As we inch closer to the start of OTAs, we will continue to take a closer look at the Green Bay Packers’ roster. Last week we began the series by breaking down the Packer quarterbacks. We will continue analyzing the offense by taking a look at arguably Green Bay’s deepest position on the roster — wide receiver.
For the past several seasons the Packer receiving corps has been lauded as one of the deepest and most talented groups in the league, and now with Donald Driver retiring and Greg Jennings packing his bags and finding real estate across the border, the group will be looking for young, ascending players to step up and fill the void the departing veterans left behind. A position that was overcrowded last year now has some spots open for competition heading into the 2013 season.
With Ted Thompson drafting two intriguing wide receiver prospects in the seventh round and signing a handful of others in unrestricted free agency, the Packers are retooling the position with young players who possess both size and speed. It seems Green Bay is in good hands with Aaron Rodgers throwing to Cobb, Jones, and Nelson, but the important thing to watch this offseason is to see if any of the young wide receivers step up and add another dynamic to the passing game.
Wide Receiver (10)
The Packers seem to be pretty set for playmakers at wide receiver with Cobb, Jones, and Nelson manning the top three spots at the position. However, I am really interested to see which of these three players will emerge as Rodgers’ top target in 2013. They each bring a unique skill set to the position and have the potential to be the go-to-guy.
Cobb seems to be the rising star of the group. After making his presence known as a returner his rookie season, Cobb was utilized frequently in the offense as a multi-dimensional weapon who could line up in the slot, on the outside, and even in the backfield. Recording a team-high 80 catches and 954 yards receiving and eight touchdown receptions last season, it seems Cobb has only scratched the surface of his potential. Expect Cobb’s role to continue to expand as Coach McCarthy continues to find creative ways to utilize Cobb’s unique skill set.
With Driver and Jennings’ departure, Jones is now the veteran of the group, but Jones provides much more than just leadership for the younger players. Simply put, Jones was a beast last season. He hauled in a league-leading 14 touchdowns and was Green Bay’s most consistent wide receiver. Jones has always been good, but he raised his game to another level last season and showed his coaches that he could be a reliable number one, if needed. Rodgers seemed to build chemistry with Jones last year as the season progressed, and I expect that chemistry to carry over into the 2013 season.
Nelson is the group’s big play threat who has the size and speed to go deep and outman smaller defensive backs. However, Nelson dealt with injuries off and on last season and his receiving numbers (745 yds, 7 TDs) and big plays decreased compared to his stellar 2011 performance (1,263 yds, 15 TDs). His receiving average also dropped from 18.6 yards per reception in 2011 to 15.2 yards per in 2012. I expect this had more to do with all the Cover 2 Green Bay faced last season, and less to do with Nelson’s ability to win his one-on-one matchups and get open down field. Maybe Nelson’s 2011 big play production will return if Green Bay gets a running game going this season.
After the top three receiving spots, this position is wide open and filled with young, but unproven, talent. Boykin and Ross return from last season. Boykin saw limited action during the regular season (5 rec, 27 yds) and was at the bottom of the depth chart in a crowded position. However, Boykin had an impressive 2012 camp and preseason, winning his coaches’ attention and a final roster spot. This is no small task for a guy who was signed as a tryout player last spring and a long shot to make the roster heading into OTAs. Maybe Boykin will have another excellent camp.
Ross spent some time on the practice squad last season before he was activated as a returner toward the end of the year. Ross showed potential returning kicks and punts, but he’ll have to show the coaches he can also be a factor in the passing game to win a roster spot this season.
Seventh round picks Johnson and Dorsey are intriguing prospects. They are both big receivers with blazing speed (ranging 4.35 – 4.42 40 time). It is rare to find receivers their size who can ran that fast, so it makes me wonder what the catch is here. Johnson played at a Division II school and wasn’t even invited to this year’s Combine, so hats off to Green Bay’s scouting department for finding this guy. He recorded nearly 1,200 yards receiving and 16 touchdown receptions his senior season at Grand Valley State, but the level of competition he faced in college hurt his draft stock.
Dorsey played at a Division I school (Maryland) but was overlooked by many scouts because of his subpar receiving numbers last year—311 yds and 4 TDs. However, Thompson explained that Dorsey is a much better player than these numbers suggest.
Last year, Maryland had some injuries at quarterback, which greatly affected their offensive production and severely limited Dorsey’s opportunities. Dorsey is almost the exact same size as James Jones and has top end speed. Maybe Dorsey is a diamond in the rough and will prove to be a surprise player at the position.
After Cobb, Jones, and Nelson, I expect Green Bay to keep at least two more receivers on their final 53-man roster. Boykin has a leg up on the competition because he has played a year in this offense, but Boykin lacks the speed Ross, Johnson, and Dorsey bring to the table.
If Johnson and Dorsey show serious potential they may challenge Boykin and Ross for roster spots, and in the very least, the two seventh round picks will spend the season on the practice squad.
White, Walker, and Cunningham are all undrafted free agents brought in to add competition during camp. Maybe one of these players surprises everyone and wins a roster spot, like Boykin last year. But as of now, with Green Bay selecting two young promising receivers in the seventh round and Boykin and Ross returning, there seems to be very little room left for White, Walker, and Cunningham to even get a fair shot at making the roster.
Both White and Cunningham are average-sized receivers with good speed (4.40 – 4.45 40 time), but were inconsistent in college. Walker is a small receiver who lacks top end speed (4.54 – 4.62), but was highly productive in college, leading the All Missouri Valley Conference in receptions (90), receiving yards (1,319), and touchdown catches (9). White, Cunningham, and Walker have their work cut out for them to earn a spot on the team, but it has been done before so don’t count them out just yet. Expect at least one these prospects to land on the practice squad as a developmental player.
It will be interesting to see how many receivers Green Bay retains on the final 53-man roster this year. Last season the Packers kept six receivers on their final roster. With Driver seeing a limited number of snaps and other positions like offensive line left very thin, was this a mistake? Will the Packers keep six receivers again this year?
It’s difficult to predict how the final depth chart at wide receiver will play out. The only thing we know for certain at this point is to expect plenty of competition and maybe some surprises at wide receiver this offseason.