With mandatory minicamp in full swing, we finally get insight into some of the most hotly anticipated storylines in Green Bay.
Following Davante Adams‘ departure, the wide receiver battles will be the summer blockbuster for the Packers. With three rookie receivers and free-agent acquisition Sammy Watkins in the mix along with the returning Randall Cobb, Amari Cooper, and Allen Lazard (we think), it’s anyone’s guess who will play major roles in Matt LaFleur’s offense. Aaron Rodgers is always good at elevating receivers, and it’ll be exciting to see who emerges as his favorite targets.
However, some fringe wideouts from last season have gotten lost in the mix, including Juwann Winfree. A summer standout before last season, Winfree had a career-high 143 snaps on offense. Can he convert his strong off-seasons and make an impact on the active roster in 2022?
Winfree was one of the stars of last season’s off-season program and built up a nice rapport with Jordan Love. His chances of making the roster were slim in a seemingly stacked wide receiver group, but Winfree turned heads by making the most of every opportunity the Packers offered him. There wasn’t a day in training camp where Winfree wasn’t making plays.
Unfortunately, a shoulder injury shattered Winfree’s hopes of proving himself in the preseason. The Packers released Winfree following final cuts but signed him to the practice squad.
Winfree spent most of 2021 ping-ponging between the practice squad and active roster thanks to the NFL’s new practice squad rules. The Packers elevated Winfree against the Chicago Bears in Week 6, but Rodgers did not target him. He saw his first major action in Week 8 against the Arizona Cardinals, where he caught four of his six targets for 30 yards. Winfree would bounce back and forth from the practice squad again until claiming a place on the roster before Week 15, where he would remain the rest of the season.
Winfree did not catch a touchdown pass, and he didn’t emerge as a go-to option for Rodgers. However, Winfree earned offensive snaps, and Rodgers occasionally targeted him. He had more targets, catches, and yards than Malik Taylor and rookie Amari Rodgers. As far as fringe roster players went, Winfree had a successful year. He was able to gain valuable NFL experience, put out some tape, and stay with the Packers.
The off-season program is just getting started, but already Winfree is turning heads again in June. He had the play of the day on the first day of mandatory minicamp. Winfree had a spectacular leaping 31-yard touchdown catch (over Jaire Alexander no less!) in the two-minute drill. His connection with Love appears strong, and his lightning-quick release was on display yet again.
The reporters who attended practice have praised Winfree’s work ethic, confidence, and body language thus far. Winfree was the first in line for every wide receiver drill and caught everything thrown his way. His confidence is on full display with every success, and the coaches love his potential.
“For the most part, the coaches want to see me master the system,” Winfree told reporters Tuesday, “see me being as confident as I can and be consistent throughout the whole year. That’s really it for me. They believe in me; they know I can ball. They see what attributes I bring to the table. For me, it’s just making that next step of showing I can play every position, and [that] I can be counted on every single time.”
It’ll be hard to keep Winfree off the roster if he stays healthy and consistent. But while the Packers’ wide receiver room is unproven, it’s also crowded.
Lazard presumably enters the season as WR1, with Cobb and Amari Rodgers right behind him. Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs are locks. It’s hard to see Sammy Watkins not making the final roster the way the Packers have talked about him thus far. That’s six spots right there, which is usually Green Bay’s sweet spot.
If they keep seven receivers, Winfree will need to compete with special teams ace Malik Taylor, seventh-round rookie Samori Toure, and a host of other UDFAs. It’s also not out of the question that the Packers could sign another veteran sometime this summer or further down the road. Odell Beckham Jr., Julio Jones, and Will Fuller are all still out there. Should the rookies’ development not be up to par or a player get hurt, the Packers could call any of these veterans.
If Winfree doesn’t make the roster, it’s a safe bet that Green Bay will try to sneak him onto the practice squad again. He’s developing into a go-to option for Jordan Love, and that connection is worth fostering, even if Love isn’t QB1.
For his part, Winfree needs to keep doing what he’s doing — making the most of every chance he’s given. Finding a role on special team won’t hurt, either. It’ll be a steep climb for Winfree to make the roster. But if he keeps up his progress, he’ll force the Packers to consider it.