Not everyone is ready to give up the campaign for the Green Bay Packers to add another speedy wide receiver before the 2020 season.
Kristopher Knox of Bleacher Report recently listed the “most underrated NFL free agents” still on the market ahead of next week’s start to training camps, identifying some of the best fits for each one with the Packers getting linked to exactly one of them: former Chicago Bears wideout Taylor Gabriel.
Though he has never been a high-volume receiver, Taylor Gabriel is a fine complementary pass-catcher and one of the fastest players in the entire league. According to Chicago Bears receiver Anthony Miller, Gabriel was clocked at 24 miles per hour in practice in 2018.
That season, Gabriel caught 67 passes for 688 yards and two touchdowns.
Realistically, Gabriel would make sense for any team seeking a speed merchant in its lineup. The Green Bay Packers are such a team, as they lack a reliable deep threat opposite No. 1 receiver Davante Adams.
The 29-year-old Gabriel is coming off a down year in Chicago after catching just 29 passes for 353 yards and four touchdowns during the 2019 season and missing seven games with injuries, but a fresh start in a more effective system — with a better quarterback — could see him settle nicely into a reliable No. 2 role for a passing offense.
As Knox reminds, the Packers struggled to get production last season out of their receivers not named Davante Adams, who finished three yards off a 1,000-yard season before racking up 298 yards and two touchdowns on 17 catches during the postseason. Of the six other players who caught at least 25 passes, though, none came within 500 yards of Adams’ production.
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San Francisco Also Great for Gabriel
The Packers might have been the first team mentioned as a good fit for Gabriel, but they weren’t alone with the San Francisco 49ers also coming up in the Bleacher Report piece.
The San Francisco 49ers would also make a ton of sense for Gabriel. Starter Deebo Samuel is recovering from a foot fracture that could keep him out until October, according to NBC Sports’ Peter King, although Samuel has since denied that timetable.
49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan also previously coached Gabriel as offensive coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons.
The 49ers offense was more efficient than most teams in the league during the 2019 season, finishing with the fourth-most total yards (381.1), second-most points (29.9) and second-most rushing yards (144.1) per contest. A devastating Super Bowl loss to Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs might have dinged their ego some, but several analysts are expecting their offense will come back even stronger in 2020 — especially with the addition of first-round wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk.
The trouble, though, is Deebo Samuel’s broken foot and whether it will result in him missing significant time. Even with Aiyuk and star tight end George Kittle (the team’s 2019 receiving leader) at his disposal, the 49ers’ passing options would be limited without Samuel after saying goodbye to both Marquise Goodwin (traded to Philadelphia) and Emmanuel Sanders (signed with New Orleans) this offseason. A prove-it contract with Gabriel could make for a quick solve and add some needed experience to the wideout room.
Why Packers Might Avoid Gabriel
Packers fans were ready for their favorite team to acquire new receiving talent this offseason, itching for free agency and the 2020 NFL draft to provide quarterback Aaron Rodgers with more weapons after the Packers finished one game away from the Super Bowl.
Instead, the itch went mostly unscratched.
The Packers added exactly three new faces to their receiving room this offseason: free-agent signing Devin Funchess, CFL standout Reggie Begelton and undrafted free agent Darrell Stewart Jr. They also allowed a familiar one to walk in free agency with fifth-year slot receiver Geronimo Allison signing with the Detroit Lions. Otherwise, the Packers have decidedly placed their trust in their returning cast of wideouts, leaving little room for an addition like Taylor.
“We have a lot of confidence in our receiver corps,” Packers head coach Matt LaFleur said in April. “I think we do have the talent and we have depth at that position.”
The Packers have an open race for the spots behind Adams on the depth chart with Funchess, Allen Lazard, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Equanimeous St. Brown and Jake Kumerow among the biggest competitors. Begelton could also become a surprise roster contender if his transition to the NFL proves fruitful despite a diminished offseason.