GREEN BAY, Wis. — Marquez Valdes-Scantling pegged the exact moment when he realized he would be able to make an impact as a Green Bay Packers rookie receiver.
“Day 1,” he said recently.
Which might explain why he sees no reason Year 2 should be a difficult transition, even though the Packers will install a new offense under first-year head coach Matt LaFleur and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett.
The ultra-confident Valdes-Scantling is like the rest of the Packers’ offense; he doesn’t know exactly what LaFleur’s offense will entail or how it will vary from what previous coach Mike McCarthy employed.
But he’s not concerned about the transition.
In fact, in at least one way he’s relishing it.
“I don’t know anything about the offense we’re going to be running; I don’t know what to expect when we walk in there,” Valdes-Scantling said last week in an interview from the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl and Panini Trading Card rookie appreciation event.
“I haven’t spoken with our head coach yet, so I don’t know what we should be expecting and what will be changing, if anything. But it’s just going to be like learning a new system all over again, if it is that way, and we’ll all be on an equal playing field now. You won’t have vets who’ve been in the system for four, five or 10, 11 years. We’ll all be at the same level learning at the same time.”
It was the way Valdes-Scantling was able to learn McCarthy’s offense that gave him the first chance to make an impact ahead of fellow rookie receivers Equanimeous St. Brown and J’Mon Moore. It led to early opportunities after injuries to Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison. The fifth-round pick became the first Packers receiver since Max McGee in 1959 to post two 100-yard receiving games in the same season with three or fewer catches in each games.
A year ago at this time, he was trying to woo scouts at that all-star game. This year, he was back there to mentor draft prospects and to autograph trading cards from his rookie year, when he became Aaron Rodgers’ most reliable deep threat, averaging 15.3 yards per catch, the highest average by a Packers rookie (with at least 25 catches) since James Lofton’s 17.8-yard average in 1978. Overall, his average was fourth best among all NFL rookies last season. He ranked seventh among all 2018 rookies in yards (581) and ninth in catches (38). He caught at least four catches for 40-plus yards, tied for the most among rookies last season with Atlanta’s Calvin Ridley and Buffalo’s Robert Foster.
That’s in contrast to Moore, a fourth-round pick who was the highest selection among the three receivers the Packers drafted last season. Moore couldn’t get on the field and admitted it was because he failed to grasp the offense. It also took St. Brown, a sixth-round pick, longer than Valdes-Scantling to make an impact.
“I was able to produce with a steep learning curve, probably steeper last time, because guys had been in the system for many years, and I’m coming in having to learn like eight years of a system in three months,” Valdes-Scantling said. “So now, if we do have to learn a completely different system, it won’t just be for the rookies this time.”
While Valdes-Scantling won’t technically get his hands on LaFleur’s playbook until the offseason program starts in April, he plans to refine his mental game between and now then while he works out in Florida.
“I have all the physical traits,” said the 6-foot-4, 206-pounder. “You can always get better, but physicality doesn’t get you a long way in this league playing wide receiver. If I was an O-lineman, it would be a little bit different, but going in the weight room and lifting 500 pounds is not going to make me a better receiver. Mentally is the next step for my game. Obviously you have to keep in shape, but I think mentally preparing myself to be able to battle a full NFL season again.”