Not surprisingly, the Green Bay Packers will enter the offseason with the wide receiver position on their minds.
General Manager Brian Gutekunst alluded to as much in the press conference on Friday, noting that the team had looked for an “explosive offensive player” around the trade deadline, but did not find many of “sound value.” Fortunately for Green Bay, there figures to be plenty of reasonable value on the board at wide receiver when the Packers submit their card to the podium at pick 30 in this upcoming 2020 NFL Draft.
Gutekunst’s aggressiveness in free agency during his first two years as a GM has been remarkable, hitting on his multiple defensive adds last offseason specifically after the team’s years of futility in the open market. However, one area in which he has not invested significant capital in free agency or the draft, much like his predecessor Ted Thompson, has been wide receiver.
In his first draft, Gutekunst did draft three high-ceiling receivers, but each came in the territory of round four and later. A year later, with Randall Cobb departing, the Packers then decided to move forward without adding a noteworthy receiver from the outside, counting on the development of those three receivers, as well as Geronimo Allison, to take on larger roles. That decision proved to be an ill-advised one, as J’Mon Moore failed to make the final roster, Equanimeous St. Brown spent the entire season on injured reserve, while Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Allison appeared to regress rather than develop into dependable weapons.
A reasonable decision-maker would learn from that mistake and invest this offseason. While the free agent market will be be scoured for a veteran playmaker. the Packers certainly could benefit from drafting a first-round receiver for the first time since Javon Walker in 2002. This is a good year for the Packers to be picking late in round one.
Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb and Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy figure to land well before the Packers are on the board, garnering top-15 grades early in the draft process. But beyond that are a handful of other names where any one individual could slide to Green Bay’s slot. Perhaps the first name on that list is Clemson’s Tee Higgins, who fits the size-speed mold Gutekunst covets. Higgins’ 40-yard dash will likely determine his place in the pecking order, but at 6-foot-4 and with surprising lateral quickness with the ball in his hands, the former Tiger will be an impact player at the next level. He has a large catch radius and is certainly a “hands catcher” who can win jump balls. Higgins would be a nice do-it-all target opposite Davante Adams in 2020.
Jockeying for draft position with Higgins is Alabama’s Henry Ruggs III, a player that certainly would fit the “explosive” trait Gutekunst mentioned. Ruggs is an absolute burner who could run in the low 4.2s at the NFL Combine and is capable of blowing the top off of a defense vertically while also taking short passes the distance. Ruggs may not have the polish in his route-running that Higgins does, but his upside is tremendous.
APC’s Ken McKain highlighted Colorado’s Laviska Shenault Jr. this week and the Buffaloes’ star makes up the next group of pass-catchers that could be taken in the latter end of the first round with LSU’s Justin Jefferson and TCU’s Jalen Reagor.
Jefferson put on a display in the Tigers’ College Football Playoff game against Oklahoma, reeling in 14 catches for 227 yards and four touchdowns in one of the biggest games of the year. The 6-foot-3 Jefferson was helped along by the progression of quarterback Joe Burrow and hauled in an astounding 18 touchdown receptions in 2019. He may not be the athlete that Higgins and Ruggs are, but Jefferson brings finesse to his game that helped him become a reliable route-runner and one difficult to guard down the field.
Meanwhile, Reagor flies a bit under the radar because of TCU’s rocky season in 2019, but he brings a lot of the same dynamic attributes as Ruggs. Reagor’s speed made him a weapon as a vertical threat and punt returner for the Horned Frogs, something Green Bay also desperately needs. Despite being a shade under six feet, he was able to work all areas of the field and had eye-popping ability in 50-50 ball situations. Reagor could be a force in the slot for the Packers.
Time will tell if this is the year that the Packers splurge for a first-round wide receiver. But the timing, draft slot, and talent pool could be a perfect match to meet the team’s needs in 2020.