For the past several seasons, the Green Bay Packers have boasted one of the most talented wide receiving units in the league. The rise of Aaron Rodgers as an elite quarterback has obviously helped showcase that talent, but it's hard to argue the playmaking ability of Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson, and James Jones.
Young talents like Jarrett Boykin and Jeremy Ross were still waiting to prove themselves, while the organization took 7th-round flyers on Charles Johnson and Kevin Dorsey. Unknown commodities like Myles White, Tyrone Walker, Alex Gillett, and Terrell Sinkfield earned training camp invites and limited playing time in preseason action.
2013 Packers Wide Receivers
Starters: Jordy Nelson, James Jones
Back-Ups: Randall Cobb (technically), Jarrett Boykin, Myles White, Chris Harper
Practice Squad: Alex Gillett, Tyrone Walker
IR: Kevin Dorsey, Sederrik Cunningham
Released Players: Jeremy Ross, Terrell Sinkfield, Charles Johnson (signed off PS by Browns)
As a fanbase, I think we were all expecting big numbers from Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, and James Jones. As the Packers parted ways with Greg Jennings, the question wasn't whether or not the offense would falter without him, but who was going to inherit his targets and receptions?
As for the young unproven talent, Jarrett Boykin was all but locked in as a the No.4 option, while Jeremy Ross' tenure in Green Bay was on thin ice. Many had high hopes for the raw talent of the two seventh round picks, Charles Johnson (a physical specimen at 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds out of Grand Valley State University) and Kevin Dorsey, an unproven commodity out of Maryland who also had impressive size (6'2, 210).
The Packers handled Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb with kid gloves for most of the preseason due to various injuries and allowed James Jones to get a look as the go-to-guy with a various cast of youngsters around him. Tyrone Walker looked poised to grab a roster spot with his preseason performances, and Jeremy Ross continued to struggle to catch anything thrown or kicked in his general direction. He may also go down as the only player in NFL history to resurrect his career in Detroit (sorry, I had to).
As the regular season progressed, injuries decimated the unit. James Jones missed two and half games with a sprained PCL in his knee and later played through broken ribs, Randall Cobb fractured his leg in Week 5 and didn't return until the regular season finale, and the injury to Aaron Rodgers midway through the season left the unit in the inexperienced hands of Scott Tolzien.
The injuries rendered James Jones into strictly a possession receiver, as he was incapable of creating much separation from his defender. Jordy Nelson played more in the slot than his usual outside position, but still managed to perform at an All-Pro level through the position switches and quarterback changes. Jarrett Boykin emerged as not only a serviceable back-up, but a playmaker who could be relied on. His 103-yard performance against the Browns was quickly outdone by his 112-yard performance against the Eagles.
Randall Cobb returned for the season finale against the Bears, and had probably the play of the season for the Green Bay Packers on his game-winning touchdown. Cobb wasn't much of a factor in the team's playoff loss to San Francisco, but his ability to come back by the end of the season from such a gruesome injury bodes well for 2014.
Overall Grade: B
If this were individual evaluations, I would give Jordy Nelson an A++, and everyone else a B or B-minus.
It's hard to accurately gauge this group's performance due to the injuries within the position, and the direct impact Aaron Rodgerss injury had on the group's production, but other than Jordy Nelson's stellar season, this vastly talented unit only had an average statistical outing in 2013.
Nelson finished with 85 receptions for 1,314 yards and 8 touchdowns.
James Jones: 59 for 817 and three touchdowns.
Jarrett Boykin: 49 for 681 and three touchdowns.
Randall Cobb: 31 for 433 and four touchdowns in six games.
Myles White: 9 for 66 yards
Jeremy Ross: one reception for eight yards.
Nelson was exceptional in every aspect of his play. From sideline acrobatics, to double moves, to blocking; he did it all and played almost every snap in 2013. James Jones was on pace for a similar type of season before his knee injury turned him into a shell of the wideout he once was. He showed amazing toughness and determination by playing through his injuries, and I would be surprised if Jones and the organization don't come to terms over the off-season to keep him in Green Bay.
Jarrett Boykin showed off some deceptive speed running his routes, and displayed great hands while attacking the ball at its highest point. I expect him to have a bigger role in the offense in 2014.
Josh VanDyke covers the Green Bay Packers for Acme Packing Company. He is also currently a sports writer for MLive.com. Follow him on Twitter: @JVanDyke24