Look at us. Who would have thought? Not me! As someone who has spent a lot of time writing about how the Green Bay Packers’ receivers had been letting Aaron Rodgers down in the late-McCarthy and early-LaFleur eras, I really never did think we’d get here. And despite not being the worst receiver Rodgers played with during this time, no one cost Rodgers more production than Marquez Valdes-Scantling.
We all know exactly what the play looks like when this happens. MVS beats his man over the top because he is a truly elite athlete, Rodgers drops a perfect ball, and it goes right through his hands. Or his arms, because he prefers to body catch the ball sometimes. These drops typically cost the team a touchdown, or in the case of 2020, at least delayed it.
The reason his drops were so costly of course is for that exact reason: he was missing out on touchdowns. But that’s a double-edged sword of sorts. The entire point is that he was open, often times by several yards, for the most valuable play in football. That in and of itself is a vitally important skill. By stretching the defense vertically and forcing opponents to cover more space, it makes everything underneath that much easier.
Think of it like basketball. Despite what folks who haven’t watched an NBA game since the 1990s will tell you, defense isn’t worse in the modern NBA, it’s just significantly harder. Among the reasons for that are significant increases in the skill of the league broadly (particularly the role players) and rule changes (hand checking, landing space for shooters). However, the biggest problem is that the space teams have to defend is much larger due to the increased prevalence of the three-point shot.
The deep ball in the NFL is the equivalent of the three-point shot. I’m not sure the NFL has a deep ball receiver akin to Steph Curry, or at least there hasn’t been one since peak Randy Moss. Still, what MVS provides is not limited to just his production, but also what he forces defenses to account for. In the same way that having an elite three point shooter bends a defense to make everyone else’s life easier, having a dangerous deep threat has a similar effect on the football field.
In addition to being a potent deep threat, sometimes more in theory than practice, MVS is also a big-bodied and willing blocker. On some teams, receiver blocking is an afterthought, but not in Green Bay. There are many instances in which receivers, particularly MVS and Allen Lazard, are asked to motion down into the formation and act like tight ends in the run game. This sets up the play-action game off of these same actions, which often springs them open. In order to fulfill this role, you certainly can’t be your typical 190-pound deep threat that only exists as a burner. There is a reason that in the LaFleur era, Green Bay has only used two types of receivers: big bodies and slot/jet guys. There’s really no room for the DeSean Jackson prototype. With that in mind, the available pool of players that can fill the vertical stretching role and be an effective blocker when attached to the formation is very small.
In addition to the scarcity brought on by scheme fit, it’s also important to note that despite the frustrations, Valdes-Scantling actually improved in a pretty meaningful way last year.
Marquez Valdes-Scantling Stats
|SIS Total Points
|1st Down Percentage
|SIS Total Points
|1st Down Percentage
The one area where there was actually a drop-off last year was in his drop rate. If that regresses to his career norms in 2021, while still pretty high, he would be a very potent deep threat. Due to his inconsistencies, he’ll never be a WR1 and may not even reach legitimate WR2 status, but his rare skills and the high value placed on vertical threats still make him a useful player, especially if he can hang on to the ball a few more times per year.
The main reason I think MVS may hang around for another contract is that Green Bay doesn’t have any other options in that role. While Allen Lazard has some athletic testing numbers that look like he may be able to fill that role, his usage and the way he looks on the field suggest much more of a chain mover than a consistent vertical threat. The Packers drafted Amari Rodgers, but a 4.52 forty yard dash at 5-foot-9 isn’t going to cut it in that role. The remaining non-Davante options on the roster are nothing more than filler and fodder.
It is entirely possible that Green Bay looks to fill this role in the 2022 NFL Draft, but again, it is important to note just how rare the big deep threat archetype is. And when they do exist, they typically either go very early in the draft or are day-three projects a la MVS. In all likelihood, we won’t see Green Bay put forth an extension for Valdes-Scantling until at least near the end of the 2021 season, but don’t be too surprised if the former scapegoat spends a few more seasons in Green Bay.