2020 Season in Review - Wide Receivers
Another day, another position! In our third instalment of reviewing every player at every position, we turn our attentions to the wide receivers. How did they fair in 2020?
Is Davante Adams the best route runner in the NFL? Does Davante Adams have the best release off the line of scrimmage in the NFL? The answer to both questions is an emphatic yes. Was he the best receiver in the NFL in 2020? Another yes. Let’s face it, Davante Adams is simply sublime as a receiver – and certainly the best all-round wideout that we have seen in Green Bay in a quarter of a century.
In 2020, Adams played and started in 14 games – he was inactive for the other 2 (weeks 3 and 4). In those 14 games, he caught 115 passes (a new Packers single season record, breaking Sterling Sharpe’s mark of 112) for 1,374 yards and 18 touchdowns (equalling the Packers single season record). He averaged 11.9 yards per catch and a hugely impressive 98.1 yards per game. By going over the 100 reception mark for the 2nd time (he had 111 in 2018), Adams now moves level with Sharpe as the only two receivers in Packers annals to have more than one 100 reception season.
Adams’ 115 receptions placed him 2nd in the NFL in 2020 whilst his 18 touchdown receptions led the league and was tied for the 3rd most in NFL history. The combination of those 115 receptions with 18 touchdowns made him the first player in NFL history to have 100+ catches and 18 touchdowns receiving in the same season. He had seven 100 yard receiving games, including a season’s best 196 yards against the Texans in week 7. And in week 1 of the season he caught 14 passes – equalling Don Hutson’s all-time single-game franchise record.
There are so many other marks and records that Adams set in 2020 that we could take up multiple pages describing them – but that’s for another day. What about his honours? He was named 1st Team All-Pro by AP, PFF, PFWA and Pro Football Journal. Adams was also named as a Pro Bowl starter (this was Adams’ 4th consecutive selection to the Pro Bowl).
Packers - WR Pro Bowl Selections (since 1938)
7 - James Lofton
5 - Sterling Sharpe
4 - Billy Howton, Donald Driver, Davante Adams
2 - Carroll Dale, Greg Jennings
1 - Many players
Teams that attempt to single cover Adams get burned – according to PFF he tied for the NFL lead with 13 of his touchdowns coming when he was in single coverage.
Adams is primed for a contract extension, both in terms of the Packers securing his services for the next 4-5 years but also with regard to helping the team’s 2021 salary cap situation. Unfortunately, such an extension won’t help the Packers initial salary cap challenge – which is to get under the cap at the start of the league year in March. But come what may, Adams will be back with the Packers in 2021 and we should expect similar production to that of 2020, providing he can stay healthy.
Davante Adams - Packers Career Receiving
Receptions - 546 - 4th in Packers History
Receiving Yards - 6,568 - 8th in Packers History
Receiving Touchdowns - 62 - 4th in Packers History
Yards Per Reception - 12.0 - 17th in Packers History
Receiving Yards Per Game - 65.7 - 6th in Packers History
100 Yard Receiving Games - 23 - 5th (tied) in Packers History
After a good 2019, the Packers re-signed Allen Lazard as an exclusive rights free agent in April 2020. Lazard won the no.2 wide receiver spot on the depth chart after being in potential competition with Devin Funchess (who opted out of the season) and Marquez Valdes-Scantling. Lazard’s all-round skills – excellent hands, good blocking ability, decent speed and consistency helped him secure the role opposite Davante Adams.
In 2020, Lazard developed into a favourite of Aaron Rodgers. Lazard played in 10 games, with 9 starts – missing about 6 weeks of the season when placed on Injured Reserve (with a core injury) on 3rd October. He caught 33 passes for 451 yards, with a 13.7 average. 3 of his receptions went for touchdowns. Lazard had one 100 yard receiving game in 2020 – against the New Orleans Saints in week 3. Lazard is renowned for hanging onto the football – he had no fumbles in 2020. He also carried the ball twice on rushing attempts for 17 yards, which included a longest of 19.
