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No. 1 receiver? No need for these Packers

Jordan Love & Co. happy to continue taking turns with go-to targets

QB Jordan Love
QB Jordan Love

GREEN BAY – The combination of youth and injuries created so many opportunities at wide receiver last season the Packers ended Jordan Love's first year as starting QB without a true No. 1 wideout.

So one question heading into 2024 is whether someone will emerge as the go-to guy. Another is if anyone actually needs to.

Count Love and Head Coach Matt LaFleur in the no-worries camp. After Tuesday's OTA practice, they both indicated it doesn't really matter to them as QB and play-caller, and they're much more focused on the sum of the whole at the position than any individual parts.

"I think you don't have to have a No. 1 receiver," Love said. "I think it works out well when you can spread the ball out and you got different guys making different plays and you can put 'em in different areas.

"I think it puts a lot more stress on the defense and the calls that they can get in, so I think in the long run it helps us not having a No. 1 guy, a true No. 1 guy, but I think all those guys can step up and be the one any given day."

That's in effect what happened last season.

Christian Watson scored four touchdowns in a span of three games. So did Dontayvion Wicks, in a different span of three games. Jayden Reed led the team in receptions and receiving yards, but by just five catches and 119 yards over Romeo Doubs. Doubs tied Reed for the team lead in touchdowns and had his first career 100-yard game in the playoffs. Bo Melton had the first 100-yard game of anyone in 2023, in Week 17 at Minnesota. Malik Heath caught a go-ahead TD pass with two minutes to go in a game, the only one to make that claim.

For now, the expectation is the passing offense will continue to share the wealth, with the tight ends and running backs in the mix, too. What helps make that work is each receiver in an obviously deep corps brings something a little different to the table, but at the same time, each can be asked to line up in any given spot to run any given route, and produce.

"You can plug any of these guys at any position and they'll go out there and make plays," Love said. "I think a little of that was proven last year. We had different guys injured throughout the season and guys had to move around a little bit, play some different spots that they might not have been used to, so I definitely think that is the case.

"But you look at these guys, each person has their own skill set and what they do great. That's the key, is trying to find that and put them in the best position to be successful."

Not necessarily having a go-to guy frees Love's mind as well, allowing him to just "play the play," as he says. He can go through his reads, let it play out, and find the open guy. He may have an inkling based on a particular matchup who's about to get open, but he's not forcing the ball to any one teammate due to preconceived notions.

Those prospects become even more intriguing this year as both Love and his receivers build off of all the experience they gained as young players finding their way a year ago. As Love got started at QB1, Watson and Doubs were just in their second seasons, with Melton in that same draft class but getting his first NFL action. Meanwhile Reed, Wicks and Heath were all rookies.

Nobody's at ground zero anymore.

"Now we're at the level where we can change the plays at the line of scrimmage," Love said. "They know the signals, so we can get to different plays if there's not a perfect concept called. That's a huge plus and bonus where we can take those steps forward this year."

The key for LaFleur and his coaching staff is to maximize on that and keep pushing all the young talent to its limits. When the Packers made their late-season run last winter, all that youth wasn't so young anymore, and the better they learned the playbook and its nuances, the better they connected with one another.

As best they can, they've tried to pick up where they left off heading into the new season. This summer and early fall will be a better gauge whether they succeeded in doing so, but getting there in good shape is the current goal.

"It's more about the collective unit of all those guys and just the rapport that they're building with Jordan throughout the course of the offseason," LaFleur said. "I'm excited to get to training camp with them.

"All those guys had their moments where they were the leading receiver in a game. I feel really good about the collective unit. The hardest part is we feel so good about them, it's hard to get everybody the amount of touches that you'd like to get, but that's a good problem to have."