Green Bay Packers Most Likely to Regress: No. 1 - Donald Driver

GREEN BAY, WI - JANUARY 01: Donald Driver #80 of the Green Bay Packers breaks away from Chris Harris #43 and Lawrence Jackson #94 of the Detroit Lions to score a touchdown at Lambeau Field on January 1, 2012 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Packers defeated the Lions 45-41. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

This name can't really come as a surprise. After all, every football player who has participated on Dancing With the Stars was either retired already (Emmitt Smith, Jerry Rice, etc) or a year away from retirement (Hines Ward). Does anyone really expect Donald Driver's career path to vary from this formula?

There are two primary reasons to expect Driver to continue his decline in 2012: age and position depth. Driver is now 37 years old, and there really aren't a whole lot of veteran wideouts in their 14th year in the NFL at all. There certainly aren't any who are still starters. Speed is critical in the NFL, and while Driver was never going to be a track star to begin with (NOTE: at least not based on his pure speed alone; he was a decathlete and an Olympic-caliber high-jumper, as pointed out in the comments), he's definitely below average on the clock now.

Then there's the issue of the Packers' depth at receiver. Greg Jennings has been the unquestioned #1 for several years now, and while Driver "started" most games last season, Jordy Nelson and James Jones are both clearly above him on the depth chart. While second-year man Randall Cobb may focus on special teams, he's still a weapon on offense when he gets the ball on the run and in space. Add in the possibility of Tori Gurley and/or Diondre Borel making the roster as a 6th wideout and you can see clearly that Driver's targets will be few and far between. Oh, and there's that Finley guy who will be catching a lot of balls too.

Driver's stats in 2011: 16 games, 14 starts (?!) 37 catches, 445 yards (12.0 YPC), 6 touchdowns - I was stunned when I looked up Driver's numbers and found that he started 14 games last year before realizing that the Packers started three wideouts in most games. However, he finished fifth on the team in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns and his yards per catch were dismal compared to other receivers. Randall Cobb is close on his heels in receptions and yards as well, and most of us expect him to surpass Driver in those categories this season.

Why I might be full of it - Driver could find the mythical Fountain of Youth and return to his 2006 self, but if Ponce De Leon couldn't find it, I doubt Driver has time to look before camp opens this week. The only way I see Driver exceeding or even repeating his 2011 numbers is if Gurley and Borel fail to impress in camp and a rash of injuries hits the Packers' receiving corps.

Driver's projected stats in 2012: 28 catches, 300 yards, 3 touchdowns - It's not going to be pretty. I see this going very similarly to Hines Ward's final season last year; the two have really been on a fairly similar career trajectory. His YPC will likely drop even further, as he lacks the speed to continue stretching the field, and the established younger players will get nearly all the work in the red zone.

It's never pleasant to see a Packer legend fade away; Driver still thinks he can play, though, and he'll have to prove it. I just hope that he's comfortable with the role he's likely to have this season: veteran leader and mentor. He's a class act and has been a great member of the Packers organization for nearly 15 years, and I for one hope he can ride through the twilight of his career with grace and good health, while making a few big catches on third down along the way.

Previous posts

No. 5 - Aaron Rodgers | No. 4 - Charlie Peprah | No. 3 - James Jones | No. 2 - Charles Woodson

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