Whilst Lazard is currently the no.2 wideout on the Packers depth chart, it seems likely that he may be challenged for the that spot in 2021 either from within or from a player that the Packers pick up in the off-season. Whatever happens with regard to that starting position, there’s little doubt that Lazard will be back (he an exclusive rights free agent) making a receiving contribution to the 2021 Green Bay Packers.
Marquez Valdes-Scantling continues to be an enigma. To some he is a long striding deep threat, able to blow past defenders with his long stride and make the big play. To others he is drop prone wideout who will never take his game to the next level. The reality is that he is huge deep threat, able to make game-changing plays but is susceptible to lapses in concentration that see him drop passes he should catch. Where MVS’ career goes from here remains to be seen, but when you put him in the context of being a no.3 or no.4 wide receiver on the depth chart then what you have is a valuable football player.
In 2020, MVS played in all 16 games, starting in 12. He caught 33 passes for 690 yards – at a whopping 20.9 yards per reception – he also scored 6 touchdowns receiving. That 20.9 yards per catch average was the best in the NFL (min. 32 receptions) in the last decade. In Packers lore, it’s not a mark that has been beaten since James Lofton averaged 22.0 yards per reception way back in 1984 – that was also the last time a Packer led the league in this statistic.
MVS has 15 catches of 40+ yards over the first 3 years of his career – according to Elias Sports Bureau, Greg Jennings is the only Packers in the past 40 years to have more (17) across his first 3 seasons. One of MVS’ 15 such catches was a 78 yarder against the Jaguars this past season – the Packers longest play of the season. He had one 100 yard game in the Regular Season (149 yards against Jacksonville in week 10), plus a further such game in the NFC Championship game (115 yards against Tampa Bay).
To go along with the impressive receiving statistics were the downside numbers. According to Pro Football Reference, MVS dropped 7 passes (an 11.1% drop rate of the 63 passes thrown his way). He also fumbled once – a crucial fumble that came in overtime in the loss to the Indianapolis Colts, which set up the Colts in game winning field goal position.
As well as receiving, MVS carried the ball 4 times on end around plays for 13 yards.
So with MVS we go back to where we started. He will stretch defenses and deliver the big play, but he isn’t consistent, and this is clearly the part of his game that he needs to work on – whether he can improve here will remain to be seen. Right now, if you consider MVS in the context of deep threat no.3 or no.4 receiver you have a player who can contribute to the ongoing success of this football team.
Equanimeous St. Brown
After a rookie season (2018) which drew mixed reviews, St. Brown was forced to miss the 2019 season due to an ankle injury (he spent the whole season on Injured Reserve). So he entered 2020 with question marks. Unfortunately, St. Brown started the season recovering from injury, so after making the final 53 man roster, he was inactive for week 1 and was then placed on Injured Reserve from 19th September to 17th October.
St. Brown played in 12 games (with 1 start), but his impact on the offense was minimal as he caught just 7 passes for 117 yards and 1 touchdown. He also rushed 1 time for 7 yards and had 1 special teams tackle (1 solo). His drop of an easy 2-point conversion attempt pass in the NFC Championship game will linger in the memory for a long time.
The Packers love the combination of St. Brown’s size and speed, but he will enter 2021 at a career crossroads and it’s likely that he’ll be in fierce competition just to make the final roster.
Taylor spent 2019 on the Packers Practice Squad, and although he was raw, the Packers saw enough of him to want to bring him back in 2020 to compete for a roster spot. But not only did Taylor compete, perhaps against the odds, he ended up winning a spot on the final 53 man roster beating out the likes of Jake Kumerow and Reggie Begelton – both of whom might have been considered to have a better chance of making it.
Taylor played in 15 games (with 1 start – against the Falcons in week 4) and was on the gameday inactive list for the other game (against Detroit in week 14). He saw most of his action on special teams coverage units (3 tackles, including 2 solos) rather than offense – catching just 5 passes for 66 yards and 1 touchdown and he rushed once for 9 yards. Taylor also returned 9 kick-offs for 167 yards (18.6 average).
