The Green Bay Packers boast perhaps the deepest receiving corps in football, and with Aaron Rodgers throwing to them, it’s no wonder that the Packers broke a franchise record last year in both passing yards and points scored.
With the continued confusion over Donald Driver’s status and a group of three undrafted free agents brought in to compete at wide receiver, there will be a few training camp battles to keep an eye on.
Let’s take a look at what the Green Bay Packers' wide receiver depth chart will likely look like when we head into the NFL's 2012 regular season.
Greg Jennings going up to make the catch over Quentin Jammer
Greg Jennings was on pace for another terrific season last year before going down with a sprained MCL in Week 13 against the Raiders. He had 67 receptions for 949 yards before the injury, which is a 16-game pace of 82 catches for 1,168 yards. Those numbers are right around his season averages over the past few years. The 82 catches would have been a career high for Jennings.
He did end the season second on the team in all three receiving categories, but he will retain his status as the No. 1 receiver in Green Bay.
The attention and respect teams give to Jennings helps open up the field for the rest of the Green Bay receivers. He’s one of the best route runners in the league and has reliable hands.
Jennings’ ability to make plays down the field as well as in the underneath game sets him apart from the rest of the pack (pun intended). He’s a natural receiver who plucks the ball out of the air without having to slow down and focus on the ball, which makes him extremely dangerous in the middle of the field and has allowed him to be a playmaking machine for the Green Bay offense.
Jennings was drafted by the Packers in 2006, a year after Aaron Rodgers, and the two have worked together for the past six years developing their chemistry. At this point, they have an almost uncanny ability to read each other at the line of scrimmage. Their synchronization of the back shoulder throw is a beautiful thing to watch and is a testament to the chemistry those two have created over the years.
Expect another ho-hum 1,000-yard season from Jennings as he continues to build his legacy with the green and gold.
Jordy Nelson with the tough stiff arm on Lions CB Alphonso Smith
The Packers’ 2011 leader in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns returns as the No. 2 receiver and gives the Packers perhaps the best tandem of receivers at the top of their depth chart.
His 2011 campaign was truly special and needs to be recognized.
Nelson was seventh in the NFL in receiving yardage despite ranking 54th in snaps played at the receiver position. He caught 73.1 percent of balls thrown his way, which was third in the NFL amongst players who played over 600 snaps, and he ranked second in the NFL in yards per catch for players with over 50 receptions. Astounding numbers for a guy who will enter the year as the No. 2 receiver on the Packers’ depth chart.
The Kansas State product is just entering his prime going into his fifth season and continues to improve across the board. He’s a long strider who is deceptively fast, he has a knack for getting behind the defense and making plays down the field.
Like Jennings, Nelson is also a great natural receiver who seems to always catch the ball with his arms extended. He rarely drops the football and is as dependable as they come.
Nelson uses his big frame to shield smaller defenders from the ball, and with his natural receiving skills, he’s very difficult to contain.
As long as Aaron Rodgers is slinging the football in Green Bay, Nelson will continue to put up big numbers. He’s the one player on the roster who has the ability to eventually overtake Jennings for the top receiving spot.
James Jones getting some extra yardage after the catch
James Jones was re-signed last offseason after Aaron Rodgers pleaded for his return (via ESPNMilwaukee), and Rodgers' endorsement was validated by Jones catching a career-high seven touchdowns in 2011.
Jones has been a solid contributor for the Packers over the past five years, appearing in all 16 games each of the past three seasons. He’s a strong receiver who has been plagued by inconsistency.
But you’ll be hard-pressed to find many better third receivers in the league. Like all of the receivers in Green Bay, Jones has the ability to make something happen after the catch. He averaged 7.7 yards-after-catch per reception last year, which ranked fourth in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus.
Unfortunately his six drops were tied for the third most of all receivers who were targeted on 50 or more throws.
He’ll be pushed for the third receiver spot by Randall Cobb this offseason, but expect Jones to hold him off as Jones has much more experience and has built more chemistry with Aaron Rodgers over the past five years.
