Familiar names gone, but Packers still strong at WR
JUL 11, 2013 4:13p ET
TODAY'S POSITION: WIDE RECEIVERS
Rating (1-to-10 scale): 8
Projected starters: Randall Cobb (3rd season), Jordy Nelson (6th season), James Jones (7th season)
Backups (asterisks indicate players expected to make the roster): * Jarrett Boykin, * Charles Johnson, *Kevin Dorsey, * Jeremy Ross, Sederrik Cunningham, Alex Gillett, Terrell Sinkfield, Ty Walker, Myles White
For the first time since 1998, the Packers will open training camp without Donald Driver. But the bigger loss for Green Bay's receiving corp -- given where Driver's level of play was at when he retired this offseason -- is Greg Jennings signing with the Minnesota Vikings. Jennings led the Packers in receiving yards for three consecutive seasons (2008-10) and seemed destined to have a long career in Green Bay like Driver did. But, in a league where it's often about 'What have you done for me lately?,' Packers general manager Ted Thompson let Jennings hit free agency and didn't overpay when the Vikings began to show serious interest. Jennings had several injuries over his final year in Green Bay, including a torn abdominal muscle that eventually required surgery and kept him off the field for eight games last season.
The impact of losing Jennings remains to be seen, but he became somewhat expendable given how quickly Randall Cobb emerged as a go-to target for Aaron Rodgers last season. Cobb led the Packers in targets, catches and receiving yards in 2012, while also accounting for the most plays of 20-plus yards. Basically, Cobb -- still only 22 years old -- showed that he could soon become one of the NFL's best receivers. Cobb was lining up everywhere, including in the backfield to take handoffs and also fielding punts and kicks on special teams, but coach Mike McCarthy may be more cautious in how he uses him this season.
Cobb isn't the only notable receiver in Green Bay, though. In 2011, it seemed like Jordy Nelson was the NFL's next star receiver. With 1,263 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns, Nelson's combination of size and speed made him nearly unstoppable. But now, after injuries sidelined him for four games and had him ineffective in several others, Nelson has to bounce back and be a reliable option for Rodgers again.
James Jones had a career year last season. Somehow, despite finishing 44th in the NFL in receiving yards, Jones had more touchdown catches than anyone. Jones' 14 touchdowns were twice as many as his previous career best, which came a year earlier when he had seven.
With Cobb, Nelson, Jones, Jennings and Driver last season, the Packers arguably had the deepest and most talented group of wide receivers in the league. Now, it's down to three of them, which is still what many quarterbacks in the NFL wish they had.
Best position battle:
Which young receiver will become the fourth option for Rodgers? It doesn't really matter how the depth chart looks at the top between Cobb, Jones and Nelson, because all of them will play, and all of them will play a lot. But there is a wide-open opportunity behind those three.
Jarrett Boykin made the team last season as an undrafted free agent and had five catches for 27 yards. Green Bay didn't have Boykin on the 2012 roster to make an immediate impact; it was to groom him for a situation like the one he's about to be in during training camp. Boykin has huge hands, which he uses to his advantage as a possession receiver. If Boykin is on the field on third-and-5, he's a solid target for Rodgers to look to six yards down the field. The biggest knock on Boykin coming out of Virginia Tech was his lack of speed, but if he had been the total package at that point, he wouldn't have been available for the Packers' taking later on.
Green Bay waited until the seventh round to address the departure of Jennings and Driver, but Thompson then grabbed two receivers with major upside. The testing numbers that Charles Johnson recorded at his Pro Day had him supposedly flying up draft boards into the fourth round, but the Packers were happy that didn't happen, selecting him at No. 216. Eight spots later, Green Bay added Kevin Dorsey, who had only 18 catches as a senior while playing on a horribly quarterbacked Maryland team.
Boykin, Johnson and Dorsey are the three most likely competitors fighting for the No. 4 receiver spot on the depth chart, but they're not alone. In total, the Packers have 12 receivers on their training camp roster. Jeremy Ross, who has a chance to become the team's full-time return specialist, could also contribute as a receiver if he makes the final roster. The other five are Myles White, Terrell Sinkfield, Ty Walker, Sederrik Cunningham and Alex Gillett, all of whom have a longshot at jumping ahead of Boykin, Johnson and Dorsey and making the team.
Ranking against the rest of the NFC North:
1. Packers; 2. Lions; 3. Bears; 4. Vikings
It's hard to not put Detroit first given that Calvin Johnson is the most dominant receiver in the NFL, but the Lions' lack of depth is immediately noticeable. The failed draft pick of Titus Young really set Detroit back, with the Lions relying on two players ( Nate Burleson and Ryan Broyles) to become a No. 2 receiving option after a season in which the two of them only combined for 550 receiving yards. The Bears have a great receiver in Brandon Marshall, but they too are still searching for a consistent second option. Alshon Jeffery could be the real deal and it's possible that Earl Bennett returns to his 2009 rookie form when he looked like a good up-and-coming player, but until then, Marshall is going to have all attention on him from opposing defenses. The Vikings traded Percy Harvin but added Jennings in free agency and drafted Cordarrelle Patterson in the first round. Jennings needs to prove he can stay healthy and Patterson is still raw, so Minnesota -- while potentially improved at wide receiver -- is still chasing the rest of the division at this position. The Packers top this NFC North ranking, but just barely. It helps that Green Bay's receivers have Rodgers throwing them the ball.
"I've been on record as saying that I believe we have three 1,000-yard receivers in this room. I believe me, Randall and Jordy, if we all stay healthy, we can all reach over 1,000. It's exciting and we're all excited because we know the departure of Greg and Donald means more opportunities for us. Do you want to lose guys like that? No. But it gives us the chance to step up."
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