Heading into the 2008 season, many wondered how Aaron Rodgers would fare in his first season as the man in charge of running the Green Bay Packers’ offense. After the off-season fiasco that was Brett Favre, Rodgers knew that if he did not produce quickly the Packers faithful would have very little patience.
Lucky for Rodgers, his offense sported the best receiving corps in the NFL and only got better as the year went on. The 24-year-old from California would finish his pressure-filled season with 4038 yards, 28 touchdowns, just 13 interceptions, and a passer rating of 93.8, that ranked him sixth in all of football.
While his late-game production was disappointing to many, and the Packers’ 6-10 record did not impress, Rodgers got his first year as a starter under his belt and gained experience that will only make him better this upcoming fall. Along with the experience he has gained, the guys he will be throwing to also make things a little easier.
Leading the way for the Pack, fresh off his contract extension, is Greg Jennings. Entering his fourth year, the 25-year-old from Western Michigan, has already shot into the top ten discussion when it comes to receivers. Over the last two years, Jennings has racked up over 2200 yards and twenty one touchdowns to lead the Packers.
After signing a contract extension this summer, he went and trained in Minnesota at a camp hosted by Larry Fitzgerald. Chris Carter and Jerry Rice were two of the highlights of the camp and there is no doubt Jennings learned some valuable tidbits while attending.
Outside of his talent, Jennings is everything you could ask for in a star wide receiver. He doesn’t have his own show on VH1 and he has no plans, that I know of, to change his last name to a spanish number. When he scores a touchdown, he finds his teammates instead of a cell phone hidden in the goal post. When another receiver scores a touchdown, he is the first to congratulate him instead of asking for the ball more.
He does things the right way and the fact that the combo of Rodgers and Jennings is signed for the next four years means good things are about to happen for the Packers offense. A large part of why Jennings is the way he is can be attributed to his friend and teammate who lines up away from him every Sunday.
Donald Driver will be entering his eleventh season as a Green Bay Packer and has showed little signs of slowing down. Seemingly ageless, Driver was on the right side of his fifth straight 1,000 yard season despite handing over the reisngs of a number one receiver to Jennings.
After the Alcorn State grad was a surprising no show at the voluntary mini-camps, many wondered whether or not he was happy with his contracts. I wrote on why Driver was wrong if he thought he deserved a pay raise, and clearly so did Driver as he explained the matter was family, not contract, related.
With the depth at wide receiver the Packers have this year, it would not be a shock to see Driver’s numbers decrease from last year. Mike McCarthy has explained he would like to run the ball more and the aforementioned depth is a good problem to have. Don’t expect Driver to slack on effort or pout if he doesn’t see the ball enough. He is the epitome of a guy that straps on his helmet and goes out and plays the game.
While Jennings and Driver will be holding down the one and two spots on the depth chart, the third option is wide open and the Packers will have two very solid players fighting for the position.
In my eyes, the front-runner to win the job is last year’s second round selection Jordy Nelson. In his rookie campaign, the 24-year-old from Kansas State, racked up 366 yards receiving and a pair of touchdowns in the limited time he saw on the field.
His blocking skills were also a very positive note from Nelson’s rookie season and it is a trait that should give him even more playing time this year. When I watch him play, I see a younger Brandon Marshall. He goes up and fights for balls with his huge frame at 6′3″, 217 lbs. and fights like a tight end to gain extra yards.
If Nelson does not win the job, James Jones will be the reason why.
After an outstanding rookie season that saw him haul in 47 passes for 676 yards and a couple of touchdowns, injuries slowed his second year to a screeching hault. Combined with rumors of him falling out of favor with the coaching staff, his season was limited to ten games that saw him catch just 20 passes and score once.
In week 15 against Jacksonville, Jones racked up 132 yards on five catches and began to show his old form from two seasons ago. Early returns have been all positive for him, and even if he does not beat out Nelson he will be a heck of a fourth wide receiver.
The front-runner to grab the fifth and probably last wideout spot this year is Ruvell Martin. Despite just thirty one catches over the last two years, Martin has been a clutch target for his quarterbacks and is an above average blocker.
Brett Swain and undrafted free agent Jamarko Simmons both have shots at making the team and it would not be crazy to think the Packers would keep six receivers on their roster if someone warranted in a spot. As it goes for these five, they make up the deepest corps in the league.
They have great chemistry with each other and love whenever someone succeeds. No one in the group has an ego bigger than the team and they all strive for greatness. They work hard at their craft and are developing with Rodgers every day.
Training camp will tell a lot of the story on just how good this group can be along with running back Ryan Grant and tight ends Donald Lee and the rising Jermichael Finley, but all signs point to this group having another stellar year for the high-powered Packers offense.