Juwann Winfree Continues to Stand Out at WR

There are still several questions to be answered at the wide receiver position, but building off his mini-camp performance, Juwann Winfree continues to stand out for the Green Bay Packers.

The competition for the last roster spot or two at the receiver position was always going to be one of the more intriguing camp battles this summer. But now, with the addition of Randall Cobb, things have gotten even more complicated.

Last season the Green Bay Packers kept five receivers on the initial 53-man roster. If that’s the case this summer, then there really aren’t any spots up for grabs with Cobb, Davante Adams, Allen Lazard, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and Amari Rodgers all roster locks.

This, of course, doesn’t mean that the Packers won’t keep six wide receivers. Tyler Ervin was listed as a running back but was often utilized as a pass-catcher, not to mention that if Green Bay keeps just two quarterbacks this year or three running backs instead of four, for example, then there is wiggle room for an extra receiver.

If that’s the case, and the Packers do keep six receivers, the next big question is, who? Well, through mini-camp and the first four training camp practice, a name to know is Juwann Winfree, who continues to stand out.

The 6'3" -215 pound Winfree was a sixth-round pick by Denver in the 2019 NFL Draft out of Colorado, where he appeared in 15 games and hauled in 649 yards with four touchdowns. He saw 10 offensive snaps with Denver in 2019 and spent a majority of the 2020 season on the Green Bay Packers practice squad--although he was on the field for four offensive snaps.

While, of course, mini-camp needs to be taken with a grain of salt, Winfree was one of the standout performers. Two of Winfree's big plays came on a 50-yard touchdown pass from Kurt Benkert and then another 30-yard touchdown reception on a deep corner route from Jordan Love. ESPN's Rob Demovsky would say that Winfree "found ways to get open often." Meanwhile, Matt Schneidman of The Athletic mentioned that Winfree "stood out on offense."

With four training camp practices in the books, Winfree continues to separate himself. Each practice, he continues to haul in several receptions, with a few of them being for big plays, and he's also earned some first-team reps with Aaron Rodgers as well. Wes Hodkiewicz of Packers.com summed up Winfree's early performance quite well by saying that he just "keeps making plays."

Although most of his career has been spent on the practice squad when on the active roster, Winfree has been on the field for 70 special teams snaps over the course of only five games. With five receivers already roster locks, coupled with Aaron Jones, AJ Dillon, and several tight ends who can affect the passing game, contributions on special teams by a sixth receiver could be the difference between making the final roster or being cut.

Competing with Winfree for this potential final roster spot are Devin Funchess, Malik Taylor, and Equanimeous St. Brown, among others, but those are the big three.

In a vacuum, Devin Funchess is the most talented and productive receiver fighting for a roster spot, but he also hasn’t played in two seasons. How quickly does he shake the rust? Or adjust to Matt LaFleur’s offense? Or jell with Aaron Rodgers?

There is also the fact that at least up until this point in his career, Funchess has not been much of a special teams contributor. Would the Packers really keep six receivers on the roster with none of them providing any coverage help on special teams? Yes, Rodgers and Cobb can be return men, but it's rare not to have a receiver on an active roster that can provide coverage abilities.

Taylor hasn't made the same splash on offense this summer as Winfree -- not even close, actually -- but he is by far the most experienced special teams player with 210 snaps in 2020 alone, according to PFF. He was also getting extensive work as a gunner -- a very important special teams role -- during mini-camp.

Of these four receivers fighting for that sixth receiver spot -- that is if the Packers even keep that many -- it would appear that St. Brown has the toughest uphill battle. He hasn't flashed on offense like Winfree, doesn't have the NFL production that Funchess does, and he hasn't been a special teams contributor. At this time, it's difficult to see a path to the final roster for him.

There is still a long ways to go between now and when these decisions have to be made, and we are only a few padless practices into training camp--a lot can change, obviously. But whether it's OTAs, mini-camp, or training camp up to this point, Winfree continues to stand out and make plays on a daily basis. He certainly isn't making these roster decisions any easier for Matt LaFleur.

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Born and raised in Green Bay, WI and I still call it home. After my family, watching the Packers, sharing my opinions on the team through my writing and interacting with other fans is my greatest passion. You can find me on Twitter at @Paul_Bretl. 
 

