Green Bay’s pass-catchers are led by Davante Adams, who is rightly so in the overall WR1 mix for 2019.
Everything behind Adams is wide open. Last year, Green Bay’s second-highest reception total came from a broken-thumbed Jimmy Graham.
We hear frequently that “Aaron Rogers’s WR2 is valuable. You want that player.”
Is that true? And, if so, who is that player for 2019? Is it fourth-year man Geronimo Allison? Sophomore Marquez Valdez-Scantling? Could we see a surprise breakout from Equanimeous St. Brown or Jake Kumerow?
Aaron Rodgers & Target Share Data
First, let’s look at the idea that the WR2 for Rodgers is a player we want.
Here’s a table of the Packers WR target distribution for the past six years:
|2013||2014||2015||2016||2017||2018||average||‘16 – ‘19 weighted av.|
Here’s a visualization of this data:
The second guy in Green Bay has often prospered, averaging 102 targets from 2013 – 2017.
What changed in 2018? Talent and health.
Davante Adams is an elite talent, possibly the best WR that Rogers has had. Jordy Nelson was an incredible WR, but athletically, Adams is superior, and Adams has proven a more versatile weapon. Rogers has said that he wants to throw to him, even more, this year.
Talent demands targets. Analysts thump the table for opportunity metrics rather than efficiency numbers because they tell us more. Rodgers throws Adams the ball more because he produces.
Then there’s the talent of the supporting cast:
|Packers WR2 by Year|
|Year||Name||Draft Capital||Dominator||Experience||Pro bowls?|
|2014||Randall Cobb||2nd||28.2%||3 years||‘14|
|2015||James Jones||3rd||44.1%||7 years||no|
|2016||Davante Adams||2nd||40.7%||3 years||’17, ‘18|
|2017||Randall Cobb||2nd||28.2%||3 years||‘14|
|2018||Marquez Valdez-Scantling||5th||26.7%||0 year||no|
In 2014 – 2017 Green Bay started at least two WRs that made / would make a pro bowl. Even in 2015 when Nelson was injured and Cobb was the WR1, they had James Jones, who had played six seasons with Aaron Rodgers, as well as a developing Davante Adams.
In 2018, the second most productive WR was Marquez Valdez-Scantling, a rookie picked at the end of the fifth round. A declining and injured Cobb had 61 targets; Equanimous St Brown, a sixth-round rookie, followed those two with 36 targets; undrafted fourth-year-man Geronimo Allison, who started the year in the WR3 spot, saw 30 targets before heading off to IR.
It was a downgraded and injured position group.
It’s no wonder Adams saw almost 34% of the team’s air yards.
Still, the Packers surprised many by drafting no wide receivers this off season, indicating that they believe in the talent of their young pass-catching core.
Changing Times in Green Bay
There’s another wrinkle to this equation, and his name is Matt Lefleur. No one outside of the Packer’s camp is certain what his new offense will look like.
Our best indications come from his OC work in LA and Tennessee.
The 2017 Rams threw the ball 518 times. The 2018 Titans attempted 437 passes.
Here are the past six years of pass attempts by the Packers:
It’s an unfair comparison. The 2017 Rams had a sophomore QB coming off of a brutal rookie year as well as the best running back in the NFL, and the 2018 Titans featured a nerve-damaged Marcus Mariota and backup Blaine Gabbert.
Still, there are valid points to be made in that Lefleur’s offenses
1) have been more balanced than has Green Bay’s, and
2) adjusted play calling to personnel.
Here’s the 2017 LA target leaders, as per Pro Football Reference:
The Rams spread the ball around; they had no clear #1, though they also have no Davante Adams. Their running backs saw a high target share.
Here’s the same chart for the 2018 Titans:
Tennessee’s offense was a mess, but it’s worth noting that Corey Davis saw a huge target share and Dion Lewis saw the second-highest target number.
Not much went as planned for the Titans so we will cue in on the Rams to get a better idea of what LeFleur might do.
