We saw the Green Bay Packers offense take a massive step forward in Year 2 of the Matt LaFleur system, finishing the season as the league’s top-scoring unit while also ranking first by DVOA. Yet despite their success, there was one key element that was still missing; this offense hasn’t had a true slot receiver since Randall Cobb left in free agency, and with Tyler Ervin injured for much of the year, they didn’t have that prototypical gadget player either.
However, that is no longer a need as third-round selection Amari Rodgers will be able to fill both of those roles along with providing some much-needed help in the return game.
Rodgers’ ability with the ball in his hands makes him a strong candidate to fill that gadget role with the Green Bay Packers. During his time at Clemson, he was a YAC (Yards After the Catch) monster. This past season specifically, his 613 YAC were the second-most in college football, behind only DeVonta Smith, and his 8.0 YAC average was the fourth-best out of 46 eligible receivers. The 17 missed tackles that Rodgers forced, once again, ranked very well as the seventh most in the nation, according to PFF ($$).
In the LaFleur offense, getting Rodgers the ball in space will be the goal, whether that be on jet sweeps, receiver screens, or in the quick passing game, and then letting his play-making ability take over from there. Rodgers will also help cultivate the “illusion of complexity” that LaFleur often describes, being utilized as the pre-snap motion man and lining up just about anywhere in the formation — including the backfield — as a means to help keep defenses guessing and off-balance.
So as you can imagine, with Rodgers’ skill-set, the Green Bay Packers will have some unique plays and packages dialed up for him this season, and Rodgers is doing everything he can to be prepared:
"“I think without a doubt he’s going to do some cool things for us this upcoming year,” Nathaniel Hackett told reporters via Packers.com. I think any time you have a young player, there’s always this kind of process of them trying to learn this new system, and there’s ups and downs with it. It’s easier in the beginning and then once more of the system gets put on, they start thinking almost too much. I think Amari’s doing a very good job. He’s not intimidated by what we’re handing to him. He’s a student of the game and you can see that. He’s got a natural feel to the game in these limited reps. I think that’s only going to develop with time.”"
Standing 5’9″ and weighing 212 pounds, Rodgers is built like a running back. But don’t let his frame and ability as a gadget player fool you; Rodgers is much more than that. He would finish the 2020 college season with 1,020 yards, hauling in 78 percent of those passes at 13.3 yards per catch and with seven touchdowns—that is certainly the production of someone who can fill more than just the gadget role.
"“He’s a well-built kid. He looks like a grown man,” said Matt LaFleur via Packers Wire. “He has that big, running back, thick frame,” LaFleur said. “Then you watch him run routes and he doesn’t move like most traditional running backs. We’re really excited about just the versatility that he could potentially bring to our offense and also his contribution on special teams.”"
Speaking of special teams, not only can Rodgers provide this Green Bay Packers offense with an element that they didn’t have last season, but he can give the return unit a boost as well. At Clemson, Rodgers had 68 career punt return attempts and averaged just under 8.0 yards per return with a touchdown.
Although he may never be a prolific return man, he provides reliability and stability at the position, which, as we’ve seen in recent years, is something that can’t be overlooked.
"“He catches the ball, one. Our No. 1 job as a punt returner is to give the ball back to the offense,” said special teams coach Maurice Drayton via Packers.com. “He has a great idea on how to track a ball. His catch point is the same on every catch. His approach to it, he understands the importance of it, and that’s what makes him very valuable to us right now.”"
Rodgers’ skill-set really makes him tailor-made for the LaFleur offense, and he’s someone who should make an immediate impact—which fans will be thrilled about.
While his on-field contributions will be what garners the attention — and understandably so — as Hackett mentioned above and as receivers coach Jason Vrable describes below, Rodgers’ work ethic and off-the-field study habits will be what separates him in the long run.
"“I watched so much tape on him and just kind of had a good feel for him of the things that I loved and the things I thought that maybe he needed to work on,” Vrable told reporters. “I’m really personally excited about just his professionalism. I mean he takes notes, just to be a student of the game, like no other. His notebook is immaculate and he’s texting me at night. He just wants to be the best version of himself and that’s all I can ask for. He just has tremendous upside.“"
Rookie camp was brief, and we are only two weeks into on-the-field OTAs, but it’s quite clear that Rodgers has made a very good first impression with several members of this coaching staff. There is certainly plenty of reasons to be excited about what he can offer this Green Bay Packers team.