Now the rest of the media is all over the story, but Total Packers has been harping on this theme for a good three years: a Green Bay receiver has to develop a copacetic relationship with the future Hall-of-Famer QB if he wants to get thrown to.
Early in Aaron Rodgers’ career as a starter (2008-2010), Aaron had yet to develop his system of favoritism. He had plenty of talent, and he used them all: Jennings, James Jones, Donald Driver, Jermichael Finley, and an emerging Jordy Nelson.
Jennings opted to leave, as did Javon Walker a few years earlier – thereby wrecking their NFL careers. Finley succumbed to a career-ending injury. Donald Driver was the exception: he enjoyed a long and fulfilling career with the Packers.
The first sign that Green Bay’s front office didn’t fully appreciate the requirement that receivers bond with Rodgers came regarding Jones. Though he never had a 1,000-yard season, James had seven fruitful years here, from 2007-13.
Showing no love, the Packers’ execs allowed him to sign on with the Raiders. That affair lasted only until the Raiders released him one year later. Jones returned to the Packers – only because he was desperately needed when Nelson underwent ACL surgery – and had his best year ever: 50 catches, 890 yards, 8 TDs. The Packers personnel guys responded by again letting Rodgers’ favorite receiver go.
Jordy Nelson was Rodgers’ preferred target from 2011 through 2017 (except for missing 2015 with an ACL tear, and for Aaron missing half of 2017 due to a broken clavicle). Jordy and Aaron appeared to be the ideal pairing. Why then did the front office make no attempt to retain Jordy prior to the 2018 season? That remains one of the great mysteries in all of Packers’ lore.
Though most don’t realize it, Jordy had a fine season for Oakland in 2018 (see here). If for no other reason than the Jordy-Aaron bond, the Packers should have kept Nelson through the current season – he’s still only 34 years old.
The next lucky guy to get Aaron’s stamp of approval was Randall Cobb, who was Aaron’s off-season BFF too. Cobb spent eight seasons with Green Bay. By any measure, his three final years, 2016-18, were disappointing – I’ve yet to see an adequate explanation for this fall-off of production. The Packers somewhat understandably abandoned him after the 2018 season.
The Cowboys picked him up on a 1-year deal for $5 million – he’s only 29 years old. Through 12 games (11 played), Randall’s numbers are 42 catches for 640 yards (a hefty 15.1 average for a slot receiver) and three TDs. The Cowboys are happy – Randall could yet have a 1,000-yard season if he finishes strong. This begs the question: how did Randall (in his prime) and Aaron manage averaging only 549 yards of completions from 2016 through 2018? Was the bond broken?
Aaron’s latest receiver love affair after Jones, Nelson, and Cobb, is of course Davante Adams. Given Aaron’s quirks, how in the world were the first three allowed to leave Green Bay before their usefulness was at an end?
Without Aaron’s love, a horde of Green Bay receivers have fallen into statistical mediocrity, including: Jarrett Boykin, Jared Abbrederis, Jeff Janis, Ty Montgomery, Trevor Davis, Geronimo Allison, J’Mon Moore, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Equanimeous St. Brown, Jake Kumerow, and Darrius Shepherd.
Tight ends have fared even worse in seeking to become targeted by Aaron, such as Richard Rodgers, Jared Cook, Martellus Bennett, Lance Kendricks, Jimmy Graham, Marcedes Lewis, and Robert Tonyan. Will Jase Sternberger be the team’s next underutilized tight end? I’d like to see what he can do, right now, before the playoffs.
Winning Aaron’s Trust
I just grit my teeth every time I hear that a Green Bay receiver must “earn” Aaron’s trust before he can expect to get many throws – and that this process often takes years (Adams being the exception). That’s BS, and it’s time Rodgers gets over this notion, though he seems to concur with it when reporters bring it up.
Remember when the NFL played pro bowl games that were somewhat serious and competitive? Dan Marino, Joe Montana, John Elway, Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, and the like would put on their shorts (since 1979 in Hawaii) and spend maybe two or three practice sessions with receivers from other teams, and you’d never know they hadn’t been teammates for years.
Talented and experienced quarterbacks and receivers need only days, not years, to get in sync with each other. Pass and catch – it’s not rocket science.
Break the Pattern
Three-quarters of the way through this regular season, it’s clear the Packers don’t have an air attack that will take them far into the playoffs – one trusted receiver doesn’t hack it.
Allen Lazard might not be a future All-Pro, though he’s displayed enough raw talent in the opportunities he’s had that it’s not too farfetched a dream. The Packers need to commit, right now, to seeing just how good he is and what he can do to rejuvenate the Packers’ passing game. This receiver group needs help. Let’s break off the Marquez, Geronimo, and Jake experimentation, and go with the guy who’s hot.
Just featuring him as a primary target alongside Adams should relieve Davante of much of the pressure and overplaying he’s been getting from opposing defenses.
In the last seven games, Lazard has 22 catches out of 29 throws, for 330 yards and 2 TDs. His catch percentage is 76 percent, and these haven’t been short dump-offs. He’s averaging 15 yards per catch – he stretches the field, and poses serious challenges for defenses. I can’t recall any drops, penalties, or botched assignments, and he’s a damn good blocker too.
We’ve learned a bit more about Allen from all the interviews he’s had following the Giants’ game. He’s supremely confident. His remedy for the Packers’ so-so offense: just get him the ball.
Here’s an idea: let’s reward guys who are playing well. Someone in charge of this team needs to demand, not recommend, that Aaron direct the ball to Allen, a lot, over the next few games. Let’s find out what we have in this player, who finished up as the Iowa State Cyclone’s career leader in both receptions and receiving yardage.
I don’t believe the NFL is too big a stage for Allen Lazard.