Green Bay Packers Full Position Breakdown, Depth Chart Analysis at Wide Receiver
The feeling in Green Bay is that, with the depth on the roster at wide receiver, the Packers will keep six receivers on the 53-man roster after final roster cuts.
That's high praise coming from a quarterback who, just a few seasons ago, had the pleasure of progressing through his reads with Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Randall Cobb, Donald Driver and Jarrett Boykin, the six receivers Green Bay had on its roster in 2012, as options.
“It might not be the big names like we had in the past when we had the whole stable of guys, but I think you could definitely see us keeping six guys there in that position because we are pretty deep group,” Rodgers told Wilde.
The Packers currently have 10 receivers on the 90-man roster, including Nelson, Cobb, Boykin, rookies Davante Adams (Round 2), Jared Abbrederis (Round 5) and Jeff Janis (Round 7) and 2013 holdovers Kevin Dorsey, Alex Gillett, Chris Harper and Myles White.
Chances are good that Adams, Abbrederis and Janis slot into spots four through six, which Rodgers said are really "wide open." But they'll have to beat out players like Harper and White who have spent time on the 53-man roster.
Those six players bring skill sets that will allow for creative play-calling by Mike McCarthy and room for improvisation from Rodgers.
"We move our players around. That's the beauty of our receiver group that I've talked about time and time again," McCarthy said in early 2013, per Jim Owczarski of OnMilwaukee.com.
"They give us great flexibility in game planning as far as taking away tendencies of who's in the slot, who's in the 1 spot and so forth. The route trees are diverse—one guy doesn't just run just three routes and one guy doesn't just line up in the number two position," he continued.
To continue lining his receivers up all over the field, McCarthy will want to consider the following six players for his final roster.
Honorable Mention: Chris Harper
If the Packers do carry six receivers into the regular season, Chris Harper has the best chance of the 2013 holdovers (Alex Gillett, Myles White and Kevin Dorsey) of earning a spot.
Harper, a fourth-rounder in the 2013 NFL draft, was claimed by the Packers off waivers from the San Francisco 49ers in October 2013. He saw some time on the 53-man roster but was used primarily in a special teams role.
McCarthy is impressed with Harper's performance in OTAs. "Chris has really improved," McCarthy said after practice on June 3, per ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky. "I mean, I think you saw the first snap there in the team period, I mean, he runs a great post and Aaron hits him right in stride. I mean, that's the kind of explosiveness that he has."
Harper has a lot of hard work ahead of him to earn a spot as one of six on the 53-man in this 10-deep receivers group, but the opportunity is his to take.
6. Jeff Janis
Jeff Janis was an incredible value pick in Round 7. He was projected to go as high as Rounds 3 or 4 by NFL.com.
Janis has a real chance of making the 53-man roster over Chris Harper, Myles White, Alex Gillett and Kevin Dorsey due to his incredible upside; at the very least, he could be placed on the practice squad if one of those four beats him out for a potential No. 6 spot.
At 6'3" and 219 pounds, Janis would be Green Bay's biggest and most physical receiver. Jordy Nelson is 6'3", 216 pounds and plays with more finesse. Nelson is lighter on his feet than Janis.
Though he played in a Division II conference, Janis was a college standout. During his time at Saginaw Valley State, he had 4,305 yards and 46 touchdowns. Over just 19 games in 2012 and 2013, he amassed 3,207 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Janis' route-running would be the least developed of these six players if they all made the final roster, but with his exceptional size and measurables, his upside is hard to discount.
Though his snaps may not be significant in 2014, Janis could be an excellent option for Rodgers split out wide and could be brought in to block on five-wide sets. He's incredibly strong, having benched 20 reps at the combine.
One way to get Janis involved in a limited role would be on red-zone plays in which the Packers go all-in on passing; having someone with Janis' size and leaping ability there creates just one more coverage mismatch on which to potentially score.
5. Jared Abbrederis
Jared Abbrederis, projected as the Packers' fifth receiver on the depth chart, may play most of his time on special teams in 2014, but he shouldn't go without opportunities to prove himself split out wide.
Though a broken femur suffered when he was a sophomore at Wautoma High School threatened to end any college football career he could have had, Abbrederis walked on at Wisconsin and proceeded to leave as one of the school's most prolific receivers in its history.
Abbrederis finished his career as a Badger tied for the school record in receptions (202) and No. 2 all time in receiving yards (3,140) and touchdown receptions (23), per Rob Reischel of the Journal Sentinel.
Slightly smaller than most of the Packers' outside receivers at 6'1" and 195 pounds, Thompson drafted Abbrederis in part for his return skills. In his career at Wisconsin, Abbrederis returned 55 punts for 587 yards and a score, per Sports-Reference.com.
But don't discount what he can do on the outside. He hasn't yet earned the chance to catch a lot of balls from Aaron Rodgers in 2014, but Mike McCarthy wants to see what he can do.
"He's definitely a very good athlete, good body control," McCarthy said of Abbrederis, per Reischel. "But he's like the rest of them, he needs to get orientated and get accustomed to what's being asked of him. Strength and conditioning, he can make some gains there.