Their West-Coast-based offense focuses on getting the ball out quickly and getting players free in space. It has been a balanced offense and has been top-5 in plays per game.
The roles there line up well with the Packers personnel. MVS and his 4.37 speed are a constant threat; he should play that Brandin Cooks role. Allison should slide into the Cooper Kupp big slot role. And Adams is, of course, the X, the possession receiver, a role that Woods has played well for the Rams.
An improved defense and a play-caller with a history of a run-heavy attack should swing things closer to the league average for pass/run ratio. I’m projecting them at about 62% pass plays, which is low for Aaron Rodgers, but still top 10 in the league.
With fewer pass attempts available, and a few more going to the running backs, it’s not looking like a knockout for any WR not named Adams.
Let’s take a closer look at the personnel and see what we can figure out as to who should be starting.
Geronimo Allison is a fourth-year man out of Illinois, and his draft profile and metrics are below average (breakout age of 20.6; dominator of 24.5%; the bottom third athletically).
We like Allison because he seems to have Rodgers’s trust, he has experience, and he was producing last year until he was hurt. In five games to start 2018, he had 30 catches for 303 yards, putting him on pace for 96 targets, 64 catches and 960 yards, a fairly typical Rodgers WR2 season.
While he’s not getting an invite to 40 Yards of Gold, Allision doesn’t look slow on tape. He shows some burst, and he’s a good route runner.
This double move illustrates what he does well:
He sells the in route well, shows enough speed to get by and stay gone. The secondary doesn’t do a good job here- the corner lets up, the safety overcommits, but this is exactly what that route is supposed to do, and Allison executes it perfectly.
And then this deep in against Buffalo:
Allison sells the fly. He waits for the safety to peel off to double Adams. His cut is smooth and abrupt and he creates several yards of separation, giving Rodgers a ton of room to lead him into space. He’s not faster than this guy- the corner catches up- but it doesn’t matter. This is a classic example of why an average athlete with route running skill (see: Calvin Ridley) can beat out the athletic freak prospects for a starting spot. Geronimo does his job and Green Bay gets a huge gain.
There’s also some blips in his tape, some rough drops, a timing route where he was out of place. There are plays he misses that a better WR would make.
Allison won’t ever be elite, but he’s good enough.
MVS is at the opposite end of the spectrum. He is a top-level athlete with a 4.37 40 time and a 97% speed score. He also tested out with dangerous agility and an excellent catch radius. He had some major red flags as a prospect- late breakout age, low dominator, low college production- and fell to GB as a day three pick.
MVS is a guy who has all the athletic tools. If he can learn to run routes and execute he’ll be hard to stop, but, last year, he didn’t do enough of that.
He doesn’t consistently create separation. He isn’t a natural runner- he won’t make guys miss, despite testing with agility, and he lacks great balance (See below). He doesn’t show good vision, running laterally and missing holes.
This drop is rough, and there’s plenty more like it:
This sweep shows the good and the bad of MVS.
He uses his speed to burn into the second level and then trips over his own feet to kill what could have been a bigger play.
But there are also huge positives to build on. Here are a few nice plays that show his upside:
This out & up shows his contested catch ability. He highpoints the ball perfectly, extending out over the defender. There are several examples of this in his 2018 tape, but this is the nicest.
This post is just pure speed. But he’s right where he’s supposed to be; he tracks the ball and slows down just a hair to make the catch.
I love this catch
I love his awareness that Rodgers is in trouble, his ability to track the ball and come back to the underthrow right through the corner.
I don’t see consistency, but I do see special moments. Can he clean up the mistakes and reach his potential?
Equanimeous St Brown
ESB’s metrics: 6’5” 214, 4.48 40, 94% speed score. This dude is big and fast. Like MVS, he’s young and had some flaws in his draft profile but has a huge upside. He was taken ahead of MVS but struggled to get on the field.
When he was targeted he seemed to be in the right place. No bad drops. I didn’t see any mistakes in his film, though the word last year was that he was screwing up in practice.
