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The Spotlight Series
A Footballguys Spotlight is an in-depth look at a player. His plusses and minuses are examined, and we give you our bottom-line stance on his 2022 prospects. If a player listed below doesn't yet have a link, don't worry. It's coming soon.
The End of an Era
Many wondered if we were embarking on Aaron Rodgers’ final season in Green Bay a year ago. Although Davante Adams wanted and had earned a significant pay raise, not many pundits saw him playing elsewhere. After a 13-4 season for the Packers, another division title, an MVP Award for Rodgers, and a career year for Adams, it seemed like all was forgiven. Rodgers announced he would remain in Green Bay on a massive contract extension. But something surprising happened, Davante Adams didn’t fall in line to run it back with his MVP quarterback. The animus he felt toward the front office persisted, and he demanded a trade. Less than two weeks after the Rodgers soap opera concluded peacefully, Adams was traded to the Las Vegas Raiders.
Most assumed Adams’ departure would be the first in a series of offseason moves to rebuild the receiving corps. Why bring Rodgers back for another Super Bowl run and leave him with a gaping hole at the receiver position? But as we now know, the Packers had no grand plan. They also allowed Marquez Valdes-Scantling to leave and replaced the dynamic duo with a few rookies – Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs – and an over-the-hill veteran – Sammy Watkins.
This brings us to Allen Lazard. Fantasy managers are unsure whether to invest in the Packers receivers and whether Lazard – currently the highest-drafted – warrants excitement.
We need to answer two questions:
1) What is the Packers’ No. 1 receiver worth?
2) Who is the team’s No. 1 receiver?
The Value of Aaron Rodgers’ No. 1 Receiver
Rodgers is one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history, and while the Packers' fate has ebbed and flowed during his Hall of Fame career, it’s never been because Rodgers was ineffective. Since becoming the Packers starter in 2008, Rodgers has helped many receivers reach fantasy stardom. But would it surprise you to learn that in fourteen seasons, only four receivers have been Rodgers’ favorite in a given season?
- Greg Jennings – Four seasons, 2008-2011
- Randall Cobb – Two seasons, 2012 and 2015
- Jordy Nelson – Three seasons, 2013-2014, 2016
- Davante Adams – Five seasons, 2017-2022
TABLE: No. 1 Targets, Green Bay Packers (2008-2021)
While it’s easy to look at the data and come away impressed, framing the Packers' top receivers within a fantasy context is essential.
TABLE: Fantasy Points and Per Game Ranking of Packers No. 1 Receivers (2008-2021)
A few takeaways:
- Nelson averaged nearly 300 PPR fantasy points in his three seasons as the No. 1 target and ranked 2nd, 4th, and 16th on a per-game basis
- Adams had the most seasons as the top target but never fell short of a top-10 per-game finish. He ranked 9th, 1st, 5th, 1st, and 2nd in his five seasons atop the heap
- Greg Jennings was Rodgers’ first alpha and produced more like a low-end WR1, with finishes of 9th, 22nd, 10th, and 11th
- Randall Cobb was, by far, the least impressive of Rodgers’ No. 1 guys, ranking 16th and 30th on a per-game basis
The most important takeaway is that Aaron Rodgers’ No. 1 target has finished as a top-10 fantasy receiver in 10 of 14 seasons (71%) and only finished outside the Top 25 once (when Cobb finished WR30). So whoever stands atop the depth chart this year will be a screaming value unless their ADP rises once the preseason gets underway.
Is Allen Lazard the No. 1 Option?
We can safely say that whoever steps into the No. 1 target role will be a fantasy asset. But how sure are we that Lazard will be the guy?
Here are the receivers projected to make the 53-man roster, per a compilation of several beat writers:
How do these six compare to the No. 1s who came before?
Table: Profiles of Aaron Rodgers' No. 1 Targets
|First||Last||Draft||Height||Weight||First Year As No. 1|
|Greg||Jennings||2nd Round 2006||6'0"||198||3rd season|
|Randall||Cobb||2nd Round 2011||5'10"||195||2nd season|
|Jordy||Nelson||2nd Round 2008||6'3"||217||6th season|
|Davante||Adams||2nd Round 2014||6'1"||215||4th season|
A few takeaways:
- All four No. 1s were 2nd round NFL draft picks
- None reached the top of the heap as rookies
- There’s no obvious body type; the size/weight/speed profiles for each No. 1 varies
Getting back to the current roster, we’ll have clarity as the preseason gets underway, but we can reasonably eliminate several receivers immediately.
