Comparing Packers Rookie WRs to Past Draft Picks

Equanimeous St. Brown has made a few big plays, but his playing time could take a hit in the near future.

Equanimeous St. Brown has made a few big plays, but his playing time could take a hit in the near future.

The Packers threw an unusual amount of draft capital at their wide receiver position this spring, an investment that most hoped would yield dividends both in the short and long term.

Short term, the Packers needed to replace the targets that would have gone to Jordy Nelson. The aging receiver was on the outs in Green Bay after a disappointing 2017 season (though his struggles weren’t entirely his fault).

Long term, each of the picks represented varying degrees of commitment to one specific vision of what an NFL wide receiver could be: namely, very big and very vast.

How are those returns looking? In short: mixed, but promising. There have been struggles (primarily from fourth-round pick J’Mon Moore) and exciting moments (mostly from fifth-round pick Marquez Valdes-Scantling), but by and large, it appears the Packers’ strategy of throwing a bunch of picks at a position and hoping for the best has worked. At the very least, they seem to have found two competent receivers in one draft class. That’s a win.

To better understand how the Packers’ rookies are performing, let’s take a quick look at how they stack up with other rookie receivers in recent Packers history. This chart details the stats of ever receiver drafted by the Packers from the start of the Ted Thompson era (2005) through the present.

A given player’s stats in the left four columns are what he produced through his first six games as a rookie, while the right four columns represent his final season totals. In the case of the rookie receivers, I’ve projected out their full season stats based on their six-game pace.

rookie wr pace.png

I have a couple takeaways from this chart.

First, as impressive as Marquez Valdes-Scantling has been, he doesn’t hold a candle to Greg Jennings, the gold standard of Packers rookie receivers. Part of this is purely a matter of circumstance. As a rookie in 2006, Jennings faced almost no competition for targets. Other than Donald Driver, the Packers’ wide receiver depth chart was a wasteland. Such luminaries as Ruvell Martin, Koren Robinson, Carlyle Holiday, Robert Ferguson, and Chris Francies all were targeted with passes that year. In some ways, it almost would have been more noteworthy if Jennings hadn’t started fast.

But that caveat aside, Valdes-Scantling’s production in relatively limited exposure is pretty impressive. His 212 yards through six games put him ahead of both Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams at the six-game mark, and his 566 projected yards would be just 110 yards behind James Jones’ top mark for Packers rookies and less than 70 yards behind Jennings.

On the more negative side, it’s disheartening to see J’Mon Moore hanging out with the likes of Jeff Janis, Trevor Davis, and a bunch of guys who never actually got on the field in Green Bay.

The thinking on Moore early on seemed to be that he was the most polished of the three rookies, but that has proven to not be remotely close to the case. His hands (a known trouble spot) have been unreliable, a significant issue when catching the ball is almost literally the name of the game at receiver.

Finally, as to the immediate future, it could be Equanimeous St. Brown who is the most impacted by the imminent return of Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison. While Valdes-Scantling has shown he can contribute and Moore has shown he can’t, St. Brown has only just started to get some opportunities.

With both Cobb and Allison returning to practice this week, it’ll be interesting to see who gets squeezed out of the rotation and whether their stats suffer as a result.