With help from Aaron Rodgers, speedy Marquez Valdes-Scantling getting a better read on how to succeed with Packers
GREEN BAY - Early in what might have become a transformative training camp, Marquez Valdes-Scantling received a gift from his quarterback.
Aaron Rodgers had heard his fourth-year receiver was an “avid reader,” something the two have in common. They had been discussing adversity and longevity, how Rodgers overcame a slow start in his career to fashion a Hall of Fame résumé, and Valdes-Scantling wanted to know what books had helped him most.
So between practices, Rodgers made a quick trip to Barnes and Noble, just a three-mile drive down Oneida Street from Lambeau Field. He left the store with a small library.
“There were probably, like, 20 books or so,” Valdes-Scantling said. “So I can’t tell you the whole names of them. But I started reading them.”
It’s part of the insatiable appetite Valdes-Scantling has shown for self-improvement in his early career. By now, his inconsistencies have been well chronicled. He would be one of the best big-play receivers in the league, leading the NFL with 20.9 yards per catch last season, if not for the maddening drops. Nine passes clanked off his hands last season, almost all of them in big moments: four potential touchdowns, three third-down conversions and a 54-yard deep shot against Philadelphia.
There was also the lost fumble in overtime at Indianapolis, those hands betraying him again.
Then camp opened a month ago. The first week passed, then the second, then the third, and Valdes-Scantling caught everything. Well, almost everything. There was one drop down the right sideline, a perfect pass some 30 yards downfield from Rodgers that clanked off those hands in a joint practice against the New York Jets. Given his history, it could have brought Valdes-Scantling's momentum to a screeching halt.
Davante Adams saw it differently.
“He’s proved it to himself,” Adams said. “The way he’s been practicing, the intensity, the consistency with the technique, working his releases and stuff like that — his mind is going to a different place this year.
“Going out and putting the ball on the ground one time is not going to be too big of a deal for him.”
There is a newfound confidence in Valdes-Scantling this preseason. Rodgers admitted the former fifth-round pick was not a receiver he always felt could be counted on in the past. “That’s not the Marquez that I know now,” Rodgers said. Coach Matt LaFleur practically gushed over Valdes-Scantling, and the role he’ll fill in his offense, in camp.
Maybe it stems from where Valdes-Scantling left his 2020 season. On the biggest stage, the up-and-down receiver was at his best, leading the Packers with 115 yards on four catches in the NFC championship game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. His 50-yard touchdown on a bomb from Rodgers tied the game for what would be the final time.
“I don’t even want to talk about the receiver,” Rodgers said. “I want to talk about the person. The person is in a way different head space. I think he is so settled mentally, very clear, very present. There’s habits that go along with that, I think. And I think they’re interchangeable — personal, professional — but he’s become a true professional.”
If there has been a major change, some grand revelation that has sparked a once-sluggish career, Valdes-Scantling isn’t revealing it. He is the same receiver now as he was then, Valdes-Scantling said. He said his confidence is no higher now, coming off a season when he became the first Packers receiver since Walter Stanley in 1986 to average at least 20 yards per catch on 30 receptions, than it was earlier in his career.
That can sound disingenuous. Except Valdes-Scantling has never wavered on his unshakable confidence.
“Contrary to popular belief,” Valdes-Scantling said, “my confidence is always high. No matter what’s going on — no matter if it’s a dropped ball or missed block — confidence is always going to be high. Because you can’t play this position without confidence. So mine is always going to be high.”
Valdes-Scantling has carried himself differently in this camp than his first three seasons. He has been joyful, even playful, hobnobbing with the roster elite. When former receiver James Jones attended camp in early August, he stood to the side in conversation with former teammates Rodgers, Adams and Randall Cobb. Valdes-Scantling, completing the group, was the lone player who hadn’t shared a locker room with Jones. Valdes-Scantling has a running feud, more prank than genuine beef, with defensive lineman Kenny Clark. He bounded out of the Don Hutson Center at the start of practices throughout camp, leaping as he presented Adams or Cobb to reporters like a jester.
Then there’s his refusal to admit rookie cornerback Eric Stokes might be faster than him.
“I don’t know,” Valdes-Scantling said Thursday when asked how fast Stokes actually runs. “He’s usually behind me, so I can’t really tell you.”
Stokes, a former Georgia high school champion in the 100 meters, ran a 4.25 40 at his pro day this spring. Valdes-Scantling ran a 4.37 at the combine.
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Those are just numbers. Right now, Valdes-Scantling’s confidence might supersede logic. It’s a peace professional athletes exude when they’re sure of their place within a team. Valdes-Scantling readily calls himself a team leader, a role he assumed this offseason. He will enter this fall as the Packers’ second receiver behind Davante Adams, a place he expects to stay by year’s end. Adams said MVS will get “much more” targets this season, timely considering he’s scheduled to enter free agency this spring.
Coming off 690 yards and six touchdowns on 63 targets last season, it doesn’t seem like a stretch to wonder if a healthy Valdes-Scantling might make a run at 1,000 yards.
“His whole demeanor around the building,” LaFleur said, “has been very consistent. He’s been A-plus.”
Valdes-Scantling said he feels “settled” entering his fourth season, even if he wonders how the first three passed so quickly. He’s no longer new in the locker room, around the facility. He’s shown he can produce in this league. Still, he wants more.
So he’s bounced around the books Rodgers gave him this preseason, hopping one to another. He reads them with a highlighter, taking notes, seeking wisdom. Valdes-Scantling said one book hasn’t stood above the rest yet, but he continues turning the pages.
“I’ve been reading them,” Valdes-Scantling said, “and we’ll see where they take me.”