GREEN BAY – The Packers’ receiver depth chart was set with returning veterans Davante Adams, Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison slotted as Aaron Rodgers’ top three receiving targets coming out of training camp.
Prior to Green Bay’s opener against Chicago, however, the two-time MVP quarterback took a minute to remind the Packers’ three rookie receivers – Marquez Valdes-Scantling, J’Mon Moore and Equanimeous St. Brown – how quickly that all could change.
“I told those guys before Week 1. I said, ‘You’re all going to get an opportunity at some point. When you step in, there’s an expectation you’re going to make the plays,’” Rodgers recalled earlier this week.
This could be that week with the status of Adams (calf) and Allison (concussion) uncertain for Sunday’s game against the Detroit Lions and Cobb already being ruled out due to the hamstring injury he sustained in practice last Thursday.
The Packers have been in this spot before. Two years ago in Atlanta, Rodgers threw touchdowns to three different reserve receivers (Trevor Davis, Jeff Janis and Allison) after Cobb and Ty Montgomery were scratched from the lineup. Green Bay lost a 33-32 shootout to the Falcons, but Rodgers finished with four touchdowns and a 125.5 passer rating.
Rodgers frequently references that game as Allison’s coming-out party. Promoted from the practice squad earlier that week, the former undrafted free agent has been a fixture on the Packers’ active roster ever since.
Depending on how the week plays out, Sunday could present a similar opportunity for Valdes-Scantling, Moore and St. Brown. Valdes-Scantling, a fifth-round pick out of South Florida, has led the way as the No. 4 receiver since the start of the season.
The 6-foot-4, 206-pound receiver was called upon to replace Cobb during last Sunday’s 22-0 win over Buffalo, playing 54 offensive snaps and catching one pass for 38 yards.
“You always just have to prepare like it’s going to be today,” Valdes-Scantling said. “I did the same thing the first week, second week, third week, and it won’t change the remainder of the season no matter what happens. I have to go out and play a full game because you never know.”
All three rookies have had to adjust to not having Adams or Cobb on the practice field, but Valdes-Scantling said the veterans have gone the extra mile this week to answer any questions about Rodgers and the offense in the meeting room.
While this week has been business as usual for Valdes-Scantling, the absence of the Packers’ top three receivers afforded Moore and St. Brown extra reps with the No. 1 offense in practice Thursday.
Moore, a fourth-round pick out of Missouri, played 11 snaps in what marked his first NFL action after Allison left in the third quarter against the Bills. St. Brown has been a healthy scratch the past three weeks after being active in the opener.
“It’s easier for ’Quez to gain a little bit more momentum and be down the road a little further just because he’s been in there with the first group,” offensive pass-game coordinator Jim Hostler said. “The other two have been doing a great job in the limited role they’ve been going through and getting better. It’s just a slower process when you’re not in there with the first group and not working with that first unit in games, in that mode.”
The rookies know they aren’t alone. Beyond the receiving corps, Head Coach Mike McCarthy and offensive coordinator Joe Philbin have a healthy stable of tight ends and running backs to pull from, as well, in game-planning for the Lions.
Green Bay has used a lot of three-receiver sets through the first month of the season, but also incorporated a bevy of packages built around veteran tight ends Jimmy Graham, Lance Kendricks and Marcedes Lewis during training camp.
Graham has played around 83 percent of the offensive snaps this season. At 6-foot-7, his versatility also enables him to be flexed out as a perimeter option depending on who’s available.
At the same time, the Packers’ three-headed backfield of Jamaal Williams, Ty Montgomery and Aaron Jones has produced 340 total yards of offense over the past two weeks. That could prove useful against a Detroit defense that currently ranks last against the run, allowing 157.0 yards per game.
Jones has racked up 107 rushing yards and a touchdown (6.3 yards per carry) on 17 carries since returning from a two-game suspension, while Montgomery currently is third on the offense with 207 total yards from scrimmage.
“I think the biggest thing is each one of them has strong traits that help them,” running backs coach Ben Sirmans said. “(Jones) is probably the best instinctive runner that we have in terms of being able to make good decisions and that’s why you see a lot of times he’s a guy that’ll make more big plays because of those things. You combine that with his quickness and his instincts and cutting ability, that leads to more big plays.”
Meanwhile, the Packers’ young receiving corps is prepared for any possible outcome Sunday. Whether their number is called against the Lions or not, the three rookies will be ready.
“They’re counting on us right now because we don’t know the status of any of our starters right now,” Valdes-Scantling said. “If we have to go, we have to go. If we don’t have to go, then we have to prepare like we have to go. You never know what could happen.
“That’s just been our focus – just preparing like we’re going to have to play the whole game and we’re all going to be out there starting. That’s just how we prepare. Even if the three starters were up, we still prepare the same way.”