GREEN BAY — Everyone knows about the talent drain that has stripped the Green Bay Packers defense of its dominance.

Finding playmakers in the secondary and speed at linebacker dominated the discussion as the Packers prepared for the NFL draft. Both were considered areas of extreme need.

But there was an overlooked area where attrition also left the Packers short-handed. As difficult as it might be to believe given the sustained success of their state-of-the-art passing game, the Packers had developed a significant need at wide receiver.

Since the end of the 2012 season, Donald Driver retired and Greg Jennings and James Jones left Green Bay via free agency. Those longtime stalwarts accounted for 1,478 catches, 20,979 yards and 151 touchdowns during their Packers careers.

Despite having other needs, the Packers made a strong move to re-supply their wide receiving corps Friday night. With the top tight ends going off the board shortly before their pick and no inside linebackers who fit their desire for speed at the position, the Packers grabbed Fresno State wide receiver Davante Adams with their second-round pick.

Many fans no doubt wanted the Packers to take University of Wisconsin inside linebacker Chris Borland with the pick, but Packers general manager Ted Thompson decided instead to feed the beast that has carried Green Bay through more than two decades of success — the passing game.

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers tweeted, “Love it,” after Adams was picked and, though that seems a bit self-serving, it’s hard to argue with the sentiment. Indeed, drafting a wide receiver filled a major team need, for a variety of reasons.

• For the first time during coach Mike McCarthy’s tenure, the wide receiver corps was perilously thin after Jones signed with Oakland. Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb are back and one-time undrafted rookie Jarrett Boykin emerged as a surprisingly capable receiver in short zones, but three is not enough in the modern NFL.

That is especially true for the Packers. Not only does McCarthy make extensive use of sets with four wide receivers, having four capable pass-catchers protects the team from injury. If any of the top three went down, McCarthy’s play-calling options would dry up quickly and the offense would be crippled.

Remember, too, that Green Bay might be without tight end Jermichael Finley, a premier receiving threat whose career is threatened by a neck injury. The Packers would like to re-sign Finley, but he hasn’t received medical clearance to resume his career.

Since the top four tight ends were taken when the Packers picked in the second round, they’re not likely to find a Finley type who can step in and play right away, which makes having a deep wide receiver corps even more important. They did draft California tight end Richard Rodgers in the third round, but he doesn’t have the speed to go deep.

• Thompson has shown a remarkable ability to find productive wide receivers shortly after the first round and there’s no reason to think Adams won’t be his next success story. The last time Green Bay used a first-round Javon Walker in 2002, but that was a different regime.

Thompson used second-round picks on Jennings in 2006, Nelson in 2008 and Cobb in 2011. He grabbed Jones on the third round in 2007. He also took Terrence Murphy on the second round in 2005 and he showed great promise before he career was ended prematurely by a neck injury. Thompson said the common denominator with all those receivers was ball skills and that Adams has the similar pass-catching ability.

• Thompson’s mentor, former Packers general manager Ron Wolf, always said his biggest regret was not giving former quarterback Brett Favre enough high-end targets. Thompson appears bound and determined not to let that happen with Rodgers.

It should also be noted Nelson and Cobb are in final year of their contracts. It is expected that both will re-sign with the Packers, but landing another wide receiver is insurance in case one or both eventually departs.

• It is never a bad idea to pick from the deepest position in the draft, and wide receiver was considered the deepest this year. Twelve wide receivers were taken in the first two rounds, a record.

Adams was the ninth wide receiver off the board, with the 53rd pick overall. Three more — Indiana’s Cody Latimore, Penn State’s Allen Robinson and LSU’s Jarvis Landry — went in the next 10 picks.

• Most important, Adams looks like a wide receiver who can thrive in the Packers’ offense. He has good size at 6-foot-1 and 212 pounds. He put up hard-to-believe numbers in Fresno State’s spread offense, catching 233 passes for more than 3,000 yards over the past two seasons, including leading the nation with 131 receptions in 2013.

Some will credit Adams’ production to the offense he was in, to playing against inferior competition and to playing with Derek Carr, one of the nation’s best passers. But Adams has drawn many comparisons to Jones, a receiver whose speed, style and background are remarkably similar. Adams isn’t as thick as Jones, but he has better jumping ability, longer arms and might be a bit faster.

Contact Tom Oates at toates@madison.com or 608-252-6172.

Tom Oates has been a staff member of the Wisconsin State Journal sports department for 30 years and its editorial voice for more than 15, traversing the state and country to bring readers a Madison perspective on the biggest sports stories of the day.

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(4) comments

BLG

How many drafts are the Packers going to have to have the defense dominate the needs? Year after year we spend so much draft capital on defense and seem to get nothing back but injuries and lack of production. Maybe the problem is the coaching...can't imagine if Ted and the boys could actually draft their best player available instead of being so hamstrung every year...and it is every year defense...defense...defense. If Adams doesn't work out and Jermichael doesn't return...defensive coaching is taking it's toll and could prove to be our achilles heal. Already has. Let's see if we end up in the bottom third of the league again. These two picks aren't going to bring us enough to improve as much as it will take. No back-up for Rodgers, wide receivers disappearing and a constantly bad defense. Sound like poor coaching?

Cornelius_Gotchberg
Cornelius_Gotchberg

@dakref;

I have no problem with confidence, especially at wideout. He was the most productive FBS receiver over the last two years (albeit in a pass happy offense) and put up eye-popping numbers.

Agreed; production on the field is what matters.

He sure seemed a lot happier than Ha Ha did when chosen.

The kid has some serious guns, kinda reminds me of the 1988 1st rounder from South Carolina.
A strong, go after it, possession receiver.

Woulda loved to see us land that TE Niklas; oh well.

GO PACKERS!!

The Gotch

Harvey

Ha Ha is not a happy camper. Wanted to go to the Eagles with the next pick. At least Adams feels geniunely happy about being a Packer. Ha Ha? Not so much.

dakref

Not short on ego, Adams described himself as the most talented WR in the draft. Time will tell how he does on the pro level.

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