Has anyone made a GIF of Matt LaFleur’s face on Russell Crowe’s Gladiator asking “Are you not entertained” yet?
It has to exist, right?
I mean, “Why didn’t the Packers draft a wide receiver?” was one of the most commonly asked questions by Packers fans, and television talking heads, this offseason from late April to early September. Everyone questioned Head Coach LaFleur and General Manager Brian Gutekunst.
Yet here we are.
Beyond the 2-0 record, the answer to that popular question is actually quite simple.
The wide receivers the Packers have on the roster are more than adequate for this offense’s system. Their skills, combined with the Packers’ emphasis on tight ends helping in the running game, is exactly why wide receiver wasn’t the focus of the 2020 NFL Draft. Instead, running back and tight end were the clear focus for Green Bay.
For a team that was supposedly short on talent at wide receiver, strong at running back, and seemingly deep at tight end the Packers’ 2020 Draft may have seemed unintelligent.
However, it’s the offensive scheme that makes everything make sense. To the savvy football mind, this strategy was always clear. The Packers are utilizing tight ends to block more and block more creatively in 2020. That is directly resulting in a stronger running attack this season. That, in turn, is creating better matchups for the young wide receivers that are already on the roster.
General Manager Brian Gutekunst completely bought into Matt LaFleur’s system and has given him the players he needs to make his offense go.
There isn’t room for four to five high-contributing wide receivers like there was in the days of Mike McCarthy’s Packers. That offense relied on spreading out the defense, depending on chemistry and a younger Aaron Rodgers throwing the ball all over the field.
With Matt LaFleur’s Packers, everything is based off of the running game and rhythm in the passing game. LaFleur only needs one to three wide receivers at any given moment within a game to attack the defense. In fact, the Packers haven’t drafted a wide receiver in two years because of LaFleur’s system.
Check Out This Fact: From 2005-2018 the Packers averaged 1.42 WRs per NFL Draft. Since LaFleur has taken over the Packers have drafted zero wide receivers. They have drafted a combined four tight ends and running backs in the last two years.
The “why” about not drafting wide receivers makes a lot more sense when you understand the “what” regarding LaFleur’s offense. What his Packers need to do is run the ball with consistency and creativity. And they’ve accomplished that through the first two weeks of the 2020 season, using their plethora of tight ends and multiple reliable backs. And that’s why the Packers didn’t need to add young wide receivers to the roster.
This isn’t to say that Aaron Rodgers will put up less passing statistics this year, as it seems that he might be poised to put up much better stats in 2020 than he has in recent years (including the last few McCarthy years). But this offense will likely also put up many more rushing yards, too.
And that’s the point: the whole offense will be better this year despite not addressing wide receiver in the draft.
When LaFleur’s system is humming, the defense never knows what to expect next. The runs are better because the defense is hesitant and focusing on motions and seemingly complex formations and play calls. The passes are better because the defense is scared to death of the run. The throws, when they do come, come in rhythm. And the whole thing just snowballs on itself until the Packers have hung a 40-spot on the scoreboard.
With this offense, there are simply more yards to be had game-in and game-out. And they’re currently leading the NFL in yards gained. When you have one of the greatest all-time quarterbacks and a reliable kicker, yards gained equal points more often than not. It’s clear the Packers’ plan to let up less points this year is to possess the ball more. The best defense is a good ball-controlling offense, right?
In this offense, even though fewer wide receivers touch the ball throughout the game, more offensive players end up touching–and catching–the ball.
“But they still could have added a rookie wide receiver weapon!”
Okay, lets give two reasons as to why they didn’t draft a wide receiver shall we?
Number 1: This offense demands four tight ends to be used frequently. That used to be an abnormality in Green Bay, but it isn’t uncommon for this offense to feature two tight ends in the game in most situations. They’re obviously there to block, but LaFleur is expecting them to be major receiving threats, too. That diversity in attack is the hallmark of this offense.
Now factor in the COVID-19 impact of having to keep three quarterbacks on the active roster because of a potential outbreak. There just aren’t the spots left on the 53-man roster to keep seven wide receivers like the Packers often used to.
This team is also blessed with a return specialist in Tyler Swervin’ Ervin. Having a guy like him, who essentially doubles as a running back and wide receiver, clearly left the front office comfortable with the guys already in the room.
Number 2: The Packers stayed true to their “best player available” philosophy when it came to the draft. They moved up to draft Jordan Love, the best player on their board. Simply put, in the first three rounds the Packers didn’t see a wide receiver as the best player available when they were on the clock.