Taylor is now an exclusive rights free agent. We can expect the Packers to bring him back in 2021 and he’ll probably wind up in a battle again for a spot on the final roster.
The Packers signed Tavon Austin on 1st December, taking the roster spot of WR Darrius Shepherd who was waived the same day. However, Austin was really signed as cover for the injured Tyler Ervin, as the team saw him as the best available option with the closest skillset to Ervin. Austin came to the Packers with a history of being an all-round threat (with nearly 6,000 all-purpose career yards) but also with the reputation of being a bit of a fumbler.
In reality though, for the Packers, Austin made little impact – playing in 4 regular season games (with 0 starts and 1 game inactive) and being in on just 30 offensive snaps. He caught 5 passes for 20 yards and had 3 punt returns for 14 yards and also fumbled once.
Austin is now an unrestricted free agent and therefore may not be back with the team in 2021, although this may depend upon Ervin’s status.
The Packers signed Begelton to a reserve/futures contract back in January 2020. Begelton had a fine career in the CFL playing for the Calgary Stampeders including being named as an All-Star and winning Most Outstanding Player Honours in 2019 – all of which led the Packers to want to give the talented receiver a shot in the NFL. Whilst there is a levels difference between the CFL and NFL, some players have been able to make the jump and Begelton looked like one of those guys that had a shot.
Begelton was in a strong competition for the no.5/no.6 wide receiver spot(s) on the Packers roster and eventually missed out in what must have been a really close call, when he was waived at the final cutdown to 53 on 5th September. The Packers signed Begelton to the Practice Squad the following day and there he remained for the remainder of the season barring 3 days in October, when he was activated to the full roster (5th October), waived (6th October) and then re-signed back to the Practice Squad (8th October). In that single game in which he was active (week 4 v Falcons) Begelton played in just 2 offensive snaps and had no receptions.
Begelton was signed to a new contract on 26th January 2021, so we should expect to see him competing for a roster spot again this year.
The Packers made multiple moves around their Practice Squad towards the end of October. One of those was to sign veteran WR Seth Roberts to that Practice Squad on 27th October. Roberts had previously had spells in the NFL with the Raiders, Ravens and Panthers and brought an experience level, particularly lining up in the slot, that was viewed as helpful to the Packers overall roster. At the point of signing it was envisioned that he would push for an activation to the full 53 man roster as the season progressed, but this never happened, and Roberts remained on the Practice Squad for the remainder of the season. It seems unlikely that he’ll be back for 2021.
Winfree was signed to the Packers Practice Squad at the beginning of October and remained there for the remainder of the season. Under the new rules in effect in 2020, he was elevated twice to the active roster for single games (week 10 and week 14). During those 2 games (0 starts) Winfree saw just 8 snaps on offense with no touches of the ball and 21 snaps on special teams.
He was signed to a new contract on 26th January 2021, so we should expect to see Winfree competing for a roster spot again this year although his chances of making the final 53 man roster would appear to be very slim.
Funchess is a 5-year NFL veteran with 164 career receptions and therefore was an intriguing signing by the Packers as an unrestricted free agent in April – the Packers picking him up on a 1 year/$2.5m contract. It was hoped that Funchess would add veteran experience to the wide receiver corps and that he would earn either the no.2 or no.3 spot on the depth chart.
As it turned out, Funchess would see no action with the Packers in 2020. On 28th July, under the COVID-19 rules, he chose to opt out for the season. His 1 year deal rolls over to 2021, so we should expect to see him at the very least compete for a roster spot – although if the Packers were to cut him, they would save about $1.27m against the 2021 salary cap.
Chris Blair wasn’t selected in the 2020 NFL draft and didn’t play in the NFL this past year. The Packers signed him to a reserve/futures contract on 8th January 2021.
As an aside, Blair played his college ball at Alcorn State – the same school that produced Donald Driver.
