Imagine for a second that the Green Bay Packers have only two receivers. One is the sublime Davante Adams, The other is a receiver we get if we average everyone else’s contributions, weighted for the number of targets they received. Sort of a “Mardwilyan Lazcobrown-Scantjones,” if you will. Given the immense target share that Adams occupies, this is actually a pretty helpful way to think of things, as on any given day the Packers have something like 8-9 players who could catch passes, and Adams generally takes up about 33% of available targets.
In 2020, you might be surprised to learn that Mardwilyan was nearly as good as Adams. Adams averaged 11.9 yards per reception and 9.2 yards per target while catching an incredible 77.2% of his targets. He had about 30% of available targets with the remaining 70% going to Lazcobrown-Scantjones (although Randall Cobb’s portion was obviously not present yet). MLS wasn’t quite as productive as Davante, but put up a very respectable 11.4 yards per catch, 8.35 yards per target, and a 73% catch rate.
If you think about the individual components of MLS, this makes a lot of sense. Bob Tonyan led the league in catch percentage, and so MLS is highly bolstered there. MVS led the league in yards per catch, and so MLS is propped up there. This is one of the reasons that the offense didn’t really suffer much when Adams missed two games last year. Against the Saints, Allen Lazard put up a very Davante-like performance with 6 catches for 146 yards and a touchdown, while Big Bob chipped in a hyper-efficient 5 catches on 5 targets for 50 yards and a touchdown. Bob and Jamaal Williams pulled off a similar feat against Atlanta with Adams absent, combining for almost 200 yards through the air.
But 2021 looks quite a bit different. On the plus side, Adams has been absolutely phenomenal. He’s averaging an insane-for-him 14.5 yards per reception and 10.1 yards per target, and while his catch percentage is down a bit at 69.7%, given how much damage he’s doing with every ball, it barely matters. His target share is also up from 30% last season to 36.5% this year. As long as Davante stays healthy, and continues to put up these numbers, they will be fine. He leads the league in yards and receptions, and if you’re going to lean on a single receiver, he’s a good one to lean on.
On the negative side though, Lazcobrown-Scantjones has taken a huge step back. That 11.4 yards per catch has cratered to 10.2, the Y/T is down to 7.3, and catch% is down from 73 to 71. The catch percentage remains decent primarily because the 2021 team is so reliant on passes to running backs, but there has been almost no explosiveness. (For more on that, see Doug Farrar’s most recent post at Touchdown Wire.) In 2020, MLS was basically the equivalent of the 2020 versions of Emmanuel Sanders, or maybe Amari Cooper. This season they have been a slightly worse version of 2020 Laviska Shenault. This is a problem.
It’s possible that MLS would rise to the occasion if Adams was injured, but given that no one stepped up when Davante was well-defended in week one against the Saints, it’s hardly a given. Aside from a potential Adams injury, Mardwilyan is also struggling to create easier coverages for Adams. Maybe it’s this won’t matter, and Adams is simply too good now, but in a few weeks the Packers will face Arizona, which currently ranks second defensively against the pass.
Not many teams are as good as Arizona, but Arizona is more representative of the teams the Packers will face in the playoffs if they want to get to a Super Bowl. If the offense struggles in that game due to a lack of weapons outside of Adams, they should seriously consider adding from outside. The hamstring injury to MVS and regressions of Bob Tonyan have created a lopsided offense, and I’m not sure Mardwilyan Lazcobrown-Scantjones is going to get the job done. Especially given how tough the remaining schedule is.