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.