Outside of quarterback, the wide receiver position is the strongest and the deepest position on the 2012 team. The Packers have elite receivers in Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson and guys who were on the practice squad last year who would have made most NFL rosters in Tori Gurley and Diondre Borel. Then, there is a guy in Randall Cobb who has the ability to have a breakout season. Also, you have James Jones and Donald Driver who are reliable players. These 7 wide receivers, Aaron Rodgers, and Jermichael Finley are the reasons the Packers have the most potent passing attack in the NFL.
There will be great competition among these 7 players this training camp. Other then Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson being the top two players on the depth chart nothing is set in stone. Cobb will be looking to pass Jones and Driver and move up to the #3 wide receiver position. Jones and Driver will compete with each other for targets as both finished 2011 with 54. If Gurley and Borel show the same potential that they did in camp last year the Packers will likely keep 6 wide receivers. The Vikings already tried to sign Gurley and the Bucs tried to sign Borel last season, so they almost assuredly will not make the practice squad again. Rob Demovsky, of the Green Bay Press Gazette, even suggested the Packers may keep 7 wider receivers. I would see this as unlikely, but the Packers have shown in the past they are not afraid to keep a strange number of players at one position.
Jennings is a top 10 wide receiver in the NFL. Jennings caught 67 passes last season, for 949 yards, and 9 TD’s despite missing the final 3 games of the regular season. His absence was a major factor in the only loss of the 2011 regular season at Kansas City, as Nelson struggled with the extra attention he received. Jennings does not have great size or elite speed but he is perhaps the best route runner in the NFL. His routes are as smooth and crisp as they come, and his chemistry with Rodgers is outstanding. Jennings shiftiness and elusiveness also helps him excel in yards after the catch. He will be playing for a new contract this season so expect Jennings to be at the top of his game yet again.
Nelson had his breakout season last year. Nelson had 68 catches for 1,263 yards, and 15 touchdowns. Nelson started to break out during the Packers’ playoff run in 2010 and did not look back in 2011. Nelson took advantage of other teams double teaming Jennings and Jermichael Finley, but that does not take away from Nelson’s talents. Nelson’s ball skills are exceptional, as he is the team’s best jump ball catcher by far. He is excellent at using his body to shield defenders off and make adjustments when the ball is in the air. Nelson may not be able to repeat 15 touchdowns again, but he should have another solid season.
It will be extremely interesting to see how Randall Cobb is used this season. Cobb was only targeted 31 times last year, a number that is surely to go up. Cobb was brought along slowly last year because of the depth and talent of the Packers wide receivers. It will also go up because Cobb could move up to #3 on the depth chart with a solid training camp. Aaron Rodgers loves to pick out the best matchup on the field to throw to. If Cobb is in the slot with Jennings, Nelson, and Finley in the game he is likely to have a great matchup. Cobb will be used most often with slants and screens to take advantage of his athleticism, but maybe he will evolve to the point to where they play him outside more where he can beat his defenders deep running streaks with his speed.
James Jones has been mentioned in some trade rumors. I don’t expect him to be traded nor should he be. Jones is a guy who I still believe has the talent to be a #2 receiver on a bad team. He provides great depth in case Jennings or Nelson gets hurt. Jones is known for dropping passes but actually Donald Driver, who is seen as a reliable receiver, dropped 2 more passes than Jones last season. Jones always seems to get open and is very good after the catch posting a 7.7 YAC last season. He also posted 7 TD’s, which is great for being the 4th option behind Jennings, Nelson, and Finley. I was a little surprised the Packers brought Driver back, but it certainly isn’t a bad move. His playing time may diminish again, but he is a solid veteran presence to have around a team that still is pretty young. Gurley and Borel are most likely battling for one roster spot this training camp. Both will have to build off what they did last camp to secure a spot. I think Gurley has a little advantage because he is 6-4. The Packers do not have another wide receiver with his height, which should help him. He also blocked punts with regularity in training camp and the Packers value special teams highly. However, Aaron Rodgers was very complimentary of Borel during OTA’s.
“Diondre Borel is a guy that gives us a different look because he plays a similar position of that of Randall Cobb,” Rodgers said in an interview with Packers.com. “Diondre has made as big of jump as anybody from year 1 to year 2. He really made the most of his reps on the scout team last year.”
Borel is very different from Gurley. He is only 6 feet tall, slightly less than 200 pounds, and does not have blazing speed. He does not have great physical tools so why is he highly regarded? His football IQ is a big reason why. Rodgers likes the fact that Borel was a quarterback in college at Utah St.
“He’s a great teammate, hard worker and he really understands the game,” Rodgers said. “I think he has the luxury of being a quarterback in college. He sees the game through a quarterback’s eyes and that gives him a slight advantage over guys who he’s competing with because he understands timing and progression maybe a little quicker some of the than the other guys.”
It will be interesting to see if their chemistry can get Borel a roster spot. All in all the Packers are set at the wide receiver position. They have a great variety of guys with different skills. This group and Aaron Rodgers was the reason they went 15-1 last year and the reason that the Packers are one of the Super Bowl favorites again.