receivers photo 4-20

Davante Adams, center, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling, right, are two of the six receivers on the Packers roster. 

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GREEN BAY — With his team’s quarterback winning his third NFL MVP award, its star wideout having a record-breaking season and the offense leading the league in scoring, Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst could certainly argue he was right in thinking he didn’t need to pick a wide receiver during last year’s draft — one that was widely regarded as the best ever at the position.

The fourth-year GM would likely get pushback on that argument, especially after down-the-depth-chart receiver Equanimeous St. Brown dropped a crucial, partially deflected two-point conversion pass from Aaron Rodgers during the fourth quarter of the NFC Championship Game loss to the eventual Super Bowl LV-champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“Really, (I have) no regrets looking back at the draft last year,” Gutekunst said during a Zoom call with reporters earlier this offseason. “I think obviously the opportunities that our players got from that draft class, I think they performed very well. I think they had limited opportunities and obviously we had some injuries, had some COVID situations we went through as well. But looking at all those guys we drafted last year, I’m excited about their future and what they can do for the Green Bay Packers. In the opportunities they were given, I thought they performed well.”

But no matter where you fall on the debate about Gutekunst’s decision not to take a wide receiver last year — not just not in the first round, when he took his quarterback of the future in Jordan Love, but not at all — there’s no way Gutekunst would shun the position again in 2021.

Right?

Gutekunst hasn’t taken a wideout since taking three in a row during his first draft as GM in 2018 — picking Missouri’s J’Mon Moore in the fourth round, South Florida’s Marquez Valdes-Scantling in the fifth and Notre Dame’s St. Brown in the sixth.

But one look at the depth chart shows why Gutekunst will almost certainly use one of his 10 selections in the April 29-May 1 draft on a receiver. Because, what do Davante Adams, Allen Lazard, Valdes-Scantling, St. Brown, Devin Funchess and Malik Taylor all have in common? None of them is under contract for 2022.

The focus, of course, is on Adams, and rightfully so. He caught 115 passes for 1,374 yards and 18 touchdowns last season despite missing 2½ games with a hamstring injury earlier in the year. That was enough to break Sterling Sharpe’s single-season franchise reception record (112 in 1993) and tie Sharpe’s single-season record for touchdown catches, set in 1994. Adams wound up 145 yards shy of Jordy Nelson’s yardage record (1,519 in 2014).

But Valdes-Scantling, who overcame inconsistent play during the first half of the season to be a reliable pass-catcher and big-play threat down the stretch, also is set to become an unrestricted free agent in March 2022, as are St. Brown and Funchess. Lazard and Taylor, meanwhile, will be restricted free agents after being exclusive rights free agents this spring.

As a result, the question isn’t whether the Packers will pick a receiver with one of their 10 picks. It’s when they’ll pick one — and how many more they might pick. Of course, that was the thinking a year ago, so who knows?

If Gutekunst decides to end a two-decade streak and take a wide receiver in the first round — something that hasn’t happened in Green Bay since 2002, when then head coach/GM Mike Sherman took Florida State’s Javon Walker at No. 20 overall.

Last year, Gutekunst traded up from No. 30 to No. 26 and took Love, activating the countdown clock on Rodgers’ career in Green Bay. Although a host of top-notch wide receivers were gone by No. 26 — Alabama’s Henry Ruggs III and Jerry Jeudy, Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb, TCU’s Jalen Reagor, LSU’s Justin Jefferson and Arizona State’s Brandon Aiyuk all were picked before the Packers went on the clock — a host of others (including Clemson’s Tee Higgins, USC’s Michael Pittman, Colorado’s Laviska Shenault, Penn State’ KJ Hamler, Notre Dame’s Chase Claypool, Florida’s Van Jefferson and Baylor’s Denzel Mims) lasted until the second round, though they all went before the Packers picked again at No. 60.

The good news is the draft is deep at receiver again, so Gutekunst will get another chance to add there.

“You look at the strength of this draft, it is wide receiver, in terms of depth,” ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said in a recent ESPN Wisconsin interview, adding he was “really” surprised the Packers didn’t take a wideout last year. “Ironically for the Packers, WR and CB, two positions they could hit on, are two very deep positions. You just have to pick the right guys. Not all of them are going to be great. They all have pretty good grades, but there’s going to be some disappointments.”

