Yesterday we kicked off our initial evaluation of the Packers’ 2013 roster in style by looking at the quarterback position and followed that up with the running back position. Today we continue on the theme of offensive skill players by looking at a position group going through major changes: the wide receivers.
This offseason the Packers are losing two of the most productive receivers in team history, Greg Jennings and Donald Driver. Driver’s retirement is not unexpected and by itself does not set the team back too far. Driver’s skills have eroded, and while he can still play, his game is simply not where it was two or three years ago. Jennings is a different story though. Jennings is still in the prime of his career and has the ability to be one of the top five or top ten receivers in the game. All signs point to the Packers allowing Jennings to taste the open market, where some WR needy team will probably make him a very generous offer. The loss of Jennings may hurt the Packers more than we would like to admit. Jennings has always been a great route runner with excellent hands, and was one of the most dynamic playmakers with the ball during his time in Green Bay. These losses together represent a significant brain drain and talent drain that will impact this position group if actions aren’t taken this offseason.
Under contract for 2013:
Jordy Nelson may be the closest thing the Packers have to a traditional "X" receiver. He is the biggest and strongest of the receiving group, and so seems best qualified for beating press coverage on the outside. He also happens to be our best deep threat. The good news of Nelson’s 2012 season is that he continued showing Packer fans that he could produce without Jennings on the opposite side of him. The bad news is that almost as soon as he was settling into a groove for the season, he started coming down with some lingering injuries. Hopefully this offseason Nelson can get healthy and continue to be a solid weapon for Rodgers to rely on throughout 2013.
While Nelson seems to have one major question surrounding him – can he stay healthy – James Jones has a bit more to prove. Jones is going to be in a contract year in 2013, and in case you forgot his last go on the market did not go well. Jones was fresh off a Super Bowl victory but had an inconsistent playoff performance, and so got lost in the shuffle of free agent frenzy at the WR position. He ended up back on the Packers taking a relatively small deal in order to prove to the league that he is a starting caliber WR and still be able return to the open market in the prime of his career. Since then he has had one up and down year where he was buried on the depth chart of a historic offense and a year where he led the league in touchdowns. The quite affordable deal that Jones signed comes up after 2013, and so Jones is going to be on a mission to prove 2012 was not a fluke and that can be a starting WR in this league. This could be good for the Packers next year, but it also makes for an uncomfortable long term vision for the position if Jones leaves for greener pastures.
Nelson and Jones are both solid receivers, but it’s the rise of Randall Cobb that gives the Packers the most hope for the future. Cobb exploded on the scene in 2012 and showed that he is capable of being a key playmaker in this offense. Cobb brings a wide range of talents to the table, with an ability to run crisp routes, read defenses, catch the ball in traffic, and run with the football. As a result he has lined up all over the field for the Packers and has excelled as a return man as well. His role is bound to change again in 2013, but expect him to continue to be a central focus to the offense.
Jarrett Boykin was a bit of a surprise to the roster at the beginning of 2012. In an offseason where Packer fans a plenty argued over whether Tori Gurley or Diondre Borel should make the team, Boykin turned in some impressive performances during camp and in preseason to buy a spot on the final 53. He even got some playing time due to injuries. In his time on the field Boykin was able to be a solid possession receiver. Boykin’s presence provides good depth and a reliable option for Rodgers, but will probably not be much more than that next year or in the near future.
The final receiver the Packers have under contract for 2013 is a bit more of a return specialist than actual offensive threat. Ross did not make himself many fans this season with a notable fumble against the 49ers and his part in a poorly executed lateral against the Bears in week 15. Despite these high profile miscues, Ross was also able to get some impressive returns against the Vikings in week 17 and offers some hope of taking Randall Cobb off of return duty and focus completely on the his work with the offense.
Positional Grade: B
The past couple years the Packers have fielded the best WR group in the league. This has been primarily due to its depth rather than having one outstanding talent at the position. The loss of Jennings’ talent and Driver’s experience is a major blow to the unit. They are still better than what many other teams have, but without a new infusion of talent this group looks more good than great.
Positional Need: 8 (out of 10)
The Packers are a pass first team and their offense works best when the receivers are able to attack the defense in waves. Having three legitimate targets is not enough to stress defenses in today’s NFL, where more and more teams are trying to get three starting quality CB’s to cover the growing number of dynamic threats in the slot. The Packers need at least one more promising WR in order to keep the offense moving along as it has in the past. This should help minimize the loss of Jennings and help the Packers stay a high powered offense for the future.