GREEN BAY - Rookie receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling’s speed was a shock to no one. His 4.37-second time in the 40-yard dash at the combine was evident on the field during OTAs and minicamp.
But Valdes-Scantling, a fifth-round draft pick from South Florida, did surprise the Packers’ coaching staff in a different way as offseason workouts progressed.
He was able to show some effectiveness from the slot, not the first place a 6-foot-4, 206-pound speedster is thought to fit.
“He’s a little bit more sudden,” pass-game coordinator Jim Hostler said. “I thought in college he was more of a straight-line guy. He has a little more suddenness, so that gives him a little more (inside) route ability. Those things are exciting.”
Valdes-Scantling said the slot can require more adjustments, depending on whether a nickel corner or safety might be assigned in coverage. He also believes it can be more of a “finesse” position in terms of working to get open.
He’s comfortable with anyplace he’s asked to line up. Learning both the outside spots as well as the slot is a challenge for any NFL rookie receiver, but Valdes-Scantling’s ability to process the playbook appears to be a valuable asset as he begins his pro career.
“I played all the positions in college, but the offense was a lot simpler,” he said. “Coming in here, there’s a lot of different changes. The playbook is very, very big here, so to be able to learn all those plays and learn conceptually - not just by play, but learning the whole concept - is something I’ve done a pretty good job of.”
Perhaps learning two different playbooks in college helped. After two seasons at North Carolina State, Valdes-Scantling transferred to South Florida and played two years after sitting one out.
His best college season was his final one, with 53 catches for 879 yards and six TDs in 2017.
As one of three receivers the Packers drafted, along with Missouri’s J’Mon Moore in the fourth round and Notre Dame’s Equanimeous St. Brown in the sixth, Valdes-Scantling will be battling for a roster spot and playing time throughout training camp and the preseason.
There’s no telling at this point how the pecking order will shake out behind Davante Adams and Randall Cobb at the top of the receiver depth chart. The three draft picks all bring attractive attributes to the table.
Moore’s large but compact frame (6-3, 205) looks the most powerful and physically imposing. The long-limbed St. Brown (6-5, 214) has an off-the-charts catching radius, and Valdes-Scantling is the fastest of the three.
If knowledge of the playbook can get him an edge, Valdes-Scantling will do his best to take advantage. In addition to studying all the receiver positions, he also likes to watch the defensive backs on the practice film and file away mental notes.
“That’s when you go in and say, OK, this guy plays like this, this guy is aggressive, this guy is all footwork, this guy is handsy,” he said. “You go out and learn those things in your off time, and then when you’re out there, you’re just playing.”
Gaining the quarterbacks’ trust is the next priority, and while Valdes-Scantling regrets some plays that got away during OTAs and minicamp, he’s confident the connections will come in time.
All of the young receivers fighting for spots are likely to start taking their reps in camp with backups Brett Hundley, DeShone Kizer and Tim Boyle, looking to eventually get their opportunities with Aaron Rodgers.
That’s how it works in Green Bay, and the competition is right around the corner. Count Valdes-Scantling among the many Packers receivers looking forward to it.
“Yeah, how could you not?” he said. “You’ve got guys who have been to Pro Bowls and a guy in the top 50 in the NFL right now. You want to learn behind those guys, but you also want to compete. You want to (put yourself right) behind those guys, because one day he won’t be in that seat anymore, which is the name of the game.
“This is the NFL. It’s the best of the best. You compete with the guys in the room, guys in the other room, competing with the defense. It’s always a competition.”