Three reasons why No. 13 will be Green Bay’s second-leading receiver in 2020
The Packers inability/refusal to come away with a wide receiver in the recently-concluded draft has many Cheeseheads openly wondering who will rise and give undisputed go-to guy Davante Adams some much-needed support?
The answer — hopefully — is that more than one of the current weapons on the roster step up their game and provide Aaron Rodgers with a cornucopia of options when he drops back and fires.
The 2019 season revealed that Marquez Valdes-Scantling, while big and fleet of foot, dropped as many balls as he caught and progressively disappeared from the game plan during the second half.
Former Packer Geronimo Allison was ill-suited to fill in as a slot receiver and developed a habit of bobbling or flat-out losing his grip on the ball on a number of almost grabs.
Enter Devin Funchess, a former second round pick who at 6’4”, 236 pounds brings intriguing body control and run-after-catch ability to the mix. But what the converted tight end hasn’t been able to supply in his two previous NFL stops is sure-handedness, as evidenced by his career 51.8 percent catch rate. To boot, Funchess ranked 96th among 109 qualifying receivers in 2018 — the last time he was healthy — with 12 percent drop rate, per Pro Football Focus. In all fairness, however, how the coaching staff ends up using the free-agent addition (i.e. as more of an inside receiver than perimeter target) may end up being the determining factor in whether the journeyman earns a second contract from the Green and Gold.
As for the other young hopefuls vying for roster spots, Equanimeous St. Brown, Malik Taylor and Reggie Begelton are relative unknowns in terms of how they fit in due to little to no reps they’ve had thus far with Rodgers and the rest of the offense. Jake Kumerow, on the other hand, is one of those perennial training camp all-stars who stumbles his way into new injuries.
The wideout the team will most likely bank on serving as Robin to Adams’ Batman is third-year pro Allen Lazard.
The 6’5” undrafted free agent couldn’t even make the active roster last season until Jace Sternberger’s IR placement opened up a spot for him in early September. And though Rodgers was quick to praise Lazard’s work ethic and progress, the young dark horse didn’t make his first catch until Green Bay’s come-from-behind Monday night win over the Lions in Week 6.
It turned out to be a story of an improbable character teaming up with AR12 to defy the odds and spearhead a golden division victory in a standalone primetime matchup.
On the day, Lazard caught 4 balls for 65 yards, including a 35-yard touchdown that saw the defiant competitor outmuscle Justin Coleman for the pass along the left sideline, secure the ball as it was slipping through his arms and absorb the impact of his opponent landing on top of him as they crossed the goal line.
At long last, Lazard proved to the world that he belonged in the NFL and in the remaining weeks of the season, Iowa State’s all-time leading receiver did nothing to dispel the notion that he is here to stay. In fact, despite his late start, the Big XII product was the Packers second-leading receiver with 477 yards.
The results should speak for themselves. But for the non-believers who prefer to think of Lazard as a feel-good flash in the pan, here are three reasons why this long shot should remain in the starting lineup.
Rodgers, like many other veteran distributors in the league, will only look for teammates he can trust when operating the offense.
Lazard has earned that trust by going full speed and selling out in practice. He came ready to work on a consistent basis, which earned him the attention of his coaches and teammates early on.
His hunger stems from a lingering resentment of being overlooked by 32 NFL teams during the draft in 2018. In a televised interview with Lindsay Rhodes of the NFL Network, Lazard explained: “I felt like, especially getting undrafted, I felt very disrespected, and I would go to prove out to everyone else that I can play in this league.”
As part of his mission to carve out a role with the team, Lazard peppered Adams and other veterans like Jimmy Graham with questions on the nuances of running routes. More importantly he listened to instructions from Rodgers on how No. 12 wants those patterns executed.
Lazard made such an impact on his quarterback that Rodgers openly campaigned Matt LaFleur to afford the eager pass catcher with some well-earned game reps.
Packer backers in need of refresher are invited to see why Rodgers increasingly zeroed in on No. 13 as the season wore on.
Lazard was always in constant movement, working his way back top the ball to give his quarterback an opening to fit the ball through.
What the 24-year-old learned from Adams is how to go off-script when the designed route doesn’t result in getting you wide open. Though Lazard doesn’t have the smooth head and shoulder fakes his fellow wideout often uses to beat coverage, he knows how to quickly transition to plans B, C or D if things go awry.
The young baller’s awareness can also be appreciated in how he always seems to recognize where the first-down marker is. Whether it’s getting to the right spot or fighting for those extra few yards, Lazard finds a way to keep the chains moving.
Lazard’s balls-to-the-walls mentality may be the one trait Rodgers treasures the most, particularly when looking for his big target in traffic.
The second-generation athlete has been around football all his life and shying away from contact just isn’t in his DNA.
No play exemplifies the ascending pro’s indomitable spirit than a 19-yard completion in the NFC Championship loss to the 49ers. On the play, Lazard pulls in the Rodgers pass on an in-breaking route and blasts into safety Jimmie Ward, who flips the receiver head over heels in a WWE-style back-body drop. The ball — amazingly — never hit the ground.
The former two-time First Team All-Big 12 student athlete routinely uses his large frame to elevate and shield defenders while high-pointing the ball. Oftentimes, he’ll get after this kind of throw (see Week 7 win over the Raiders) when he’s fully aware of the oncoming hit that’s waiting for him on his way down to the turf.
It’s always a 12-round slugfest for any defender who matches up with Lazard, who has no reservations about hand fighting defensive backs off his release or engaging opponents as a blocker on run plays.
Most of all, Rodgers knows he can rely on his relentless weapon to dive for balls outside of his frame or dig out low passes all in the name of gaining tough yards that will eventually lead to points and ultimately wins.
Lazard is a winner and he’s on the fast track of becoming a primary mainstay in Green Bay’s offense.