The Green Bay Packers have had a very busy off-season, between hiring a new HC, going big in free agency and the arrival of their rookie class, there is a ton of new talent on this team. Most of the off-season was spent addressing the defensive side of the ball with three free agent signings and five of their eight draft picks used on defense. The defense looks like it could be elite, but what did they do for the offense?
One spot that many expected the Packers to address during the off-season was wide receiver. With longtime Packers like Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb both no longer with the team, the WR room hasn’t looked this empty in awhile.
It’s safe to say that the top two WR spots on the team are already occupied by Davante Adams and Geronimo Allison, but what about the slot? The slot WR is becoming more and more vital to offenses everywhere. Having a guy in the middle of the field that you can trust, especially on 3rd downs, is so key for a QB’s success.
When you look at the Packers WR depth chart, there is no clear cut “slot guy”. Marquez Valdez-Scantling and Equanemeous St. Brown are 6’4 and 6’5 respectively, not exactly your stereotypical slot options. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The smaller WR’s running over the middle of the field tend to be the ones who spend a lot more time injured than playing (Randall Cobb). I think either one of MVS or EQ could be successful in the slot, but who cares what I think, it’s what HC Matt Lafleur is gonna do that matters. Let’s dive in a little and see if we can find any clues as to who will be lining up in the slot come Week 1.
The case for Scantling
As a rookie, Marquez Valdez-Scantling was thrust into a much more prominent role than expected out of a 5th round pick. Luckily for Green Bay, he pleasantly surprised everyone, while showing some real potential in the process. He went on to finish the season with 38 catches for 581 yards and 2 TD’s. Those may not seem like jaw-dropping numbers but it’s a lot more about what he showed he can become than what he actually produced last season.
One thing that obviously sticks out about MVS is his blazing speed. He ran a 4.37 at the 2018 NFL combine which was good enough to finish 2nd among all WR’s that year. We saw him put that speed to good use a number of times last year burning defensive backs on his way to 40+ yard gains.
A few plays that stuck out were in some of the biggest games of the year. In Week 8 against the Rams, he caught a 40 yard TD in the 4th quarter to take the lead. The very next week, he burnt Patriots safety Jason McCourty for a gain of 52 on a beautiful post route. His speed is something I think Lafleur is going to love to utilize in space.
Looking at Scantling’s full body of work, he does seem more suited for the outside but has also shown he can be a difference maker in the slot. It’s all going to come down to Lafleur and how he envisions using Scantling’s elite speed. If he wants to use that speed vertically then I doubt MVS spends too much time in the slot. But speed like that can be very useful over the middle as well, forcing DB’s to chase after him all game is a headache that no DC wants to deal with. Either way, it’ll be interesting to see just how Lafleur plans on utilizing Scantling and his game-changing speed.
The case for St. Brown
Former 6th round pick, Equanimeous St. Brown had a quiet rookie year for the Packers recording 21 catches for 328 yards and zero TD’s. If you look only at the numbers, it may seem like Brown isn’t capable of being a relied upon WR in the Packers offense but I think you need to dig a little deeper.
In his rookie season, Brown only saw a third of the offensive snaps which is why his numbers were so low. Given the opportunity, I think Brown could excel in a Matt Lafleur led offense. He has the size and speed to play from both the outside and in the slot while also having great run after catch ability. These traits are exactly what every team is looking for in a WR, versatility and playmaking ability, Brown has both.
If you take a look back at last season, you’ll see that Brown showed a lot more potential than his stats might dictate. A play that I’m sure sticks out in everyone’s mind is the 3rd down catch he made late against the 49ers in that Monday night thriller.
On this play, he lines up on the outside but his positioning isn’t what matters here, it’s the trust that Rodgers showed in him. Late in the game in a must-have situation, Rodgers went with his patented back shoulder throw to a 6th round rookie WR. That is not a throw you make if you don’t have complete trust in your guy. Of course Brown went on to make a beautiful fingertip catch while reaching back on the sideline to set up the Packers for the game-winning field goal.
It’s plays like these that are milestones for a WR in Aaron Rodger’s offense. As I mentioned earlier, trust is a huge key for Rodgers when it comes to who his top targets are and gaining that trust as a rookie is massive for Brown.
Similarly to Scantling, St. Brown isn’t exactly what you envision when you think about a slot WR but that shouldn’t matter all that much to Lafleur. He knows with a QB like Rodgers he just needs to put together the right scheme and this offense should be unstoppable.
I really could see this go either way but my gut is telling me EQ is going to end up in the slot. He is a cleaner route runner which lends itself to the slot more while Scantling has burning speed that could be a nightmare to cover outside the numbers. In conclusion, Matt Lafleur has two very young and very valuable assets at his disposal, all we can do now is hope he puts them in the best position to succeed.
If you don’t see your top option here please let me know in the comments who you think should be lining up in the slot for the Packers come Week 1.