Depth chart

17 | Davante Adams — 6-1, 215, Fresno State

13 | Allen Lazard — 6-5, 227, Iowa State

83 | Marquez Valdes-Scantling — 6-4, 206, South Florida

19 | Equanimeous St. Brown — 6-5, 214, Notre Dame

86 | Malik Taylor — 6-1, 220, Ferris State

11 | Devin Funchess — 6-4, 225, Michigan

84 | Reggie Begelton — 6-0, 200, Lamar

88 | Juwann Winfree — 6-1, 210, Colorado

Chris Blair — 6-2, 198, R Alcorn State

Best in class

Ja’Marr Chase, LSU

Ja’Marr Chase mug 4-20

Chase

As a sophomore in 2019, Chase won the Biletnikoff Award as the top receiver in the country, catching 84 passes for 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns from quarterback Joe Burrow, who won the Heisman Trophy and was the No. 1 overall pick by Cincinnati last year. Chase then opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns, but the year away doesn’t appear to have hurt his stock, as he’s widely considered the top receiver in another strong class.

“It’s very important for me (to be the first receiver taken). Not just because I dreamed of it, but I worked my butt off to get here,” Chase said. “I don’t want anybody to take that from me. I’m not letting anyone take it from me. So I’m going to keep working.”

As for his decision not to play last season, Chase said it “came off my family” and admitted it took him awhile to figure out just what workouts made the most sense to get him ready for playing football again.

“When I opted out (initially), I was working on a lot of my speed stuff. After a while I started working on my routes, getting used to dropping my weight again, getting used to my feet again,” Chase explained. “It was

just me trying to feel comfortable again.”

Best of the rest

Jaylen Waddle, Alabama; Devonta Smith, Alabama; Kadarius Toney, Florida; Elijah Moore, Mississippi; Terrace Marshall Jr., LSU.

Pick to click

Rashod Bateman, Minnesota

The ex-Gophers star initially opted out of the 2020 season, then chose to play before opting out again after five games, having caught 36 passes for 472 yards and two touchdowns as Minnesota got off to a 2-3 start before a COVID-19 pause in November. The Gophers only played two more games after that, including a 20-17 overtime loss to the University of Wisconsin, and Bateman had coach P.J. Fleck’s blessing to start focusing on the draft. At the time of Bateman’s announcement, the Gophers had announced 15 positive cases (nine players, six staff) and were awaiting more positive test results.

Despite the abbreviated season, Bateman, who had two more years of eligibility remaining, is a borderline first-round pick, with several mock drafts predicting he’ll go to Green Bay at No. 29.

“I don’t get too much caught up in that stuff. Time will always tell, and time’s going to prove everything. I’m just going to put my head down and continue to work,” Bateman said after his pro day at Minnesota. “God has a destination for me, and I’m going to go wherever I’m needed and wherever I’m wanted. That’s the mindset that I have, and the mindset I’m going to continue to have.”

“Every day I wake up, going through this process, I’m just like, ‘Wow.’ It’s getting closer. It feels real, but it doesn’t feel real. It’s full of excitement, really.”

History lesson

The Packers are one of three teams not to have chosen a wide receiver in either of the last two NFL drafts (New Orleans and Miami are the others), and over the last five drafts, the Packers are the only team not to pick at least one wide receiver in the first three rounds. And it gets worse.

Over the last nine drafts, a whopping 150 receivers have been selected in the first 130 picks of those drafts. In those nine drafts, the Packers have taken only Adams (second round, 2014) and Montgomery (third round, 2015).

Perhaps Gutekunst will channel his inner Ted Thompson and select a wide receiver in the second round, as Thompson struck gold repeatedly at the position in that round, picking Greg Jennings (2006), Jordy Nelson (2008), Randall Cobb (2011) and Adams (2014).

Late in his tenure as GM, someone pointed out to Thompson, who passed away in January at age 68, how good he’d been at picking receivers in the second round. After a self-deprecating retort — “Don’t jinx us,” he said—Thompson tried to explain what they all had in common.

“Athletically, they’re similar in some respects and different in others. (But) if you get back to it, their ball skills are all remarkable,” Thompson said. “Jordy and Randall and Greg and those guys, that’s the first and foremost thing we look for. If I was going to get stuck on one thing, it would be that. And they’re good people. All those guys that you mentioned are good people and good teammates. We’ve had some good fortune and it’s a credit to those young men.”


Photos: Packers’ 2020 season in pictures

Photos: Packers' 2020 season in pictures

Check out photo galleries from every game of 2020 through the end of the regular season and the playoffs.

 

This article originally ran on madison.com.

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