Following the Packers’ disappointing loss – and season finale – vs the Detroit Lions in week 18, Packers fans were met with many realizations very quickly. The most obvious is the potential for divorce with generational QB Aaron Rodgers, with camera shots of him hugging long-time packer veteran and friend WR Randall Cobb in consolation after the abrupt end to a roller coaster of a season. During this time another Packers receiver, Allen Lazard, was asked about what he thinks about Aaron Rodgers potentially not being the quarterback for the pack next season; he proceeded to deflect this question to explain and reflect on the fact he does not know what team he is going to be on next season.
“Going into the game, I kind of had a realization that my first game here and potentially my last game, which it is, was going to be against the Lions at home,”. The Packers have a problem on their hands.
Lazard was signed to the team as an undrafted free agent in 2018, and with his large 6’5 220 frame Lazard was quickly given the nickname “The Goon” for his pride and willingness to block in the run game and is now one of the best blockers in the position. He quickly developed into a reliable target for the effective Packers offense. Lazard has capability on the outside and slot alike(although currently lacking elite sharpness in his route running), and impressive physicality at the catch point, complimented by a naturally wide catch radius. In his 15 games for Titletown in the 2022-23 season, he amassed career-high stats for himself including targets, catches, receiving yards, and falling two TDs of his career high. His catch percentage for the season (69%) fell with the likes of Tyreek Hill, Justin Jefferson, and Ceedee Lamb; not to say he’s on the level of these superstars, but this compounded with him ending in the top 9 for 1st down catches in 3rd down situations as well as having the 5th highest percentage of his catches being first downs (75%) it’s easy to conclude that he was a crucial clutch component to the Packers’ offense in 22’.
The Pack has had its fair share of wide receiver controversy and is at the center of pass-catcher destination speculation. But how do the Packers replace this role, not only as a pass catcher, but as a blocker, and a reliable outlet for Rodgers or Love alike? Two upcoming free agents that can try to fill the void share similarities with each other including both being 26 and their age does not hurt the timeline of the packers, these players exemplify strong tenacity in the run game, as well as an ability to express the intermediate of the field and coming up clutch for their respective squads.
– Juju Smith-Schuster was the prospect of interest for green bay when he was a free agent coming into 2022. Naturally, as we watch him work with Kansas City on a one-year contract, stepping into a system role with the Superbowl pursuant chiefs with a quiet 933 yards but within that creative system, he only found the endzone 3 times. Juju’s hands have never been in question in the NFL. In the 2022 season, he fell in the top 20 of all players in catch percentage with an impressive 77%, with 46.5% of those catches, similar to Lazard’s 45%, landing the chiefs past the first down marker. To further that comparison, Juju has always been praised for his tenacity in his blocking, racking up a highlight reel of tough pancakes and springing open the run game. Should the Packers pursue him harder than they did in their last opportunity? It seems natural.
– Jakobi Meyers is an intriguing prospect for a team in the Packers position for a couple of reasons, the 26-year-old receiver for the Patriots has shown an improvement in his game year over year since his drafting despite the consistently inconsistent offense of New England. The 6’2 200 lb receiver is no slouch in the run game, with even hard-nosed former player and current head coach of the Titans Mike Vrabel giving Meyers praise off the line when talking about the Patriots’ impressive wide receiver corps blocking, “He goes in there, he’s fearless…Jakobi Meyers goes in there, and he’s going in there with a purpose.” Meyers may not be as proven to be a reliable target as Lazard and JuJu. Still, plenty of that can be pointed at the defunct nature of the Patriots’ recent pass game. When the Patriots were successful through the air it had to do with Meyers’ hands, as proven by him being the patriots receiving yards (804) and touchdown leader(6). Meyers is likely to look for a change of scenery after the season and in the case of a Love-era Packers, it seems like a good fit for a young receiver to flourish coming off of a career year.
The Draft is also full of prospects in the wide receiver category, but there is only one I’d like to break down for this article due to the stark resemblance to Allen Lazard.
– Xavier Hutchinson is an incoming wide receiver from the alma mater of Lazard, Iowa State Cyclones. The 6’3 205 receiver would benefit from muscle maturation in the NFL, as he struggles to leverage size at the catch point. Hutchinson has a knack for the back shoulder/fade concepts but could use more attention to detail at different levels of the field concerning route running. He displays a strong drive to block in the run game but doesn’t possess much of the technical skill as of now, and just strives to obstruct. Xavier is widely projected to fall toward the 3rd or 4th round due to his lack of competition and polish and could be an interesting player to develop, almost exactly like Lazard.
Unless the Packers obtain a pass catcher in direct response to the loss of Allen Lazard in free agency, the style of offense will be missing a lead-block anchor and 3rd down threat. Whether it be responded by one of the players above or with a different approach remains to be seen in the offseason, so Titletown can only wait for now.