This is the third in a series of stories previewing the Packers' draft.
GREEN BAY — Over the past 13 months, after parting ways with Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, the Green Bay Packers said goodbye to more than 1,000 career receptions, 13,000 receiving yards and 100 touchdown catches.
So it’s only logical that they’d have to replace all that production with a premium draft pick in this year's NFL draft, right? Especially after only using mid- to late-round selections on the position last year?
While his team doesn’t have any fully proven commodities behind No. 1 wideout Davante Adams at this point — Geronimo Allison is the most experience of the bunch, with former UW-Whitewater star Jake Kumerow and second-year receivers Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Equanimeous St. Brown and J’Mon Moore next on the depth chart — it seems unlikely that general manager Brian Gutekunst will use the No. 12 overall pick on a wide receiver next Thursday night. And he likely won’t go that direction with the 30th overall pick, either.
So don't expect to see the top receiver prospects — Ole Miss' DK Metcalf or A.J. Brown, or Oklahoma's Marquise Brown — in Green Bay.
Maybe Gutekunst will follow his predecessor and mentor Ted Thompson’s M.O. and use a second-round pick on Day 2 of the draft. That’s what Thompson did to stock the receiver position during his tenure, using second-round picks on Terrence Murphy (2005), Greg Jennings (2006), Nelson (2008), Cobb (2011) and Adams (2014). Or maybe he’ll look for bargains on Day 3, having added Moore (fourth round), Valdes-Scantling (fifth) and St. Brown (sixth) a year ago.
But given their other needs, and how much first-year coach Matt LaFleur likes what he already has, it’s unlikely that the Packers will use a high pick on a receiver.
“There’s still so many things to like about them,” LaFleur said at last month’s NFL Meetings in Arizona. “Davante, he can do it all. All those young guys can run and can really take the top off. That’s an important piece to our offense. We’re always trying to stretch the field vertically with our three-level throws – not necessarily throwing the top level, but you’ve got to have somebody with speed to get down there and make sure you’re clearing out the defense to open up those deep crossing routes and try to get those explosive plays.
"There’s a lot of versatility within our receiving corps that we have already. And then getting Geronimo back from injury, how he responds is going to be critical because he’s another guy that has a lot of flexibility to play inside or outside. Davante is the same way.”
No matter what they do in the draft, though, the Packers will have to figure out which receiver to make their primary pass-catcher from the slot, having used Cobb there most extensively there.
“It will be a lot different. We’ve relied on him for years as that slot guy,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “The one thing that’s definitely there is an opportunity. Who’s going to be that guy to take over the slot role? Obviously, the abilities of Davante, we can move him around anywhere — he can play outside, off the ball, on the ball, in the slot. In these offenses you’re seeing run in L.A., San Fran, Atlanta, Matt in Tennessee and now here, those guys all had slot guys who can really go. So we need to find who that guy is.”
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Cobb caught a whopping 78.9 percent of his career receptions from the slot, while Adams caught only 26 of his 111 receptions last season after lining up in the slot. But when the offseason program began last week, Adams said LaFleur has already broached the subject of using him inside more than he has been in the past.
“I think that's something that Matt is definitely looking forward to having me do, and I'm definitely looking forward to doing the same thing,” Adams said. “I think the versatility is putting these defenses in a bind as far as coverages they can play and guys they can match with. … If that will take (opponents’) No. 1 (cornerbacks) off me, and I can get some mismatches maybe on the back or the safety or anybody else, I think that is beneficial.”
Interestingly, LaFleur doesn’t feel that his slot receiver has to be the same body type as the 5-foot-10, 192-pound Cobb.
As the Los Angeles Rams’ offensive coordinator in 2017 under head coach Sean McVay, LaFleur had 6-foot-2, 208-pound Cooper Kupp as his primary slot receiver. As the Atlanta Falcons quarterbacks coach under head coach Dan Quinn in 2015 and ’16, LaFleur saw offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan use 6-foot-2, 215-pound Mohamed Sanu in that role.
“(With) any receiver, it starts with their ability to separate. That’s one thing we’re always looking for,” LaFleur said when asked what he wants in a slot receiver. “But I think a slot (receiver), especially with what we want to do, has to have some good instincts, and really you want a smart player that you can call choice routes with. And it takes smart players to do that
“The guys that I’ve been around that have been capable of doing that. Cooper Kupp was really good at that, Mohamed Sanu was really good at that. It certainly makes the play caller’s job a little bit easier when you can call a choice route and it really doesn’t matter what look the defense presents because whatever they’re showing him, he’s going to make sure he gets open.”