Green Bay Packers need to find a deep-threat wide receiver

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 22: Jordy Nelson
ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 22: Jordy Nelson /

Mike McCarthy should add a deep-threat wide receiver to his Christmas list this year.

A major piece of the Green Bay Packers’ offense was lost to the Heinz Field turf in August 2015 when Jordy Nelson tore his ACL.

Since then, Nelson hasn’t been the same explosive playmaker he once was, and opportunities for the deep shot downfield have almost disappeared.

Aaron Rodgers‘ last MVP season was in 2014. That year the Packers consistently burned defenses with a play-action pass to Nelson. Some of the credit belongs to Eddie Lacy, who forced opponents to respect the run. The rest was Nelson’s ability to fly down the field and zoom past defensive backs.

Without a genuine deep threat, Rodgers has been forced to throw shorter passes. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Rodgers’ average completed air yards is 5.5, third-lowest in the NFL. Only Joe Flacco and Brett Hundley have a lower CAY.

This season Rodgers threw for an average of 7.04 yards per pass attempt, which is the second-lowest of his career. In 2014 he was averaging 8.43 yards per attempt. In 2011, his first MVP season, he set a career-high at 9.25 yards per attempt.

This is a direct result of the pass catchers around him.

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Few receivers explode off the line of scrimmage like Davante Adams. He’s the master of the slant route and also has a nose for the end zone.

Adams has 10 touchdowns this season, which is second in the league behind only DeAndre Hopkins. This is no fluke, either, as Adams also finished second in receiving touchdowns last year with 12.

Adams has made plays deep in the past, but it’s not a regular feature of his game. He doesn’t have blazing speed, and instead wins at the line of scrimmage.

Another indication of the Packers’ lack of a deep threat is the average cushion given to them by opposing cornerbacks.

The more a defense fears a receiver can beat them deep, the bigger the cushion they give. No Packers receiver ranks within the top-35 for average cushion by defensive backs, per Next Gen Stats..

That’s not to say the Packers don’t have speedsters on their roster. Jeff Janis and Trevor Davis fit the bill.

Yet neither sees the field on offense regularly enough to make an impact. Despite their speed, neither has shown they have the processing ability or route-running technique to deserve more playing time.

The benefits of a receiver who can regularly get open deep aren’t limited to just big plays downfield.

When defenses are forced to respect the deep ball, opportunities open up underneath. It’s no coincidence that while Nelson was lighting up opponents in 2014, Randall Cobb was also having a career-year in the slot. It’s his only 1,000-yard campaign to date.

It also benefits the ground game. The Packers finally have a pair of running backs who can take advantage in Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams.

Adding more receiving talent should be a priority for general manager Ted Thompson next spring. Sure, the defense needs a lot work. Thompson’s main focus should be on fixing the pass rush and strengthening the secondary.

But along with that, he should be on the hunt for another pass catcher or two.

Nelson will be 33-years-old in May. His best years are behind him. Cobb is entering the final year on his contract, and he’s struggled to find any kind of consistency over the past three seasons.

Adams has become Green Bay’s top receiver. Mike McCarthy even said so himself this week, calling him the team’s “best perimeter player”. But he’s a free agent this offseason.

Even if Adams re-signs, the Packers need to find another weapon for Rodgers. One who can complement Adams’ skill set.

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The Packers need a receiver who can get open deep. Thompson should make it his mission to find one in the offseason.