Of the three players we’ve looked at he’s the best runner. The first tackler doesn’t take him down. He shows off his athleticism and RAC ability here:
In this next clip, he shows good awareness of space and situation; when Rodgers gets in trouble, he gets off his route and gets open for him.
This curl route is well executed. He doesn’t create a ton of separation but he attacks the ball well and uses his body to box out the corner.
Kumerow, Practice Squad Hero
Jake Kumerow was signed as an undrafted free agent by the
Cincinnati Bengals in 2015. He spent two years on their practice squad, a week on the Patriots practice squad, the rest of 2017 on Green Bay’s practice squad, and most of 2018 on IR, seeing some action late in the season.
He’s 6’5”, 208, average athletically (for an NFL receiver) and played for a small college. He’s also 27 years old.
Rodgers loves Kumerow. We hear this constantly.
There’s only a handful of targets on tape for Kumerow, so I can’t say a ton about his film. He was always where he was supposed to be when targeted. He didn’t have any drops, but none of the 11 regular season targets showed anything special, either.
This was a nice route:
And then here’s the play everyone remembers from the 2018 preseason:
He makes a nice contested catch here and does a good job manipulating the momentum of the corner to turn it into a touchdown. I’d place a fair wager that guy he burns never saw a regular-season snap, so I’ll hold my enthusiasm.
So How Is This Going To Shake Out?
If you listen to five different talking heads about this you’ll get five different answers.
After running through projections (with some help from my friend @chaboyJrich) I’m coming out with the following lines:
WR2: Allison 88 targets for 58/851/4 (a low-end WR3) Current redraft ADP 8.9
WR3: MVS 83 targets for 46/697/6 (a WR4) Current redraft ADP 8.12
But I won’t be shocked if MVS has a breakout and finishes as a top 24 guy; he is the upside play.
The camp hype from the past week has been that MVS has developed “An Adams-like rapport with Rodgers.” If that is true, he’s a home run.
The other recent chip on the MVS side for me was Matt Waldman calling MVS “a future superstar in this league” on the FantasyPros pod recently.
Personally, I’m not so sure. The potential is there but he put a lot of mistakes on tape last year. I didn’t love what I see with the ball in his hands in terms of vision and balance. He didn’t break tackles.
He was raw, and a lot of the miscues can be coached up, so he may have made a big leap this offseason, and his elite speed and contested-catch ability make him a dangerous weapon. Still, I’ll be surprised if he’s developed enough to be the clear #2 for this offense.
Rob Rieschel, a Packers beat reporter for Forbes, is calling it that Kumerow will the two. That’s not impossible; his tape is clean, and Rodgers likes him. But he seems to be working with twos still this week as per other reports I read (catching TDs from Tim Boyle). He was the first guy off the bench for the Ravens preseason game and saw the most targets. He is a similar player to Allison and likely competing for that role.
For now, it’s going to stay Allison and MVS in 3-wide sets, with both players seeing time in the slot, though Allison will spend more time there. In the preseason, MVS has been staying on the field with Adams in 12 personnel.
While I doubt he makes an impact this year, ESB’s talent is intriguing. I can see a world where ESB steps up and takes Allison’s job- if he puts in work and progresses- so he’s an interesting dynasty stash. He’s likely on the wire in most leagues.
Similarly, Kumerow is probably on the wire. While I don’t see him as a week one starter, this team saw a wave of injuries last year, and Kumerow is the next guy up. He could make a great flex or bye-week filler if he gets playing time.
At ADP, I’m skeptical of Allison or MVS for redraft. They’re going in the same region as Curtis Samuel, Larry Fitzgerald, and Sterling Shepard, all of who should outscore them both.
In dynasty, I am very interested in MVS at his tenth-round ADP. The constant praise from Rodgers, the camp hype, and the physical toolkit are enough for me to take the shot on a breakout, even if it’s not until 2020.Follow @ekballer Tweets by ekballer