GREEN BAY – Both had waited for their big chance, for different reasons.
Jared Abbrederis fought injuries for his first 1½ seasons in Green Bay. Jeff Janis battled the transition from Division II to the NFL.
When their opportunity finally came, in the NFC divisional playoff loss at Arizona, their response on the biggest stage of their young careers sends the fan favorites into the offseason with a decidedly different outlook on their futures.
“This last game, being on the field the whole time, at the end of the first half getting on a little roll there, I just felt real confident,” Abbrederis said as he cleaned out his locker last week. “I felt like I belonged.”
Janis expressed similar sentiments, saying the game reminded him of college and erased any doubts creeping in that he could catch passes in the NFL.
“It’s a big confidence builder and it shows you what you’re capable of doing,” Janis said. “I’m just going to try to channel that, bring it into next year and take off from there.”
In Arizona, Abbrederis gained 55 yards on four receptions, three of them converting third downs and all four moving the chains on a pair of first-half scoring drives.
Janis was making a similar contribution, with five grabs for 44 yards through 58 minutes, until a 60-yard reception on fourth-and-20 and a 41-yard Hail Mary TD – caught against premier cornerback Patrick Peterson no less – suddenly thrust his performance into Packers’ lore. His total of 145 receiving yards ranks third all-time in Green Bay postseason history.
Both late-round 2014 draft picks said they would take some time to figure out their offseason priorities, in terms of what parts of their game they want to focus on for improvement.
It will be interesting to see if Abbrederis (6-1, 195) comes back any bigger and stronger in year three. He perhaps lost some ability to add size and strength last year with the necessary dedication to ACL rehab. Getting shut down for a month due to a concussion last summer didn’t help in that regard.
Janis, a major player on special teams throughout the year, had just two receptions in 2015 before his breakout night. He knows one focus must be route-running so the missed connection with QB Aaron Rodgers near the goal line in the second quarter against Arizona happens less frequently. If Janis can match the trust Abbrederis has built with Rodgers in a rather short amount of time, watch out.
“Everything comes with reps, whether it’s in practice or in games,” Janis said. “You just have to show him that you’re going to be where he needs you to be when he needs you to be there. I think the biggest thing is showing you can do that consistently, and that’s what he wants to see.”
Most important, the Packers want to see all receiving hands on deck for 2016. Jordy Nelson and Ty Montgomery will be coming back from season-ending injuries. Davante Adams was hurt early and late in the year. Randall Cobb, who hadn’t missed a game since 2013, was forced to exit the playoff game against the Cardinals. James Jones is a pending free agent.
If it becomes a case of more than enough capable targets fighting for Rodgers’ attention next season, so be it. Several roles may not be defined right away.
“You never really know,” said Abbrederis, who had multiple receptions in three of the last five games. “We’ll see. Each offense is different. Every offense has its identity. As we get back into OTAs this next offseason coming up, and then (training) camp, your offense evolves and you see who fits where. All that kind of stuff gets figured out.”
Also to be determined with the receiving corps is whether the last game of this season will ultimately have a bigger impact on the first game of next season than anyone could have anticipated.
“We had a lot of guys hurt. The only place we can go is up,” Janis said. “Next year is definitely going to be interesting, and I can’t wait for it to get here.”