In this next installment of our 2011 Draft Prep series looking at the Green Bay Packers’ needs by position, we are going to analyze how the wide receiver position currently stands. Strengths, weaknesses, depth, and uncertainties will all be examined to determine the urgency of need in regards to next season.
This series is meant to help us figure out the needs of the team and how the draft could be used to improve the weaker areas. While Ted Thompson largely uses the “best player available” (BPA) approach, his decision to trade up or down the board is affected by what position players he would prefer to have. Additionally, the picking up of players in the later rounds and in undrafted free agency is often based on need, since the talent is less defined.
#80 Donald Driver
36 yrs. old / 12 yrs. exp.
Signed through 2012
#85 Greg Jennings
27 yrs. old / 5 yrs. exp.
Signed through 2012
#87 Jordy Nelson
25 yrs. old / 3 yrs. exp.
Signed through 2011
#11 Chastin West
23 yrs. old / 1 yrs. exp.
Signed to reserve/future contract
#17 Antonio Robinson
25 yrs. old / 1 yrs. exp.
Signed to reserve/future contract
#16 Brett Swain
25 yrs. old / 2 yrs. exp.
Restricted Free Agent
#89 James Jones
26 yrs. old / 4 yrs. exp.
Free Agent (tender offered)
* Contract information acquired from RotoWorld.com
It’s no secret why Mike McCarthy runs a pass-heavy offense. As fellow blogger Adam Czech recently pointed out, “the Packers receivers are among the most dangerous in the NFL.” Combined with the arm of Aaron Rodgers, this unit is easily one of the best in the league.
At the top is Greg Jennings, the vertical threat who runs some of the best routes in the game. He has put up over 1,100 yards in each of his last three seasons. Behind Jennings is Donald Driver, the dependable veteran who fights for every ball and every yard – a man whose motor never stops running. He is the Green Bay Packers’ all-time leader in receptions with 698 and sits only 41 yards behind leader James Lofton in career receiving yards.
Rounding out the position are Jordy Nelson and James Jones. These two players, though not ideal choices as primary receivers, are more than solid in their positions. They provide Green Bay with the ability to use three- and four-wide sets consistently and without worry. Last season, they combined for 127 receptions, 1,691 yards, and 11 touchdowns.
Brett Swain is also serviceable as a fifth wide receiver when the Packers go to their Big Five.
There were moments when I thought my 88-year-old grandmother could make some of the catches that the receivers dropped/missed this season. It was, in a word, excruciating to watch.
The worst part was that a good number of the drops could have been difference-makers.
Greg Jennings’ drop-turned-interception against the Detroit Lions in Week 14 probably would have changed the rest of that game, and maybe even the season. Additionally, James Jones’ drop against the Philadelphia Eagles in the Wild Card round of the playoffs could have saved the defense from a harrowing last-minute drive.
There are more examples, but these are the two that come to mind most readily. The biggest culprits ended up being James Jones and Jordy Nelson, but every receiver was susceptible to having butterfingers at one point or another.
Even the ever-reliable Donald Driver seems to have one game each season where his hands just don’t work right.
Quite frankly, this is the only thing preventing this unit from being unstoppable. They run great routes, have good speed, and are well in tune with the quarterback. But the inconsistent hands are keeping them from their full potential.
If this group of receivers could come back to next season with nothing having changed from last year, I don’t think many people would have much of a problem with that. Unfortunately, there is a significant amount of uncertainty heading into next season.
1) Will James Jones return? Though he has been offered a tender as a free agent, there’s a good chance he could be moving on from the Packers. Jones has made it clear he wants to be a primary receiver, and quite frankly, he has the skill set to achieve that with another team that boasts less wide receiver talent than Green Bay. Some fans wouldn’t be upset with this, having been put off by his inconsistent hands; still, other fans would be worried by this turn of events. But when it comes down to it, Ted Thompson will need to find a suitable replacement for Jones if he leaves.
2) When will Donald Driver’s age finally catch up with him? After twelve seasons in the NFL playing exclusively for the Packers, Driver has moved into that bittersweet part of his career. Fans are enamored with what he has done – and continues to do – as a Green Bay Packer. Both on and off the field, he has been an admirable face of the franchise.
Unfortunately, he is slowly on the decline. Before 2010, Driver had six consecutive seasons with 1,000 or more receiving yards. Yet he only amassed 565 during the regular season this year, losing his games-with-a-reception streak in the process.
Donald Driver won’t be around much longer, and the Packers need to plan for his replacement now, especially with James Jones on the cusp of leaving.
3) Will Jordy Nelson be a Green Bay Packer after this year? Next season, he could very well be in the same position that James Jones is now. His accomplishments in 2011 will certainly be a determining factor in regard to his contract, but Ted Thompson needs to have a back-up plan in the works should he not perform as desired.
URGENCY OF NEEDS: High
As Brandon from the Acme Packing Company blog pointed out this week, you can never have enough wide receivers in Green Bay. With Mike McCarthy calling the plays and Aaron Rodgers under center, having a deep corps of skilled receivers is essential.
After the top four wide receivers (Driver, Jennings, Jones, and Nelson), the group sees a marked drop-off in talent. If James Jones leaves and the aging Donald Driver gets injured (again) next season, the Packers are suddenly left with some big holes.
Even in the slim chance that the personnel remains exactly the same next year, the looming question of Driver’s future replacement still remains.
Ted Thompson will need to draft at least one and maybe even two wide receivers this year. It is a position where the undrafted free agents rarely make a difference, and he needs to add some quality players to the roster. Finding a return specialist is also often easier with wide receivers than most other positions, though even that need is a secondary one.
The one comfort fans have is Jermichael Finley. Despite being a tight end, his usefulness as a receiver bolsters the rest of the corps. It is for this reason that I was tempted to reduce this need to medium-high; however, I decided the future uncertainties trump this present reassurance.
*** For further reading, check out “According to Hobbes: Packers Offseason Primer on the NFL Combine: Wide Recievers” by Thomas Hobbes. ***——————Follow @ChadToporski