The Packers Weird and Frustrating Use of Jeff Janis and Trevor Davis
It’s one part weird and another part frustrating to consider how the Packers have used wide receivers Jeff Janis and Trevor Davis. The pair played a combined two snaps on offense this past Sunday, and that’s not an outlier. Green Bay just doesn’t play Janis or Davis on offense.
The Packers have four offensive players (receivers, tight ends, running backs or fullbacks) who are predominantly playing special teams: Janis, Davis, fullback Joe Kerridge, and running back Devante Mays. These four have played 70 percent or more of their total snaps on special teams.
How unique is it to carry multiple offensive players who appear mostly on special teams?
Approximately two-thirds of the league (21 teams) carry more than one player on their roster who appears primarily on special teams. Of 68 offensive players who fit this criteria, 32 are running backs, 24 are wide receivers, 10 are tight ends and 3 are fullbacks.
It's hard to justify, however, Green Bay’s strategy of keeping a pair of receivers on the roster who do not play offense. Who else devotes roster spots to two wide receivers who play almost exclusively on special teams? As it turns out, pretty much no one.
The Packers were one of just five teams heading into Week 14 with two wide receivers who have played 70 percent or more of their total snaps on special teams.
The four other teams – the Jets, the Giants, the Patriots and the Jaguars – appear to have stumbled into scenarios where two receivers are playing predominantly special teams roles. Only the Patriots’ Matt Slater and the Jets’ Kalif Raymond were on their team’s roster in Week 1.
That makes Janis and Davis the only two wide receivers in the NFL who have been on a roster since Week 1 and who have played over 70 percent of their snaps on special teams.
It's reasonable to assume that the Packers are the only team who had some sort of plan to use two of their 53 roster spots on receivers that only play special teams.
How exactly are Janis and Davis contributing on special teams?
Is the value Green Bay gains from the pair’s contributions on special teams enough to justify their roster spots?
There’s no doubt Janis is an excellent special teams player. It’s entertaining watching him cover punts, but his return skills outside of a couple kick returns left much to be desired. Davis returned a punt in the preseason for a touchdown, and has come close in recent weeks to breaking another return for a touchdown. His punt coverage, too, has become an asset, but it remains difficult to justify having one player on the roster who solely plays special teams, mich less two.
It’d be an ideal scenario if the Packers could develop either Janis or Davis into both a fine kick and punt returner and coverage specialist. We explored that idea during training camp, when we compared Janis to the career of special teams ace Kareem Osgood.
Both Janis and Davis are indirectly hurting Green Bay’s defense
Green Bay’s roster management seems like a tremendous waste of a roster spot and a questionable deployment of your resources. You've only got 53 roster spots. Why are the Packers using two on receivers who play special teams and almost nothing else?
Even in situations where the Packers offense dealt with injuries to their receivers, Janis and Davis have stayed on the sidelines. Injuries impacted the Packers on offense each of the past two seasons, and only in 2016’s Week 8 loss to the Falcons did Janis and Davis see extended playing time on offense.
Where this roster management stings the Packers the most is on defense. Consider cornerback, a position where a team needs a lot of bodies to contribute. Each of the past two seasons, Green Bay has struggled to overcome injuries in the secondary. Extra bodies at the position could have come in handy, but they were limited in part because of two active wide receivers playing only special teams.
If Green Bay continues to have no plans to use the pair on offense, they might as well at least explore the idea of converting one or both to defensive back. Before heading down that line of thinking, however, let’s examine both Janis and Davis’ safety on the roster moving forward.
The cloudy future at receiver in Green Bay
Green Bay is carrying seven wide receivers on their active roster heading into this Sunday’s contest against the Browns. As Jon wrote yesterday, the Packers will have some headaches at receiver in the near future as they weigh questions of age, price and performance.
The problem we’ve highlighted here concerns Janis and Davis, but we have been and continue to be supporters of what the pair can bring to the Packers:
- Before 2016’s training camp, we advocated for keeping both Janis and Davis over fan favorite Jared Abbrederis.
- After beating the Lions in Week 17 last season, Jon wrote how Davis and Janis could benefit from more exposure on offense.
- Before last season’s postseason game against Dallas, we wrote about the possibility of using both Janis and Davis more on offense.
Both Jeff Janis and Trevor Davis have a hazy future with the team beyond this season.
Janis is in the final year of his rookie contract. At this point, Janis is as closed to a finished product as a football player as he’ll get. It’s likely a toss-up whether the team could bring him back next season.
Davis was in serious trouble during training camp because of the additions of fifth-rounder DeAngelo Yancey and seventh-rounder Malachi Dupre. A punt return touchdown by Davis likely secured him a roster spot over Yancey or Dupre, but a roster spot for next season is no guarantee unless Davis has an opportunity to stand out on offense down the stretch.
This article is adapted from this week's episode of Blue 58, a Packers podcast from The Power Sweep. Listen to the full episode below for a more in depth look at the Packers' wide receiver position as well as an assessment of their odds at making a playoff run.