'Deceptive speed' gives Valdes-Scantling potential to fill Packers' deep-threat void
GREEN BAY – Name recognition remains elusive. Those 22 letters in Marquez Valdes-Scantling are a mouthful, but one consonant has proven particularly challenging.
“It happens all the time,” he said. “My name is Marquez, not Markez. There’s no ‘K’ in my name.”
No matter. The Green Bay Packers rookie receiver who simply goes by ‘Quez knows fans and broadcasters will soon catch up. This season, Valdes-Scantling is used to folks lagging behind.
There are the defensive backs that try to cover him. One by one, Valdes-Scantling has run past corners this season. “He’s got deceptive speed,” Packers rookie cornerback Jaire Alexander said. The byproduct: a 21.1 yards-per-catch average that ranks second in the NFL, behind only Tampa Bay’s DeSean Jackson.
Then there’s the fact Valdes-Scantling arrived weeks ago. You might be more familiar with Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison, but quarterback Aaron Rodgers sure can spot him on the field. Behind Davante Adams, Valdes-Scantling has been the No. 2 receiver in the Packers' offense since before their bye week. He has played more snaps the past two weeks than Randall Cobb, not that the veteran receiver sounds bothered by it.
“I didn’t do what he’s doing my rookie year,” Cobb said. “He’s definitely got something special about him.”
How special remains to be seen, but the early returns have been stunning. Statistically, Rodgers has never played with a rookie receiver who started as hot as Valdes-Scantling. Since Brett Favre arrived in town and changed the Packers' passing attack in 1992, only Greg Jennings’ rookie year of 2006 compares.
In two of his past three games, Valdes-Scantling has reached the 100-yard mark. It took just three catches to reach 101 yards Sunday night in New England, thanks to receptions of 51, 24 and 26 yards – all in the third quarter.
The first two came on third down, extending drives.
Jennings, a two-time Pro Bowler, was the only other rookie receiver the Packers drafted since 1992 to have a pair of 100-yard outings in his first eight games. Jennings didn’t have a 100-yard game in the second half of his rookie season. If Valdes-Scantling reaches that mark again this fall, he’d be the only receiver of the 42 the Packers have drafted since Favre’s arrival with a trio of 100-yard games as a rookie.
Might be best to know his name.
“There aren’t a lot of guys who are 6-4 who can run 4.3,” Valdes-Scantling said. “So when you’ve got guys like that, it’s going to bring in a different element that you don’t get often.
Said Rodgers: “His speed is different than we’ve had here in years.”
In Adams, the Packers' offense is blessed with an asset not every NFL team has, a legitimate No. 1 receiver capable of beating the best cornerbacks he faces each week. But the Packers have been searching for a consistent deep threat ever since Jordy Nelson tore his ACL in the 2015 preseason. A year earlier, Nelson regularly took the top off of opposing defenses, stretching the field vertically and making the Packers offense one of the NFL’s most explosive.
It would be an even bigger stretch to compare Valdes-Scantling to the 2014 version of Nelson, who was selected to the Pro Bowl and named second-team All-Pro that season. But the rookie has flashed the potential to fill the offense’s void as a deep threat. He could be an ideal complement for Adams, who is a master of underneath and intermediate routes.
“He’s a natural, fast guy,” Rodgers said, “and he plays fast. Some guys are timed fast and don’t play maybe as fast with the pads on. And some guys – like James Jones, who didn’t time very fast – played faster with pads on. He timed fast, I’m sure, but he plays really fast. So you have to respect the vertical routes with Marquez, and he’s made the most of his opportunities.”
He wasn’t supposed to be this good, this soon, and not just because so few rookie receivers in recent Packers history have produced at this level. Valdes-Scantling fell in the draft, waiting to be selected until the Packers took him with the 174th overall pick in the fifth round. The Packers probably didn’t know quite what they were getting, either. Valdes-Scantling was their third pick in the fifth round, behind an offensive lineman who hasn’t played (Cole Madison) and a punter (JK Scott).
Even the fifth round was earlier than some experts projected. His draft profile on NFL.com reads “NFL backup or special teams potential,” so Valdes-Scantling has already cleared that bar. He was viewed as a size-and-speed prospect whose game was too raw to play the position effectively, especially early.
Then the actual games started.
“It’s almost like it’s really easy for him,” Adams said.
Valdes-Scantling played minimally in the season’s first three weeks. It wasn’t until Allison left the Packers' game against Buffalo with a concussion that he saw more playing time. Valdes-Scantling failed to aggressively pursue the football on a comeback route, a knock on him entering the draft. It almost led to a pick-six, and did lead to a glare from the quarterback.
Rodgers went back to Valdes-Scantling later in the game, connecting on a 38-yard go route down the right sideline. Since then, he has only improved. Valdes-Scantling has had a catch of at least 40 yards in each of the past three games.
With Allison placed on injured reserve this week after groin surgery, his snaps aren’t going away anytime soon.
“He’s been given some opportunities, probably more than we all anticipated due to the injury,” coach Mike McCarthy said, “and he’s just delivered.”
He could be sulky. Scouts slept on him this spring. They doubted he could do what he’s done.
Valdes-Scantling doesn’t take the bait. His draft slide doesn’t matter, he said. Now he’s here. Now he’s proving everyone wrong.
No, he isn’t surprised.
“It doesn’t matter where you get drafted at,” Valdes-Scantling said. “I’ve seen first-round guys not play well. I’ve seen seventh-round guys go out and be hall of famers. So I can care less about where I got drafted. I’m in this door, and that’s all that matters. Because when you line up on the field, they don’t care about where you were drafted at. Can you play, or can you not?”