on the player, and his flaws begin to show. Efficiency falls as does effectiveness.
On the other hand, Lazard could only produce with the reps he got last year. In retrospect, had he started the season ahead of someone like Allison or MVS, he may have produced at the same rate with 100 targets rather than 56. That becomes the challenge for him now.
We know he can beat No. 2 cornerbacks; he’s already done that. Lazard more than demonstrated the ability to make plays down the field and underneath, particularly with so much attention being paid to Adams. Does three starts and a much bigger role in the second half of the season give opponents enough tape on Lazard to figure him out? Will a clearer gameplan for him render him once again the undrafted free agent?
He still has to prove he can take that burden, though QB1 has confidence in him and his coaches finally seem to believe in him as well, which could be enough to allow him to play through any sluggish start. The underlying numbers for Lazard show a legitimate WR2, and potentially a very good one. His next challenge is to produce like a WR2 with WR2 targets.