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Packers capitalizing on Dontayvion Wicks' unique playmaking skills

Green Bay finding innovative ways to utilize promising rookie receiver

WR Dontayvion Wicks
WR Dontayvion Wicks

GREEN BAY – Dontayvion Wicks was confident he could make the throw. The only question was whether the opportunity would present itself against the Denver Broncos on Sunday.

Having seen Wicks' arm strength in practice, Packers Head Coach Matt LaFleur and his staff developed a trick play for his rookie receiver to fire a misdirection pass downfield for running back Aaron Jones.

When the play showed up on the call sheet, there was no shortage of confidence the former high school quarterback could get it done in a game situation.

"We repped it all week at practice and we knew that was a play he could make," said receiver Jayden Reed. "He showed he could throw the ball like that."

Looking to mix things up after halftime, LaFleur called in the play on second-and-2 from the Denver 31. While most of the Denver defense bit on the quarterback Jordan Love's backwards pass to Wicks in the flat, All-Pro safety Justin Simmons stayed on his hash on the far side of the field.

Reading the coverage, Wicks correctly identified Simmons staying home on Jones and threw a dart directly to the Pro Bowl running back instead of leading the running back downfield.

Jones secured the catch, gaining 14 yards, and moving the Packers inside the Broncos' red zone. It eventually led to Green Bay's first score of the day on a 29-yard Anders Carlson field goal.

"Simmons, he's a really good, smart, heady player," LaFleur said. "Typically, at least the way we had repped the play in practice, there was a little bit more air under that ball, and it hit a little bit further downfield.

"I'm just watching Simmons kind of hover. Wicks made the adjustment and threw it on a line, and it was a great play by him."

Wicks played some quarterback at Plaquemine (La.) High School, originally backing up his brother, Trey LeBlanc, before moving to receiver as a junior.

It wouldn't be the last time he'd throw a football, though. In midst of breaking nearly every single-season receiving record at Virginia in 2021, Wicks also threw three passes during his junior year, completing one for an 18-yard gain.

With his pass to Jones, Wicks became the Packers' first rookie non-quarterback to complete a pass since running back Willard Harrell threw a 14-yard touchdown to Steve Odom in a 28-7 win over Chicago on Nov. 30, 1975, according to Elias.

Wicks is just the fifth Green Bay skill-position player to complete a pass in the last 25 years regardless of experience, joining receiver Randall Cobb (2017), running backs Tony Fisher (2004-05) and Ahman Green (2004), and tight end Bubba Franks, who threw a 31-yard TD pass to Donald Driver in 2002.

The play design between Wicks' throw to Jones was eerily similar to Franks' home-run pass to Driver, with both LaFleur and former Packers head coach Mike Sherman taking advantage of the fact their respective improv thrower was left-handed.

"We've been doing things, stuff like that, and I guess it was the game to call it," Wicks said. "We were all confident in it. They asked me if I was ready to throw, and I was ready. So, we went with it."

As far as the wideout position is concerned, Wicks has been off to a productive start in his NFL career. The fifth-round pick has eight receptions for 112 yards and a touchdown on 174 offensive snaps over six games with two starts due to injury.

On the same series he threw a pass to Jones, Wicks made a critical 17-yard catch across the middle to convert on third-and-4 and keep the 12-play drive alive.

The 6-foot-1, 206-pound receiver also has garnered praise from LaFleur for his tenacious blocking ability, including on one of Jones' short-yard conversions against the Broncos.

"I feel good with where I'm at," Wicks said. "When my name is called and I step in, I have that confidence to make plays. We do it in practice, so having that confidence in your preparation in practice and trusting that only helps me out on game day."

The Packers also showed trust in Wicks when they put the ball in the 22-year-old receiver's hand against Denver. Once again, Wicks proved he's ready for whatever the coaches throw at him.

"He's a guy that we've got to continue to try to get more opportunities for in our offense because he's shown the ability," LaFleur said. "He's physical, he's smart, he's a really good route-runner, he's got really strong hands and he's fearless.

"He's a guy we've got a lot of confidence in, and we've got to try to find different ways to integrate him more into our offense because he's a productive player."

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