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13 points

Comments (38)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
stockholder's picture

August 02, 2021 at 11:14 am

We need this type of write up. Way to pump up the fan base. Keep up the good work. .

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AaronNagler's picture

August 02, 2021 at 11:25 am

Sorry but this reads like a bad 9th grade school newspaper story. And you spelled "gel" incorrectly.

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Rebecca's picture

August 02, 2021 at 11:35 am

lol, and I get called a troll or perhaps some don’t get the subtleties of sarcasm. Anyway, I always enjoy your podcasts and articles. Go Pack Go!

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Coldworld's picture

August 02, 2021 at 11:44 am

It may not be grand literature, but it is nevertheless a welcome effort in terms of subject matter and intent.

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Leatherhead's picture

August 02, 2021 at 12:43 pm

I concur, Coldworld.

As to the subject, is Winfree eligible for the practice squad?

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Coldworld's picture

August 02, 2021 at 01:55 pm

Yes, but got to get him on it and keep him there. If he balls out all through camp I wouldn’t bet on that.

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Alberta_Packer's picture

August 02, 2021 at 11:58 am

And how many other CHTV writers are pulitzer prize winners?

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Packers0808's picture

August 02, 2021 at 12:36 pm

And he DID NOT spell JELL wrong. Are you the grammar police or a "correction officer"?

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Alberta_Packer's picture

August 02, 2021 at 12:59 pm

Good to know that there are many of us who appreciate the content writers. IMO Nagler was just having a little fun with Bretl.

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Coldworld's picture

August 02, 2021 at 01:57 pm

Either that or he’s practicing in case they need a new GM. I’d still back Al if it came to it.

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Alberta_Packer's picture

August 02, 2021 at 02:08 pm

I understand what you're saying but I'm reasonably sure that Nagler was just expressing his type of humor.

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Coldworld's picture

August 02, 2021 at 03:42 pm

So was I. Obviously need to try harder.

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dblbogey's picture

August 02, 2021 at 04:51 pm

That's a bit harsh. I think it reads like a mediocre 9th grade newspaper story.

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PackEyedOptimist's picture

August 02, 2021 at 11:55 am

I thought Funchess would be a lock, but after watching practice, I think Winfree takes that spot

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Coldworld's picture

August 02, 2021 at 12:06 pm

Last time we had 5 WR plus a returner. This year we may have 6 with perhaps two returners. If you look at it that way it’s not much of a change. As to Funchess, if he looks good (I think he will with this system and QBS) then he may in reality be viewed as a second move TE, even if listed as a WR. Ultimately it’s role not label.

If Winfree continues to look this good throughout camp, we will and should find a way to keep him. That is a big “if”. Injuries may factor, but keeping emerging and affordable players is key to surviving next year.

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Alberta_Packer's picture

August 02, 2021 at 12:11 pm

Should Winfree continue on this trajectory - he must be protected - because the Packers will need receivers for next year - being there is currently none under contract (and Randall Cobb doesn't count).

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dobber's picture

August 02, 2021 at 12:33 pm

I think we tend to overestimate the street value of a lot of Packers players. Most teams have their own PS guys they want to protect, and most teams get the guys they want to their PS. If roster management means that Winfree misses the final cut--unless he goes absolutely nuts in preseason games--he should make it to the PS, and the Packers will have the opportunity to promote and protect him if they need to.

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Alberta_Packer's picture

August 02, 2021 at 01:09 pm

I generally agree with you. However with Winfree it seems that the team hasn't had a WR prospect who's continually showed as well as he has in recent years. Of course, the pre-season will be his main exam but right now I have him in the same pool as EQ, Funchess, and Taylor.

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Coldworld's picture

August 02, 2021 at 02:00 pm

This was premised on the ridiculously early assumption that he continues to show as he has. If he does look NFL ready, he will get poached. These guys are scouted and, as Lazard shows, do get picked up. The difference is it’s usually on potential. Winfree thus far looks like he belongs now.

