Following the departure of a couple of key contributors on the offensive side of the ball this past offseason, the Green Bay Packers are left with a void in the slot.
Randall Cobb and Allen Lazard, who signed their respective deals with the New York Jets in an effort to reunite with their newly-acquired quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, have led the offensive in snaps from the slot each of the past two seasons. According to Pro Football Focus, 209 of Cobb’s snaps last season were spent inside — that accounted for more than 80% of the passing plays he was on the field for.
Lazard, meanwhile, played 195 snaps in the slot to a whopping 303 on the perimeter. Spending most of his time on the boundary was inevitable after the Packers traded Davante Adams to the Las Vegas Raiders last spring. They lost a substantial amount of flexibility and Lazard, whose 6-foot-5 frame allowed him to out-muscle defenders, was an ideal fit.
With both veterans elsewhere and a copious amount of inexperience flooding the room, the Packers will have to determine how they’ll replicate the production that they’ve lost. There isn’t an immediate, definitive answer because it’s an ambiguous question.
“It all comes down to, what are you asking them to do?” Asked Matt LaFleur in his pre-practice press conference on Saturday, July 29. “Are you asking them to run choice routes? Are you asking them to big-body whoever’s in the nickel or the slot?
“A lot of it is match-up-based, I would say. When you have a bigger slot like a Lazard and you have a little nickel, then you feel more comfortable putting him there and he can go with his sheer strength and win on some routes versus, do you have a really quick slot? Is the nickel a bigger nickel? It’s all match-up-based and it’s all predicated on what we’re asking these guys to do.”
There’s No Shortage of Weaponry
The Packers haven’t just sat on their hands while allowing the likes of Adams, Cobb, Lazard and Marquez Valdes-Scantling — practically every name headlining their depth chart at wide receiver as recently as 2021 — to join new squads. Since last spring, they’ve drafted six new wideouts with a pair of them coming within the first two rounds: North Dakota State’s Christian Watson and Michigan State’s Jayden Reed.
They threw a couple of seventh-round picks at Samori Toure and Grant DuBose, a fifth-round pick at Dontayvion Wicks and a fourth at Romeo Doubs — the latter of the bunch figures to be a regular starter after an encouraging rookie campaign. With a mix of different flavors, it’s likely Reed who opens the season as the Packers’ primary starter at the slot, though, as LaFleur alluded to, that could change depending on the match-up.
It’s not something he’s entirely familiar with, even if his 5-foot-11, 187-pound frame makes him the perfect suitor. Over his past two collegiate seasons with the Spartans, he played 636 snaps on the perimeter to just 149 inside, per Pro Football Focus.
However, that’s not indicative of who he is and what he can become.
“I’ve always said it during the pre-draft process, I told every coach that I’m a football player,” Reed said after the first padded practice of training camp on Monday, July 31. “You want me to run down on gunner? Want me to return a punt? Want me to play inside? Play outside? I just like my versatility to be anywhere on the field. If you want to throw me out there at corner, I’ll compete there, too. I’m a complete football player and not just a wide receiver.”
LaFleur: There’s ‘Different Layers’ to Playing in the Slot
Under first-year starting quarterback, Jordan Love, the success of the Packers’ offense in 2023 is going to be predicated on both the leaps he makes as a passer and the chemistry he’s able to formulate with a youthful array of pass-catchers. The bulk of them — if not all — will likely be cross-trained to play both inside and outside. Watson, Doubs and Toure all have experience, albeit not anything extensive, playing in the slot.
All three players have just a single season of professional football under their belts. With an uptick in snaps and opportunities on the horizon, they’ll likely maintain a better understanding of the nuances that come with mastering production in the slot.
“There’s going to be certain guys you’re not going to ask to run a choice route,” said LaFleur. “It takes a certain skill set for that as well as being able to recognize the coverage and how to win certain routes. That’s a pretty complex question in terms of what’s best — there’s a lot of different layers to it.”