Pass Catching Packers
The Packers currently have eleven receivers under contract, which would be the perfect number if all you needed for offense was guys who could run really fast and catch passes. Unfortunately, you need quite a bit more than that, so there are going to have to be more than a few tough decisions between now and the end of training camp. Unfortunately for the younger guys, the Packers also have quite a few entrenched veterans, including the recently re-signed Donald Driver. Who, if any, of the up-and-comers can break through? That's what we're here to find out. Here's the Packers' receivers as I see them.
Greg Jennings - Nothing new to say here. You know what you're getting with #85. He's as consistent as receivers can be and he'll continue to be a big focus of the offense as long as he can maintain his great chemistry with Aaron Rodgers. Two quick notes: first, I'm always amazed at how effective Jennings is around the goal line. Even though he's not the biggest guy in the world, he runs such precise routes and has such great body control he can consistently get open. Secondly, last year Jennings posted his second lowest yards per reception mark since his rookie year. I don't think this is an indication of a guy who's slowing, though. I think it speaks more to how he's being used in the offense.
Jordy Nelson - We've discussed Jordy here before, so you're probably fairly familiar with my opinions on him (quick refresher: I think he's great). Easily the biggest receiver in the Packers' top five right now, he also provides a field-stretching element to the receiving corps. While I don't think he'll match the numbers of last season, I think he'll be a big part of the offense in 2012. I'm anxious to see how defenses play him now that he's hardly a secret outside of Green Bay.
James Jones - Entering his sixth season with the Packers, Jones is still an enigma to me. Is he a guy who'd be a number one receiver on a less talented team? Is he an underachieving guy that has way too many drops? I don't know. Part of the problem with evaluating the Packer receivers is that there's so many good ones; we hardly ever get an extended look at anyone beyond the top one or two guys. Perhaps as Donald Driver is phased out of the offense, we'll be able to get a better view of what Jones can do.
Randall Cobb - Right now I put Cobb squarely ahead of Donald Driver on the wide receiver depth chart. If you believe early OTA reports, the coaching staff just loves Cobb. He's more explosive than Driver and will obviously (hopefully) be playing long after Driver retires. I'm excited to see what the team has planned for Cobb this year. He was always a spark on the field whenever he touched the ball last year and didn't have the benefit of working with the team throughout the offseason. He should be a much bigger contributor this year.
Donald Driver- Please don't misunderstand what I'm about to say, because I love Donald Driver. But I absolutely cannot understand what Ted Thompson was thinking when he committed to keeping the 37 year old receiver around for another year. His receptions have decreased every year since 2006. His total yardage has gone down every year but one in that time frame as well, bottoming out with a career low 445 yards last year. Even if he is a great leader and wonderful locker room guy, there are several players who will very likely be contributing more over the next five seasons than he will. Why keep them from the field for another year?
Tori Gurley - Of the approximately 38 wide receivers who didn't make the final roster last year, Gurley is to me the most intriguing. For one thing, he's 6'4" and weighs about 230 pounds, which allows him to fill the "big receiver" role which the Packers really haven't had since Ruvell Martin was kicking around (not that he was anything special, but he was still large). For another thing, his name makes him sound like he could be a women's sand volleyball player, which is just a funny mental picture in the context of a football training camp. I'd really like Gurley to get a long look in training camp, and for this reason I was frustrated when the team decided to bring back Donald Driver. Again, not that I hate Driver, but I'd rather have a giant young receiver than a small old receiver.
Diondre Borel- Borel played quarterback in college, which doesn't help him much in his battle to make it to the NFL as a receiver, but I find it interesting. Because he's four inches shorter and a bout 30 pounds lighter, Borel might be at a bit of a disadvantage to Gurley as far as roster prospects go. But considering that he got paid as much as normal roster players did just to hang out on the practice squad last year, the team must think he can contribute at a pretty high level. Whether he'll get a chance or not remains to be seen.
Shaky Smithson - The Green Bay beat writers seem to like him as a potential punt and kick returner, which would be great if the Packers didn't have Randall Cobb. Spent all of last year on injured reserve. Could be a candidate for the practice squad this year.
Dale Moss - Four year basketball player in college, then used a fifth year of eligibility to play a season of football. Proceeded to lead his team in receptions and receiving yards. Another big body, which the team seems to lack at the receiver position. Could be a practice squad prospect, barring some major injuries ahead of him on the depth chart.
Jarrett Boykin - Finished his career as the leading receiver in Virginia Tech history and is pretty athletic, posting a 35-inch vertical leap as a freshman. Obviously productive in college, but probably will have to leapfrog at least two or three guys to even have a shot at the practice squad.
Curenski Gilleylen - I sprained all ten of my fingers typing his name, so thanks for that Curenski Gilleylen. A career backup at Nebraska, Gilleylen didn't record a reception in either of his last two years as a Cornhusker. He had some nice things said about him in this article, for whatever that's worth. If Ted Thompson sees something in him, he must dig deeper than anybody ever has. That or he just likes messing with guys who have no shot at making an NFL roster.