Nobody who follows college football, specifically the Big 12, is surprised that Allen Lazard is making a name for himself in the NFL.
Lazard used his massive, 6-foot-5 frame to bully Big 12 defensive backs for years, putting up fantastic numbers for an Iowa State program that was just entering the successful stretch it’s currently in (the Cyclones won eight games in Lazard’s first three seasons combined, then won eight in his senior season).
College stars don’t always find success in the pros, though, especially not when you’re at the bottom of the totem pole from the moment you sign on the dotted line. That’s where Lazard found himself when he initially signed with the Green Bay Packers late in 2018 directly from the Jacksonville Jaguars’ practice squad.
He started 2019 in that same spot with Green Bay, on the practice squad, before be activated right before opening day. Despite few opportunities early on, he’s emerged as a key contributor for the Packers’ offense since Davante Adams suffered a toe injury in Week 4.
Losing Adams was an obvious blow to Green Bay, considering he’s one of the premier wide receivers in the game, one with route running so crisp it literally brings tears to the eyes of NFL legends. It hurt quarterback Aaron Rodgers, too, because Adams is clearly his most trusted target.
To call it a good thing that Adams has missed substantial time is a misguided hot take. You should always want your best players on the field as much as possible. The Packers or any other team are better when their best players are available.
However, there is a blessing in disguise in pressing new, young and inexperienced guys into service. Lazard is a prime example of that, although he’s not the only one.
Lazard has 12 grabs for 149 yards and a score this year, but more importantly has been trusted in multiple key situations over the past quarter of the season. He came up in multiple key moments against the Lions, then made several plays in crunch time against the Chiefs in Week 8.
He’s always had the size and the talent. Now that he’s seen the field more he’s developing more trust and a stronger rapport with Rodgers. That’s invaluable.
Allen Lazard entered last night with one career catch. Aaron Rodgers asked coaches to put him in during the fourth quarter.
Lazard caught four balls for 65 yards and a TD to spark the comeback win.
“I’m made for this s–t.” pic.twitter.com/f3VtNQGp8F
— B/R Gridiron (@brgridiron) October 15, 2019
Look up and down the receiving group currently and you’ll find guys who have stepped up when called upon. Jake Kumerow made an excellent catch going to the ground on third and long against Kansas City. Marquez Valdes-Scantling has been the de facto No. 1 in place of Adams and, while he’s been somewhat hot and cold in terms of stats, has shown why he’s so valuable with a couple of explosive plays, specifically in a win over Oakland.
That’s all before even touching on Aaron Jones, who has gone from the lead back in a running back committee to one of the best all-purpose weapons in the NFL. He’s continued to make plays on the ground, but his ability as a receiver has completely changed how defenses need to prepare for Green Bay.
Making the best of a depleted wide receivers group is nothing new for Aaron Rodgers, of course. In 2015, without Jordy Nelson for the entire season, Rodgers dragged a group that included an old James Jones, Jared Abbrederis and Jeff Janis to a playoff victory and the brink of another thanks to two miracle passes. He’s faced this specific type of adversity before.
Now, with a coach who’s found a groove and one of the best defenses he’s had in his career, Rodgers has been able to play some of his best football in recent memory without his best receiver.
That said, while the quarterback deserves a ton of credit, his receivers deserve their share, too. Without that group’s leader they have risen to the occasion. Now, with the second half of the season and a playoff run in sight, there’s as much reason as ever to have confidence in the pass catchers behind Adams on the depth chart.