Where's the ball?
Perhaps nobody on the Green Bay Packers has been itching to get back to football more than Greg Jennings. After his 2011 regular season was cut short by a knee injury, he returned for Green Bay's only playoff game, and, in what was a frustrating loss for the entire team, only had 4 receptions for 40 yards and 0 touchdowns. There will be a chip on Jennings' shoulder knowing that he fell just short of his fourth consecutive 1,000-yard season and knowing that the team's perfect season started falling apart right after he went down. And with him still being in the prime of his career (28 turning 29 on September 21) there's no reason not to expect a big season from GJ85.
However, Jennings is going to be keyed in on by opposing defenses. So who's the best CB he'll be facing in the division this year? It could be the Chicago Bears' Charles Tillman. With Antione Winfield and Charles Woodson aging and both of their roles potentially changing in their respective defenses, the best cornerback in the division could be Tillman, and he's ascended to that throne quietly. Tillman enters the 2012 season fresh off his first Pro Bowl selection and is evenly matched with Jennings in a number of different ways.First of all, Tillman is 31, four years younger than Antione Winfield, and is entering his tenth year in the league, while Jennings is entering his seventh. Both are seasoned veterans, but neither is on their last legs. In addition, both had to wait a while to get their first Pro Bowl nod, which is probably why they're widely thought of as guys with a chip on their shoulder. Tillman had to wait a lot longer than Jennings, but Jennings' wait was arguably more unjust. Greg went to his first Pro Bowl in 2010, but it was criminal that he didn't make it in 2008, when he had 80 receptions, 1,292 receiving yards and and nine touchdowns. Meanwhile, Tillman has had higher interception totals than 2011 four times in his career. While both may have gotten snubbed earlier in their careers, they are now both returning Pro Bowlers with legitimate shots of going again in 2012.
As far as physical abilities, both ran similar 40 times coming out of college, meaning that neither should be able to gas the other in a one-on-one matchup (Jennings ran a 4.42 and Tillman ran a 4.49). In addition, they are the exact same weight (198 pounds). However, Tillman (6'1") has two inches on Jennings (5'11"). Something that has never been a strength of Greg's is winning jump balls, because he is on the shorter side for a wide receiver. You're not going to just throw it up to him down the sideline in close coverage; he's more of a get wide open over the middle running a slant route type of guy. So Tillman's height may be a slight advantage, but Jennings manages to be one of the best receivers in the game despite that advantage.
Another thing to watch out for with Tillman is forced fumbles. He loves punching the ball out and is part of an overall Bears defense that prides itself on creating turnovers. He has forced four fumbles in each of the past four seasons and 27 for his career, which is almost as high as his interception total of 30. Jennings has fumbled the ball five times in his six year career, which is about average for a starting wide reciever. He just has to make sure to take extra good care of the ball when he's playing the Bears.
To wrap up, on the subject of Jennings going up against a number one cornerback, I wanted to bring up this post I saw on NFCNblog.com.
It basically suggests that since Jennings doesn't go up against number one corners as much as say Calvin Johnson that he may not necessarily be a No. 1 wide receiver. I think that Jennings not facing No. 1 corners on every play is a testament to the plethora of dangerous weapons that the Packers have, but I still think Jennings is the best among that group. And as far as facing Charles Tillman this upcoming year, I think that Jennings is more than up for the challenge.