When the Green Bay Packers released wide receiver and kick returner Jeremy Ross last week, that left only four receivers on their roster. Many assumed, myself included, that the Packers would either sign a returner off the street that can also play wideout or call up a young receiver from the practice squad, like Charles Johnson or Myles White.
To my surprise, on Monday the Packers decided instead to elect practice squad running back, Michael Hill, to their active 53-man roster. This means, Green Bay will go forward with only four receivers on their depth chart for the remainder of the season.
This is quite the departure from their approach to the position a year ago when they decided to keep receiver heavily saturated with six players.
Now, the Packers have just as many running backs on their active roster as they do wideouts. A first in Green Bay since Mike McCarthy’s time as the team’s head coach.
Maybe this move reflects a change in the Packers’ philosophy towards a more balanced offense this season, or maybe circumstance has dictated this move.
After all, the Green Bay backfield has been hit pretty hard with the injury bug so far this season, and the Packers learned their lesson going to Cincinnati with only two healthy backs on game day.
So should it be a concern the Packers are going thin at wide receiver?
McCarthy doesn’t seemed worried. When asked about only keeping four receivers on their active roster during his Monday press conference, McCarthy said he “feel(s) good with that number” and that the receiving group could “use as many opportunities as possible.”
Maybe Green Bay learned their lesson last year when six receivers seemed like an excessive amount during the season. Often, either Jarrett Boykin or Donald Driver were inactive on game day, and even when the Packers had injuries to starters Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings, they barely utilized the fifth and sixth receiver in their offense.
A main reason for this, and maybe it’s the reason McCarthy doesn’t seem worried with having only four receivers on their roster, is because the Packers often split tight end Jermichael Finley out wide when they go to the spread offense.
Finley is essentially a receiver half the time. When the Packers go four-wide and spread teams out to create mismatches on the field, it is often Randall Cobb and Finley lined up in the slot with James Jones and Nelson out wide.
The Packers have to be a little concerned with Finley injured and in danger of missing some time, but even against Cincinnati with Finley out of the game, the Packers barely used their fifth receiver, Ross, in spread formation. Instead, when they went five-wide, they elected to use an additional tight end, like Andrew Quarless or Ryan Taylor, as the fifth receiver.
If the Packers keep their big four–Cobb, Jones, Nelson, and Finley–as their wideouts in spread formations, then the plan to only keep four receivers on the roster should work out fine. Green Bay still has Boykin then to fill in one of these spots if more injuries occur.
However, what if, like last year, two receivers have to miss a game or two? What will the Packers do then with only two healthy receivers?
The Packers would need to use a roster spot and call up either Johnson or White from the practice squad, but this would require them to release a player from their active roster.
This seems like a simple enough solution, but what if the Packers already have a receiver out with an injury and suffer another injury at the position during the game?
Having only four receivers on the roster seems awfully risky for a team that likes to use a lot of multiple-receiver sets on offense, but I’m sure Coach McCarthy and Ted Thompson have already thought through all of the different scenarios and made what they believe is the best decision for the team this year.
That’s why they get payed the big bucks.
So I’ll put my worries aside, and wait to see how this plays out as the season progresses.