2013 Packers Position Group Analysis: Wide Receiver

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Packers WR Randall Cobb will return as a top playmaker in 2013.
Packers WR Randall Cobb will return as a top playmaker in 2013.

The injury bug bit the position hard, but players continually stepped up and the offense didn’t miss a beat. James Jones has had his fair share of struggles with dropped passes, but he had the best season of his career in 2013, leading the league with 14 touchdown catches. Randall Cobb also had a breakout season, due in part to the absence of Greg Jennings for much of the season. With Jennings likely headed elsewhere as an unrestricted free agent, more pressure will rely on the shoulders of Jones, Cobb and Jordy Nelson.

Where are we now:

Here are the current suspects;

Jordy Nelson (2nd Round, 2008)
James Jones (3rd Round, 2007)
Randall Cobb (2nd Round, 2011)
Jarrett Boykin (UDFA, 2012)
Jeremy Ross (UDFA, Signed as FA in 2012)

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Nelson: Coming off a breakout 2011 season, expectations for Jordy Nelson were high coming into 2012. Nelson will likely assume the subjective role of the Packers’ No. 1 receiver without Jennings in the fold. Although he missed four games due to injury, Nelson performed well when he was in the lineup. In a two-game stretch against the Houston Texans and St. Louis Rams, Nelson racked up 17 catches for 243 yards and four touchdowns.

Jones: Perhaps the most pleasant surprise on the team, Jones set career highs in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns in 2013. With Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson in and out of the lineup with nagging injuries, Jones started all 16 games for the team and led the league with 14 touchdown catches. He didn’t command much of a market as a free agent in 2011, and the Packers benefitted greatly from having him in the fold this past season.

Cobb: As a rookie in 2011, Randall Cobb was electric as a return man. But in Cobb’s second season, it became obvious fairly early in the year he was one of the team’s best offensive playmakers. In 15 games, Cobb led the team with 80 catches and 954 receiving yards, to go along with eight touchdowns. Cobb does most of his damage from the slot, but he’s capable of lining up on the outside, as well as running the ball out of the backfield. It should be more of the same from Cobb next season.

Boykin: The undrafted rookie was cut by the Jacksonville Jaguars before training camp, before cracking the Packers’ 53-man roster. Something doesn’t quite add up there. But regardless, Boykin was impressive in training camp and racked up 166 yards and a touchdown in the preseason. Because Greg Jennings will likely be playing outside of Green Bay in 2013, Boykin could be the next man up in the Packers’ offense.

Ross: People won’t soon forget the muffed punt in the playoffs, but Jeremy Ross showed flashes as a return man late in the 2012 season. Ross returned four punts in the regular season, including a long of 58 yards. He only returned three kickoffs on the year, but one of which was returned for 44 yards. Although he didn’t touch the ball on offense, Ross is an explosive player and a candidate for an expanded role next season.

Where we want to be:

As long as Nelson, Jones and Cobb can stay healthy, the Packers are ready to roll with their top three receivers. But as was the case in 2012, injuries occur and depth is called into question.

Greg Jennings missed eight games last season, Nelson missed four and Cobb missed the regular season finale. If the Packers experience similar struggles with injuries next season, they could be scrambling to keep the offense rolling.

Jarrett Boykin surprised everyone by making the team as an undrafted rookie, and he’ll have an opportunity to see the field more next season.

Regardless of Boykin’s role next season, the Packers may have to replace James Jones and/or Jordy Nelson in the next couple years. Jones’ contract expires after 2013, and Nelson’s expires after 2014.

Ideally, the Packers will bring in a rookie receiver in April that could develop into a long-term starter. It’s possible that Jones and Nelson will be retained for several years to come, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if one of them left as a free agent.

How do we get there?

This year’s draft is extremely deep at wide receiver in the first few rounds.

Currently, Tennessee’s Cordarrelle Patterson and West Virginia’s Tavon Austin sit comfortably the first round. One or two additional receivers could crack round one, but the position will have terrific value on Day 2 of the draft.

After Patterson and Austin, as many as ten wide receivers could come off the board in the second or third round. Quinton Patton of Louisiana Tech is the No. 3 receiver on my draft board, right on the fence as far as being a first or second-round pick. Clemons’s DeAndre Hopkins is in the same boat, as is USC receiver Robert Woods.

Some draftniks are high on California wideout Keenan Allen, but I view him as a second-round prospect rather than a first-round guy. Either way, the second or third round looks like a logical spot to address the position this year.

Packers general manager Ted Thompson has historically struck gold  finding receivers in the second round of the draft, selecting Greg Jennings in 2006, Jordy Nelson in 2008 and Randall Cobb in 2011.

Oregon State wide receiver Markus Wheaton is an intriguing player that could potentially be around when the Packers pick in the second round. Wheaton is a track star who runs precise routes and is electric after the catch. Tyler Dunne, of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, suggests that Wheaton fits the team’s mold at wide receiver. And I agree wholeheartedly.

Throw in Tennessee’s Justin Hunter, Baylor’s Terrance Williams, Texas A&M’s Ryan Swope, West Virginia’s Stedman Bailey and others, and the Packers will probably have their choice of which receiver to take on Day 2.

