Why Does it Matter That the Packers Have Bigger Receivers?
Here’s some breaking news: the Packers drafted a bunch of tall wide receivers last month.
I know, it’s a shock to learn this, but it’s true! All three of the Packers’ newest pass catchers are 6-3 or taller, with Equanimeous St. Brown topping out at a towering 6-4 ¾.
Combined with their offseason addition of the 6-7 Jimmy Graham, these three rookies could give the Packers one of their tallest receiving corps in recent memory. Where do they rank exactly? Let’s take a look.
Added height is a recent change in Green Bay
Tall wide receivers and tight ends are actually a relatively new phenomenon in Green Bay. From 2005 through 2015, there was only one season where the average height of the Packers top five pass catchers (both receivers and tight ends) was above 6-2.
That year was 2006, when the relatively diminutive Donald Driver (6-0) and Greg Jennings (5-11) were accompanied by Ruvell Martin (6-4) at wide receiver and Bubba Franks and David Martin at tight end.
Other than that season, the Packers have tended to rely on smaller, well-muscled receivers, and that tendency is reflected in Ted Thompson’s draft history. From 2005 through 2017, the Packers selected 18 wide receivers. The average size of that group worked out to 6-1 and 202 pounds.
But a couple trends have pushed the Packers towards the bigger end of the receiver spectrum. After an exceptionally small receiving lineup in 2015 with Jordy Nelson on the shelf, the Packers have been trending bigger, thanks mostly to bigger tight ends
The 6-5 Jared Cook was a big (literal and figurative) help down the stretch in 2016, while in 2017 6-6 Martellus Bennett was big...and pretty much nothing else.
Now, with Graham in the fold and three skyscraper rookies waiting in the wings, the Packers could be rolling out their tallest receiving group in a decade. If the Packers’ top five receivers are Davante Adams, Randall Cobb, Geronimo Allison, Jimmy Graham and one of the rookie receivers, the average height of the group will be just a shade under 6-3.
What does additional height mean for the Packers’ offense?
Two offseasons ago, Mike McCarthy waxed eloquent about his desire for “big people running down the middle of the field,” and the Packers have followed that edict by investing resources into bigger tight ends since then. Now, that investment has spread to the receiver position as well.
Functionally, the Packers have changed their offense during that time period as well. While McCarthy’s offense will likely always rely on receivers winning one-on-one matchups on the outside, the last two seasons have also brought an increased emphasis on stressing defenses from the slot.
Randall Cobb has always made his money there, but Jordy Nelson took up quite a few slot reps in 2016 and 2017 as well, as did both Jared Cook and Martellus Bennett. Cobb fits the typical profile of a slot receiver. Nelson, Cook, and Bennett do not, at least not from a historical perspective.
But this offseason showed us that history is not much of a guide as far as what to expect from the slot any more. Jimmy Graham, the jewel of the Packers’ free agent class, has lined up in the slot for much of his career. The Packers also brought Jordan Matthews in for a visit, a super-sized slot receiver in his own right at 6-3, before drafting a very similar player in J’Mon Moore.
It’s clear to me that the Packers intend to not only get bigger in their receiving corps, but to use those bigger receivers and tight ends to attack defenses from the inside out. As defenses get smaller and quicker in the middle, the obvious counter-move is to attack those smaller players with bigger and stronger ones of your own.
If that’s what the Packers are planning, rolling out their biggest group of pass catchers in half a generation is a very good start.