The last time the Green Bay Packers had two wide receivers who earned 80.0-plus overall grades in the regular season, Odell Beckham Jr. was a rookie and Calvin Johnson was still shredding opposing secondaries.
Back then, in 2014, it was Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb at the top of the Packers’ depth chart. Both are now out of the equation, with the latter having signed a contract with the Dallas Cowboys this offseason. And back then, Davante Adams had ample time to learn under some of the NFL’s best. He slowly but surely improved his season grades, from 59.1 in 2015 to 87.8 last year.
But when a team has a quarterback as potent as Aaron Rodgers can be, it needs more than one weapon on the outside.
Nelson and Cobb were there to supplement Adams’ production up until 2017, but their overall grades steadily dropped as Adams’ continued to rise. In 2018, the next best grade at wideout was Equanimeous St. Brown, who posted an uninspiring mark of 64.3.
And with St. Brown on injured reserve to open the 2019 campaign, it’s do-or-die time for this Packers' wide receiver corps — someone needs to step up.
For now, that onus rests on the shoulders of Geronimo Allison and Marquez Valdes-Scantling, neither of whom has proven themselves as a reliable No. 2 wideout yet. Allison has yet to take the next step after a promising rookie season, while Valdes-Scantling struggled to make an impact in his first year.
Allison’s 2018 season ended abruptly after he was placed on injured reserve following Week 9. Still, in the four games when Allison had at least three targets, he posted passer ratings when targeted above 110.0 in three of them. He was clearly on Rodgers’ radar, seeing the 34th-most targets among more than 150 wideouts in Weeks 1 to Week 4. It was a promising stretch, and he finished with a 130.5 passer rating when targeted in his minimal playing time.
The small sample size — coupled with a three-drop, one-fumble performance against the Buffalo Bills — tanked Allison’s overall grade to a 61.4. Plus, it was the third straight year he saw less than 40 targets.
There’s a reason to keep the faith that 2019 will be his year, though. Both of his deep catches (on targets 20 or more yards downfield) in 2018 went for touchdowns; he has the best contested-catch rate of any Packers receiver over the past three seasons (62.5%), albeit on a small sample size and his 15 explosive plays (15 or more yards) since 2016 is second on the team to Adams.
Allison is a prime candidate to assume WR2 duties in Green Bay, a role he was poised to thrive in last year before his injury. Any signs of regression in Year 4 could spell the end of his career with the Packers after this season, as the wide receiver group is a fix-now problem rather than one that can be put off. Valdes-Scantling, on the other hand, is entering just his second year in the league, and he has a chance to shine from the slot — just as Cobb once did.
Cobb took nearly 90% of his snaps from the slot last year, while Valdes-Scantling did so on about 50% of his. And from 2014-17, Cobb racked up the ninth-most yards among all wide receivers on short routes (targeted 1-9 yards).
There is a clear void to fill, which means whether or not Valdes-Scantling is ready for an influx of snaps, they are coming his way.
The USF product earned a 60.1 overall grade in 2018 with a low catch rate and multiple stretches where he saw only one or two targets per game. The targets will surely be there in 2019, and the responsibility is on Valdes-Scantling to significantly improve his 56.7% catch rate (ranking 92nd of 110 qualifying wideouts) from last season.
It starts with mastering the short routes to provide Rodgers an outlet.
On short routes in 2018, Valdes-Scantling earned a disappointing 57.2 grade. That was due in large part to his inability to make the tough plays — his 79.2% catch rate on catchable short throws ranked 85th among 88 wideouts.
So while it's only his sophomore season in the NFL, Valdes-Scantling is going to be relied upon. And as a former fifth-round draft pick, he has more riding on him than Allison as a former undrafted free agent. Either way, both players need to step up if the Packers' receiving corps is to pose any type of threat to its opposition in the near future.
Six seasons have passed since the last time a Green Bay wideout other than Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb or Davante Adams generated a passer rating when targeted above 100.0. It's time for that to change in 2019.