- Watkins – The most pedigreed of the bunch, but Watkins is a shadow of his former self. He hasn’t topped 1,000 yards since 2015. He hasn’t played a full season since his rookie year in 2014. Finally, he hasn’t finished as a top-50 fantasy receiver since 2017. There’s nothing to see here.
- Cobb – Rodgers lobbied for the Packers to bring Cobb back after two seasons in Texas, but the veteran couldn’t reclaim the magic. He finished with just 375 yards last season and hasn’t been fantasy relevant since 2015. Cobb is an aging complementary player. No more. No less.
- Doubs – A fourth-round rookie, it’s hard to envision Rodgers trusting a first-year player as his go-to receiver after never doing so in fourteen prior seasons.
AND THEN THERE WERE THREE
- Watson – Watson passes the “2nd round pick” test and has the size/speed combination to project as a potential No. 1 receiver. If you’re betting on a Packers receiver for the next three to five years, Watson is the easy choice. But can he make his mark as a rookie? We’ve seen countless rookie receivers dominate across the league, but it’s never happened with Rodgers. Could this year be different by necessity?
- Rodgers – Rodgers is the forgotten man. He was a third-round pick just a season ago, but he only appeared in four games and was targeted eight times. Draft scouts compared him favorably to Randall Cobb coming out of Clemson. Still, most fantasy managers have discarded him because the front office decided to draft not one but two receivers this April.
- Lazard – Lazard was an undrafted free agent (by the Jaguars) who made the Packers practice squad in 2018. At 6-foot-5, 223 pounds, he’s much larger than Rodgers’ prior No. 1 targets. And in four seasons, he’s never caught more than 40 receptions, nor has he finished higher than WR42 as a fantasy contributor.
Anyone that assures you Lazard is the guaranteed No. 1 option is delivering a master class in false bravado. We don’t know if that’s how the chips will fall. But we do know the following:
- He’s the most productive returning receiver
- He’s played more than 70% of offensive snaps in consecutive seasons
- He has the size and speed combination to win inside or outside
- He’s graded relatively poorly against both press (27th percentile) and man (15th percentile) coverage as a complementary contributor
- He ranks well below league average in average separation
While there are puts and takes to consider, perhaps the most critical thing is Lazard has the endorsement of his star quarterback:
“Excited about Allen Lazard,” Rodgers told reporters on June 7. “He’s been our dirty work guy for most of his career here. Now he’s getting an opportunity to be a No. 1 receiver. So, I’m not worried at all about him stepping into that role. I talk to him a lot. I know how he takes care of his body. I know he’ll be ready when he’s here.”
Is Rodgers’ endorsement enough to discount Lazard’s uneven career performance? Will Lazard be exposed if he’s put into a starring role? If he wasn’t dominating as a complementary piece, how will he deal with No. 1 cornerbacks?
The Price is Right
Allen Lazard does not fit the pedigree of a typical No. 1 receiver. And although he’s flashed moments of brilliance in four seasons, he’s graded poorly on a per-play basis in many situations, particularly against man coverage. But the Packers front office let Davante Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling walk, and Aaron Rodgers has anointed Lazard as the next man up.
While we can’t be confident Lazard will seamlessly step into the No. 1 job and dominate, his cost on draft day more than offsets the risk.
- Lazard is currently being drafted outside the Top 40
- If he wins (and keeps) the No. 1 job, history says he has a top-25 floor and a top-5 ceiling
- He finished as WR48 last season, despite being a backup
PROJECTIONS AND STATS
No one knows if Allen Lazard will be THE GUY. But we do know Aaron Rodgers wants him to step into the role, and if he does, he’ll be a fantasy star. Rodgers’ No. 1 target has never finished worse than WR30 and has been a top-12 receiver in ten of 14 seasons. As long as Lazard’s ADP falls outside the Top 36, he’s a lottery ticket you need to prioritize. However, you may want to ratchet back your shares if he has a strong preseason and his ADP vaults higher. Fade him if his ADP rises into the Top 25, but grab as many shares as possible while he’s cheap.
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