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Turophile's picture

August 02, 2021 at 01:59 pm

The guys Winfree is fighting against is Malik Taylor (key ST guy as a gunner with 181 ST snaps last year). I don't see ESB or Funchess sticking as WR6, since they don't play ST much, or even at all.

However, the biggest roadblock to Winfree making the team is LaFleurs liking for TEs, plus a tendency to emphasise the run game with an HB (Deguara) and RBs (Jones, Dillon and Hill, imo). Even worse (for Winfree) is the plethora of O linemen who have a chance of developing, taking away that 6th WR spot.

Winfree's best chance of making the team is an injury or two to the WR group before cutdown. Other than that, expect him to be on the PS as the Packers roll the dice and hope he isn't poached by another team.

It is a good problem to have where your team is talented enough to have to take chances on talented players, but it makes it tough for those that played well and still could make the 53.

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Coldworld's picture

August 02, 2021 at 03:46 pm

One thing on STs is that most of the players coming in don’t play STs in college a lot as they are typically elite starters there. There really is no reason why a Funchess or other role player can’t learn. That’s one thing that has puzzled me about the likes of Jackson and EQ. Maybe it’s just another sign of poor priorities at the coaching level in GB, but if it’s effort from either, I think it should be a massive black mark and be swiftly ended.

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Turophile's picture

August 02, 2021 at 06:28 pm

I think one of the more important things about ST is that you need to have attitude to play it. If a player isn't fully committed, he isn't going to be much use. I'm not sure ESB or Funchess are enthusiastic ST players.

Maybe one or both think they are too good to play STs, maybe they don't like the physical aspect of it, maybe they just aren't very good on ST's...........I don't know reasons, just that neither of them does much ST work, whereas guys like Malik Taylor do a lot.

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nostradanus's picture

August 02, 2021 at 12:37 pm

Injuries, Special Teams and salary cap savings will be the 3 main factors in keeping a guy like Winfrey, Taylor & EQ.

You just can’t have 6 WR with none playing ST. True Rodgers and Cobb are returners, but gunners are incredibly important on ST.

I think it’s between Winfrey and Taylor with the loser going to the PS.

ND

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Leatherhead's picture

August 02, 2021 at 12:49 pm

Or, Nostradamus, we could fair catch and not need a returner, just a catcher.

And we could punt out of bounds so we wouldn’t need those important gunners.

Then, we could actually keep the 53 best position players.

Why do we want to create ways for rookies and UDFAs to take the game out of the hands of our starters?

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LeotisHarris's picture

August 02, 2021 at 03:33 pm

Leatherhead, you've made this point multiple times and I can tell you are passionate about it. I tend to agree it could be a successful strategy to play it safe and avoid penalties. Have you ever seen a professional team consistently implement your suggestions across an entire season? I can't think of any.

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Leatherhead's picture

August 02, 2021 at 05:03 pm

No, I haven’t. I haven’t seen college teams really try it

But I can do Math. Add up the returns. Add up the cost of those returns (turnovers, penalties, successful fake punts, injuries). Judge for yourself. Most seasons, you will not have a return for a score. Most returns are 8 yards or less. So, two or three returns per game for 20-25 yards total. Then factor in the cost of those yards and see if it’s worth it.

On punt coverage……we don’t punt very much, and some of the times we’re trying to down it near the goal line. But on those few remaining punts, why are we giving the opponent an opportunity to have a big play? What makes it worth the (unnecessary) risk?

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Matt Gonzales's picture

August 02, 2021 at 09:03 pm

You're assuming your punter can consistently corner kick and in doing so won't be giving up an extra 10-20 yards in the process when they either kick it WAY out of bounds or have an absolute shank. I'd rather have my QB throw downfield bombs into double coverage on 4th down and hope that the defense is dumb enough to keep taking the interception (with the occasional completion) than to trust a guy that gets only a few live reps per game to consistently execute a skill most punters don't execute with consistency.

You're also discounting the bobbled/muffed return attempts, which probably happen more often than a return for a score, and can be absolutely momentum changing for the kicking team. If opposing teams know the returner isn't even going to try for a return, they may decide to start trying to play with kicking angles, ball spin, etc. to try to force the ball off the body of the returner or force muffs themselves.

