The Packers don’t have a No. 1 or even a No. 2 wide receiver, and at least until Robert Tonyan returns from a serious knee suffered last November, they also don’t possess a starting-caliber tight end. Fortunately, none of this will be a problem in the regular season. With a solid line, two good running backs, and most of all, a 4-time MVP quarterback, scoring points won’t be an issue against the multitude of average and below-average defenses that dominate the 2022 schedule.
So get ready for another four months of listening to talking heads tell you how silly you were for worrying about the “lack of talent” at tight end and especially wide receiver as the Packers light up the scoreboard and win another 13 games from September through December. And then get ready for those same blowhards to say nothing when the offense can’t pick up a yard on consecutive fourth-quarter possessions in the NFC Championship Game, or even worse, scores three points in the final 54 minutes in the divisional round. Because that’s what’s likely to happen if general manager Brian Gutekunst doesn’t acquire a quality wide receiver between now and when the playoffs begin next January.
While the past decade has proven that a team doesn’t need an All-Pro wide receiver to win the Super Bowl, no team has hoisted the Lombardi Trophy with Allen Lazard or Sammy Watkins as its No. 1 weapon. And the few teams that didn’t have an elite wide receiver (Baltimore, Seattle, and Philadelphia) all had a tight end much better than Tonyan. Plus, two of those teams (Baltimore and Seattle) boasted defenses that would be considered among the best in the history of the NFL.
|2012||Ravens||Anquan Boldin & Torrey Smith|
|2013||Seahawks||Doug Baldwin & Golden Tate|
|2014||Patriots||Julian Edelman & Rob Gronkowski|
|2015||Broncos||Demaryius Thomas & Emmanuel Sanders|
|2016||Patriots||Julian Edelman & Martellus Bennett|
|2017||Eagles||Alshon Jeffery & Zach Ertz|
|2018||Patriots||Julian Edelman & Rob Gronkowski|
|2019||Chiefs||Tyreek Hill & Travis Kelce|
|2020||Buccaneers||Mike Evans & Chris Godwin|
|2021||Rams||Cooper Kupp & Odell Beckham Jr.|
Simply put, the current collection of wide receivers isn’t going to be good enough come the postseason. Again. Even with five-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro Davante Adams, the Packers struggled to score points against Tampa Bay in 2020 and San Francisco in 2021. Both defensive coordinators (Todd Bowles and DeMeco Ryans, respectively) played the exact same way; they rushed four, dropped seven into coverage, doubled Adams all over the field, and felt extremely confident that their other five defenders could cover Green Bay’s other three or four receivers. They were right.
In the top video, only Josiah Deguara (#81), who leaked out into the flat, was open, and the 49ers had a defender (free safety Jimmie Ward) close enough to keep the second-year tight end from getting the first down. In the above video, only Aaron Jones (#33) was open, and once again, the 49ers had a defender (linebacker Dre Greenlaw) close enough to keep the Pro Bowl running back from getting into the end zone. These were only two of 34 snaps, but for the most part, this is what Aaron Rodgers saw all game when he dropped back to pass. His first two or three reads were very rarely available.
While Rodgers and a good scheme from coach and play-caller Matt LaFleur will usually compensate for a shortage of talent at wide receiver in the regular season, that combination won’t be enough to get through two or three, or even four high-quality defenses in the playoffs. In January, talent supersedes everything else, and the Packers are lacking right now.
One caveat would be North Dakota State rookie Christian Watson overcoming all odds and becoming a standout in year one. Is this possible? Yes, but it’s highly unlikely. So is the other caveat – the defense making the jump from pretty good to outstanding in its second season under Joe Barry. Sure, Rich Strike proved last Saturday that anything is possible in sports, but that 3-year-old horse didn’t have to beat press coverage at the line of scrimmage and then get open against quality corners.
If Gutekunst wants to add a veteran prior to the start of training camp but doesn’t want to give up a high draft pick and/or take on a hefty salary, some fairly appealing options are still available. Jarvis Landry and Cole Beasley are crafty possession receivers who know how to get open on third down and in the red zone. A similar player might’ve been the difference in the last two postseason losses. Gutekunst could also take a chance on Julio Jones or Will Fuller. Sure, that would be adding another injury risk to Watkins and Randall Cobb, but maybe one of them would still be standing come January.
Gutekunst must add another legitimate weapon to the receiving corps. He can’t replace Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling with Watkins and Watson and expect that to be good enough when it really matters. The move can happen now or at any time up to trade deadline in early November, but it needs to occur, and it needs to be fairly significant. Otherwise, the 2022 season will end the same as the two that preceded it – with the Packers being let down by their offense.