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Packers’ wide receiver room features diverse skill sets as 2019 roster takes shape

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Between EQ’s injury, the emergence of Darrius Shepherd, and the breakout performance of Trevor Davis, Green Bay’s receiver group takes shape with complementary skillsets.

NFL: Preseason-Green Bay Packers at Oakland Raiders
Trevor Davis’ punctuated his breakout preseason with a dominating performance against the Raiders.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Once Jordy Nelson lost his fastball, the geometry of the Green Bay Packers’ offense collapsed. Without his ability to threaten teams deep, no one feared playing just one safety in the middle of the field, which in turn crowded the underneath and middle parts of the field where guys like Davante Adams and Randall Cobb did their best work. It’s like a basketball team that loses its best three-point shooter; losing spacing on the football field presents the same type of problem as it does on a basketball court. Ideally, each player has a skillset that makes it easier for the guy across the formation to get open.

Think of the Falcons in 2016. Julio Jones was the bonafide No. 1 guy who could do everything. Defenses constantly had to roll coverage to him. But if you don’t have a safety account for Taylor Gabriel, he’s going to torch you deep. That, in turn, opens up the middle of the field for Muhamed Sanu to eat.

When Matt LaFleur arrived in Green Bay, he spoke glowingly about the length and speed of the Packers receivers. Davante Adams, Geronimo Allison, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Jake Kumerow and Equanimeous St. Brown are all 6’1’’ or taller and have the ability to stretch teams vertically, even if neither Adams nor Allison have great timed speed. Even Allison and Kumerow, slow by NFL wide receiver standards, made big plays last season in a broken, antiquated offensive system.

But among that group, there’s some diversity of skills. Adams clearly stands as the No. 1 guy who can do everything for an offense on the field. He’s unique to this roster. MVS provides a down-the-field element with his hair raising speed no one else can match. After that, Allison, Kumerow and EQ are variations on a theme. They’re big, long possession receivers. Let’s be honest though, Allison and Kumerow make their money converting third-and-8’s with 12-yard digs, slants and comebacks. They’re possession guys.

While we should see more of EQ’s ability the create chunk plays given his speed, the rookie didn’t show much last year when it comes to manufacturing those shot plays. At this point, he’s a souped-up possession receiver too.

And after Thursday night’s game in Winnipeg, he’s also dealing with a serious injury that could land him on the sidelines for an extended stay. That’s tragic for him, but it also opens the door for players who can diversify this receiver room.

Trevor Davis starred in OTAs, translated it to training camp, and then got hurt. On Thursday night, the former Cal Bear put it all together with his best performance as a Packer, showing all the tools he possesses. In LaFleur’s offense, David has a chance to hit his stride. The returner abilities already separated him from his teammates. No one on this roster can do what he can as a returner. Likewise, while MVS may be able to match Davis step-for-step on speed, he lacks the flexibility and run-after-catch dynamic potential.

You want someone to run a jet sweep? Davis is the guy best suited on this roster to do it.

His ability to stress teams horizontally could be just as important to this offense as someone like Valdes-Scantling who can threaten defenses vertically. Aside from Adams, Davis very well might be the most dangerous receiver on this team with the ball in his hands, a skillset we didn’t see him get the opportunity to utilize under Mike McCarthy. If he’s putting together the other receiver skills—and we’re starting to see that this offseason— that’s gravy for the Packers.

That means the Packers can trot out Davante Adams, a guy every defense has to account for with extra attention, opposite MVS (who can threaten teams deep) and one of Geronimo Allison and Jake Kumerow to handle the underneath work. Add Davis with his ability to get lateral or vertical, and now LaFleur has a different element with its own problems for defenses. Putting Davis on the field can make it easier for other guys to get open because the geometry works.

Darrius Shepherd, the rookie standout from North Dakota State, would provide yet another type of skillset. With Cobb out of town, there is no player with the kind of slippery, traditional slot-type body. Shepherd possesses that same kind of veteran savvy as a young player that Cobb showed, even if it’s unlikely he can match the athletic ceiling. Shepherd likely won’t be as dangerous after the catch or down the field as someone like Cobb, but the places they can win should be similar.

His touchdown against the Ravens came on a second-reaction play, where he simply worked to the open space and Tim Boyle found him. That’s a place where Cobb used to kill defenses as well.

It’s a different look. Throw Davis out there one play, Shepherd the next, Jake Kumerow after that. Each guy stresses the defense in a different way. While the Packers shuttle in these different players, the defenses sticks with its cornerback group. How many defenses have the diversity of body types, speed, and athletic ability to match what Green Bay can put out there?

Aaron Rodgers called this group one of the best he’s been around. It’s certainly one of the deepest, with Allen Lazard likely out of the mix despite a stellar training camp and preseason. The key this season isn’t just talent, but the talent fit. Complementary skillsets should only amplify LaFleur’s offense designed around helping his receivers get open. If the Packers keep six receivers and EQ lands on IR, it’s not crazy to imagine all six being up and used on game day. The hardest decision for Rodgers may simply be which toy to play with next.