For younger readers, in 1999 Nike came out with a clever advertisement featuring Atlanta pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine watching Cardinal’s slugger Mark McGuire knocking balls into the seats during batting practice. Here’s a look back on that classic commercial:
Well, the same is true in the NFL – fans and players alike love to see their teams complete long touchdown throws. A week ago I happened upon an article that mentioned that Aaron Rodgers led the league last year in number of 40-plus yard passes thrown. It didn’t seem possible to me, as 2018 was a down year for the team, the passing game, and quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Besides, the Pack’s 2018 receiving corps was very inexperienced and nothing like the glory days when Aaron had Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Donald Driver, and Jermichael Finley to throw to. Were we fans actually watching a great demonstration of Aaron Rodgers throwing the long ball in 2018 despite the team’s pathetic record?
Statistics such as number of 40 yard passes (or longer) thrown or caught are not easy to come by. I scraped around, however, and what I came up with is that the statistical claim is half right.
According to nfl.com, Aaron had 16 completions of 40 yards or more last season. I believe Ben Roethlisberger matched that number – he’s had 14 or more five times, with a high of 17 in his career. From 2013-18, Antonio Brown alone had 34 such throws, including seven in 2018. And in just his first two years, JuJu Smith-Schuster has hauled in 11 Roethlisberger bombs.
Here are comparisons with last season’s other top quarterbacks: the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes threw 15; the Falcons’ Matt Ryan had nine (and he’s only had more than ten once in his career); Jared Goff had 9 (his top mark is 12); the Pats’ Tom Brady had 8; Andrew Luck had 7; and Drew Brees had but 6 (however, he’s had one season of 18 and one of 16 in his long career).
Brett Favre had 16 such completions once, in 2007. Rodgers has completed lots of deep balls throughout his career. In 2009 he had 17; in 2008 he had 16; in 2014, he had 15; in 2011 he had 13; and in 2010 and 2016 he had ten of them.
The good news for Packers fans is that most of the receivers who grabbed those 16 long balls are still with the team – and almost all of them should still be getting better. The leader of that group, Davante Adams is back – he caught five of these throws, and he’s hauled in 14 over his first five years. Those having one 40-yarder each were: Geronimo Allison, Equanimeous St. Brown, Randall Cobb, Jimmy Graham, Jake Kumerow, Robert Tonyan, and Ty Montgomery.
Here’s another comparison: Jordy Nelson, who almost everyone will wrongly recall as being slow-footed, had 29 40+ reception in nine years with the Packers, and he got three more last season with the Raiders.
Green Bay’s totals for 2018 leaves out four catches, which were made by Marquez Valdes-Scantling. That’s especially impressive in that MVS only got 691 snaps on the year, just 64% of those available. Despite his long-ball prowess, however, he ended the season behind St. Brown on the depth chart. MVS, taken in Round 5 out of South Florida, had to sit out the 2015 collegiate season in order to transfer from NC State to South Florida, so he had unusual maturity for a rookie. He’ll be 25 in October.
At USF he had fine catch averages, 18.3 in 2016 and 16.6 in 2017. His 40-yard Combine dash speed of 4.37 seconds is at or near the top of any Green Bay receiver in a long time; it even bests Javon Walker’s time of 4.38 in 2002. MVS tied for the longest reception in USF history, a 95-yarder in 2017. He had quite a few receptions of more than 50 years at USF, and holds a bunch of school records due to catching so many deep balls.
The Packers have acquired so many speedy players over the past two years that it’s easy to lump in MVS with the rest. For a player who stands 6’5” though, a 4.37 dash time is almost unheard of. Though he’s seven inches taller than Jaire Alexander, Marquez had the faster dash time at the NFL Combine. MVS might have more potential for greatness than any other young Green Bay player.
On Tuesday, Aaron Rodgers handed out this compliment to his second-year receiver: “I think Marquez has had a fantastic spring and really stepped up as a guy who can be an every down player.”
LaFleur’s Offensive Scheme
That Aaron Rodgers tied for the league lead in long pass completions in 2018 leads one to dream big dreams for 2019. Rodgers had mobility issues for most of the year, and his pass blocking, barring serious injuries, should be better this year than last. Additionally, his fleet-footed rookie receivers will all have a year of pro experience under their belts.
Adding more fuel to the fire, as the players are getting introduced to the new head coach’s play book and philosophy, several have expressed excitement over LaFleur’s offense. Just days ago Adams referred to the new offense as “electrifying,” He added that he saw a lot of big play potential, and more opportunities for receivers to “get the ball in space.”
A lot will depend on the development of Green Bay’s young receivers. If they progress as well as the front office seems to think they will, fans should be in store for not only a lot of wins, but some pretty exciting football as well.