Despite ending last season with only one wide receiver catching more than 35 passes, general manager Brian Gutekunst decided to bypass the position in the draft. His only addition was free agent Devin Funchess, who chose to opt-out due to Covid-19 earlier in the week. That leaves the Packers with essentially the same group as a year ago. The only difference was that a year ago Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Geronimo Allison were seen as potential difference-makers, and now the former is almost an afterthought and the latter is in Detroit.
The unexpected departure of Funchess leaves former CFL star Reggie Begelton as the most significant addition of the offseason. Let that sink in for a minute. It’s difficult to imagine Gutekunst not acquiring a veteran at some point between now and opening week, but who that might be is anybody’s guess. Some useful receivers figure to become available toward the end of the month, but if Gutekunst doesn’t want to wait that long, there are some players available right now who might be able to help. The following are my top 6:
1) JOSH GORDON
The 29-year-old is easily the best available wide receiver, but would Gutekunst and coach Matt LaFleur be willing to sign a player who’s been suspended five times for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy? The answer is probably no. Still, Gordon doesn’t have a bad reputation around the league. He’s generally viewed as a hard worker and a good teammate, and despite all of his off the field troubles, he’s still a talented player. He’s caught 68 passes for 1,162 yards and five touchdowns in 23 games over the past two seasons. And while he’s no longer the dynamic athlete who caught 87 passes for 1,646 yards and nine touchdowns in 2013, he’d still be Green Bay’s second-best wide receiver the minute he signed. Heck, he’d be Green Bay’s second-best wide receiver if he ran his routes with a big ol’ joint hanging out of his mouth.
2) TAYLOR GABRIEL
Signing the 29-year-old has seemed like a no-brainer for months. Gabriel was together with LaFleur in Atlanta, and he’d provide the type of quick slot receiver the team hasn’t had since Randall Cobb left for Dallas in March 2019. But given a choice, Gutekunst preferred Funchess. That’s not a surprise given his predilection for size at the position. Of the five wide receivers he’s either signed or drafted since taking over as GM in 2018, all were at least 6-foot-3. Gabriel stands 5-foot-7. The other reason for the lack of interest might be his history of concussions. At least five have been documented, including a pair last season.
3) DEMARYIUS THOMAS
The 32-year-old is a few years removed from his prime, but he’s still a pretty good player. Thomas caught 36 passes for 433 in 11 games with the Jets last season, and while that’s a far cry from his halcyon days in Denver, those numbers would’ve made him the second most productive wide receiver on the Packers. We all know how difficult it is for young skill players to earn the trust of Aaron Rodgers, so why not give him another veteran target? Thomas won’t blow by cornerbacks, but he runs clever routes and finds ways to get open. And let’s be honest, with the game on the line and the offense needing to convert a 3rd and 10, would you rather have Thomas or anybody not named Davante Adams or Allen Lazard running that slant?
4) JUSTIN HARDY
The 28-year-old isn’t nearly as talented as Gordon or even Gabriel, but he’s probably a more realistic option for the Packers because he’d come minus the character and health concerns. Hardy, who also has a history with LaFleur, has never caught more than 21 passes in a season, but he played behind a lot of very talented wide receivers in Atlanta. And while it’s fair to question whether he’d be any better than Valdes-Scantling or Equanimeous St. Brown, what’s the harm in letting him come in and compete? At best, he’d be the team’s third or fourth wide receiver. At worst, he’d push the younger players in training camp.
5) PAUL RICHARDSON
The 28-year-old put up solid numbers with Seattle in 2017 (44 catches for 703 yards and 6 touchdowns), but he struggled the past two seasons in Washington. To be fair, it isn’t easy being a wide receiver when Josh Johnson, Colt McCoy, Mark Sanchez, Case Keenum, and raw rookie Dwayne Haskins are throwing you the ball. Perhaps playing with a future Hall of Famer will get Richardson’s career back on track. And while he’ll never be the most refined route runner, he does have legit speed. That’s something missing from the Packers’ offense, especially if Valdes-Scantling’s downward spiral that began last November continues.
6) CHRIS HOGAN
The 31-year-old missed nine games for the Panthers last season due to a knee injury, but he was a productive role player for the Patriots from 2016 to 2018. While Hogan isn’t a great athlete, he runs precise routes and is sneaky fast. Those traits enabled him to lead the league in yards per catch (17.9) in ’16. He also has a connection to offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett from their time together with the Bills. Signing Hogan wouldn’t be an exciting addition, but if healthy, he could be a pretty nice fit in Green Bay.