2021 Packers Grades, offense: Aaron Rodgers' MVP season (and career) in context
So, how should we all view the league MVP right now? Bob McGinn, who has covered the NFL over six different decades, is the best person to ask. His annual grades on every single player are in.
Miss Part I? Catch up on the Team Grades here.
Second of a three-part series in which the Green Bay Packers of 2021 are graded. The individual grades include the 53 players on the roster as of Jan. 22 and the seven players on injured reserve. Part 2 covers the 29 players on offense. Playing-time percentages in the 18 games (17 regular season, one postseason) are for offense and defense only, not special teams. Almost all of the specialized statistics are my own and include 18 games. When an individual ranking for the season is cited, those statistics generally don’t include the playoff game. Part 3 (defense-specialists) will be next.
WIDE RECEIVERS (8)
Davante Adams (80.1%): He had more receptions (132) and receiving yards (1,643) than all the other wideouts combined. Matt LaFleur’s creative designs and Aaron Rodgers’ hair-trigger adjustments were reasons why the Packers consistently got the ball to Adams despite may forms of extra coverage. No team was able to shut down Adams primarily due to his individual skill. It takes an exceptionally athletic cornerback to mirror Adams in the bump zone. He defeats press coverage mainly with his feet. His moves and releases are unpredictable. Cornerbacks across from him are forever uncomfortable. He might not be blessed with special stopwatch speed but he plays extremely fast. At least one-third of his receptions were either behind the line or within a yard or two downfield. LaFleur/Rodgers just wanted to get him the ball. He gained 600 yards after the catch, an average of 4.55 that compares to 4.64 in 2020 and 4.74 in ’19 during the LaFleur years. His best was 5.41 in 2014. Early in Adams’ career, his hands weren’t dependable. He had 12 drops in 2015, nine in ’16, eight in ’17, 12 in ’19 and eight in ’20. He dropped merely three of 168 targets in 2018 and then a career-low three of 181 this year. He and Rodgers have developed a telepathy that is hard to defend. At times, Adams’ blocking was befitting a man looking to stay healthy so he could cash in at year’s end. He also can and should work harder against double coverage. He wasn’t Cooper Kupp, but he’s still pretty damn good. The Packers would be a different team without him. Grade: A.
Randall Cobb (34.2%): In the victories over the Steelers and Bengals in early October Cobb looked like he was going to be a key cog in his return. He brushed aside rookie Amari Rodgers, a third-round draft choice, after one game and commandeered the slot position. After campaigning for Cobb’s return, Aaron Rodgers made sure his pal got his share of footballs. At 31, he no longer possesses extreme quickness, but operating against primarily No. 3 cornerbacks he was more than able to uncover and produce. His craftiness was evident, and his hands (one drop in 40 targets) didn’t fail him. His 14 drops in 2015, the most since I began charting the statistic in 1990, were a distant memory. His body, however, failed him. A core muscle injury suffered in Game 12 ended his regular season. Grade: C-minus.
Allen Lazard (65.4%): In the first 12 games Lazard operated more as a blocking tight end than receiver. Only once did he have more than 50 yards or more than three receptions. But after missing one game due to COVID-19 and another due to injury, Lazard turned the narrative around by averaging 4.2 catches and 58 yards in Games 13-17. A strapping physical specimen at 6-4 ½ and 227, he’s learned to use his heft boxing out much smaller defensive backs in the end zone and on third downs. His Wonderlic score of 25 is apparent in how he finds ways to play over his deficiencies. His 4.58 40 speed always will be a limiting factor, and as an average athlete his route running is about as good as it will get. He endears himself to the coaches, who like being able to shift him down from the perimeter or slot and ask him to block much bigger people in-line. Of the 8 ½ “bad” runs charged to wide receivers Lazard was responsible for more than half (4 ½). He does miss a little too often, but his assignments in the run and screen game are more rigorous than the other wide receivers, too. His eight touchdowns were just three fewer than Davante Adams, but he also had the worst drop ratio on the team (four in 61 targets) and his average gain after the catch of 4.20 was almost a yard less than last year and the poorest of the top four wideouts. Grade: C-plus.
