Green Bay Packers Midseason Report Card: Wide Receivers

Scott Boehm

The Packers' Wide Receiver unit has been in an almost-constant state of flux over the first nine weeks of the season, with only two players getting consistent playing time.

As hard as the Packers have been hit by injury at the linebacker and running back positions, the Wide Receiver group has been hampered as well. With the top two options both missing substantial time over the first nine games, Ted Thompson is looking like a bit of a clairvoyant in keeping six receivers on the opening week roster. Jarrett Boykin may not have much in the way of catches or yardage, but his presence on the active roster meant that the team was able to avoid dipping into the free agent pool or pulling a player off the practice squad in order to field a full complement of receivers.

The top receiving option coming into the season was Greg Jennings, but he has played in only three games all season, staying on the field for a collective nine quarters or so of football. In a contract year, Jennings undoubtedly hoped to put together a better performance, but his nagging hernia/groin/abdominal issue has kept him off the field for much of the season.

Jordy Nelson, on the other hand, was finally returning to his 2011 form in weeks 6 and 7, putting up a combined 17 catches for 243 yards and four touchdowns in those two games. Then the injury bug hit him too, as he pulled a hamstring in practice, keeping him out in week 8 against Jacksonville. He was ready to return for week 9 against Arizona, then twisted his ankle early on and was out for the remainder of that game. Once Jordy got his groove back midway through the first half, he looked great, but his missed time has had an impact on the receivers group over the past few games.

Moving to the third of the receivers in the middle of their careers, James Jones has had a somewhat fascinating season. It seems that he has taken the role of a possession receiver rather than a deep threat. Furthermore, he has been one of Aaron Rodgers' most reliable pass-catchers, and has made multiple highlight-reel catches while not dropping the easy balls (which was the biggest complaint about Jones from Packers fans in the past). He leads the NFL with 8 touchdown catches and he has been remarkably consistent, with only two games of fewer than four receptions or 46 receiving yards.

Randall Cobb has become an emerging star in the Packers' offense, and his stats are starting to back up the high praise being showered on him from Rodgers, Mike McCarthy, and Cobb's fellow receivers. He is as versatile a weapon as they come, racking up impressive plays from the slot and the running back position, while still excelling on kick and punt returns. Even when he struggles catching the ball as he did against the Cardinals (3 catches on 9 targets), he finds ways to contribute (3 rushes for 29 yards, 3 kick returns for 90 yards, and 3 punt returns for 46 yards). Cobb's development into a reliable and dynamic playmaker is probably the single biggest reason that the Packers have been able to win without Jennings and Nelson.

Donald Driver, sadly, is looking like the old dog that just can't keep up with his younger counterparts. He only has seven catches on the year, and he hasn't caught more than two passes in any game in 2012. When Nelson and Jennings were healthy, Driver didn't even see the field. His leadership qualities are still unquestioned, but I imagine that every Packers fan who has watched a game this year expects Driver to hang up the cleats after the season is out.

Overall grade for the receivers: B

Ultimately, the injuries to Jennings and Nelson have limited the ability of the Packers' receivers group to create the desired mismatches on nickel and dime backs that would be created with a full stable of wideouts. However, Jones and Cobb deserve substantial recognition for their efforts and production when matching up against opponents' top corners, and have both been excellent this season. Nelson took a while to get it going, but he was abusing defenses shortly before his injuries struck.

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