Packers' Marquez Valdes-Scantling puts potential on display with breakout night
GREEN BAY – Two days earlier, he was put on blast by Aaron Rodgers. It wasn’t so much what the Green Bay Packers' two-time MVP quarterback said, but what he didn’t.
When Rodgers named Geronimo Allison, Jake Kumerow and DeAngelo Yancey as receivers who were practicing the right way, doing all the things necessary to crack the Packers roster, he did not mention Marquez Valdes-Scantling.
Yeah, the rookie noticed. It’s enough to make a receiver lose sleep. Valdes-Scantling wasn’t he only youngster who drew the veteran quarterback’s ire through silence, but the fifth-round pick knew this much: He needed to respond Thursday in the exhibition opener against the Tennessee Titans.
“That’s our quarterback,” Valdes-Scantling said. “So whenever he says we’re not doing a good job, we have to own up to it and say, ‘OK, we have to be better.’”
He was better Thursday – and then some.
In a setting designed to separate young players fighting for roster spots, Valdes-Scantling had a breakout night with a game-high five catches for 101 yards and a 15-yard touchdown. On the score, Valdes-Scantling broke his route to the back, right corner of the end zone but, when quarterback Tim Boyle’s pass was to the middle of the field, he turned around 180 degrees to catch the football over Titans cornerback Joshua Kalu.
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“It was just, you know, a routine play that we practice every day,” Valdes-Scantling said. “It wasn’t nothing extraordinary. Tim give me a great ball, and I just went and made a play for him. That’s all it was.”
Nothing extraordinary? Hardly. Boyle wasn’t buying that explanation.
“He made a heck of a catch,” Boyle said, “and made me look good.”
Reaching the century mark is an ideal way to open the preseason, but Valdes-Scantling didn’t just impress with numbers. No, the rookie showed the potential that could make him a steal in the draft. He has the rare combination of size (6-4) and speed (4.37-second 40) that can make defensive coordinators sweat, and Thursday night it was on full display.
Take second-and-30 early in the third quarter. The Packers' offense was left for dead after an illegal block and a holding penalty, but Valdes-Scantling took off down the right seam. Quarterback DeShone Kizer jumped to heave his pass as far as he could, and Valdes-Scantling, who beat Titans cornerback Demontre Hurst inside, leaped over Hurst to haul in a 51-yard reception and unexpected first down.
“The defender was kind of slow playing it,” Valdes-Scantling said, “so I just kind of ran by him.”
He ran by a lot of defenders. The fastest player on the Packers' roster by timed 40-yard dash, Valdes-Scantling has game-breaking speed. If not for inconsistent hands – his tendency to drop easy passes has been noticeable in camp – his physical skills would’ve enticed a team to draft him much earlier than the fifth round. On days when he’s not dropping passes, Valdes-Scantling showed he has the type of speed than can stretch defenses and shrink the field.
The Packers haven’t had a package of size and speed like this in quite some time. Jeff Janis was fast, but still a few ticks slower than Valdes-Scantling. Allison’s height and length make him a big target, but he profiles as a reliable, possession-type receiver with a 4.67 dash.
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Fellow rookie Equanimeous St. Brown had four catches for 61 yards. Jake Kumerow, a star early in camp, had a 52-yard touchdown catch from Boyle. But it was Valdes-Scantling who set the tone for the Packers' young receivers.
“It fuels you,” Kumerow said, “but it doesn’t feel like you have to play catch up. It’ll fuel you. You see him make a play, get up. You’re pumped up for him. You’re like, let’s go. Throw me one. Get pumped. Gets everybody pumped.”
Valdes-Scantling’s night was in stark contrast to rookie J’Mon Moore. Drafted one round earlier, Moore put two sure completions on the ground, including a deep pass from Boyle that looked like a touchdown if the football didn’t slip through his hands.
“That's a play I make,” a despondent Moore said at his locker. “Just got to put it behind me.”
Valdes-Scantling was able to show coaches glimpses of what he’d look like in the Packers' offense. He also showed his quarterback, who watched from the sideline.
Late during Tuesday’s practice, Rodgers had a brief conversation with Valdes-Scantling on the field. He said the quarterback was encouraging, but also stern. His expectations are high, Valdes-Scantling said. For one night, the rookie was glad to meet them.