Monday, September 5, 2022

Reliance on Newcomers Could Sink Pack

 By Eric Goska

With Davante Adams gone, Aaron Rodgers (shown here in a game from 2012)
y have to rely on newcomers in 2022 more so than at any other time in his career.

This season, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers may have to rely on newcomers more than ever. If that comes to pass, the team and its field general could find victories harder to come by in 2022.

Every year, quarterbacks around the NFL throw to at least a few players who have never caught a pass from them before. That’s not unusual in a league filled with change.

Last season, Rodgers completed passes to 16 different receivers. The bulk of those catches went to veterans such as Davante Adams (117), Aaron Jones (52) Allen Lazard (38) and AJ Dillon (30).

But as September turned to October and beyond, Rodgers made connections with four players for the first time: Juwann Winfree (4), Tyler Davis (4), Amari Rodgers (2) and Kylin Hill (1). Call those four newcomers, players who had not caught a pass from Rodgers before.

In 17 seasons, Rodgers has completed passes to 84 different players. Each year, he has added a minimum of three newcomers to that running total.

Typically, Rodgers engages with four or five newcomers each season. Only twice have more than six fresh faces (2008 and 2018) joined the party.

In 2008, the year Rodgers took over as starter, he found Jermichael Finley, Ryan Grant, Korey Hall, Tory Humphrey, Brandon Jackson, Kregg Lumpkin, Ruvell Martin, Jordy Nelson, and DeShawn Wynn for the first time. That was to be expected as Rodgers had been limited to just 35 completions in three seasons as a backup.

In 2018, Rodgers collaborated for the first time with Jimmy Graham, Jake Kumerow, Marcedes Lewis, J’Mon Moore, Equanimeous St. Brown, Robert Tonyan, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Danny Vitale. Many hands contributed that season – 10 players caught at least 15 passes – and a good number were newcomers.

Nine newbies in 2008. Eight in 2018. Not only was the number of newcomers greater than usual during those two seasons, but so too was Rodger’s reliance on them.

Could something similar be in store for 2022?

In 2008, Rodgers completed 124 passes to newcomers. Nelson (32) and Jackson (29) caught nearly half of those as Green Bay (6-10) finished third in the NFC North.

In 2018, Rodgers tossed 123 passes to newcomers. Graham (53) and Valdes-Scantling (35) accounted for the majority of those as the Packers (6-9-1) again finished third.

Just how out of the norm were those two seasons? Based on his 12 other seasons as a starter, Rodgers averages just 31 completions to newcomers in a given year with the 11 last season being an all-time low.

That’s the way Rodgers likes it. He prefers the familiar, working with those he knows.

That said, this upcoming season has the making of another 2008 or 2018. With Davante Adams and Valdes-Scantling gone, it’s hard not to imagine Romeo Doubs, Samori Toure, Sammy Watkins, Christian Watson and others combining for well over 100 receptions.

Whether they reach that number or not, growing pains are to be expected. Minimizing mistakes and building trust will be key if Green Bay expects to contend for a fourth consecutive NFC North title.

Extra point: Should Rodgers complete passes to eight or more newcomers in 2022, he will break Brett Favre’s record (91) of having thrown to the most receivers in club history. Three other players in team annals – Bart Starr (44), Lynn Dickey (42) and Arnie Herber (40) – completed passes to at least 40 different players during the regular season in Green Bay.

Wet Behind the Ears
The eight regular seasons in which Aaron Rodgers completed more than 30 passes to newcomers.

  Comp        Year        Yards         TDs     GB’s record
     124            2008           1136              6              6-10
     123            2018           1708              6              6-9-1
      59             2014            666               6              12-4
      49             2016            618               4              10-6
      41             2019            500               2              13-3
      38             2015            446               3              10-6
      34             2011            437               2              15-1
      31             2017            323               1                7-9

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