Editor’s Note: This was written prior to the Jets game on Saturday
Were some of you thinking I missed someone when I did a post entitled “Packers’ Roster Features Several Draft and Acquisition Steals”? Maybe I should add another name to that list.
The Packers gleefully grabbed Amari Rodgers midway through the third round of the most recent draft. Using the same comparison approach as I did previously, five receivers were selected in each of the first two rounds of the draft. Rodgers was the thirteenth receiver chosen – but don’t consider that as an indication of his talent. Receivers were a hot commodity in 2020, with three being selected among the first ten draft picks. Overall, 36 receivers were among the 259 players selected.
How did Amari compare with his collegiate peers in 2020? Though he could have turned pro after missing much of his junior season with an ACL tear, he decided to dedicate one more year to trying to win a second national championship. Rodgers’ line in his final year of college reads: 77 catches, 1,020 receiving yards, and 7 touchdowns. He was named first-team All-ACC.
When it comes to receptions, receiving yardage, and TD receptions, Alabama’s LaDonta Smith was peerless in 2020: 117 catches and 1,856 yards, and 23 TDs. For this the Eagles made him the tenth overall draft choice – he’ll pair up with second-year QB Jalen Hurts.
Remarkably, the two WRs drafted ahead of Smith are nowhere to be found among the 2020 WR statistical leaders. LaDonta’s teammate, Jaylen Waddle, was selected four places ahead of him, even though he missed over half the season with a broken right ankle. The first receiver drafted was LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase, even though he opted out of playing in 2020. Chase, taken fifth, will be re-uniting in Cincinnati with his college QB, Joe Burrow.
Five receivers were selected in both Round and Round 2. Rodgers was the thirteenth WR taken. So, are we to believe there were a dozen receivers in last year’s college class who have better pro prospects than Amari? That’s not my belief. Actually Amari is one lucky dude. He’s going from teaming with the nation’s best college quarterback in 2020 to joining up with the NFl’s best quarterback.
Amari Is NFL-Ready
While many have compared Rodgers to Randall Cobb, I prefer to compare him to Davante Adams. Cobb has never had the moves or quickness that Amari and Adams possess. And let me tell you, Amari is way ahead of where Adams was at this point in his development.
Are you ready to compare Combine scores? For once, I’m not going to, because they don’t adequately measure what makes these two players so good. Additionally, Rodgers wasn’t tested at the NFL Combine. In fact, both have turned in below average 40-yard dash times (Amari 4.52, Adams 4.56). For the most part the two are quite comparable, and are rather modest athletes in most respects.
The special talent that each relies on is extraordinary burst, change of direction, and stopping ability. I’ve watched it take a full seven years for Davante to perfect those skills; the film on Amari, however, suggests that he’s abilities are right now nearly comparable to where Davante was after five pro seasons – and this is before he’s taken his first professional snap.
Now let’s compare college experiences. When Davante came into the league, he was impressive enough that the Pack expending their second round pick (53rd overall) on him. Promising as he was, Davante turned pro after only two years of college – after playing for the Fresno State Bulldogs. Amari spent four years at Clemson, which from 2015 through 2020, finished as follows in the final AP polls: 2nd, 1st, 4th, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd.
Along with Alabama and Ohio State, Clemson is one of the country’s best football finishing schools. We’ve already seen how finished a player is the Pack’s second round pick, Ohio State center Josh Myers. In the last four years of the NFL draft, 21 Clemson players have been selected. Four Fresno State players have been chosen in that time, and none higher than the fourth round.
Though Davante was a starter from his very first pro game, he didn’t become a real team asset until his third year, and he didn’t have a 1,000-yard receiving year until his fifth season. I think and hope that ex-quarterback Matt LaFleur is perceptive enough to recognize that Amari is rare and special.
Amari and Trevor
If you watch some of Amari’s college highlight films, you’ll see that his quintessential maneuver is to drop back from the line of scrimmage and take a screen pass that Trevor Lawrence is in the act of delivering even as he receives the snap. Amari’s quickness in dropping back has already gained some separation from the defender; his quickness in then putting an initial move on the defender as often as not evades the first tackle attempt.
Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence put up huge numbers on his way to becoming the top pick in the 2021 draft: 3,153 passing yards, 69.2 % completion rate, and 169.2 (college) quarterback rating. However, a good portion of that success should be credited to him having Rodgers as his primary target. Not only were Lawrence’s numbers enhanced by Amari’s yards-after-catch ability, all of these screen passes pumped up Lawrence’s completion percentage. I’d add that Clemson had a whole stable of fine ball catchers last season, including Cornell Powell (53 for 882 and 7 TDs) and Travis Itienne (48 for 588 and 2 TDs). In fact, running back Itienne was drafted well ahead of Rodgers – he was selected at number 25 by the Jaguars, while Powell went to the Chiefs in Round 5.
The other pass route one repeatedly sees in the Rodgers highlight reels is Amari taking off on a fly route, sometimes from the slot but usually when deploying as a wide-out. Forget about his dash time – Amari is one of those rare guys with the fluidity and acceleration to zoom behind defenders, usually by several yards, and I never once observed him getting caught from behind. On the other hand, I’ve seen Davante tackled from behind any number of times. I’d say that Amari has much greater potential than Davante for hauling in long touchdown passes.
This leads me to my next observation: one should not view Rodgers just as a slot receiver. Guys like Adams and Rodgers are able to run any route, from any starting point, and get open. We’re even likely to see Adams, Cobb, and Rodgers on the field simultaneously on occasion. Won’t that be a challenge for defenses!
Though he’s only 21, Amari Rodgers comes to the Packers as one of the most complete and skilled players I’ve seen coming out of college. It’s what you might expect of the son of an NFL coach, Tee Martin, the current side receivers coach for the Ravens.
Amari’s moves are fluid and effortless. His hands are nimble. He’s got strength (19 bench presses). He’s smart and has a great attitude. He’s versatile – he might well win some games just as a return man. I’m sure he’ll also be used as a gadget guy, including as a running back on occasion. These are concepts that were foreign to coach Mike McCarthy, but that Matt LaFleur seems to embrace.
Have you ever seen a player come to a stop as quickly and smoothly as does Rodgers? With Aaron Rodgers’ rifle of an arm, how can you defend Amari’s stop or stop-and-go routes.
Amari also has a build made for the rigors of the NFL: 5’9” and 212 pounds – that’s almost 20 pounds heavier than the often-injured Cobb. Other than for an ACL tear, he proved to be durable at Clemson. I see no reason, other than the injury danger, why he shouldn’t return kickoffs as well as punts – at least when winning or losing the game is on the line.
I’ve harped for years on how teams, when choosing their top draft picks, should acquire players who can contribute right away – and while they are being paid cheaply under their rookie contracts. Amari is such a player, and he also fills a position of need on the team’s roster. I’ll be disappointed if he’s not a starter for the Packers by week six.
I don’t see it taking three years before Amari starts making a positive difference for this team. Unlike Aaron Rodgers, Davante Adams, Jordy Nelson, David Bakhtiari, Robert Tonyan, Rashan Gary, and many other recent Packers stars, Amari enters the NFL fully developed. He’ll contribute this season. We’ve seen how much Aaron Rodgers likes to throw to Adams, so I think that Aaron will be equally disposed to frequently look Amari’s way.
Watch some Amari Rodgers highlight tapes, and then tell me you don’t agree that Amari was a steal of a pick for the Packers. Matt LaFleur and Nathaniel Hackett are going to have a ton of fun finding ways to maximize his multiple skill sets.
Amari is a precocious talent. Put him to work, coach!