There is no doubt that Packers wide receiver Amari Rodgers had a disappointing rookie season. The third-round pick out of Clemson saw only limited action on offense and played only 10 percent of the offensive snaps for the Packers.
Rodgers finished the season with only four catches for 45 yards and did not score a touchdown. On special teams, he struggled to judge and field punts and when to return kickoffs. His average per punt returns was a pedestrian 8.3-yards per runback while on kick returns, he averaged only 18.1-yards per try.
There were forces working against Amari Rodgers last year. After the Packers drafted him, GM Brian Gutekunst traded for Randall Cobb at the request of Aaron Rodgers. Cobb and Amari Rodgers are receivers with similar builds and skill sets and are both best suited for slot duty.
Then, you add the fact that Aaron Rodgers struggles to trust rookie receivers. Newcomers need to earn the quarterback’s trust by demonstrating that they will be in the right place at the right time. Historically this has not been easy to do.
Despite these factors, wide receivers coach Jason Vrable doesn’t believe Cobb’s presence is an excuse for Amari Rodgers’ disappointing first season in the NFL. “I don’t give Amari the out that [Cobb] was here,” Vrable told reporters this week. “It’s your job to beat Randall out or beat our Z out. Even though he plays slot, I’ve got him working out at Z and he’s done that before. His performance just wasn’t on their level. That’s just the reality of it, right? It wasn’t that he was bad, but he wasn’t doing the high-level things that Randall was doing or the Z, Lazard.”
Many NFL players take a step forward in their second and third seasons in the league. For Packers receivers like Jordy Nelson, Cobb and Davante Adams, it took a couple of seasons before they learned what it takes to succeed at the highest level of football.
Amari Rodgers seems to be putting in the time to improve his game this offseason. “Biggest thing we worked on, I talked to him in the offseason, how do you get your confidence? Well, you work and train harder than you ever did,” Vrable explained. “So, if you were to see him right now, he already looks faster and stronger than he ever did. He’s in the best shape of his life. His mindset is, ‘I’m going to be the No. 1 guy at all three positions.’ He has that going for him.”
Both Vrable and Cobb see progress from Amari Rodgers heading into OTAs this spring. “His route-running is already cleaner and crisper,” Vrable said. “I feel really good about Amari. Cobby bumped me the other day and was like ‘Yo, you can feel it from him.’ And I just smiled and was like ‘It’s just the start right now. We’ll see where it’s at when the pads come on and the lights go on.”
The opportunity is certainly there. The Packers will not have their top receiver from 2021 back now that Adams has been traded to the Raiders. Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who was also a top-three wideout for Green Bay last year, signed a free agent deal with the Kansas City Chiefs. That presents the receivers on the present roster an opportunity to take on a bigger role this season. And there is plenty of competition with Allen Lazard and Cobb also returning. The Packers also signed veteran Sammy Watkins and drafted Christian Watson, Romeo Doubs and Samori Toure this year.
Cobb can also serve as a mentor for Amari Rodgers. Just before the draft last month, Cobb preached patience with the former Clemson star. “What we do is not easy and for anybody to think that you can just walk into a place and become great … it’s a process,” Cobb said. “So, just give it time. Some people take a little longer to blossom. It’s about me helping him understand and build confidence and know who he is and allowing him to continue to grow.”
Adams and Nelson started to really blossom in their third season. Cobb broke out in his second year when he had 80 catches for 954 yards and eight touchdown catches. In the past, rookies had more established receivers ahead of them on the depth chart in their second season. With the departure of Adams and MVS, the depth chart is more wide-open for Amari Rodgers this season.
The opportunity is there is Amari Rodgers can seize it. If he can, he still has a bright future ahead of him.