Call this Part 2 if you want, of my critically acclaimed – and defamed – post on Aaron Rodgers and his receiver relationships.
Back in late April when the Packers concluded the NFL draft without selecting any wide receivers, I was stunned – and left an emotional wreck. Over the next few days, however, I arrived at the only sensible scenario I could come up with: the Packers’ coaching staff realizes what a talent Marquez Valdes-Scantling is, and they’re banking on him having a breakout second year.
Matt LaFleur, offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, and receivers’ coach Alvis Whitted must have gone gaga over what they saw of MVS during spring activities. It all made sense. The Packers reported for the start of spring workouts, under heavy scrutiny by the mostly-new coaching staff, on April 8. MVS must have shined.
Next up, Green Bay, while the team’s execs and personnel people were in Nashville for the NFL draft that week the coaching staff, was eyeballing players at the April 23-25 voluntary minicamp. I figured that MVS must have blown them away, with the word getting back to the draft guys not to worry: the organization had no pressing receiver needs.
The team’s training camp kicked off on July 25, followed by the team’s four preseason games, and then by the roster cutdown to 53 players on August 31. Like a cool-handed poker player, GM Brian Gutekunst stayed with the cards he held.
On August 3, the Wisconsin State Journal, in an long article (here) by Jason Wilde, ran this headline: “ For Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Family Night shows just how far he’s come in past year with Packers.” It started out this way:
“A year ago, Valdes-Scantling was a rookie fifth-round pick — one of three draftees at his position — trying to find his way. He was struggling to learn then-coach Mike McCarthy’s offense and gain his quarterback’s trust, a parlay that can be overwhelming to any young wide receiver.
On Friday night, there was Valdes-Scantling, lining up with Rodgers and the No. 1 offense frequently throughout the night, having emerged early in camp as the clear-cut third wide receiver in the pecking order behind No. 1 target Davante Adams and Geronimo Allison. . .
And Rodgers, for one, has been impressed with Valdes-Scantling’s growth — both as a player, and in new coach Matt LaFleur’s offensive scheme, which Valdes-Scantling’s teammates believe is tailor-made for him.
For Rodgers, who holds young receivers to a famously high standard, seeing “MVS” (as Rodgers calls him) grow this quickly has been reassuring after seeing three of his most reliable veteran pass-catchers — James Jones after the 2015 season, Jordy Nelson after the 2017 season and Randall Cobb after last season — depart. What has impressed Rodgers is not only how Valdes-Scantling took advantage of learning from Cobb and Adams last year, but how he’s become one of those model practice players himself.”
Quarterback Rodgers had this to say at the time:
“(A) guy like Marquez — who went through some spells last year when he wasn’t practicing all the time the right way — has totally changed. Now, he’s a leader when it comes to practicing the right way. I think he’s done a great job.
. . .He went through that patch where he wasn’t playing as much or playing as well, kind of after the Rams and the New England game when he played really well. But I think he learned a lot from that. And I’m excited about him. He grew,”
. . . “I think ‘MVS’ has really been watching Davante closely and picking things up and playing as fast as his time. I think that’s an issue with any player. You might time at a super-quick 40 (-yard dash), but how fast do you play? It’s that football speed. ‘MVS’ is playing a lot closer to his 40 time speed, which is saying a lot because he’s pretty damned fast.”
Marquez himself expanded on the “trust” theme:
“I think it’s an accumulation of things over time. With a quarterback like that, you want to just keep building his trust and keeping making plays and doing what you have to do to get him to throw you the football,
. . .If you get the trust from the quarterback, he’s going to throw you the football. I think that’s the simplest way to put it. Davante can be covered by two guys and ‘12’ still trusts him. A guy like Davante, who can make any catch at any time over anybody, that’s what you want to have in a connection with the quarterback. (Rodgers) trusts him no matter what the call is, what the coverage is. That’s the kind of trust you want.”
Davante Adams chimed in with what might be further clues to why MVS’s prospects have so cooled:
“There’s a lot of speed involved in all things (in the offense). (MVS) runs fast, but he plays even faster. And you don’t always see that with the guys who run 4.3. Sometimes they come out and play slow. But he’s not thinking much. He’s just going. He’s a really, really smart guy, too.
I always make jokes with him, I bet he was the guy in science class who’d finish his test and start distracting other people. You can tell things kind of come easy to him. Combine that with the ability that he has on the field, that’s dangerous.”
The article even mentioned that MVS spent about a month during the offseason working out with Pro Football Hall of Fame wide receiver and former Minnesota Vikings star Randy Moss.
Like Falling Off a Cliff
Valdes-Scantling finished his rookie season having caught 38 passes for 581 yards (15.3-yard average) and two touchdowns.
For the first seven weeks this season, things were going according to plan for MVS. He caught at least three passes in the first four games, then cooled off in Games 5 and 6, but in Game 7 – Rodgers’ perfect passer rating game against the Raiders – he accumulated 133 yards in just two completions – giving him a total 416 yards, which projects to 950 yards over a full 16-game season.
In the five games since Oakland came to visit, MVS has been targeted but ten times; he has two catches, and they’ve netted only 11 yards. From what I can tell, it’s a fall-from-grace story that no one in the media wants to touch.
Injuries? The Week 6 Injury Report showed him as “hamstring/calf,” while from Weeks 7 through 10 he was listed as “ankle/knee.” However, he has yet to miss a game on the year.
We can probably rule out lack of ability. MVS has all the body and athleticism you’d want in an NFL receiver.
It seems to me that Jason Wilde and the State Journal have supplied us with lots of hints as to what has gone wrong with MVS. If only they had come up with the cure.
If Green Bay is to prosper in the postseason – and maybe even for them to get there – the team needs a talented receiver to complement Davante Adams. There are but two options: Valdes Scantling and Allen Lazard. Will one or both step up?