Green Bay addressed another defensive need in the first round of the 2021 NFL draft, taking Georgia cornerback Eric Stokes, the ninth time the Packers have taken a defensive player with their first selection in the past 10 years.
The Packers’ pick in Round 2, Ohio State center, Josh Myers wasn’t as flashy as last year’s second-rounder spent on hulking running back and expected backup this season, A.J. Dillon.
But Green Bay did travel off its beaten path in the third by selecting Clemson wide receiver Amari Rodgers with the No. 85 overall pick. The selection juts out for a lot of reasons: it was the highest pick the Pack have used on a wideout since claiming Davante Adams in the middle of Round 2 in 2014; Rodgers hails from a program that continuously churns out NFL-caliber receivers, and there’s almost no mystery to the 21-year-old’s game, unlike existing Green Bay pass-catchers Allen Lazard and Marquez Valdes-Scantling, which is, perhaps, the reason general manager Brian Gutekunst readily jumped at the opportunity to move up seven spots and take Rodgers off the board before other receiver-needy teams seized his skill set.
Everything points to the draft-day trade being a hit. Rodgers is durable and versatile, a four-year contributor on teams that made four consecutive trips to the College Football Playoff. He excelled as a returner early in his Tigers career and exploded on the national scene in 2020 when he was finally afforded the chance to beam as Trevor Lawrence’s go-to target.
Of course, none of that tells his whole story, nor will this, but as the Packers ramp up their rookie minicamp in Green Bay, it’s as good a time as ever to get to know a player poised to make his first Lambeau Leap this fall.
HOW ‘BOUT THAT
Rodgers has game and he gets it from his father, former college football giant Tee Martin, who quarterbacked Tennessee’s 1998 national championship win, a run that featured victories over four top-10 teams.
In 2010, Martin joined the University of Kentucky’s staff as wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator. And what were the odds of this? Martin worked closely with All-SEC standout Randall Cobb, a name that jolts sublime memories for many and, likely, most Packers fans. During Cobb’s junior season, and last before elevating to the next level, he and a young Rodgers developed a kindred relationship that’s evolved since. Rodgers thinks of Cobb as a big brother, and Cobb was one of the first to congratulate his protégé after being drafted to his old playground.
In the weeks leading up to his big day, Rodgers told ex-NFL receiver Brandon Marshall in an interview that Green Bay was a “dream scenario.” Yes, his dad now coaches in Baltimore, and he’d also told the ACC Network it would be “the perfect situation” to play for the Ravens. But Rodgers always saw the potential to be an outstanding fit with the Packers. His family prodded him with the idea, well before the draft, that Matt LaFleur could use a guy with his play style in the slot and take away pressure from Adams on the outside.
Rodgers grew up in Knoxville, Tenn., where there’s plenty of family history and tall expectations to exceed.
He dominated the 4A scene at Knoxville Catholic High School, where he played running back for his first two seasons and then transitioned to wide receiver. The position change was prompted by his father, when Rodgers camped at the University of Southern California and hopped in WR position drills for the sole purpose of being coached up by his kin.
Rodgers earned Tennessee Mr. Football titles after his junior and senior seasons. He won a state championship in 2015, played in the 2017 Under Armour All-America Game and amassed 3,498 receiving yards and 47 touchdown catches in his prep career.
Ranked a four-star recruit and the No. 16 receiver in the country per 247 sports, Rodgers originally committed to USC, hoping to run routes out of his father’s playbook, over offers from Alabama, Florida State and LSU. Although Martin was serving as offensive coordinator under Trojans coach Clay Helton, he wasn’t certain he’d be out west for long. Rodgers decommitted in December 2015 and swapped to Clemson in the spring, citing a desire to win.
Supposed to have shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum before the start of his senior season, Rodgers nixed his initial plans and proceeded to rehab the injury. He put pen to paper on national signing day in February 2017.
Rodgers received rave reviews from coaches and teammates for his work ethic, which may not differentiate him from others in the NFL but goes a long way in college football.
He played in 14 games as a true freshman and earned honorable mention All-ACC recognition as a sophomore for his all-purpose efforts, averaging 7.7 yards on 39 punt returns. He flashed elite talent against Florida State in 2018, reeling in six catches for 156 yards and two scores.
Rodgers tore his ACL in his right knee while preparing for his junior season. The expected timeline for recovery would keep him from playing in most of Clemson’s 2019 campaign ... but Rodgers proved, in his case, that medical precedent meant squat.
His resurgence on the gridiron just 166 days later was nothing short of remarkable. Rodgers returned to practice as Clemson readied for its season-opener, and reappeared on the field one week after against No. 12 Texas A&M. In his second game back, he garnered national headlines and stunned spectators with four catches, 121 yards and a pair of touchdowns versus Syracuse.
There wasn’t much of a spike in Rodgers’ overall production in his third season. He increased his yards per catch from 10.5 to 14.2 but saw a decline in receptions (55 in ‘18, 30 in ‘19). The dip, however, can easily be attributed to the emergence of Tee Higgins, a 2020 second-round pick, and Justyn Ross, who’s projected to vie for first-round status in 2022. To his credit, Rodgers always stayed on his toes, and made a key 38-yard grab on the final drive in Clemson’s comeback win over Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl.
With Ross sidelined for the entire 2020 season, Rodgers flourished as the Tigers clear-cut No. 1 receiver. He operated predominantly inside and almost doubled his previous best season totals (77 receptions, 1,020 receiving yards, seven receiving touchdowns). He was named a Biletnikoff Award semifinalist, eclipsed 120 receiving yards three times (twice versus Notre Dame) and finished his Clemson career ranked sixth on the school’s all-time receptions chart, as well as ninth in career punt return yards.
Also of note, Rodgers is one of just five Clemson players since 2000 to record rushing, receiving and punt return touchdowns in a career. He got it done in all facets on the field for the Tigers.
Career Totals at Clemson: 52 games; 181 receptions; 2,190 scrimmage yards; 16 total touchdowns
NFL DRAFT BREAKDOWN
Twelve receivers heard their names called before Rodgers. He was the third of five wide receivers taken in Round 3. Thirty-five receivers were drafted this cycle in all.
Rodgers was one of two Clemson wideouts to be picked by NFL teams. Fifth-year senior Cornell Powell was drafted by Kansas City in the fifth round. Both join a laundry list of recent Tigers receivers in the league: Tee Higgins (R2) ‘20; Hunter Renfrow (R5) ‘19; Deon Cain (R6), Ray-Ray McCloud (R6) ‘18; Mike Williams (R1) ‘17; Charone Peake (R7) ‘16; Sammy Watkins (R1), Martavis Bryant (R4) ‘14; DeAndre Hopkins (R1) ‘13.
Rodgers was a consensus standout at the Senior Bowl and pegged by many draft pundits as a day-two selection.
He measured in at 5-foot-9 and 212 pounds at Clemson’s Pro Day, and reportedly ran a 4.51 40-yard dash, posted a 33-inch vertical and did 19 reps on the bench press.
His size, obviously, has drawn comparisons to Cobb, who checked in at 5-foot-10 and 195 pounds, but there’s also shades of Steve Smith Sr. in his game. He plays with a certain physicality unseen in most receivers of his stature. His high school coach likened Rodgers to Hall of Famer Isaac Bruce, though the former’s considerably shorter. Some other names linked as comparisons to Rodgers are current Giants receiver Sterling Shepherd and retired NFL star Percy Harvin.