Amari Rodgers (8.8%): Under GM Brian Gutekunst, the Packers love big wide receivers. For them to deviate from their size standard and take Rodgers in the third round underscored just how much they liked him. Some teams, and obviously the Packers were one of them, envisioned Rodgers as a starting slot early in his career. He returned punts for three years at Clemson, and with work the Packers also hoped he would fill their void on kickoff returns, too. He was a third-round draft choice for a reason. Had Rodgers demonstrated more in the off-season, it’s doubtful GM Brian Gutekunst would have traded a sixth-round pick to the Texans for Randall Cobb no matter how badly Aaron Rodgers wanted him back. Although Rodgers was unimpressive in exhibition games, the Packers gave him the same 15 snaps they gave Cobb in the regular-season opener. After that, it was all Cobb and, when he went down, it was Equanimeous St. Brown, even Juwann Winfree. Rodgers didn’t play a snap from scrimmage in three of the last four games that he was in uniform. Rodgers logged 103 snaps total, and on 33 of them (32%) he raced behind the line as a sacrificial decoy on jet sweeps (he was handed the ball once). St. Brown was next on the jet list at 9%. Rodgers had eight targets, caught four for 45 and dropped one. As the primary return man, he was indecisive and without burst. Granted, the blocking wasn’t NFL-caliber, but Rodgers wasn’t exactly ripping up in there with explosion, power and bravery. His triangle numbers (5-9 ½, 212, 4.51) threw up red flags entering the draft. But to succeed at that size and speed requires abnormal desire and training. He struggled to separate short and offered little or no vertical challenge. One way to enhance his career might be to drop 10 to 20 pounds. One year in, he’s a bust. Grade: F.
Equanimeous St. Brown (26.5%): He’ll be an unrestricted free agent, but despite minimal production in four seasons the Packers might well take him back on the cheap. Is anyone sure what St. Brown is? As a rookie he didn’t drop one of 36 targets and averaged 15.6 yards per catch on 21 receptions. Since then, he has been sidelined all of 2019 (ankle) and dropped five of 16 targets in ’20 before coming back to drop just one of 17 this year. He can run, has developed into a competitive blocker and shown want-to and a knack for covering kicks. Yet, even after four years, he remains somewhat raw as a receiver. Maybe it is time to move on. He’s had four years, and it only took his brother, Amon-Ra, half a season to become a standout in Detroit. Grade: D.
Malik Taylor (2.7%): COVID-19 and an abdomen injury knocked him out of 4 ½ games before a shoulder injury sent him to injured reserve for the final four games. He’s better than Amari Rodgers returning kickoffs and probably as good as Equanimeous St. Brown operating outside on the punt teams. But, in truth, he’s just a guy. Grade: D-minus.
Marquez Valdes-Scantling (38.8%): Don’t be surprised if he attracts surprisingly lucrative offers in unrestricted free agency. It’s easy to forget that he stands an imposing 6-4. With a long stride and 4.38 speed he can jet past almost all-comers on ‘9’ routes. Teams that haven’t emphasized size probably would attach even more value to MVS. It used to be that he wasn’t dependable because of his unsure hands; he dropped a team-high nine of 76 targets in 2020. This year, he made immense improvement, leading the club without a drop in 55 targets. But, after not missing a game from 2018-’20, MVS had to sit out 5 ½ games with a hamstring injury, another game with COVID-19 and then the final 1 ½ games with a back problem. His average gain after the catch of 5.15 yards led the Packers even though it was the lowest of his career. Despite the missed time, he still hauled in three bombs for more than 40 yards. Grade: C-plus.
Juwann Winfree (12.2%): With Davante Adams, Allen Lazard and Marquez Valdes-Scantling all out, Winfree logged the second-most snaps (54) on a Thursday night in Arizona. The ex-Colorado Buffalo didn’t look out of place, but he was fortunate that his fumble after a sideline reception trickled out of bounds. His other big chance was a 44-play stint in Detroit. This time, his fumble near the sideline was recovered by the Lions, and it led to a game-turning touchdown. It was a point in his favor that the special-teams coaches deemed him tough enough to cover kicks. However, he shared the team lead in missed tackles in the kicking game with five while failing to make a tackle. Grade: F.
TIGHT ENDS (5)
Dominique Dafney (14.9%): Last season, Dafney was a surprisingly effective addition over the final seven games as a fullback-tight end. When Jace Sternberger came off a suspension in September and was cut before the third game, it appeared as if the door was open for a repeat engagement. Dafney, however, just wasn’t available, often the kiss of death for a dime-a-dozen No. 3 tight end. He spent Games 3-7 on injured reserve with a hip injury before missing Game 10 with a hamstring and most of Games 13-14 with an ankle. Dafney was athletic enough to have played wide receiver at Iowa and wildcat ball carrier at Indiana State. He mixes it up as a blocker, too. Given the shortage at the position, he’s worth another shot in 2022. Grade: D.
