This past week, several NFL players announced they were opting out of playing in this year’s NFL season. The COVID-19 virus is forcing players to choose between playing or protecting themselves and their families’ health. One of the players on that list is Green Bay Packers wide receiver Devin Funchess. Funchess, who signed with the Packers this off-season, is choosing to put his “family first”. For those who have a heart and a soul, you can’t fault Funchess for making the decision. But his decision does create some questions for the Packers offense. Specifically, how does this affect the Packers’ wide receiver depth?
Devin Funchess Opt-Out Puts Green Bay Packers Wide Receiver Depth Under Microscope
The Packers wide receiver depth seemed to be one of the areas that general manager Brian Gutekunst would be looking to upgrade this off-season. But that never turned out to be the case for Gutekunst and the Packers.
Instead, the only major addition to the Packers wide receiver depth was the signing of the veteran Funchess. While the signing wasn’t anything earth-shattering, he did provide the Packers with needed veteran wide receiver help. Now, with Funchess sitting out the season, the Packers will need to find someone, either currently on the roster or someone still available on the free-agent market, to step up.
Many thought that Gutekunst would provide a weapon or two through the draft to bolster the Packers’ wide receiver depth. Instead, Gutekunst chose to turn his back on selecting a wide receiver altogether. There isn’t much doubt that Gutekunst was banking on the signing of Funchess and the current group of young wide receivers the Packers already have on their roster to carry the position this season. But now without Funchess, the Packers will be forced to rely solely on their younger wide receivers.
Continued Development of Young Packers Wide Receivers
Even before Funchess decided to sit out, the Packers wide receiver depth was at best questionable. The Packers top wide receiver Davante Adams has become one of the top wide receivers in the NFL. His ability to make plays has made him a favorite of quarterback Aaron Rodgers. But for Adams to continue to make plays, the Packers need for one of their young wide receivers to step up and take the pressure off of him.
Allen Lazard is expected to be the starter opposite of Adams when (if) the season kicks off. But Lazard still has a lot of proving and developing to do. Lazard is headed into his third season in the NFL. Last season, he caught 35 passes for 477 yards with three touchdown receptions. In the previous season, he played in just one game catching one pass for seven yards. His numbers don’t instill a lot of confidence for those who wanted more playmakers for Rodgers. Still, Lazard’s 2019 season does give the Packers hope he will develop into a solid second option to Adams in the Packers passing game.
It appeared Devin Funchess was the leader to be the Packers number three wide receiver. With him out for the season, the Packers will now have to find their number three wide receiver from a group with a lot of questions.
Marquez Valdes-Scantling appears to be the leader of the group. A former Gutekunst draft pick, Valdes-Scantling has the most experience. However, he is coming off a disappointing season, where he caught just 26 passes for 452 yards. Along with his drop in production from his rookie to his second season, he dealt with concentration issues.
Equanimeous St. Brown and Reggie Begelton are two other players the Packers are now banking on to help with the Packers wide receiver depth. But like Valdes-Scantling, both enter this season with questions. For St. Brown, he missed all of last season with an ankle injury. Not only will he need to show he is healthy, but he will also need to show he is ready to take the next jump in his maturation.
Begelton is the most intriguing of the bunch. He was a standout wide receiver in the CFL last season. Last season for the Calgary Stampeders, he posted 102 receptions 1,444 yards with 10 touchdown receptions. While he was a standout north of the border, he hasn’t played a down in the NFL and will have a big learning curve to overcome to contribute this coming season.
Lazard, Valdes-Scantling, St. Brown, and Begelton have a grand total of 121 NFL receptions. Devin Funchess alone has 164 career receptions. Without Funchess this season, the Packers will be hoping that one of their young wide receivers can step up. If not, it will be up to Adams to carry the load, once again.
Help From the Outside
It would be a stunning turn of events if Gutekunst were to make a move to upgrade the Packers wide receiver depth with the season right around the corner. If he was unwilling to sign another wide receiver with Funchess and to select a wide receiver in such a deep wide receiver draft, it is hard to see him do so now.
Still, there are options that are still available that could help out the Packers’ wide receiver depth. Taylor Gabriel and Tavon Austin are both veteran pass-catching options still looking for work. Both are players who could step in and play in the slot. When Randall Cobb left prior to last season, the Packers never found a reliable replacement. While neither is to Cobb’s level, they could be that type of wide receiver to fill that position.
Change in Philosophy Doesn’t Change the Need for Wide Receiver Help
Much has been written this off-season about the Packers offensive change in philosophy. It does appear that head coach and offensive play-caller Matt LaFleur wants the offense to be more run dominated. That is fine, but NFL offenses still need a productive passing game. Just look at what the Kansas City Chiefs did on their way to a Super Bowl victory last season.
If LaFleur wants to use the run to set up the pass, he will still need pass catchers who can get open. Especially pass catchers who can get open. Without Devin Funchess, the Packers only wide receiver who has proven to do this on a consistent basis is Adams. After him, there is a lot of players with potential, but nobody with proven abilities.
The Packers tight end position is in the same situation. While Gutekunst and the Packers are high on second-year player Jace Sternberger, he has yet to catch a pass in a regular-season game. Gutekunst did select Josiah Deguara in the third round of this year’s draft. But it appears his contribution, if there is any, in his rookie season will be in the Packers run game. Banking on the tight end position to contribute in the passing game appears to be a long shot.
It appears the Packers will need their run game to carry the offense. With Adams being the only proven wide receiver now, he should expect a lot of double and triple teams. If at least one of the other wide receivers doesn’t step up, the Packers will be down to the run game to carry the load.
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