Max McCaffrey Is Picking Up Where Jared Abbrederis Left Off
For three consecutive training camps, Jared Abbrederis made headlines in Green Bay.
Joining the Packers via Madison and West Allis, Abbrederis was the rare local product to get a shot with his home state’s most popular sports team.
Injuries prevented Abbrederis from fully seizing his opportunities in Green Bay and he was waived early last season. But his legacy lives on in an almost identical form.
This year, Max McCaffrey has a chance to be everything the Packers hoped Abbrederis could be.
Almost exactly a year ago, Abbrederis had perhaps his best practice as a member of the Green Bay Packers.
“The Wisconsin alum/native put on quite a show for the largest Ray Nitschke Field crowd thus far in 2016, catching multiple touchdown passes during extensive red-zone work and wowing the onlookers with one impressive catch in the back of the end zone,” wrote Mike Spofford at Packers.com.
Abbrederis told the Green Bay Press Gazette’s Ryan Wood he was just trying to win the confidence of the Packers’ quarterbacks.
“You have to come down with all the ones that he throws, especially,” Abbrederis said, “because you have to gain that trust with him.”
In 2017, McCaffrey has taken up the mantle of top training camp target, sparking a competition between backup quarterbacks over who gets to throw to him.
“It’s something we’ve kind of been joking about the past couple days, who Max prefers and who is claiming Max as their primary receiver,” Joe Callahan told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Michael Cohen.
The similarities extend beyond just big practice performances. The two receivers are basically carbon copies.
At 6-2, 196, McCaffrey is slightly taller than Abbrederis and sports a bit better straight line speed, running a 4.45 40-yard dash to Abbrederis’s 4.50.
Abbrederis outshines McCaffrey in agility, though, posting better times in the three cone drill and 20-yard shuttle.
But both are willowy slot receivers who operate more on guile and a tight relationship with the quarterback than overwhelming physical gifts.
...and key differences
The way forward for McCaffrey could have more to do with the way he’s different from Abbrederis than any similarities.
Even in college, Jared Abbrederis ran immaculate routes. Acme Packing Company’s Paul Noonan penned a great breakdown of the young receiver’s game in 2015, noting “it's important to keep in mind that Abbrederis was usually the only true receiving threat on the team, and that in the post-Russell Wilson era he was generally being targeted by truly terrible quarterbacks.”
Despite those limitations, Abbrederis produced consistently at a high level thanks in large part to his pristine route running, a skill he carried over to the NFL.
McCaffrey, on the other hand, more or less didn’t run routes in college.
“McCaffrey said his task on each passing play was to arrive at a specific spot on the field as quickly as possible,” wrote Michael Cohen in the aforementioned piece on McCaffrey. “Technique was not as important as speed and timing, so the finer elements of route running never were sharpened.”
This is not a surprise, least of all to McCaffrey himself. As early as 2015, coaches praised his work to strengthen his route running, and social media bears testimony to his continued efforts in that regard.
If he can continue to strengthen that part of his game, suddenly the competition for roster spots gets very interesting.
Playing the numbers game
Much like his predecessor, McCaffrey is battling numbers as much as anything else in his effort to make the roster.
Supposing the Packers plan to keep seven wide receivers again this year, as many as four could already be spoken for.
The Packers won’t part ways with Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams, or Randall Cobb in favor of McCaffrey or any of their recent draft picks. After a Week 1 suspension, Geronimo Allison surely has a roster spot waiting for him as well. That means McCaffrey, Trevor Davis, DeAngelo Yancey, Malachi Dupre, and Jeff Janis are essentially battling for three spots.
This is where McCaffrey’s relationship with the Packers’ quarterbacks could truly pay dividends. As Janis surely knows, receivers will have a hard time getting on the field if Aaron Rodgers doesn’t trust them once they’re there.
McCaffrey almost certainly has a leg up on every one of his competitors in that department. If he can convert that trust into production over the next month, an already complicated decision could get even tougher for the Green Bay front office staff.