This became clearly evident in the third round when the Packers selected TE Josiah Deguara. It may have seemed like they drafted for a need as some called this pick a reach. However on further review, considering the NFL is currently being dominated by George Kittle and Travis Kelce, maybe Deguara actually was the best player available at the time. LaFleur clearly sees him playing a major role this season and beyond. The kid looks the part and has huge upside. What we do know is the Packers improved their team with that pick.
Deguara is one of the guys that is taking receptions away from would-be fourth and fifth receivers. But he may also be the best blocker on the team, too. He is the perfect LaFleur player as he helps the offense be more complex and unpredictable. It’s undeniable that him coming out of the backfield makes the Packers’ attack more diverse; we hope opposing defenses will continue to be left confused. Backup TE-FB hybrid John Lovett can fulfill that role in a pinch, but he’s not the same caliber of athlete as Deguara.
The Packers’ second round pick A.J. Dillon is an athletic freak that will be a big-time player in this league. Again, he must have been the best player available according to their board. Plus, the Packers easily have the best 1-2-3 punch at running back in the NFL right now. Dillon will help keep the Packers’ two running backs healthier, which could be huge come January. And that’s the month this team is, and should be, focused on.
Remember, less receptions will be made by wide receivers in this offense, but more receptions will be made by the team. Rodgers isn’t afraid to throw to running backs, fullbacks and tight ends and that’s not going to stop. He’s finally embracing quicker, shorter throws that keep the drive alive.
Green Bay’s elite starting running back Aaron Jones is the best pass-catching runner in Packers history. He’s capable of running wide receiver routes and high-pointing the ball like a seasoned pass catcher. Jamaal Williams, Jones’ backup, is no slouch at catching passes either. They combined for 88 receptions and eight touchdown catches last season.
Tight end Marcedes Lewis is a steady leader for this team, but unlike the other tight ends, he’s primarily on the team to block. At times he’s like an extra tackle lead-blocking on runs. If the Packers can get tight ends Bob Tonyan and Jace Sternberger to begin catching the ball with consistency, the Packers may be looking to hang 50 points on an opponent sooner than later.
Really, drops are the biggest problem for this offense right now.
Rodgers is dialed in and is going for his third AP MVP Award (he’s up against a red-hot Russell Wilson and a a few other young quarterbacks for that honor). Jones is continuing his historic play after leading the NFL in touchdowns last year; he again is leading the league after Week 2.
The offensive line, led by future Hall of Fame left tackle David Bahktiari, has been incredible despite letting right tackle Bryan Bulaga walk and having to battle a few early injuries. Rodgers has been sacked just once through two divisional games. Free agent Ricky Wagner has stepped in at right tackle and the team hasn’t missed a beat.
LaFleur’s offensive concept is simple: Give me the guys I need to run the offense I want and you will see results. Of course, it helps having Rodgers, Jones and that one wide receiver named Davanate Adams.
Adams really is the X-Factor for this offense. He’s the guy that allows you to go with a couple unproven wide receivers. He’s that good. There’s no doubt that his being on the roster gives the Packers the confidence to not invest heavily at that position. He’s as true of a No. 1 receiver as the team has ever had (Hutson, Lofton, Sharpe are the only players he’s chasing in team history in utter greatness at the position on a per-game basis).
All of these reasons are why the Packers didn’t draft a damn wide receiver this year, even if it seemed foolish to many fans and analysts at the time.
You could legitimately say that less is more at wide receiver for this offense. Perhaps quality over quantity is the better cliche.
It’s not dissimilar from what the San Francisco 49ers did last year. And that makes sense as LaFleur came out of the Shanahan coaching tree. More emphasis on a curated, explosive running game where tight ends can become stars. However the Packers have the superior quarterback, running back and wide receiver without a doubt.
With Green Bay sitting at 2-0 and putting up 40+ points in each game makes it easier to claim that Gutekunst and LaFleur got this call right. They certainly aren’t afraid to come up with a plan and stick to it. The 2020 WR Draft class was the deepest in recent memory and they abstained from selecting one. Still, Rodgers bought in and is making the offense look scarier than anyone could have imagined.
In truth, it was always clear why the Packers didn’t draft a wide receiver. The difference is, after these first two games, it’s just a lot more obvious. Perhaps everyone should have put a little more faith in the process.
“Are you not entertained?”