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Rookie WR Dontayvion Wicks opening eyes with explosive play

Fifth-round pick leads Green Bay with 16 catches for big gains

WR Dontayvion Wicks
WR Dontayvion Wicks

GREEN BAY – It could be said big plays have always been Dontayvion Wicks' game.

Two years ago, the Packers' rookie receiver shattered Herman Moore's school record at Virginia for most single-season receiving yards (1,203) thanks in part to Wicks' eye-popping average of 21.1 yards per catch.

Just 13 games into his pro career, the 6-foot-1, 206-pound wideout already has hauled in 31 passes for 491 yards and a touchdown. More than half of those receptions (16) have fallen into the category of an "explosive" catch of 16 or more yards.

Green Bay's selection of Michigan State receiver Jayden Reed in the second round drew a lot of attention last April and deservedly so. The 23-year-old wideout needs just two more catches to break Sterling Sharpe’s 35-year-old team record for most receptions by a Packers rookie.

However, Wicks has been a gem in his own right. With three weeks left in the regular season, the 19th receiver taken in the 2023 NFL Draft currently leads all rookies with 15.8 yards per reception.

"He's always asking questions, always asking if he's in the right spot," said quarterback Jordan Love of Wicks. "I think he's a really good route-runner, really shifty guy, catches the ball really well and he's making plays after the catch. He's getting a lot of YAC right now. He's just a tough guy. He's doing a lot of really good things."

Wicks' high output on receptions isn't just from catching go balls, either. With a season-long catch of 35 yards, the 22-year-old wideout has been proficient at beating DBs off the line of scrimmage, gaining separation and powering forward for extra yards after the catch.

Wicks has shown a knack for finding holes in opposing secondaries, too. He was responsible for five of Green Bay's 10 longest plays this past Sunday against Tampa Bay, finishing with six catches and a career-high 97 yards.

Playing through an ankle injury he suffered against New York earlier this month, Wicks dug deep to drag Buccaneers downfield with him. According to Pro Football Focus, he's averaging a team-high 6.1 yards after catch/reception.

"He has a great mindset," receivers coach Jason Vrable said. "But if you really watch him on contact, he kind of has a running back lower half where his whole foot gets in the ground on contact and his lower half is strong. He does a good job when the first guy touches him, that his pad level is low and he runs through it."

Wicks' mentality, physical makeup and competitiveness have drawn minor comparisons to another "Tae" in Green Bay: six-time Pro Bowler Davante Adams. Standing at his locker Thursday, Wicks smiles when the topic is broached given how extensively he studied Adams' game in college.

It started with his position coach at Virginia, Marques Hagans, who would assign his receivers two NFL wideouts to study. Wicks was given Adams and Cincinnati's Ja'Marr Chase.

Wicks respected Chase's game but felt a connection to Adams based on his release, footwork, and backstory. Like Wicks, Adams also was a former basketball player, and had just two stars attached to his name when he committed to Fresno State.

"Coming into the league, I already knew a lot about him, and I'd already watched him a lot," Wicks said. "We've got a lot of the same movements, releases, like to create separation on the release, so I figure watching him would help me a lot more coming into the league as a first-year rookie, going against vet DBs."

That comparison hit the mainstream during the Packers' encounter with the Giants on Monday Night Football. The broadcast team of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman made a quick mention of it based on their pre-production meeting with Head Coach Matt LaFleur.

Wicks hadn't heard it until several teammates, including cornerback Jaire Alexander, mentioned to him how the commentary team was "talking about me in the same sentence with Davante."

The rookie understands he's a long way from reaching the caliber of NFL receiver Adams is, but count LaFleur among those who've been impressed with how well the rookie has played out of the gate this season.

"The way I like to compare is crossing somebody over on the basketball court," LaFleur said. "He's got that ability to play on his insteps and he's got that short-area quickness. He's got a ways to go before he gets to (Adams') level, but I do think as far as the skillset and all that, that you look for in a guy, I think the sky's the limit for him, quite frankly."

The Packers have needed everything Wicks has given them this season, with running back Aaron Jones (hamstring/knee), receiver Christian Watson (hamstring) and tight end Luke Musgrave (kidney) all missing time. Even Reed has been dealing with chest and toe injuries over the past month.

Wicks is still feeling the effects of his own ankle injury but his focus lies squarely on this Sunday's matchup with the Carolina Panthers and the next big play that awaits him.

"I just came into this season thinking like I wanted to do whatever I can with the opportunities I got," Wicks said. "And I felt like I've done a straight job with what I've received this far in the season. We've got three more games left, more opportunities, so I want to keep that going."

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