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Do the Packers' wide receivers really struggle to separate?

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NFL Next Gen stats suggests the narrative around the Green Bay passing game may be wrong.

New Orleans Saints v Green Bay Packers
The Packers receivers took a lot of heat for not getting open more, but is that criticism right?
Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

They’re slow. They can’t separate. Why doesn’t Mike McCarthy do more to scheme them open?

Maybe the Packers receivers don’t have the deep threat Jordy Nelson or Greg Jennings were in their primes. Maybe McCarthy and the offensive coaching staff could have done a better job building in concepts to free up their receivers.

But it turns out that this team’s receivers, even with some legitimate questions about speed and scheme, can still get open.

According to NFL Next Gen stats, which are compiled by the league, the Packers receivers ranked 14th last season in yards of separation when the quarterback releases the ball.

For comparison sake, they’re one spot behind the Los Angeles Rams, a team lauded for their brilliant scheme and execution last season. Sean McVay won Coach of the Year, Jared Goff broke out and Todd Gurley performed at an All-Pro level. Meanwhile, the Packers slumped with Brett Hundley and the only reliable, consistent receiver on the team was Davante Adams.

That the receivers actually compiled similar separation data suggests the offense was less broken than fans and media will have you believe.

Not to mention the narrative that speed and separation are related has always been overblown. Study after study has shown essentially no correlation with speed and success at the receiver position.

The impact of Brett Hundley on this data also suggests an even stronger case can be made against the premise the receivers couldn’t get open. What would the numbers look like with a full season of Aaron Rodgers rather than Brett Hundley, who was constantly late with the ball or missing an open receiver altogether?

Late throws can close down windows and undermine a receiver's separation, while the impact of not throwing to an open receiver (the infamous Jordy Nelson play against the Lions being a prime example) should be obvious.

None of this is to say the Packers wouldn’t benefit from an influx of talent at the receiver position, or from some additional speed to make the geometry of the offense work better. A revamp, with more creative formational changes and improved versatility, should buoy this passing game next season.

But it’s hard to think an offense that ranked in the top half of the league in separation — even if that were the same under Rodgers — wouldn’t have resulted in a pretty darn good offense with its two-time MVP under center.