"I'm very pleased he's here," McCarthy said.
4. Davante Adams
Expect Davante Adams to be fourth on the Packers' depth chart, receiving the majority of snaps among the rookie wide receivers the Packers run four-wide sets.
Adams is a highly productive player who ran the full route tree at Fresno State per Rob Reischel of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, not something many rookies have done in college, which makes him an ideal fit in Green Bay's versatile receiving corps.
He also had a total of 38 touchdowns, 24 of which he scored last season.
Adams displays terrific leaping ability (he was a top performer in the vertical jump at the combine, with 39.5 inches) which will help Rodgers fit the ball in tight spots. He'll be able to win jumping contests in the end zone against some of the NFL's taller cornerbacks, even though he himself is only 6'1".
With Adams' superb hands and ability not only to leap for the ball but to time such leaps perfectly, expect to see him make a few Nelson-esque back-shoulder sideline catches next season on snaps where the Packers rotate him in.
3. Jarrett Boykin
Jarrett Boykin's breakout 2013-14 season was a pleasant surprise. The undrafted free agent who ran a 4.74, 40-yard dash wasn't high on anyone's radar, but Ted Thompson is known for creating diamonds out of coal.
At first glance, Boykin's story didn't scream rising star. Boykin initially signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars on May 4, 2012 as an undrafted free agent, and the Packers signed him one week after the Jaguars waived him later in May.
By the end of 2013, Boykin had 681 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 13.9 yards per reception. And he improved on his drops; his average catch rate was 65.3 percent, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required). That was better than 70 percent of receivers who played at least 25 percent of the total snaps.
His physicality is also a big bonus. If the packers are going to be running four-and-five wide sets, they'll need some good blocking from their receivers. According to Boykin's position coach at Virginia Tech, Kevin Sherman, he excels there.
"One of the things he took pride in at Virginia Tech, being a running offense, is his blocking," Sherman said, per Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "I think that's something people weren't really aware of. He had a lot of toughness. And that says a lot about a player—that he's willing to block."
Boykin's size overall is an asset for the Packers. His hands measure 10 1/4", and though he's an inch shorter at 6'2" than Jordy Nelson or Jeff Janis, his weight is right up there with theirs at 218. The Packers will have a lot of ways to use Boykin in 2014, and it's extremely likely he wins the No. 3 position on the depth chart.
2. Randall Cobb
When Randall Cobb missed time in 10 games last season, it proved how important he has become as a versatile weapon for the Packers. Green Bay's passing offense becomes oversimplified without Cobb, easy for defenses to pick apart.
When Cobb returned in the final regular-season game against the Bears, he made an immediate difference. He had two receptions for touchdowns, including the game-winning catch that won the NFC North title.
If he can stay healthy, Cobb could have his best season of his career in 2014—better even than 2012, when he had 80 receptions, 954 yards and eight touchdowns.
He finished that season as Pro Football Focus' No. 11 receiver. His high rating was due in part to his high catch rate—78.4 percent, No. 2 among all receivers—as well as the high number of tackles he evaded (15).
In Green Bay's scheme, Cobb's role isn't to amass the most receiving yards or touchdowns, but he's elusive, has excellent hands and is a dependable target for Rodgers. Though the stat is skewed by his severely limited playing time, Rodgers had a passer rating of 134.7 when throwing to Cobb in 2013 per Pro Football Focus.
The 24-year-old Cobb ranks below Jordy Nelson on this list, but that could certainly change in a few years. He is a young player around whom this offense will continue to build, and though he doesn't possess the big-play potential Nelson does, he can certainly turn a game on a dime, like in the Week 17 must-win situation against the Bears.
1. Jordy Nelson
Jordy Nelson is one of the most versatile wide receivers in the NFL. Whether he's making acrobatic back-shoulder sideline catchers or scoring touchdowns out of the slot, Nelson can do it all.
Nelson finished the 2013-14 season as Pro Football Focus' (subscription required) No. 2 overall receiver, for his high catch rate (70.8 percent), yards per reception (15.5), yards after catch per reception (5.0), limited dropped passes (just six) and limited penalties (just one).
Expected to sign a mega contract extension this offseason, Nelson will prove he's worth every penny in 2014.
Green Bay should continue to take advantage of Nelson's versatility by lining him up all over the field.
Nelson was targeted 57 times in the slot last season, per Pro Football Focus, the most since he began his career in 2008. His most snaps to that point was 27.
He had quite an effective year out of the slot. He amassed 624 yards—fourth-most among all slot receivers—and three touchdowns with a catch rate of 71.9 percent.
Of course, his outside game was outstanding as well. Green Bay's quarterbacks had a 111.6 passer rating when throwing to Nelson, the sixth-best in the league among any receiver-quarterback duo.
Critics argue that Nelson is merely the product of a system led by Aaron Rodgers that makes him look better than he is. However, most of Nelson's receptions in 2013 did not come from Rodgers but struggling backups, who notched a highly above-average passer rating when throwing to him. Nelson makes his quarterbacks look good, and he is the Packers' most dynamic and technically precise receiver.