We are a little less than a month away from the start of free agency and approximately two and a half months from the NFL Draft. However, it is never too early in the offseason to try to pinpoint players your team should pursue. When it comes to the Green Bay Packers, acquiring a deep threat is a must. The lack of deep speed in the Packers receiving core was evident last year when they had trouble throwing the ball downfield, even when Aaron Rodgers was under center.
Last year, Green Bay had problems throwing the deep ball, as I mentioned above. Yes, some of that was due to Brett Hundley having to play significant action, and he was woeful throwing deep passes. However, they weren’t exactly lighting it up in that category when No. 12 was the quarterback. That says the Packers are in need of a deep threat. Their main deep threat for the last decade has been Jordy Nelson, and he has clearly lost a step or two.
Nelson missed just one game last year, but he still caught only two passes when the ball was thrown at least 20 yards downfield. Both happened in the first four games with Rodgers at quarterback. That is a big drop-off from last year when he had 11 catches of that variety. Hundley struggling to throw the deep ball did not help, but that was not the only reason.
Back in 2013, Rodgers missed half the season with a broken collarbone. In that season, Nelson was thrown passes by Seneca Wallace, Scott Tolzien and Matt Flynn. All but Tolzien are out of the league right now. In that season, Jordy had 13 catches of more than 20 yards, which is the most he has had in a season since 2011. He has had 11 receptions of more than 20 yards downfield in his last two seasons in 2016 and 2014. One of the biggest reasons why the sudden drop-off has to do with him having lost a step. He will turn 33 in May, after all.
Because of the struggles of Nelson to get open on deep passes, Rodgers’ performance on deep passes has also suffered. Since No. 12‘s MVP season in 2014, the Packers quarterback rating on passes of more than 20 yards downfield has gone down each year. It is hard to do much better than Rodgers did in 2014, so there was nowhere to go but down from there. In 2014, the star quarterback completed 24 of 48 passes on deep passes for 988 yards with 11 touchdowns and one interception. That is a quarterback rating of an incredible 126.7 on those passes.
The 50 percent completion percentage may not sound great, but on deep passes, it absolutely is. To put that in perspective, Nick Foles had 56 completion percentage and DeShone Kizer had a 54 percent completion percentage………overall. I know Foles only started the final three games of the regular season, but those are two starting quarterbacks, and they did not have that much higher of a completion percentage on any kind of throw than Rodgers did on deep passes during his last MVP season.
But since that season, the quarterback rating has gone down each season for the Packers on deep throws. In 2015, without Nelson, No. 12 completed just 15 passes in 54 attempts for 521 yards and five scores and no interceptions. The completion percentage was a huge drop, but still had a very good quarterback rating of 98.1. The 2016 season was another sizeable drop, even with Nelson back in the lineup. He was coming back from a torn ACL, but he still had a tremendous season. Rodgers was 21 of 72 on passing on deep passes for 723 yards and six scores and two interceptions, good for a quarterback rating of 85.1.
That brings us to this past year. Rodgers actually had a respectable completion percentage on deep throws at 39 percent, completing nine of 23 passes for 323 yards and three scores. However, he also had a very un-Rodgers-like four interceptions on those passes. His quarterback rating on those throws was actually a respectable 86.7, which is higher than his rating from 2016. But when you add in Hundley, the rating plummeted.
On deep passes, Hundley just completed six passes on 31 attempts. That is a completion percentage of a woeful 19 percent. A few of those were even blown coverages like Randall Cobb’s touchdown in Pittsburgh and Jamaal Williams’ against Cleveland. On his six completions, the UCLA product had 224 passing yards with three touchdowns to go along with three picks for a poor 49.8 quarterback rating. Combined this past year, Rodgers and Hundley completed 15 passes in 54 attempts for 547 yards and six touchdowns and seven interceptions on long balls. That was good for a quarterback rating of just 66.7.
Whether it is via free agency or the draft (or both), the Packers will need a deep threat at the position. It does not have to be a big name, but somebody who can stretch the field. PackersNews’ Aaron Nagler suggested Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Donte Moncrief. He has had a poor year the past two years, playing only 21 games and having only 698 yards receiving. The former Ole Miss standout did average 15 yards per catch in 2017, though. In his second year in 2015, he did have 733 yards receiving and six touchdowns. He should not cost much and could be the speedster the Packers need.
A dream scenario would be someone like John Brown, who had a down year in 2017 for Arizona, catching only 21 passes for 299 yards in 10 games. However, he is just two years removed from a 1,000-yard season. Brown has a 14.5-yards per catch and has a 50-plus yard reception in three of his four seasons. The former Pittsburg State star may be too expensive, though.
In the draft, Alabama’s Calvin Ridley could possibly be had at No. 14. Ridley had 63 catches last season, which is the fewest he has had in his Crimson Tide career, but he still had 967 yards receiving and his 15 yards per catch would look good in a Packers uniform. However, if they are to wait until the second or third round, Memphis’ Anthony Miller would be a great pick-up. He had at least 1,400 yards receiving in each of his final two seasons and had a combined 32 touchdowns. His 15.1 yards per catch in his career is also enticing.
Green Bay is in need of some speed at the receiving core, and adding players like Brown and Miller would do just that. Nelson is past his prime, in terms of being a deep threat, and the team needs one or two of them on the team. It will be interesting to see how new General Manager Brian Gutekunst goes about adding the much-needed speed at the position.——————
Jonathon Zenk is a writer for PackersTalk.com. He is a huge Packers fan, and a graduate of The University of Wisconsin - Green Bay. You can follow Jonathon on Twitter at @jzenk42