Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
The Green Bay Packers draft a wide receiver. The receiver has a solid rookie year and gives a glimpse of potential. Year two rolls around with a new offensive coordinator, but the receiver regresses and all the flashes of his first year are forgotten. Then comes the third year and the player’s stock increases again and sets up the stage for a breakout season.
Who is this wide receiver? None other than Davante Adams, arguably the best wide receiver in the NFL entering 2021.
It could also be Marques Valdez-Scantling if history repeats itself in Green Bay.
Adams of course was a second round pick in 2014 while Valdes-Scantling was a fifth rounder in 2018, but their early career arcs share some striking similarities. As rookies, each player had 38 receptions with MVS actually averaging more per catch (16.3 versus 11.7 for Adams), though Adams had the edge in touchdowns with three against Valdes-Scantling’s two.
Beyond the numbers, both showed ability as rookies that tantalized both fans and the team. The future looked bright in both cases. It appeared the Packers at the very least had two solid contributors on their hands.
Each player eventually hit a valley, however. For Adams, that was a brutal 2015 season that actually had some impatient fans calling for him to be released. Remember those “Jeff Janis over Adams” tweets? In 2021 they read like some twisted and deranged fan fiction. Adams has become the best at his position while Janis has been out of the league since the end of the 2018 preseason.
Wide receiver is a position that more often than not requires patience with young players. Not everyone is going to be Randy Moss lighting the league on fire from the first time they step onto an NFL field. It takes time for rookie receivers to adapt to the speed of professional defensive backs and vice versa.
Valdes-Scantling meanwhile experienced a similar dip in performance in his sophomore season that carried over into his third year. In 2019, he actually increased his yards per reception to 17.4, but he was targeted less (56 in 2019 versus 73 as a rookie) and caught 12 fewer passes. He also saw his snap count reduced each game and caught just four balls over the final seven games of the year, pushing him towards the roster bubble for 2020.
However, Valdes-Scantling made the roster in 2020 and as his targets went up (63), so did his drops. He dropped seven passes in 2020 after three the year prior. The most notable ball security issue was a fumble in overtime against the Indianapolis Colts that led to Indianapolis getting the ball back and kicking the game-winning field goal.
MVS became a popular scapegoat for fans who held their collective breath every time Aaron Rodgers threw the ball in the direction of number 83. And for Rodgers’ part, dependability and chemistry are two big factors in how he views a wide receiver and Valdes-Scantling was not doing himself any favors with the inconsistency.
While some fans were done with Valdes-Scantling, Rodgers did not give up on his talented but enigmatic young receiver. Maybe he remembered how long it took for him and Adams to develop that special connection and realized it would take the same amount of time with Valdes-Scantling. Perhaps it was a spell during last season where he was targeted eight times in three games and had three catches to show for it. It was one game after that stretch where Valdes-Scantling was targeted six times and caught all six passes for 85 yards in a 31-24 win over the Lions — a performance that some at APC have called his most complete game as a wideout. Then again, the very next game against Philadelphia he was only targeted once and the game against Tennessee after that he wasn’t targeted at all.
Such is the way things have gone for Valdes-Scantling throughout his career, but his quarterback hasn’t given up on him. During camp this year, Rodgers went out of his way to praise the receiver for becoming “a true professional” and being in “the right headspace.”
It’s not often Rodgers dishes out those kinds of compliments, especially to a younger player who likely found his way into the quarterback’s doghouse at one point or another. It speaks volumes about Valdes-Scantling’s mental toughness and sets him up as a primary candidate for a breakout season this year.
That kind of season would be welcomed by both the player and team. He’s entering the final year of his contract and a big 2021 would mean big numbers on his next contract, whether that is from the Packers or another team. Everyone has seen his potential but the Packers and others will be hesitant to spend big bucks on him unless he puts it all together for 2021.
For the Packers, a big season from Valdes-Scantling would also give them options. They are notably thin at wide receiver for 2022 with only Amari Rodgers and Randall Cobb under contract for next season. With Davante Adams commanding top dollar, something Green Bay will find extremely difficult to pull off without some drastic cap maneuvering, signing Valdes-Scantling to a second contract might seem appealing.
The only question is a matter of timing. They could extend him now and likely at a lower dollar amount than down the road. Yet that also means they’re betting on him realizing his potential and not continuing to struggle. If the Packers are wrong, they’re likely tied to the player for the foreseeable future.
The other option is to wait and see how Valdes-Scantling performs this year and negotiate with him either later in the season or after it. This gives the Packers the benefit of additional evaluation time but it also comes with the risk of having to spend more money should he indeed have that breakout season. When you consider Green Bay’s cap situation, that would not be optimal for the team.
Patience is a virtue but it’s one not many NFL teams can exercise very often. Jobs are on the line every season and often general managers and coaches have to pull the plug on players before ownership pulls the plug on them. That hasn’t been the case in Green Bay, and the Packers have shown patience with many young mid-to-late round picks like Valdes-Scantling. The catch is that patience has to pay off with results, and this is the time for the fourth-year wide receiver.
Stakes are high for the Packers in 2021. Nobody knows what the future will hold for this team beyond this season and that’s why the urgency factor has been kicked into overdrive. Valdes-Scantling is one of the few players who has direct control over his future. How much he seizes the opportunity depends on how well he seizes passes thrown his way.
His quarterback has all the confidence in him. Whether that confidence breeds results remains to be seen and we will find out beginning Sunday in Jacksonville.