Dynamic second year receiver/returner Randall Cobb
The fourth and fifth wide receiver positions will come down to a training camp battle between Randall Cobb and Donald Driver, assuming Driver returns for his 14th season.
However, Randall Cobb is likely to take the fourth receiver spot from Driver regardless. Driver saw his involvement drop for the third consecutive season last year, and Cobb’s talent is too significant to sweep under the rug and relegate him to a fifth receiver role.
Cobb is a dynamic talent who has been dubbed Green Bay’s version of Percy Harvin. He can line up outside, in the slot or in the backfield and return punts and kicks. Last year he provided the AP Play of the Year with his 108-yard kick return for a touchdown in Week 1.
The Packers invested enough in Cobb, a second-round pick, that they need to use him in a more exclusive role. Don’t forget that Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson were both second-round picks by Ted Thompson and both took on expanded roles in their second season.
Donald Driver running away from the Lions defense.
It may seem strange to see Donald Driver as the fifth receiver in Green Bay, but the facts are that Driver's role on this team will continue to diminish as he continues to age.
Driver, who recently won Dancing with the Stars, will take on more of a reserve role this season. He is still a great technician and can beat man coverage with his route-running, but he has lost a step and is not the same playmaker that he was in year’s past. That being said, his role as a team leader on and off the field is too valuable for the team to let go of him.
The team will keep him on the roster and give him packages to play in, but he does not have a long-term role on this team, and if he returns, fans should expect this to be the last go-around for Driver, who has been a model player for the Packers organization throughout his career.
Green Bay only carried five receivers on its roster last year, and McCarthy usually only keeps five, but I think this is the year that they expand that and include six receivers on the active roster.
This will be a four-man race between Tori Gurley, Diondre Borel, Dale Moss and Shaky Smithson, but ultimately I think Gurley gets the nod.
Gurley is a huge target at 6’4", 232 lbs and can even line up as a seam-stretching tight end at times. He is very different from the other five receivers on the active roster and gives Green Bay some versatility, which is not what they’d get out of Smithson, Borel or Moss.
Gurley performed well last year as an undrafted free agent and earned a spot on the practice squad. Expect him to stick around this year and earn a small role on this year’s roster.
Second-year undrafted free agent Diondre Borel has impressed coaches thus far.
Last year the Packers kept three receivers on their practice squad; this year I see them keeping two since I’m giving them six on the active roster compared to last year’s five.
The first is Diondre Borel, a second-year undrafted free agent out of Utah State, who continues to impress coaches.
Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel likened Borel’s game to that of Victor Cruz. They have identical measurables, come from small schools (Cruz went to Massachusetts) and have a similar style of play. Borell is a downfield threat who can go up and make the acrobatic catch. He’ll give fans something to cheer about in preseason, and I’d imagine Green Bay will keep him on the practice squad rather than letting him go through waivers.
The second receiver Green Bay is likely to place on the practice squad is Dale Moss. The undrafted rookie from South Dakota State is a converted basketball player who only has one full season under his belt playing football.
His inexperience and rawness will likely keep him from landing a spot on the active roster as he does need time to develop. But his pure physical abilities at 6’4", 220 lbs and the ability to get downfield will be attractive enough to keep him around in the hope he develops.
Scott Smith, an NFL agent for XAM Sports who represents Dale Moss, tweeted on Wednesday that Moss was competing with the second team unit during OTAs. This speaks volumes to what he has shown already and how the coaching staff is hoping to eventually integrate him into the offense.
Shaky Smithson displaying his speed while at Utah
Shaky Smithson was signed as an undrafted free agent in July 2011 and put his speed on display in the preseason. He’s a dynamic return-man with raw receiving skills, but the Packers simply have too many weapons at the receiver position to warrant opening up a third practice squad spot for the talented Smithson.
Jarrett Boykin and Curenski Gilleylen were both signed as undrafted free agents after this year’s draft and were likely brought in more to serve as training camp bodies. Neither has much of a chance to make the active roster or the practice squad at this point.