Not to mention, once the weather starts getting colder, touchbacks become a lot less common, and an attempted corner coffin has a very real likelihood of rolling OOB, giving the recovering team extremely good field position. You could argue for the kicker to squib it on every kick, but even that has some real risk as coverage teams will learn to time it and will be able to start jumping that ball.

In essence, you are putting A LOT of trust in the smallest possible subset of players (kickers/punters), where there are the fewest college players that actually "go pro". You can't just draft a punter higher and expect them to kick more accurately as a result.

I love talking about statistical hypotheticals and trying to "hack the system", but you're not controlling for some really important variables. Just like coaches trying to run a pure read option offense, things can go south real quick once your opposition has some tape and realizes there is little/no consequence to overcommiting on a tendency they see.

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jurp's picture

August 03, 2021 at 07:06 am

I would think that if this were a viable strategy, then it would've been tried sometime in the past 50 years or so. It might work for a game in highly specific situations (like the occasional college hockey team that plays without a goalie for a period or so if they're down by a lot), but not long-term.

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Alberta_Packer's picture

August 02, 2021 at 01:43 pm

Agreed - last man standing is the one who performs the best on the kick-off team. Not so much the return team - as a fan aptly stated that Taylor was a receiver not a returner - so easily replaced by Rodgers and/Cobb.

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KnockTheSnotOutOfYou's picture

August 03, 2021 at 12:49 pm

Barring injury I'd like the Pack to keep the top five and leave roster space for an extra OL, TE, or RB should the talent warrant them taking that 6th WR spot on the 53. I'd like to be wrong but I just do not see there being the special talent WR that warrants an extra spot on the 53 if there is a more talented Offensive player available at another position. A guy like Winfrey would likely still be able to be placed on the Practice Squad for 2022, or should injuries occur. The exception for the 53 might be Taylor if he ends up being the best option as a gunner on ST's of course. Absolutely need to improve on ST's.

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TheVOR's picture

August 02, 2021 at 01:56 pm

I would suggest that him making the team will almost certainly depend on any chemistry he's able to create with Rodgers. Like this player, thought he was capable in Denver, he pops for sure. If it's him or Funchess, I'd have hard money on Funchess at this juncture.

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Qoojo's picture

August 02, 2021 at 02:02 pm

WRs are the darlings of training camp. Fans/writers always wonder how we can keep them. This happens every single year.

I think WR group will be much improved over last year.

7 points
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Savage57's picture

August 02, 2021 at 03:03 pm

Kind of makes you wonder which WR will wind up on IR right before final roster cuts.

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mnbadger's picture

August 02, 2021 at 03:27 pm

Paul B says Winfree is making roster decisions hard on MLF. Not including AR12, do we know exactly who makes final roster decisions? GPG

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Packers0808's picture

August 02, 2021 at 03:35 pm

Mostly lie lip service towards Rodgers as appeasement to his self thought importance! Hope the Man Bun doesn't get too big for his helmet!

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jont's picture

August 02, 2021 at 04:41 pm

"do we know exactly who makes final roster decisions?"

The GM. But.
A good manager gets input from a lot of people as he tries to make decisions and trade offs. Gute undoubtedly does this.
This year, we all expect he'll make a point of having a convo with Rodgers about the tough receiver decisions. Most of us assume he has always done this in the past, but I think I heard something, not really sure, about some kind of dispute about this.

PS: Isn't it interesting that keeping the 6 or 7 receiver on PS is a concern? I also recall reading something about the group being Devante and a bunch of other guys. Maybe there is some quality in there after all.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

August 02, 2021 at 09:02 pm

Always remember when reading training camp notes who a player beat to get the favorable mention. Jaire missed a couple of days and was eased back in today after having some cramps and dehydration earlier in camp. King (depending on how one feels about him) is still out with a hamstring. But Amos and Savage are there. Sullivan is practicing.

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SpikeHyzer's picture

August 02, 2021 at 09:17 pm

I thought I'd heard ESB was playing well again.
I think it's his spot.
Taylor is too bad at WR to keep for ST.
Funchess may have a small trade value.
Winfrey to the PS as insurance from injury.
Hate to say it, but they should not have signed Cobb (Amari is younger and maybe better).

4 points
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