Packers face tough decisions with talented WR crop
By Rob Reischel, for the Journal Sentinel
~Green Bay – Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy have always been creative with their 53-man roster.
They stocked up with 11 defensive linemen in 2006, kept three fullbacks in 2010 and five tight ends in 2011.
They’ve also gone unusually light in certain areas, such as two running backs in 2010 and two quarterbacks most seasons.
Green Bay’s top decision makers have always kept the best 53 players, regardless of position. One spot Thompson and McCarthy have been relatively consistent with is receivers.
Four wideouts made the team in 2006, and it’s been five every season since.
For the first time in the Thompson-McCarthy era, though, the Packers appear likely to keep six receivers. Barring injury or trade, there’s simply too much talent to keep fewer.
“There’s a lot of depth there,” offensive coordinator Tom Clements said. “There’s a lot of guys that have played well and demonstrated that over the years.
“Then we have a lot of young guys who have shown some ability. It’s an interesting group and competition will make them all better.”
One of the biggest questions in camp is who will stay?
Starters Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson rival any duo in the NFL. Second-year man Randall Cobb could be set for a breakout season. James Jones was highly productive with his opportunities a year ago. Donald Driver, the franchise’s all-time leader in receptions and yards, has a $1.2 million roster bonus that is guaranteed, making it likely he stays.
Then come the young guns.
Tori Gurley and Diondre Borel were both given raises in 2011 to remain on the practice squad. Both have terrific chances to be playing somewhere in the league this season, even if it doesn’t work out in Green Bay.
Others, such as Dale Moss and Shaky Smithson, appear to be more than just camp bodies.
“It’s got to be the deepest we’ve been since I’ve been here,” said Nelson, now entering his fifth season. “It’s going to be difficult. It always will be. If you have a good team, which we have a good team, and are hopeful about making a run, it’s going to be hard to make any position.”
But there’s nothing quite like making it at receiver, where quarterback Aaron Rodgers will have a top group at his disposal again.
Pro Football Focus recently put together a list of the Top 101 players in football, based entirely on statistics and raw data. That’s in sharp contrast to the NFL Network’s top 100, which is largely a popularity contest.
Nelson ranked No. 53 overall and at No. 7 among wideouts on Pro Football Focus’ list thanks to a season in which he scored 15 touchdowns and dropped just two passes.
When Packer quarterbacks threw the ball in Nelson’s direction, their passer rating was a remarkable 150.8. Nelson also led the league in deep pass yardage (total amount of yardage on balls that traveled over 20 yards in the air) with 637 yards.
Nelson is in his prime at 27 years old. He’s also under contract through 2014 and should be a force for the foreseeable future.
“I just have to continue to be consistent,” Nelson said. “I wish I could take some plays back from last year. Hopefully, one year I can sit here and say that I don’t have to say that, but most likely that won’t happen.
“You just have to strive for perfection, which is very difficult to do in this game. As long as you continue to work toward it then you’ll get better.”
One reason the Packers are likely to keep six receivers is the uncertainty of Jennings and Driver after this season.
Jennings is in the final year of his contract and the Packers will have an enormous decision to make there.
Jennings remains one of the game’s elite route runners, has terrific hands and was named to a second straight Pro Bowl in 2011. But Jennings missed the final three regular-season games with a knee injury, had his three-year run of 1,000-yard seasons snapped, averaging a career-worst 4.0 yards after the catch.
If the Packers and Jennings don’t work out a long-term deal before free agency hits in 2013, Green Bay would likely put the franchise tag on Jennings. Still, the chance exists this could be his final season in Green Bay.
The chances are much higher this will be Driver’s swan song. In fact, some are stunned Driver, 37, remains in Green Bay today.
Driver had just 37 caches for 445 yards last season, his least productive season since 2001. Driver was set to make $5 million in 2012, but he will now make $2.3 million between his base salary and guaranteed roster bonus.
“Age is just a number,” Driver insisted after reworking his deal. “You still play the game at a high level, and I haven’t declined. People talk about, well, I didn’t have 1,000 yards. I didn’t have 80 catches. I don’t control who throws the ball.
“But every ball I caught, it was amazing. I made amazing catches, amazing runs. And hopefully when it is all said and done people will look at that.”
The Packers have to be careful that Driver’s return doesn’t stunt Cobb’s growth. Cobb’s average yards after the catch (7.1) was more than double that of Driver’s (3.4), and he’s shown the ability to be a dynamic playmaker from the slot.
“He’s great after the catch,” Clements said of Cobb. “He has a knack to see a hole and get through it. Not everybody can do that.”
Somewhat quietly, Jones strung together a solid season with seven touchdowns and 38 catches in limited snaps. If the Packers need help elsewhere during training camp, Jones would be the most likely to be traded.
Gurley stood out last summer and wound up on Green Bay’s practice squad. He continued to impress all season and was offered a chance to join Minnesota’s active roster in December, but he turned it down when the Packers gave him a raise.
Borel, a college quarterback, is more similar in stature to Cobb and Driver. He had an opportunity to join Tampa Bay late last season, but he……….. Full story here