Tyler Davis (11.3%): When Dafney went down, the Packers signed Davis off the Colts’ practice squad. When Robert Tonyan was lost for the season after eight games, Davis picked up the offense in fine order and by the final month was playing almost as much as Marcedes Lewis. His numbers (6-3 ½, 252, 4.70) are ordinary. A former quarterback in high school, he was slow to accelerate and plodded through routes. After graduating from Connecticut in three years, he started for a year at Georgia Tech before Jacksonville drafted him in the sixth round. He played 40 snaps for the Jaguars as a rookie in 2020 before being cut last summer. He’s a position-style blocker who didn’t often run his feet on contact and sustain. His 252 snaps on special teams were the most by an offensive player and the fifth highest total on the club. For an October pickup, the Packers could have done worse. Grade: D.
Josiah Deguara (33.4%): In his four drafts, GM Brian Gutekunst’s third-round draft picks have been Oren Burks, Jace Sternberger, Deguara and Amari Rodgers. Deguara, by default, has been the best, but after seeing him in regular duty during his second season it should be obvious that he was drafted two or three rounds early. He has had little or no impact on offense or special teams. The Packers hoped he would be their version of the 49ers’ Kyle Juszczyk. He isn’t. Unlike Juszczyk, he lacks the bend to play fullback, the speed and athleticism to catch the ball downfield, the skill to run the ball in short yardage and the power to bloody noses as a point-of-attack blocker. Other than an out-of-the-blue 62-yard touchdown on a screen pass in Detroit, he offered no hint of big-play ability or potential. With his short arms (31 5/8 inches), minimal catch radius and modest speed (4.72), he isn’t what the Packers want on horizontal leak-outs and check-downs let alone seam routes. Plus, he’s a body catcher and dropped three of 34 targets. As a blocker, he’s too small for steady in-line banging, and when motioning across to wham edge defenders didn’t show the agility to sustain or adjust. Davis was the only player on offense to play more than Deguara’s 141 snaps on special teams. His work in the kicking game was undistinguished. Grade: D-plus.
Marcedes Lewis (43%): The Packers have to think long and hard before they pay Lewis a $2.08 million roster bonus due March 19. It’s part of the two-year, $8 million contract the Packers gave him to return two weeks into unrestricted free agency last March. In the last four games Lewis caught three passes for two yards. He also fumbled twice in the final seven games, including one that was lost against the 49ers and cut short the Packers’ early momentum. Fumbles are a sure sign of declining focus. Lewis is a traditional ‘Y’ tight end; of his 504 snaps, 338 (67%) came with his hand down. His only value is run blocking. Detroit’s Julian Okwara exposed him as a one-on-one pass blocker with a sack in Game 17. Lewis is a rarity in today’s NFL as a tight end with the power and bulk to move defensive ends on down blocks and earn stalemates blocking straight-ahead. He brings a physical dimension to an offense in an increasingly finesse league. Of Lewis’ 6 ½ “bad” runs, not one occurred in the last eight games. Most of his misses came when he was late off the ball or not quick enough to cut off the back side. Lewis is a luxury item. Because he can’t run, bend or jump, the Packers didn’t play him a down on special teams. He logged one snap in 2020, 63 in ’19 and 74 in ’18. Lewis turns 38 in May. Half the time he didn’t practice. In 13 weeks he was designated as “veteran rest” on the injury report. It’s time. Grade: D-plus.
Robert Tonyan (26.1%): His season ended in Game 8 with a torn ACL. An unrestricted free agent, he probably won’t be ready until the start of training camp, if not later. Last year, Tonyan had 10 receptions for 20 or more yards in 61.8% playing time. He was on a similar path this season with four. Losing Tonyan was a considerable blow to the offense. Unlike Lewis and Deguara, he has the speed to get to the flat, make the catch and turn up the field. His gains to the boundary are 7 or 8 yards rather than 3 or 4 for the others. His hands are superb, too. He didn’t have a drop in 28 targets this season after dropping just two in 86 targets from 2018-’20. Tonyan did take a step back as a blocker. He had six “bad” runs in half a season compared to five in a full season a year ago. Grade: C.
OFFENSIVE LINE (10)
David Bakhtiari (2.3%): Talk about a lost season. After undergoing surgery Jan. 7, 2021 for a torn ACL, he expected to return by mid-season. But Bakhtiari suffered a setback and needed arthroscopic surgery on the knee. Aaron Rodgers said he floated the idea of playing “a couple series” to his friend early in the week before the regular-season finale in Detroit. “I don’t think he was thinking about playing,” Rodgers said after that game. “For whatever reason, that kind of maybe slightly adjusted the course and direction of what he wanted to do. I’m so proud of him.” Bakhtiari started against the Lions and lasted 27 snaps before pulling himself in the middle of a series. Bakhtiari had reinjured the knee, and despite practicing one day on a limited basis before the playoff game he didn’t play. There’s no rush to get him back now. The Packers must pay him a $9.5 million roster bonus on March 19 as his cap hit swells from $11 million to $22.2 million. The risk should be obvious. Grade: Incomplete.