NFL teams rarely keep six receivers on their 53-man rosters. Seven is almost unheard of.
But if the young players comprising the Green Bay Packers depth chart at receiver continue to impress as they have to start this offseason, GM Ted Thompson may have no other choice than to select more than five for his final roster.
After the first day of the Packers mandatory three-day minicamp Tuesday, quarterback Aaron Rodgers singled out one of those young receivers to heap on more praise: Second-year receiver Diondre Borel.
“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.”
The Packers signed Borel as an undrafted free agent in July of 2011. Despite catching just two passes for 35 yards during the preseason, Borel impressed Thompson and the Packers staff enough in camp to earn a spot on the team’s eight-man practice squad to start 2011.
What made Borel’s inclusion on the practice squad all the more impressive was the fact that the former Utah State Aggie was making a transition back to receiver from quarterback, a position he played during his final three seasons in college. At Utah State, Borel threw for almost 7,000 career passing yards—ranking him second in school history—after playing in eight games as a receiver during his freshman season.
Borel was impressive enough during his time on the Packers’ practice squad that he eventually received an offer from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to be on their active 53-man roster—an invitation Borel declined for a pay bump in Green Bay and a chance to make the roster in 2012.
At just 6-0 and a little under 200 pounds, Borel doesn’t possess a unique frame or blazing speed. 6-foot-4 Tori Gurley—another practice squad receiver who will be competing with Borel for a roster spot—has the height that no other Packers’ receiver has. But Rodgers thinks Borel’s history as a quarterback gives him the mental capacity to make his mark on the receiving depth chart this summer.
“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.”
In many other NFL cities, Borel would be looking at a fantastic opportunity to make the final 53-man roster. The log-jam situation in Green Bay, however, complicates his arrival as an active NFL player.
The contract re-structuring for Donald Driver is a strong indication that the veteran receiver will be back for one last season in Green Bay, which leaves the Packers with five solid bets to make the final 53: Driver, Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Randall Cobb. Jennings, Nelson and Cobb are locks, while Jones is still a sure bet despite trade rumors in back-to-back offseasons and Driver would likely need to suffer a major injury to be released before the 2012 season.
Given that reality, Borel would need the Packers to keep six receivers on the roster—and beat out Gurley and the other bubble receivers (Jarrett Boykin, Dale Moss, Shaky Smithson and Curenski Gilleylen)—to land on the Packers’ 53-man roster later this summer. There’s a chance he could land back on the Packers’ practice squad even if he comes up short in that quest, but a strong offseason—combined with the interest he received towards the end of 2011—would likely lead to another NFL franchise offering Borel a spot on the active roster. While there’s a comfort level in Green Bay, no one would blame Borel for leaving if there’s no room on the Packers’ depth chart to start 2012.
Speaking with FSN Wisconsin’s Paul Imig, Borel certainly didn’t commit to staying in Green Bay if the practice squad scenario unfolded again.
“If you’re on a practice squad, you’re available,” Borel said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen. But when that time comes, then that’ll be my decision. I’ll have to decide what I want to do.”
Despite the uncertainties of his near NFL future, early indications point to Borel making the most of his opportunities this spring. In the eyes of Rodgers, Borel has been one of the Packers’ top young players while taking the kind of steps forward expected of a 23-year-old receiver.
“Diondre has really had one of the top springs from the guys who you were looking for to make a jump,” Rodgers said.
Time will tell whether that progression continues in Green Bay or starts again elsewhere. Catching the eye of the franchise’s most important player certainly can’t hurt either cause.