Excluding Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, wide receiver Davante Adams is the Packers best offensive weapon. Adams displayed what he is capable of doing in the Packers 34-27 loss against the Philadelphia Eagles last Thursday. Adams hauled in 10 passes for 180 yards with an eye-popping 18 yards per catch average. Prior to last week, Adams had only 15 catches for 198 yards. Adams production against the Eagles appeared to show that Adams had moved past his early-season slump. But unfortunately for Adams and the Packers offense, he went down with a turf toe injury in the fourth quarter. The injury appears to be severe enough that Adams will miss a good amount of time. Now, head coach and offensive play-caller, Matt LaFleur will not only need to find somebody to replace Adams production, but also Adams veteran leadership. While it is a long shot, there is a veteran pass-catcher on the Packers roster who will be looked at to fill both spots for the Packers. With Adams out, veteran tight end Jimmy Graham will need to finally step up.
Jimmy Graham Needs to Pick Up the Slack
In March of 2018, the Packers made two big moves to their pass-catching group. They cut ties with longtime Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson. Not only was Nelson a productive receiver for the Packers, but he was also a favorite target of Rodgers. With Nelson departing, the Packers signed Jimmy Graham to a three-year contract.
With signing Jimmy Graham, Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst was hoping to give Rodgers a pass-catching threat at the tight end position. It wasn’t a farfetched idea that Graham could fill that role, a role that hadn’t been productive since Jermichael Finley held it. In 2017 with the Seattle Seahawks, Graham hauled in 57 catches for 520 yards and 10 touchdown receptions.
While the speed that made Graham an elite tight end while he was with the New Orleans Saints earlier in his career appeared to be gone, he was still a big target, especially in the red zone. But that elite red-zone production he once had with the Saints and the Seahawks has yet to appear for the Packers. In his first season with the Packers, he only hauled in two touchdown receptions. He does have two touchdown receptions so far this season, however, he has had more opportunities for more, but has let it slip through his hands.
Scheme to Succeed
Aaron Rodgers believes in pass catchers that know their jobs. That is one of the biggest reasons Rodgers leans on Adams. He has a trust with Adams and knows he can depend on him. Rodgers has shown that he has the same type of confidence in Jimmy Graham. Last week against the Eagles, Graham was targeted nine times catching six of them for 61 yards and a touchdown reception. Rodgers appears to still have confidence in Graham, something that can’t be taken lightly.
If Jimmy Graham is going to fill the role of Adams, he will need to be put in the best position possible to succeed. He was never known for his blocking ability. Even with the Saints, Graham was never confused with legendary tight end blocker Mark Bavaro. But as he has gotten older, his blocking has gotten even worse. If Graham is going to be productive, it will need to come in the passing game, not in the blocking scheme. LaFleur and offensive coordinator Nathanial Hackett will need to scheme it where Graham won’t be called on to block, at any point. That might give fellow tight end Marcedes Lewis more playing time. Lewis is 36, but still is superior to Graham when it comes to blocking.
He will also need to get help from the younger wide receivers, especially Marquez Valdes-Scantling. Valdes-Scantling is a burner and can take the top off an opposing defense. If MVS is able to clear out space, that might give Graham space to work. Packers fans saw a glimpse of this last week against the Eagles. Graham isn’t the deep middle threat he once was, but at 6’7″ he is still a big target, something that could benefit the Packers passing attack.
Possibly his Last Chance as a Packer
Losing a talent like Adams is never a good thing, especially for the Packers who faced a lot of questions going into this season about their wide receiver depth and talent. But for Jimmy Graham, it gives him a chance, possibly his final chance, to show that he can help out a team’s offense.
Gutekunst has faced a lot of criticism in regards to Graham. First, it was signing him to replace Nelson’s production prior to the 2018 season. Then, it was his decision to keep him this off-season. The criticism is well deserved, Graham hasn’t lived up to the contract he has signed.
But with Adams out and the Packers in dire need of a veteran pass catcher, it will give Graham a chance to show he still has something left in the tank. The Packers need for him to produce and for Graham’s roster status, he needs to produce as well.