Packers.com is examining the Packers’ roster, position by position. In the third installment, we look at the receivers.
GREEN BAY—One of the most talented receiving corps in the NFL could undergo change in this offseason.
Donald Driver has retired and a Packers receiving corps that re-wrote the team record book in 2011 is set to lose the man who made the defining play of the Packers’ Super Bowl XLV win. Greg Jennings, who spent most of last season sidelined by injury, is scheduled to become a free agent.
Meanwhile, the future of tight end Jermichael Finley won’t be determined until late March, when the Packers must pay a $3 million roster bonus or lose him in free agency, too. At issue with Finley is an $8.25 million salary in 2013.
Yet, the Packers’ receiving corps would seem to be so deep with talent that it could weather the storm of such losses and still give quarterback Aaron Rodgers more premier targets than most quarterbacks could expect. Leading the Packers’ receiving corps into the future is Randall Cobb who, in year two of his career, emerged as one of the league’s pass-catching stars.
Cobb led the Packers with 80 receptions for 954 yards and eight touchdowns. He was used in a creative role that included him as a running back that carried 10 times for 132 yards. His role in 2013 is likely to be expanded to produce more catches, rushes, yards and touchdowns.
Nagging injuries cost Jennings the worst season of his seven-year career. He was held to personal lows in receptions (36), yards receiving (366), games played and games started.
Sixth-year receiver James Jones picked up the slack, establishing personal highs in receptions (64), yards receiving (784) and touchdowns (14). In 2012, Jones became the Packers’ No. 1 touchdown maker and the player to whom Rodgers looked when the Packers needed a big play.
An ankle injury cost Jordy Nelson time and production in ’12. He was held to 49 catches for 745 yards and seven touchdowns, very respectable numbers but considerably off his record-setting year in 2011, when Nelson caught 68 passes for a whopping 1,263 yards and 15 touchdowns. A return to health should result in a return to that kind of production in 2013.
Finley was resurgent in the second half of the season and that’s what will likely weigh heaviest on the Packers as they decide the tight end’s future with the team. He finished the season with 61 catches for 661 yards and two touchdowns, and was praised for his dedication in the second half of the season by Head Coach Mike McCarthy.
Cobb, Jones and Nelson offer an obvious core of pass-catchers on which the Packers can build. Will Finley re-join that trio? What about young but unproven wide receivers such as Jarrett Boykin and Jeremy Ross?
Behind Finley at tight end is Tom Crabtree, a strong in-line blocker who stepped into a bigger role as a pass-catcher last season, collecting eight receptions for 203 yards and three touchdowns.
Much is expected from third-year man D.J. Williams, who offers versatility and creativity as a combination tight end and H-back. He’s expected to expand on his seven catches for 57 yards.
Ryan Taylor is a special teams star who deepens the tight end position, and Andrew Quarless returns to the active roster after a season lost to recovery from knee reconstruction. Undrafted rookie Brandon Bostick will have another chance to impress.
If there is one area in which Packers receivers must improve in 2013, it’s in a return to producing big plays. Last year, the Packers averaged a pedestrian 11.6 yards per reception, as the deep ball all but vanished from the Packers’ attack. Much of the blame, however, can be assigned to a sluggish running game that allowed opposing defenses to employ an extra defender in the deep secondary.
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