The Green Bay Packers have Davante Adams and a bunch of questions behind him at wide receiver. Some of the questions may become solid answers, but they’re not there yet, and Randall Cobb will likely be moving on to less greener pastures. They could use an infusion of receiver talent, and because they are loaded with youth, they could use a veteran to come in and contribute right away.
Parsing free agency can be a bit tricky, but to help we have WROPS. WROPS, which stands for Wide Receiver OPS, is based on the baseball stat OPS (On-Base Plus Slugging) which crudely combines two of the more important batting statistics into a single number. In baseball, OPS is a nice way to determine who is good at getting on base while also hitting for power. WROPS captures two aspects of receiving: the percentage of passes you catch, and the yardage you generate with those catches. If you are a slot receiver who catches everything but does nothing with the ball, WROPS won’t like you. If you catch awesome bombs, but only catch 30% of them, WROPS won’t like that either.
By WROPS measures, this is a weak free agent class, but there are a few standouts who may be available, and who should draw interest from the Packers.
2018 WROPS: .910, Rank: 8th
2017 WROPS: .932, Rank: 5th
Williams spent his second year in a row as a top ten WROPS monster, and should be the top free agent on the market. Williams has had a strange career as a non-featured support receiver, but when forced to assume a bigger role due to Keenan Allen injuries he didn’t suffer any drop-off in production. Williams is a giant, super fast weapon who makes a big play almost every time he touches the ball, and catches deep shots at a higher rate than almost anyone else. He averages 16.3 yards per catch for his career, and he’s just 27 years old.
It is, frankly, ridiculous that Williams isn’t held in higher regard, and even if you want to attribute some of that success to playing with an outstanding quarterback, that would still exist with the Packers. He consistently ranks with the greats, and as a much-needed big-play threat opposite Davante Adams, he would open up the secondary for everyone else. Williams is an unrestricted free agent, and I also suspect he won’t be that expensive.
2018 WROPS: .955, Rank: 2nd
Jackson is still under contract with Tampa Bay, but he is in the last year of his contract and can, and quite possibly will be, cut for salary cap reasons. If he is released, he is second only to Williams as an upgrade. Jackson is a historically underrated deep threat who has managed to put up elite production despite consistently awful quarterback play. There is some risk as Jackson is 33 and on the downside of his career, but he’s still as fast as ever, and led the league in yards per catch just last season. It was the fourth time he led the league in that category in the last 9 years.
Jackson was the only receiver with a WRSLG over .600 last season, and that was good enough to place him second overall in WROPS. Aaron Rodgers has been at his best with a deep threat on the roster, and as a veteran deep threat who can outrun almost anyone, trust should not be an issue. Due to his age it’s likely he won’t cost a fortune, and he fits a glaring need.
Under the Radar
2017 WROPS: .850, Rank: 14th
Rishard Matthews crashed and burned last year as a member of the Titans and eventually the Jets. He was consistently injured, and eventually landed on injured reserve with a hamstring injury. That’s unfortunate, because he was coming off of a three-year run of excellent production. As a dual threat who can do damage outside as well as in the slot, Matthews is ideal for any offense that embraces multiple looks from its base personnel. Matthews does turn 30 this season, and his lost 2018 is a concern, but it will also keep his cost down and any commitment likely won’t be punitive.
Matthews is not a burner, but he is in many ways the prototypical Patriots receiver based on his agility. He would make a nice, low-cost replacement for Cobb.
2018 WROBP: .779, Rank: 58th
Slot receivers don’t fare as well in WROPS as outside receivers, just because they tend not to hit many big plays. However, it’s still an important position, and having a safety valve who can reliably pick up first downs is critical. Humphries has posted catch percentages over 70% for two consecutive years, and while his yards per catch is pedestrian, it was a full yard better than Randall Cobb’s last year. Humphries isn’t a star, but he is a consistent producer at a position of need, and he was a surprisingly good red zone target last season.
Considering that he’s played mostly with Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jameis Winston, who respectively excel at deep passing and, well, nothing, his short production is actually kind of amazing.
An Old Friend
2018 WROPS: .847, Rank: 24th
2017 WROPS: .797, Rank: 39th
The only tight ends who produced better a WROPS than Cook last season were Rob Gronkowski and George Kittle. Cook actually slightly out-produced Travis Kelce, and considering the mess that was the Oakland Raiders, Cook was quietly phenomenal. The Packers, in retrospect, would have been much better off keeping Cook in 2017, as he has always been a big, tall, athletic receiver more than a tight end. Martellus Bennett and Jimmy Graham have been over-the-hill disasters, and while Cook is getting up there himself he still has his speed and he’s familiar with the system already.
Cook was well-above average last season, but the Packers don’t even need that. They just need a speedy average tight end who can attract attention down the middle and make the occasional legendary sideline catch.