It didn’t seem like a big deal when it happened. When the Packers selected Marquez Valdes-Scantling with the 37th pick of the 5th round in April’s draft, the 174th player selected. How highly did the Packers think of Valdes-Scantling? Well, they took a punter two picks earlier. When you play second fiddle to special teams players in the draft, usually it means you aren’t exactly a priority pick. In fact, he was the 19th wide receiver taken in the draft. This is all to say, big things were not expected of the young man, at least not early on. Green Bay was taking a flier on a player with some upside. What has happened since has been far from normal.
Reports in the offseason talked about his work ethic. He spent time working out with Randy Moss before training camp began. Lots of players work with veterans, that didn’t seem all too special. Then he started learning the playbook. But not just his plays. And not just once through. Valdes-Scantling was criticized for two things entering the NFL, his hands, and his route running. He was determined to change that. He decided to learn the entire playbook for every single position to ensure a complete understanding of the offense. So what? Doesn’t every player say they are dedicated to learning the schemes? Sure, but not every player goes through every aspect of every play multiple times, and then re-draws every play in the playbook three times. That’s something uncommon, something special.
As training camp began people started to wonder if the team was on to something with this kid from South Florida. Standing at 6-foot-4 and running a 4.37 40-yard dash, Marquez is everything you want and more from a wide receiver, at least athletically. But he hadn’t turned that athleticism into monster stats in college. He transferred from NC State to USF in 2015. In his two seasons with USF he totaled 1,294 yards and 11 touchdowns in 23 games. Not bad stats, but also not groundbreaking. It might take him a few years to get his feet under him in the NFL, but then he could be a pretty solid addition, at least that’s what we thought.
He came out firing on all cylinders in the preseason, recording 101 yards and a touchdown on five catches in the preseason opener. By the end of the preseason he had separated himself from the other rookie wideouts, Equanimeous St. Brown and J’Mon Moore, but he was still fourth on the depth chart, well behind Geronimo Allison, Randall Cobb, and of course Davante Adams. Valdes-Scantling didn’t play much early on, hauling in just one reception for three yards the first three weeks of the season. Then Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison got hurt, and Marquez has pounced on his increased playing time the past few weeks. He’s played so well that he may be the No. 2 receiver behind Davante Adams, even with Allison and Cobb in the fray. Here’s a little quiz to show you how impressive he’s been. I’ll give you four statlines, and you take a stab at which one is Valdes-Scantling’s through nine games this season.
A – 25 catches, 375 yards, 1 touchdown
B – 38 catches, 446 yards, 3 touchdowns
C – 33 catches, 366 yards, 2 touchdowns
D – 23 catches, 402 yards, 2 touchdowns
Those are all pretty average statlines, and they probably seem random, they aren’t. The other three statlines are from some familiar names. Statline A? That was Randall Cobb’s rookie year, where he played in 15 games as a second round pick. Statline B? That’s the 16 game rookie season of Davante Adams. Statline C? That one is the 16 game rookie season of Jordy Nelson. If you’ve figured it out by process of elimination, the final statline is that of Marquez Valdes-Scantling through just nine games, with almost all of the production coming in the last six games. The point is, the 24-year-old Scantling is having perhaps the most impressive rookie season by a Packer receiver in recent memory, and there are some good names on the list to compare him to. He’s not a flash in the pan, he’s a starting caliber NFL receiver in his rookie year, and we got him in the 5th round.
Need more evidence that Marquez has arrived as a bonafide offensive threat? Davante Adams and Scantling tied for the team lead with seven targets each in last week’s game against Miami. Marquez caught six-of-seven for 44 yards, Adams caught four-of-seven for 57 yards and a touchdown. Short of those two, no receiver or tight end had more than three targets. Not former pro-bowler Jimmy Graham. Not Lance Kendricks, who’s been with the Packers far longer. Regardless of the down and distance, regardless of the moment, Rodgers hasn’t hesitated to throw to Scantling. He’s built up a trust with the young receiver and the season is only halfway over. The season has had its share of frustrating moments, but, regardless of how things turn out, at least we found a diamond in the rough in Marquez Valdes-Scantling.