No Longer With the Team
Darrius Shepherd played in 6 games for the Packers in 2019 (1 reception, 2 punt returns, 9 kick-off returns) and was very much expected to compete for the no.6 wide receiver spot on the depth chart when the team signed him to a contract for 2020. And so it proved. Shepherd remained with the team until the final cutdown to the 53 man roster on 5th September when he was waived – missing out on a roster spot to the somewhat surprising Malik Taylor.
But that wasn’t the end of the story. Shepherd was signed to the Packers Practice Squad on 6th September and then promoted to the full 53 man roster about 3 weeks later.
Shepherd played in 8 games (0 starts) for the Packers in 2020, mostly on special teams but he did play a little on offense (139 snaps) catching 5 passes for 46 yards, with a long of 19 yards. Shepherd also had 1 punt return for 6 yards and 11 kick-off returns at an average of 20.6 yards per return. He had assumed the primary punt and kick-off return duties when Tyler Ervin went down injured but unfortunately for Shepherd, perhaps his biggest play of the season was a fumble on a kick-off return that he lost against the Colts in Week 11 – a fumble that contributed to the Packers eventual loss in that game.
That fumble almost certainly directly led to Shepherd being released after week 12 (on 1st December) – he was replaced on the roster by Tavon Austin.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Shepherd competing for a wide receiver job for an NFL team in 2021, although that probably won’t be with the Packers.
The Packers signed Caleb Scott, who had previously spent time on the Seahawks Practice Squad, to their Practice Squad in late September. However, the Packers released him after a week. There is no reason to suspect that he’ll be back with the team in 2021.
Not to be confused with Malik Taylor, Malik Turner was signed on 12th August, replacing S Frankie Griffin on the off-season roster. Turner had previously had a spell with the Seahawks (2018-19) and was in camp with the Packers in 2018. Turner again failed to make the team with the Packers this time around and was waived at final cutdown to the 53 man roster on 5th September.
Turner was picked up by the Dallas Cowboys with whom he remained for the whole of the 2020 season – seeing action in 6 games.
Robert Foster played with the Buffalo Bills, albeit sparingly, in both 2018 and 2019 before being released at the final roster cutdown in September 2020. The Packers subsequently picked Foster up and signed him to their Practice Squad on 9th September. In October, Washington signed him to their active roster off the Packers Practice Squad. Foster ended up with 2 catches for 37 yards for the Washington Football Team.
Lipscomb went unselected in the 2020 draft and was signed by the Chiefs back in April. He didn’t make their 53 man roster and after a short spell on their Practice Squad Lipscomb was released. The Packers signed him to their Practice Squad on 13th October but released him just a week later.
Fan favourite Kumerow played 2 seasons for the Packers (2018-19), catching 20 passes and he went into 2020 in a battle for one of the final roster spots at wide receiver. This time around Kumerow didn’t quite make it – losing out to Malik Taylor in a mild surprise and being cut at the final cutdown to the 53 man roster on 5th September.
Having been let go by Green Bay, Kumerow was first picked up by Buffalo and then later by New Orleans. After the end of the season he signed a contract for 2021 to return to the Buffalo Bills.
Having been drafted by the Lions and seeing a little playing time with them in 2019 before being waived in August 2020. The Packers claimed him of waivers, not least because of his size (6-2, 215) which seemed to fit the prototypical size of the current Packers receiving corps.
However, Fulgham didn’t stick with Green Bay very long – with the Packers releasing him after just 9 days.
Fulgham was later picked up by the Philadelphia Eagles and had a decent year, playing in 13 games and catching 38 passes for 539 yards, with 4 touchdowns.
Darrell Stewart Jr.
After a good career at Michigan State (150 receptions), Stewart went unselected in the 2020 draft before being signed by the Packers as an unrestricted free agent on 29th April. But Stewart was part of a congested race for a spot on the roster and missed out when he was waived on 15th August.
He later spent a little bit of time with the Carolina Panthers but failed to earn a roster spot.
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