Green Bay Packers wide receiverJordy Nelson
(87). Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
In this series we take a close look at the Packers 90-man roster on the verge of training camp and discuss each player’s chances of making the final 53.
In 2011, the Green Bay Packers passing game took what it wanted. Setting franchise records, the Packers offense threw for 4,924 yards and 51 touchdowns.
Spearheaded by Aaron Rodgers and a litany of receiving talent, the Packers went on to finish 15-1 and put together one of the most dominant regular season offensive performances in recent memory.
Ironically, only a few years later and the Packers receiving corps looks completely different going into the 2014 season. Four of their top five receivers from that incredible 2011 aerial assault are no longer with the team.
The one constant?
In fact, it was the 2011 season that Nelson really emerged as a true playmaker in the Packers passing game. He brought in 68 receptions for 1,263 yards, finished second in the league in yards per catch with 18.6 and third in touchdowns with 15.
In 2013, Nelson put together another strong performance, earning career marks in receptions (85) and receiving yards (1,314), despite being without his star quarterback for nearly half the season.
The Packers know what they have in Nelson and Randall Cobb is an emerging star, but with the departures they’ve had over the past few seasons, the Packers still have a way to go to replenish the position and get it back to its 2011 form.
They’re hoping three drafted rookies and several young returnees will do just that.
Wide Receiver (10)
Green Bay Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson (87). Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Nelson and Cobb are now the veteran leaders at the position, and coincidently, both players enter contract years.
I would expect the Packers to do everything they can to re-sign both Nelson and Cobb for the extended future. They are not only vital as wide receivers, but they are also cornerstones to Green Bay’s offense.
Nelson has turned into one of the finest receivers in the league. Not only was he the Packers leading receiver last season, but he also showcased his versatility, especially with Cobb sidelined with injury.
Typically lined up on the outside as an “X” or “Z” receiver, Nelson caught nearly half of his 85 receptions and 1,324 yards lining up in the slot last season (41 rec, 624 yds).
Nelson’s combination of size, strength, and savvy allow him to line up anywhere on the field and be effective as a receiver.
Cobb is also a multi-purpose threat and perhaps the most explosive player on the Packers offense. He’s dangerous in the open field and is the perfect slot receiver for today’s NFL.
Green Bay Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb (18) looks to break away from Detroit Lions linebacker Stephen Tulloch (55). Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
With Jennings off to Minnesota, Cobb was poised for a breakout season in 2013 after leading the team in receiving in 2012 with 80 receptions for 954 yards. However, Cobb missed 10 games last season after breaking his leg against Baltimore in week six.
He returned for the season finale against the Chicago Bears to make the incredible 48-yard game-winning touchdown reception to seal the division title.
But, we still have yet to see what Cobb can do as one of the Packers’ primary offensive weapons for an entire season. He may have the highest ceiling of any player on the roster, but he needs to stay healthy and in the lineup to realize this potential.
One of the best position battles heading into training camp to watch will be between Jarrett Boykin and second-round pick Davante Adams for the third receiving spot on the roster.
Boykin had a breakout year in 2013 with 49 rec, 689 yards, and 3 TDs. Making the roster as an undrafted free agent in 2012, Boykin stepped up in a big way in Cobb’s absence last season.
Now, Boykin will have to fight off three drafted rookies for playing time. None more prominent than Adams, who many expect big things out of.
Fresno State Bulldogs wide receiver Davante Adams (15). Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
Adams flourished in Fresno State’s high-tempo offense. As a senior, he led the nation in receptions (131) and receiving touchdowns (24) and was second in receiving yards per game (132.2). His 1,719 receiving yards in 2013 and 1,312 in 2012 rank him near the top in all of college football over the past two years.
Adams’s eye-popping numbers show how productive he was in college, which despite a subpar forty time (4.56), reassure the Packers coaches that Adams can have plenty of success in the NFL.
Adam’s game is also more than just numbers. His large 6-1, 218-pound frame and 39-inch vertical allow him to both high-point the ball and outmuscle defensive backs for the tough contested catches.
The former Bulldog has James Jones’ toughness and strength and Jennings’ shiftiness and ability to make defenders miss in the open field. He should be a nice addition to the Packers high-powered offense.
With the top four spots at receiver looking pretty well locked up, there will be several players competing for the last spot or two at the position.
Wisconsin Badgers wide receiver Jared Abbrederis (4). Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Abbrederis won’t wow anybody with size, speed, or strength. His four reps on the bench press was one of the worst marks at the NFL Combine. However, Abbrederis is a polished route-runner and has good hands–more important skills to possess as a receiver than running drills in shorts.
Some have doubts whether Abbrederis has the physical tools to hold up well against NFL defensive backs. He does need to get stronger to beat the press and get off the line, but his immediate impact may be felt more as a punt returner. This may be his best bet at making the final roster.
McCarthy has given Abbrederis reps returning punts in OTAs, and this seems to be a natural position for him. Abbrederis also has the skill set to get some looks as a slot receiver.
Janis is flying under the radar a bit going into camp, but don’t sleep on the 6-foot-3, 219-pound receiver out of Saginaw Valley State.
Janis is great blend of size and speed (4.39). He dominated at the Division II level, catching 83 passes for 1,572 yards and 14 TDs as a senior and 106 passes for 1,635 yards and 17 TDs as a junior.
Janis outran and outmuscled his competition in college, but he’ll have to adjust to life in the NFL where defenders are just as athletic and fast as he is.
Like Abbrederis, Janis may have to make a splash as a returner to earn a final roster spot.
Green Bay Packers wide receiver Myles White (19). Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports
Both White and Harper spent some time on the Packers’ practice squad last season before being called up to the active roster for a few games.
White stood out in camp last year with a strong preseason and nearly made the final roster. White bulked up and added weight this offseason, and with his shiftiness in the open field, he’s a strong candidate as a reserve slot receiver and possible returner.
At 6-foot-1 and 228 pounds, Harper brings size and strength to the position. He’s one of the few players whose name has been repeatedly mentioned by coaches and media for his impressive play during the Packers’ OTAs.
We’ll see how he looks when the pads come on in camp, but the former fourth-round pick may make a legitimate push for a roster spot in August.
Kevin Dorsey works out during the Green Bay Packers rookie orientation. Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Dorsey was drafted by the Packers in the seventh round last year, but he sat out his entire rookie season after being placed on the Packers injured reserve for a knee and toe injury he suffered early on in camp.
The Packers still don’t know what they have in Dorsey at this point. He may make a push for a roster spot, but he’ll have to beat out stiff competition. With 4.47 speed and a 38-inch vert, Dorsey has all the physical tools to excel as an NFL receiver, but he also has a steep hill to climb.
Dorsey may be a forgotten man at the position, but with a strong camp he may at least land a spot on the practice squad.
Gillett spent time on the Packers 90-man roster last year and did enough in camp for them to call him back for another try this year. At a crowded position, the former quarterback seems to have the longest odds to overcome for a roster spot.
The Packers learned their lesson about keeping six wide receivers on the final roster in 2011. Demands at other positions will lead them to only keeping five at the position in 2014: Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Jarrett Boykin, Davante Adams, and Jared Abbrederis. Myles White and Jeff Janis will be strong practice squad candidates.