It’s something that fans rarely pay attention to and hardly ever gets talked about during NFL broadcasts, but for wide receivers hoping to hear their name called in the 2022 NFL Draft, being a willing blocker can be essential to hearing their name called early.
Green Bay Packers fans are a bit more knowledgable about the importance of an aggressive, blocking wide receiver in recent years thanks to head coach Matt LaFleur. When I asked LaFleur at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis what run blocking meant to him when evaluating WR prospects, he visibly lit up and provided an incredibly detailed answer.
“It’s absolutely paramount” LaFleur said of run blocking. “If you’re not going to block, then you’re going to have a hard time getting on the grass. I think that’s where it starts, and I would say that it’s not typically a talent thing. It’s more of a willingness, a want to, a desire to be great, and be well rounded.”
LaFleur mentioned that Andre Johnson was someone that stood out to him early on during his time as an offensive assistant with the Houston Texans. Despite being one of the best receivers in the league, Johnson was an assertive run blocker that was aggressive on every single play, regardless of whether or not he was getting the ball.
“That really kinda set the standard in my mind of what [run blocking] looks like,” LaFleur said of Johnson. “I’d say a lot of times that you see these big explosive runs, these touchdowns runs, the receivers are an integral part of that. They’re making key blocks down the field and it’s all about that effort that they play with.”
Packers fans hoping that Brian Gutekunst and the Green Bay front office can find an aggressive blocking wide receiver with the mentality of someone like Allen Lazard in this year’s draft are in luck. While it’s understandable that fans may be skeptical of the Packers taking one in the first round, there were a handful of prospects that we spoke with in Indianapolis that understand the value of run blocking.
“It can always improve, but I feel like if you watch my film from over the years I always got my nose in there trying to make blocks for our running backs,” former Virginia Tech receiver Tré Turner said about his blocking. “If you’ve got running backs who are going to block for the quarterback when they’re throwing you the ball, then you’ve got to return the favor.”
“Run blocking, I take it as an opportunity to help the team,” former Spartans receiver Jalen Nailor told APC’s Tex Western. “At Michigan State, we had ‘no block, no rock’, so blocking was a big emphasis in our offense and it’s a big emphasis for me.”
“[Run blocking] is just as important as catching the football and running routes,” Nevada receiver Romeo Doubs told me.
“Big plays happen because of [receivers] blocking in the secondary,” John Metchie III out of Alabama explained.
Even some of the top receiver prospects in this year’s draft understand its importance and take pride in the tape that they put up showing their abilities to block in the run game. Treylon Burks, who is considered by many (including myself) to be the top WR prospect in this class, also has some of the best tape when it comes to dominating defenders in the run game.
“At Arkansas with Coach Pittman, obviously he was an offensive line coach before a head coach, so blocking was a big thing for us,” Burks said. “We did that every week at the beginning of the week, and [it] was very important in that program.”
When LaFleur talked about having the desire and willingness to block as a wideout, the first receiver that came to mind was Georgia’s George Pickens. Even after returning in limited action in 2021 after tearing his ACL in spring practice, the aggressiveness continued to stay with Pickens as a blocker on tape. Pickens also agreed with LaFleur that the mentality to be that aggressive in run blocking is more important than anything else.
“Growing up, you either give the blow or you take it,” Pickens explained.
“They want guys who can come out and aren’t afraid to put their hat on a linebacker or go out and block a safety,” former Georgia quarterback D.J. Shockley said when I asked him about Pickens. “In the league you don’t want a guy who is just a pass catcher. I think George showed throughout the year he’ll bully a defensive back, he’s aggressive, and he’s a definitely a guy who is going to block.”
With general managers and scouts in attendance this week, these receivers will have every part of their game scrutinized and potentially discussed in team interviews. For the ones that are willing to block, they may have an easier time getting coaches to buy in compared to the others who shy away from the contact.