In my opinion, wide receiver is not the team’s most pressing need, but the position should be addressed to a certain degree. Boykin could be a nice player down the road, but this is a unique crop of receivers at the top of the draft.

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Marques is a Journalism student, serving as the Sports Editor of UW-Green Bay\'s campus newspaper The Fourth Estate and a Packers writer at Jersey Al\'s AllGBP.com. Follow Marques on Twitter @MJEversoll.

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  • Savage57

    We all want to see JJ pick up where he left off and rise to the number 1 role. Please, TT, please, if that happens please re-up this guy before his contact expires and he signs with Minnesota.

    • JimR_in_DC

      TT will only let him leave after a couple of back-to-back injury plagued seasons.

  • http://Allpackers.com Nick Perry

    I love Randell Cobb and in a way, I think he was the reason Jennings became such a me, me, me, guy. Jennings saw the writing on the wall and did just fine without him. Cobb is only going to get better. I was never one of the James Jones bashers. He seemed to have gotten over his drops in 2011 and last year he really stepped up. I don’t know if Nelson can be a true number one receiver. He dominated in 2011 and maybe can get back to that with the attention Cobb will start to get. I’d like to see the Packers draft another receiver no later than round 3. Patton and Woods would both be solid picks but I’d really like to see a guy that has that 4.3 speed who can stretch the field. I know Woods and Patton aren’t burners, but both fit the Packers mold in a wide
    Receiver.

  • Ron LC

    The concept of a #1 receiver in GB is foreign. MM operates a team approach to the passing game and he ain’t about to change that philosophy any time soon. At the beginning of the season the best 5 or 6 will be on the roster.

    The main problem Jennings had was he wanted to be a 100 catch, 1500 yard receiver and it wasn’t going to happen in GB. MM’s offense is predicated on the “hot hand” concept and that varys by game. Part of the reason AR doesn’t throw a lot of Int’s is he doesn’t force the ball to a primary receiver (see Matt Stafford).

    There seems to be a goodly number of WR’s that will fall to the mid to low rounds of the draft and TT will have many options at this position. And, don’t forget one of TT’s favorite options, the UDFA.

    Not at all worried about this position for 2013.

  • Big T

    New conract for Finley… 15 million a year forever, however 500,000 comes back for every drop during the season… Problem solved, the Packers would make millions…

  • Wagszilla

    Give the worst WR on the roster the number 85!

    ;)

  • Razer

    I would really like to know what Jarrett Boykin and Jeremy Ross have. I have heard good things about both guys. I felt bad for Ross being thrown into that playoff game and not having enough experience to stay away from that punt near the goal line. I am pissed at the ST coach, Slocum for yanking him after that. Slocum doesn’t impress me in any way whatsoever. He is always lurking around MM on the sidelines like a yes man.

    Sorry for the tangent. Anyone, I want to see more of these guys. They are my new cowbell.

    • Stroh

      How do you know it wasn’t McCarthy that pulled Ross off returns? You don’t… I think McCarthy is the ONLY one who would make that kinda call. Ross also had a game in the regular season where he wasn’t good w/ ball security. Ross needed to be yanked and could have cost the packers that playoff game. They had the momentum at the time it happened and SF got gifted a TD. That along w/ the gaffes in the regular season put him on the bench, don’t blame Slocum for a Ross’ poor ball security.

      Otherwise I agree. I wouldn’t draft a WR unless he is easily the BPA. Almost guarentee Thomspon won’t draft one in the 1st. In the 2nd maybe, but would have to be a gamebreaker type. Thompson IMO will only use 1st round picks on premium positions. QB, OT, DL, pass rushers and CB. Other positions are unlikely unless they are far and away BPA.

      Wanna give Boykin a shot at WR and Ross a shot at returns, both have the ability to be good in their respective roles.

    • Dobber

      My view is a little different in that I believe that you’re taking a calculated risk by assuming that Boykin and/or Ross will develop into a regular when the passing game is really all the Packers have, offensively. I’d feel better about that if there was a running game that had some punch. Otherwise I feel that it’s dangerous to play the roster that way and NOT address those as positions of need.

      • Lars1

        Agree. You’ve got to address one or the other as a major need. But, since Capers can’t seem to field a decent defense in three of the last four playoffs, defense will always seem the greatest “need.” Dom, you are the sly one.;))

      • Stroh

        A draft pick is the epitome of a calculated risk. Your assuming a draft pick is a given and that’s not the case. An UDFA is only slightly more unknown and risky than a draft pick.

        • Oppy

          Well, let’s be honest here.

          While there are no guarantees…

          If you’re undrafted, that means that the 32 general managers and hundreds of scouts that make up the front offices of the 32 NFL franchises- all of whom combine to have spent ten of thousands of hours combing over film, interviews, and reports on college players- thought that at least 224 players had a better shot at panning out that you did.

          Yes, undrafted guys do make teams. Yes, Drafted guys are busts.

          However, it is disingenuous to say that ” An UDFA is only slightly more unknown and risky than a draft pick.”

          I am willing to bet the farm that if you did an analysis, the numbers are staggeringly stacked against an UDFA compared to a drafted player in terms of likelyhood of panning out or not.