The calendar is now well into the month of August. Families are getting in that one last vacation before school starts, and the "dog days of summer" are in full swing. For NFL players however, the month August means anything but some getaway time and many players on the roster bubble are finding out that training camp is truly a "dog eat dog" world.
Nowhere is this more evident than in Green Bay. The Green Bay Packers, after an enormous faux pas by the league in Canton last weekend, will finally get their preseason underway on Friday when they host the Cleveland Browns. The battle at wide receiver will be front and center as the Packers try to take 2015’s biggest weakness and turn it back into the roster’s biggest strength. It’s no secret the receivers struggled badly last year, so regurgitating statistics would be a waste of time at this point.
Now is the time rather to take a look to take stock of the unit and try and predict who stays and who goes as the 2016 preseason gets started. The first question is how many wide receivers Green Bay will keep on the active roster once it is narrowed down to 53 after the preseason. While it is highly unlikely the Packers will keep seven receivers on their roster, six seems to be a much more probable scenario.
Assuming they do indeed keep six, how many spots will be up for grabs? Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Ty Montgomery are locks. Davante Adams is also set barring one of the most disastrous preseason performances ever to befall a professional football player. That leaves two spots to compete for with Jared Abbrederis, Jeff Janis, and rookie Trevor Davis to compete for the spot. Green Bay also has Ed Williams and Jamel Johnson (both holdovers from 2015’s practice squad) as well as undrafted free agents Geronimo Allison, Herb Waters and Harvey Binford but they will more than likely be competing for practice squad time.
So this means it’s between Abbrederis, Janis and Davis for the fifth and sixth receiver spots, respectively. How does it break down? Let’s take a look at each player.
Janis has a strong following among the Packers’ passionate fan base, but in order to see where Janis falls in Green Bay’s plans one must look beyond the aura surrounding the player and simply look at the facts.
Janis has obvious athletic gifts. He is incredibly fast (he ran a 4.42 40 at the 2014 scouting combine) and has strong value as a gunner on special teams. That alone gives him a leg up as far as making the final roster. The Packers offense could use all the speed they can get and Janis adds that by the barrel full.
That being said, there are significant concerns regarding Janis’ development as a receiver as he enters his third year in the league. One of his biggest knocks last year was his inability to run proper routes beyond a simple go route down the field. Did he make improvements this year? Well…
Aaron Rodgers and Jeff Janis with a miscommunication against the blitz. Rodgers threw back shoulder and Janis ran a go route.— Rob Demovsky (@RobDemovsky) July 27, 2016
#Packers CB Sam Shields intercepts Aaron Rodgers' shot play for Jeff Janis. Looked like Janis misplayed ball in midair.— Ryan Wood (@ByRyanWood) July 27, 2016
Of course those are just two examples from early in camp, and it’s not all bad. The Packers did run an end around to Janis during the annual Family Night practice and that could be a good trick play to use once the season starts.
Janis also has got to work on developing more trust from quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The Hail Mary catch during last season’s playoff game in Arizona likely helped, but Rodgers loves consistency and Janis has yet to show that up to this point.
Overall, Janis has got to show something in preseason to warrant keeping him as a receiver. His contributions a special team gunner may not be enough to save him if he doesn’t show some development as a wide receiver.
Abbrederis is the hometown boy, thanks to his college career at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and growing up not too far from Green Bay in Wautoma.
Abbrederis lost his entire rookie season in 2014 thanks to a torn ACL in the early days of training camp. The Packers selected him in the fifth round of the draft that year, hoping to add depth to a strong wide receiver unit while also potentially using him as a kick returner, a strong area of opportunity on that year’s team.
Thanks to his injury, Abbrederis was basically a rookie again last season. He suffered a setback again as he sustained a concussion in training camp. He was released but then was added to the Packers’ practice squad where he spent roughly a month before being added to the active roster in the wake of the ankle injury to Ty Montgomery.
Abbrederis is finally fully healthy heading into 2016. He has earned praise from head coach Mike McCarthy, telling ESPN in June that Abbrederis had his best offseason and singled out his route running for such a young player.
It’s that route running ability that could give Abbrederis a leg up over Janis. He may not have the speed Janis has, but in an offense where precision routes are critical to its success, Abbrederis may be able to convert that to his advantage.
Davis is the real wild card here. It’s tough to argue with general manager Ted Thompson’s track record with selecting wide receivers in the draft, but with all the choices the Packers have at the position it’s tough to see where Davis could fit in the grand scheme of things.
Davis did raise eyebrows right out of the gate making some spectacular catches early on in camp. He also has speed, running an identical 4.42 40 time at the scouting combine this year as Janis did in 2014.
Until he plays a game, it’s impossible to see what Davis can really do. Unless he really stands out, it seems like the practice squad is the most likely landing spot for him. He will more than likely be called up at some point, but until the season unfolds it’s really tough to see what Davis’ rookie year has in store for him.
If the Packers keep six receivers: Abbrederis and Janis will be the fifth and sixth receivers, respectively. As long as Abbrederis remains healthy and Janis continues to struggle with the playbook, that will be the order they will be in. This would be the best option for both players since the Packers seemingly still believe in both and would be a great insurance policy if Adams’ struggles continue.
If the Packers keep five receivers: This will be a tough call. Abbrederis is a better-rounded receiver at this point, yet Janis has the higher value on special teams as well as the higher upside.
This is the perfect case as to why the NFL still has preseason games. The battle between Janis and Abbrederis will be something to watch as the four games are played and will likely be what tips the scales in one player’s favor over the other.
Having said that, the edge would go to Janis at this point. The upside is something the Packers have to love, and getting him more reps with Rodgers will be crucial. Should the chemistry between quarterback and not receiver develop however, Abbrederis could easily leapfrog Janis onto the active roster.
The dog days of August are about to lead one of the biggest dogfights the Packers have had at a position in quite some time. It should be fun to watch.