Over the next two weeks, Acme Packing Company takes a look at each position group on the Green Bay Packers and provides grades and insight on how they performed in the 2020 season. Today, we examine the wide receivers.
The Green Bay Packers boldly defied expectations in April’s draft by not only not selecting a wide receiver in the first round but by not picking a wideout at all. By ignoring the position despite a talented and deep draft class, the wide receiver position was going to be the most intensely watched group on the 2020 Packers.
What transpired was somehow both beyond what many expected while also validating the concerns many had when the Packers failed to take a receiver in the spring.
Davante Adams broke many team records, cementing his place among the elite pass catchers in the league and making a case as the best wide receiver in football.
Behind Adams, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Allen Lazard swapped the WR2 and WR3 spots throughout the year with who is the second best receiver on the team still up for debate. Without a rookie to compete with in camp, the Packers were counting on both to take their game to the next level and elevate the offense.
Both succeeded to a degree, and when you add them to Adams’ record breaking season, along with the emergence of Robert Tonyan, they helped the offense flourish in Matt LaFleur’s second year in charge.
Let’s take a closer look at the wide receivers and how they graded out.
115 receptions on 149 targets (77.2% catch rate)
1,374 yards (11.9 yards/reception), 18 touchdowns
442 DYAR (1st in NFL), +20.8% DVOA (10th out of 87 qualifiers with 50+ targets)
What else can be said about Adams that hasn’t been said already? Nobody thought Aaron Rodgers would develop the same bond he had with Jordy Nelson for years with another player, but Adams has made that kind of connection with his MVP quarterback.
With unmatched route discipline and the blind trust of his quarterback, Adams dominated opponents all season. His best game was perhaps difficult to identify, with games of 14/156/2 (week 1 at MIN), 13/196/2 (week 7 at HOU), 10/121/2 (week 13 vs. PHI) and 11/142/3 (week 16 vs. TEN) all in the mix.
The Packers also knew just how good Adams was and got him the ball early and often. Outside of the week two game that saw him suffer a hamstring injury, he had nine or more targets in 14 of his other 15 games. He also led the NFL in touchdown receptions, tying Sterling Sharpe (1994) for third place in NFL history and the top single-season mark in the Packers’ record book.
33 receptions on 63 targets (52.4% catch rate)
690 yards (20.9 yards/reception — 1st in NFL), 6 touchdowns
112 DYAR (36th), +8.6% DVOA (25th)
The ultimate boom-or-bust wideout, MVS was the ultimate version of himself through the first three-quarters of the season or so, catching a little less than half of his targets and delivering big plays along with maddening drops (7 in total, according to Pro-Football-Reference). The week 9 contest against the 49ers illustrated this perhaps better than any other game, as he caught two of four passes — a 50-yard touchdown and a three-yard score — but dropped another sure long bomb that should have been a touchdown. He was also much maligned for a fumble in overtime against the Colts that led to a Packers loss.
But over the final month of the season and into the postseason, he began delivering with more consistency. A perfect 6-for-6 game for 85 yards and a score against the Lions was perhaps his most complete performance as a receiver, and he would catch two-thirds of his targets from that week 14 game through into the postseason, culminating in a four-catch, 115-yard, one-touchdown game in the NFC Championship.
33 receptions on 46 targets (71.7% catch rate)
451 yards (13.7 yards/reception), 3 touchdowns
153 DYAR (25th in NFL), +28.3% DVOA (did not qualify for leaderboard)
Lazard came into the 2020 season looking to be the Packers’ biggest candidate to break out, and he did just that through the first three games. He was his consistent, chain-moving self in the first two weeks, then took on a featured role in week three against the Saints with Adams injured. In that game, Lazard caught six of eight targets for 146 yards and a score, but he would suffer a core muscle injury that sidelined him for the next six games.
When he returned, he returned to a complementary role, making the occasional big third-down catch but consistently seeing between three and six targets per game. He delivered a big play in the Divisional Round victory, however, a long play-action touchdown from Aaron Rodgers that came after a bad drop earlier.
Equanimeous St. Brown
7 receptions on 13 targets (53.8%)
117 yards (16.7 Y/R), 1 touchdown
27 DYAR, +14.5% DVOA
Even with Lazard out for an extended period, St. Brown, who would seem to fit a similar mold, struggled to find his own breakout opportunity. The Notre Dame product only had one game with more than two targets and was consistently receiving snap totals in the mid-teens.
5 receptions on 6 targets (83.3%)
66 yards (13.2 Y/R), 1 touchdown
Taylor was a surprise out of training camp, making the team’s opening-week roster over Jake Kumerow. Primarily a special teams contributor as the team’s WR5, Taylor did contribute on kickoff returns a bit and scored one touchdown.
8 games played
5 receptions on 8 targets (62.5%), 46 yards
The Packers finally had enough of Shepherd at midseason after some mental errors and a brutal fumble on a kickoff return in Indianapolis with the Packers clinging to a slim lead. He actually played significant snaps on offense during a few games in the first half of the season with Adams and/or Lazard out, but provided virtually no production.
4 games played
5 receptions on 5 targets, 20 yards
Signed late in the season to replace Shepherd on punt returns and the injured Tyler Ervin on offense, Austin played the jet motion decoy role over the final month of the year. The former first-round pick only received a few snaps per game, however, and he fumbled a punt in the second quarter of a tie game in Chicago in week 17.
Overall Grade: B
Adams’ performance will rightfully go down as one of the best receiving seasons in team history, particularly when considering that he missed two-plus games early in the year with injuries. He only failed to find the end zone in three of the games he played in, and he never had fewer than six receptions in any contest that he played in full.
But behind him, inconsistency was a problem, and that leads to the grade coming down from the A range. MVS’ drop issues cost the team dearly at times, particularly in the middle of the season before a strong finish to the season. Lazard’s injury hurt the team’s depth, but the rest of the receiving corps didn’t really pick up the slack in his absence as none of the role players emerged as a reliable, trustworthy option for Rodgers.
Still, this group performed much better than the Packers’ receivers did overall in 2019, and this was surely due in part to the departure of Geronimo Allison. One of the league’s worst wideouts in 2019, Allison took his 55 targets elsewhere, and they were freed up to be distributed to much more efficient players.
Still it is inconsistent depth that brings out the questions about the 2020 Draft strategy once again, as the Packers likely could have benefited from a dynamic playmaker as a WR3 or WR4. But ultimately, the team still managed to put together the league’s best passing attack without one and earned the NFC’s top seed, and the unit was as healthy as could be expected heading into the postseason. It was a successful season, to be sure, but it still leaves room for growth and improvement from the unit as a whole.