Improvement will need to come from within after Devin Funchess’ departure
GREEN BAY - The future is now for the Packers' receiving corps.
With free-agent acquisition Devin Funchess' decision to opt out of the 2020 NFL season due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, improvement will need to come from within for Green Bay at the receiver position.
The presence of three-time Pro Bowler Davante Adams certainly makes life easier on quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the offense, but it will be imperative for the Packers to get continued growth from Allen Lazard, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Jake Kumerow, and Equanimeous St. Brown once training camp practices get underway.
"I think that we're expecting everybody to step up," Head Coach Matt LaFleur said. "What's so great is these guys have a year under their belt in our scheme and they've had a really productive offseason. I feel like the meetings have gone very, very well."
Without Funchess, the August leader in the clubhouse below Adams on the Packers' depth chart is Lazard, the former undrafted free agent who emerged as a consistent threat down the stretch last season.
Despite not seeing action in the team's first five games, the 6-foot-5 receiver still finished second on the team in receiving with 35 catches for 477 yards and three touchdowns.
Lazard broke out against the Lions in Week 6, entering late to catch four passes for 65 yards and a touchdown in a 23-22 nail-biting victory. He then closed the regular season with another four receptions for 69 yards and a TD in Green Bay's 23-20 win in Detroit to seize a first-round bye in the playoffs.
"He's shown that he's a really talented player on the field, and he's coming into his own confidence-wise," said Adams of Lazard. "Once you start to truly believe you're a really, really good player, and you know your role on the team and all that, that's when you start to have an Allen Lazard. Really excited to see ... this next year jump for him, because he's a lot more confident."
Valdes-Scantling began last season in a starting role, posting a six-catch, 99-yard performance with a touchdown against Denver in Week 3 and another 133 yards and a score against the Raiders in Week 7.
The second half of the year was a different story for the speedy deep threat, with Valdes-Scantling adding only five more catches for 36 yards over the team's final nine games.
This offseason, Rodgers and LaFleur reiterated their confidence in Valdes-Scantling, who came on the scene in 2018 after catching 38 passes for 581 yards and two touchdowns as a rookie fifth-round pick out of South Florida.
"(I'm) really excited to see how Marquez bounces back from how he did last year," Adams said. "Obviously, he did a lot of great things, but there's a lot he wishes he could have back. He's definitely taking the right steps now."
While five years apart, Kumerow and St. Brown both are at a pivotal point in their respective careers. Kumerow, the oldest receiver on the roster at 28, has been a camp darling each of the past two years but only has 20 catches for 322 yards and two touchdowns to show for it in regular-season action.
The former UW-Whitewater standout has flashed big-play potential, though. Three of his 12 receptions in 2019 went for more than 20 yards, including a 49-yard sideline grab against Chicago in Week 15.
St. Brown, who was only 21 at the time he was drafted in 2018, was primed to make a Year 2 jump before a late-camp ankle injury landed him on season-ending IR.
"It's going to be great to get E.Q. back in the fold," LaFleur said. "That certainly hurt us last year, so we do have a lot of confidence in our receiving corps and they're going to have to take that next step for us to be as productive as we'd like to be this coming fall."
Rounding out the room will be returning practice-squad players, Darrius Shepherd and Malik Taylor, former CFL standout Reggie Begelton and undrafted rookie Darrell Stewart.
With the first practice of training camp slated for next Saturday, time is of the essence for the Packers' young receivers to make the most of their reps with Rodgers and leave an impression on the coaching staff.
"We all started from Square One together with this offense, so they're starting to get a little bit more comfortable as they get used to being in the NFL," Adams said. "When people start getting used to that, that's when they start to lock in a little bit more and hone in on the details. And being in Green Bay ... the attention to detail is at an all-time high."
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