If there is one position at which the Packers don’t appear to have need, it’s wide receiver, which is deep with proven talent in the prime years of its careers, and possessing young talent poised to emerge.
In 2011, Jordy Nelson joined Greg Jennings as a star-quality receiver and a big-play weapon with which opposing defenses must scheme to stop. James Jones provided spark and big-play punch off the bench, while rookie Randall Cobb offers tempting possibilities for Head Coach Mike McCarthy’s offense. Heading toward free agency, the major question at wide receiver would seem to be: Will the Packers attempt to re-sign esteemed veteran Donald Driver, or allow him to leave?
Jennings caught 67 passes for 949 yards and nine touchdowns, and was on his way to a fourth consecutive thousand-yard season when a knee injury cost him three games at the end of the season.
Nelson was already on his way toward the season of his life. He finished with a team-leading 68 catches for a walloping 1,263 yards and 15 touchdowns, which trailed only Rob Gronkowski’s 17 and Calvin Johnson’s 16 leaguewide.
Jones did more with less playing time than any of the Packers’ receivers, catching 38 passes for 635 yards and seven touchdowns. Driver was right behind Jones with 37 catches for 445 yards and six touchdowns.
Enter Cobb, the kick-return/wide receiver who grabbed 25 catches for 375 yards and a touchdown in what was little more than a preview of what he can do and what the Packers intend to do with him. Cobb authored the NFL’s play of the year, a 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the season opener, and promises to bring that kind of explosiveness to the Packers’ passing game in the future.
Meanwhile, the reserve ranks are also teeming with talent: Diondre Borel, Tori Gurley and Shaky Smithson were stockpiled on the Packers’ practice squad and will compete for a roster spot next summer.
Summary—Depth at the position, especially in the form of Cobb and young reserves, is clouding Driver’s future, but certainly not the Packers’ future at the position. The Packers’ receiving corps was considered to be the best in the league in 2011, and what’s important to note is that Jennings, Nelson, Jones and Cobb are all under 30 years of age. That corps of receivers, when combined with MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers, represents the strength of the Packers now and for the long-term future. They are the team’s identity.