Packers.com is taking a look at the Packers' roster, position by position, leading up to the 2021 NFL Draft. The series continues with the wide receivers and tight ends.
GREEN BAY – Contrary to what many expected, the Packers didn't draft a wide receiver last year, but the offense didn't suffer as it ranked No. 1 in the league in scoring.
With the team's top four at the position in Davante Adams, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Allen Lazard and Equanimeous St. Brown all back for 2021, and last year's opt-out free agent Devin Funchess now in the fold, is there any reason to think this year's draft approach will be different?
In a word, yes.
Because, very simply, none of the five aforementioned receivers is under contract beyond this year, and when a glut of players at one position is collectively heading into a contract year, planning for the future becomes a high priority.
To be sure, the Packers will do everything in their power to prevent Adams from becoming a free agent. The newly minted first-team All-Pro and now three-time Pro Bowler is coming off a dynamite season in which he set the franchise record for receptions with 115, tied the mark for receiving TDs with 18, and fell just a dozen yards short of his personal career high in receiving yards with 1,374 (he had 1,386 in 2018).
Adams has established himself as one of the best receivers in the league, and at age 28 (he won't turn 29 until Christmas Eve this year), he's in line for a lucrative contract extension to keep him in Green Bay through his prime.
It's harder to gauge how it will play out with the others, though.
Take a look at the top wide receiver prospects heading into the 2021 NFL Draft.
Valdes-Scantling battled some drops in 2020 but still set career highs with 690 yards and six TDs, becoming a major big-play threat with a league-best 20.9 yards per catch. His 50-yard TD in the NFC title game was his fifth score on the year from at least 45 yards out. He's entering the final season of his rookie contract.
Lazard appeared headed for a big year when he caught six passes for 146 yards and a TD in Week 3 at New Orleans, only to miss the next six games with a core muscle injury. The best blocker amongst the team's receivers, Lazard was still a relatively steady producer post-injury and then contributed more in the two playoff games (seven catches, 158 yards, including a 58-yard TD). He will be a restricted free agent after 2021.
Meanwhile, Funchess has just a one-year offer as he makes a push to get back into the game after taking the season off, and St. Brown, who had seven catches for 117 yards and a TD last year, is a 2018 draft pick like Valdes-Scantling heading into the final season of his rookie deal.
This isn't to say everyone but Adams is as good as gone after 2021, but it's extremely unlikely all will be back given salary-cap realities and the usual roster turnover.
Analysts say this year's draft class at receiver is just as deep as last year's, when the Packers passed on adding any, and it's even more impressive specifically amongst the smaller, shiftier slot receivers.
A significant draft investment as a future partner to Adams on the outside, as well as the addition of a slot type who could give Head Coach Matt LaFleur more options with motions and jet sweeps, could both be in the Packers' plans.
Tight end does not loom as high on the priority list for this draft, with the position as well-stocked as it's been for some time.
The ageless wonder Marcedes Lewis is back for a 16th NFL season, coming off a Packers-best for him three TD catches last year. The offense will continue to benefit from his blocking skills and the whole team from his leadership abilities. He can't play forever, but the Packers are glad to have him as long as he's able.
Take a look at the top prospects at tight end heading into the 2021 NFL Draft.
Robert Tonyan was offered a second-round tender as a restricted free agent coming off his breakout season in which he caught 52 passes for 586 yards and 11 scores, matching the single-season franchise mark for TDs by a tight end (Paul Coffman, 1983). He'll be an unrestricted free agent after this season, but another year like 2020 would make it difficult for the Packers to let him go.
Third-round draft picks from each of the last two years – Jace Sternberger in 2019, Josiah Deguara in 2020 – also remain in the pipeline, but both have dealt with injury issues in their young careers.
Sternberger has played in just 18 games total over his first two years, though he did flash some of the downfield receiving ability last year (12 catches, 114 yards, TD) that the Packers are hoping to see more of when he's healthy.
Deguara proved his value in LaFleur's offense right away as a versatile piece started in the opener as a rookie, but then he missed two games before tearing an ACL on special teams in Week 4, ending his season. His return and how he fits back in will be an important storyline in 2021.
Last but not least, a fifth contributor in Dominique Dafney will look to build on a strong finish to his rookie year. Undrafted from Indiana State, Dafney joined the Packers' practice squad at midseason and was elevated to the active roster in December, catching a TD pass in the regular-season finale in Chicago. He also played in both postseason contests.