Wide Receivers: Here’s the third of a series of articles looking specifically at the NFL combine and the Packers’ drafting tendencies. (read here for the rationale for this series and here for quarterbacks and here for running backs). This article will use the combine numbers from previous players drafted by GM Ted Thompson as a guide for what wide receivers are likely to fit into the Packers’ scheme.
Again, this is merely an attempt to make a best guess based on statistics at which players the Packers might be interested in, game tape naturally trumps combine numbers, so take all of this with a grain of salt. But I believe it will make for some interesting discussion. Listed below are two wide receivers in this year’s draft who I think fit the Packers scheme the best, based on their combine numbers.
Statistics of wide receivers drafted by the Packers:
What the Packers are looking for: Ted Thompson is in love with wide receivers; the Packers had arguably the deepest wide receiver core in the league and it definitely helped them during their Super Bowl run. Add to that Thompson always brings in a couple of wide receivers into camp and the fact that wide receivers are tied for the most drafted with 8 and it becomes apparent that wide receiver position is a big deal for Thompson (ironically, he’s somehow avoided the curse of Matt Millen by drafting 3 wide receivers high in the draft and hasn’t really had a bust)
Ironically, wide receivers drafted by the Packers seem to be all over the place in terms of workout drill results, with no drill being absolutely required for the Packers to pick a wide receiver, again it might go back to the fact that the combine really isn’t that important or more realistically it means that other aspects such as the health checkups, interviews and positional drills are more important.
The workout drills that had the lowest relative standard deviation (thus implying were most important) were the shuttle and the vertical. The shuttle measures lateral quickness, change of direction and flexibility which are important for wide receivers playing in the slot; what is interesting is that the Packers are one of the most flexible teams in terms of wide receivers, with not main slot player, hence all wide receivers must have the ability to play the slot (which takes advantage of many of the skills that the shuttle tests), perhaps leading to its relative importance. Vertical is a pretty obvious requirement for wide receivers; wide receivers that can jump higher have a larger radius that they can theoretically catch the ball. Strangely, a 34 inch vertical is pretty terrible for a wide receiver
Perhaps more interesting is the stat that had a high relative standard deviations, the 40 yard dash. Every year wide receivers vie to be the fastest man at the combine; and apparently that doesn’t mean much to the Packers. A 4.46 second 40 yard dash is considered pretty respectable but definitely pales in comparison to the top speedster wide receivers who run sub 4.40 and sometimes even sub 4.30.
This pretty much confirms what fans knew all along, which is that the Packers prefer wide receivers who are smooth runners as opposed to pure vertical speedsters such as DeSean Jackson (see my intro article for a rationale for Jordy Nelson vs. DeSean Jackson)
As for specific skills, the Packers run a lot of west coast offense, where the quarterback will use the short pass as a surrogate for the run. As such, having sure hands and the ability to catch balls in traffic is a must. Also good defensive reading and route concepts are important for the Packers as quarterback Aaron Rodgers often will change the play or the routes at the line of scrimmage, sometimes without any discernible communication.
While wide receivers don’t have to be fast, they have to be quick and more importantly have clean routes. Finally, versatility is required as often a wide receiver will line up outside the numbers on one play, then in to slot then out as the flanker all in the same series.
Comparable wide receivers in the 2011 draft (analysis taken from NFL.com):
Cecil Shorts Mount Union/6’0”/205 lbs/4.50 40-yard dash/4.07 shuttle/34.5 vertical:
- Fluid route runner
- Can catch away from frame
- Good intangibles and leadership
- Does not possess explosive speed
- Lacks the strength to play against press coverage
- Not a great jump ball receiver
Jamel Hamler Fresno State/6’1”/193 lbs/4.59 40-yard dash/4.18 shuttle/32 vertical:
- Explosive off the line
- Willing to go over the middle
- Good jump ball receiver
- Does not possess top end speed
- Does not recognize zone coverage well
- Will drop the easy ball
Conclusion: To me, Cecil Shorts reminds me of Greg Jennings, who is a fluid route runner and the leader of the wide receiver corp. Jennings would probably be the emotional leader of the receivers as well, if the ageless Donald Driver were not present. Just like Jennings, Shorts needs to become more physical against corner backs and isn’t going to scare anyone with his speed.
Both Jennings and Shorts also came from smaller schools where there will be some transition to NFL defenses. Jamel Hamler on the other hand reminds me of James Jones, who is probably one of the most athletic and physical wide receivers in the group but has a penchant for dropping the easy pass while making the hard one.——————
Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s AllGreenBayPackers.com.