GREEN BAY, Wis. – It happens every spring leading into the NFL draft: A team loses a key starter and the mock drafts have that team taking a player at that position.
So it makes sense that many want to pair the Green Bay Packers with a receiver, especially one versatile enough to play inside and on the perimeter, after longtime slot man Randall Cobb left in free agency to sign with the Dallas Cowboys.
But it might not make sense to the Packers with either of their first-round picks, No. 12 or No. 30.
In fact, there’s a growing sense that those in the decision-making positions don’t believe receiver is in the top four needs from this draft.
While Pro Bowler Davante Adams remains the only proven receiver on the roster, it’s may be overloaded with possibilities. From the return of Geronimo Allison from an abdominal injury that cut short his potential breakout season last year to the trio of 2018 draft picks -- J'Mon Moore (fourth round), Marquez Valdes-Scantling (fifth) and Equanimeous St. Brown (sixth) -- to fan-favorite Jake Kumerow, it’s a group that’s long on length with only Adams standing shorter than 6-foot-3.
“I’m excited; this is certainly one of the longer receiving corps I’ve had a chance to work with,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said earlier this offseason. “There’s still so many things to like about them. Davante, he can do it all. All those young guys can run and can really take the top off. That’s an important piece to our offense. We’re always trying to stretch the field vertically with our three-level throws, not necessarily throwing the top level, but you’ve got to have somebody with speed to get down there and make sure you’re clearing out the defense to open up those deep crossing routes and try to get those explosive plays.
"There’s a lot of versatility within our receiving corps that we have already. And then getting Geronimo back from injury, how he responds is going to be critical because he’s another guy that has a lot of flexibility to play inside or outside. Davante is the same way.”
Of course, it all could be a smoke screen and general manager Brian Gutekunst could take Mississippi receiver D.K. Metcalf at No. 12 and Iowa tight end Noah Fant at 30 like ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper suggested or Oklahoma receiver Marquise Brown at 12 and Alabama tight end Irv Smith Jr. at 30 like fellow ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay suggested.
But indications are that defensive tackle and offensive tackle are the priorities heading into this draft, along with safety and tight end. That’s even after Gutekunst signed three key defensive free agents (edge pass-rushers Preston Smith and Za'Darius Smith plus safety Adrian Amos) and offensive lineman Billy Turner, a possible starter at right guard or right tackle.
The key to the receiver spot might be Adams, who already has embraced the idea of splitting time between the slot and on the outside.
Of his 111 receptions last season, only 26 came from the slot (13 from each side), according to ESPN Stats & Information. The other 85 -- 60 from wide left and 25 from wide right -- came from the outside.
That could change in LaFleur’s offense.
“I think that's something that Matt is definitely looking forward to having me do, and I'm definitely looking forward to doing the same thing,” Adams said when the offseason program opened last week. “I think the versatility is putting these defenses in a bind as far as coverages they can play and guys they can match with. Not everyone is going to want to put a certain, may not want to travel so-and-so with me inside. If that will take their No. 1 off me, and I can get some mismatches maybe on the back or the safety or anybody else, I think that is beneficial.”
Neither Adams nor anyone else on the roster fits the prototypical slot build. The 5-10, 192-pound Cobb caught 78.9 percent of his career passes out of the slot (371 out of 470), according to ESPN Stats & Information, including 34 of his 38 catches last season. The only player who came close to that kind of a percentage last season was Valdes-Scantling, who had exactly half of his 38 receptions from the slot. That’s unusual for a 6-4, 206-pound receiver who was more of a deep threat. St. Brown caught five of his 21 passes from the slot and Allison had three of his 17.
“It will be a lot different; we’ve relied on him for years as that slot guy,” Aaron Rodgers said of Cobb. “The one thing that’s definitely there is an opportunity. Who’s going to be that guy to take over the slot role? Obviously, the abilities of Davante we can move him around anywhere, he can play outside, off the ball, on the ball, in the slot. In these offenses you’re seeing run in L.A., San Fran, Atlanta, Matt in Tennessee and now here, those guys all had slot guys who can really go. So we need to find who that guy is.”