With the 2022 NFL Draft finally arriving tonight, almost everybody agrees that wide receiver is the biggest need for the Green Bay Packers. The team has lost Davante Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling since the end of last season and that’s two of the top three players on their 2021 depth chart at the position. As of right now, the Packers have Allen Lazard, Randall Cobb, Sammy Watkins and Amari Rodgers as their top four wideouts. None of them presently is a legitimate WR1.
The Packers have four of the first 59 picks in this year’s draft and are expected to use at least one of those four selections on a wide receiver. They are also expected to add at least one more receiver somewhere in the draft.
But regardless of how many wideouts the Packers draft and how high they pick them, GM Brian Gutekunst should add another veteran receiver to the roster before the start of training camp. Whether that means acquiring a veteran in a trade or signing another veteran free agent to compliment Watkins, the Packers should look for another experienced pass catcher.
The reasoning is simple: rookie receivers are rarely impact players in their first season in the NFL. Sure, you can point to Ja’Marr Chase or Justin Jefferson as exceptions to this rule, but it is rare that even top NFL receivers have big rookie campaigns.
Receivers have a bigger adjustment to the NFL than almost any other position in the game. The playbook in the NFL is thicker, there are larger route trees in the NFL than in college and defensive backs are bigger, faster, stronger and have better technique than they do in the NCAA. The game is faster and more complicated and there are more keys and alternatives on any given play in the NFL than in college football.
Look at some of the Packers recent great receivers and how they fared in their first NFL campaigns. Adams started 11 games but caught only 38 passes for 446 yards and three touchdowns. It wasn’t until his third season that started to break out and become a solid contributor. Most people were ready to write him off before that.
Jordy Nelson started only two games as a rookie but he played all 16. The former Kansas State star had 33 catches for 366 yards and two touchdowns. By the end of his third season, Nelson started to realize his potential and by his fourth campaign, he had 1,263 yards receiving and 15 touchdown catches.
Randall Cobb didn’t start any games as a rookie but played in 15. He caught 25 passes for 375 yards and a touchdown. Cobb also contributed on special teams as a return specialist. Even though he had 25 catches on 31 targets for an impressive catch rate of 80.6 percent according to pro-football-reference.com, he still wasn’t ready to start. In fact, Cobb has admitted on the one touchdown catch he had as a rookie, he ran the wrong pattern but Aaron Rodgers threw him the ball anyway.
“I didn’t know what to expect being a rookie and coming into the league,’’ Cobb recalled. “I didn’t even know how much I would get to play to be honest. I knew I was returning, both kickoffs and punts, but as a receiver I didn’t know how much time I would get. I think I ended up with 10 snaps that night, caught two passes and one went for a touchdown on a play that Aaron checked to and I ran the wrong route.’’
By his second season, Cobb had 80 catches for 954 yards and eight touchdowns.
All three of these players were high draft picks as the Packers selected them in the second round of the draft. All three of them had at least one Pro Bowl season for the Packers and became major contributors to the Green Bay offense.
The other factor to this equation is Rodgers. The future Hall of Fame quarterback will be 39 before the upcoming season ends. We don’t know how much longer he’ll play and the Packers are trying to win one more Super Bowl title with Rodgers as their quarterback. Whether he plays again in 2023 or stays until 2024 remains to be seen, but obviously, Rodgers is much closer to the end of his career than the beginning. The window to win with Rodgers is closing.
Additionally, we know Rodgers has often had trouble developing trust in his receivers. It takes time to develop that trust and it’s hard for rookies, who are often unsure about the playbook and how to adjust when plays break down, to be in the right place at the right time consistently.
A veteran would give the Packers a short-term addition at receiver and much-needed depth. Among the returning receivers, Cobb has a long injury history and is getting older, Amari Rodgers is young and unproven and Sammy Watkins has a history of missing games due to injury as well. If any of them would get hurt or if Amari Rodgers still isn’t ready to play a major role, another veteran would be a big asset for the Packers. It doesn’t need to be a high-priced player, but a short-term solution who can help carry the load until the rookies the Packers select in this year’s draft are ready for major roles.
The Packers should draft at least two wide receivers in this year’s NFL Draft and one of them will almost certainly be in the first or second round. But another reliable veteran would be a wise addition for the club to make before the start of training camp.
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