This is the third in a series of stories that’s examining the Packers’ roster, position by position, leading up to the 2016 draft. The series continues with the wide receivers and tight ends.
GREEN BAY – As the 2015 regular season wrapped up, it seemed almost a given the Packers would spend considerable draft resources at the wide receiver and tight end positions.
Now, no one can be so sure.
Struggling all year to overcome the injuries to Jordy Nelson and Ty Montgomery, the Packers’ young receiving corps showed signs of progress in the playoffs.
Davante Adams caught a 20-yard fade and a 10-yard TD in a span of three snaps as the Packers took a lead just before halftime in the NFC wild card game at Washington.
Then, the following week at Arizona, with Adams out due to injury and Randall Cobb leaving in the first quarter with a bruised lung, Jared Abbrederis and Jeff Janis produced in a pinch as the Packers fought to extend their season.
Abbrederis, who caught a two-point conversion pass against the Redskins, snagged four passes for 55 yards against the Cardinals.
Janis, meanwhile, became the divisional playoff star, hauling in a 60-yard pass on fourth-and-20 and a 41-yard Hail Mary TD on the desperation game-tying drive. His performance – seven receptions for 145 yards and two TDs – ranks as one of the best by a Green Bay receiver in postseason history.
What does all that mean for the draft? It’s hard to say.
On the one hand, the Packers can’t ignore the fact that the passing game suffered through an extended malaise in 2015 that might have been worse had veteran James Jones not fallen into their laps after Nelson’s preseason injury. The consistent struggles to beat man coverage and keep defenses from loading the box against the run helped turn a 6-0 start into a 10-6 wild-card spot.
Then again, assuming Nelson and Montgomery return to full health, the Packers enter 2016 with six experienced receivers on the roster (Jones has not been re-signed) who have all enjoyed shining moments. After Nelson and Cobb, the other four are nowhere near the potential peak of their careers.
Any significant draft investment at the position would, barring injury, force the Packers to cut ties with at least one young receiver in whom they’ve already invested considerable developmental time. Practice-squad holdovers Ed Williams and Jamel Johnson are back for another chance as well.
Given more acute roster needs elsewhere, the picture suggests late-round and rookie free agent additions at receiver, unless a can’t-pass-him-up prospect is suddenly staring at the Packers when they’re on the clock. Head Coach Mike McCarthy’s offseason comment about needing “big receivers going over the middle” might be repeated in the draft room, too. Either way, the competition at the position will be on the must-watch list in training camp.
An early-round pick is more likely at tight end, though the free-agent signing of veteran Jared Cook changes the outlook there as well.
Cook is expected to be more of a field-stretcher than Richard Rodgers, who averaged only 8.8 yards per catch in 2015. Looking at the top two tight ends as a tandem, Cook will make it more dynamic than the unsigned Andrew Quarless or the still-developing Justin Perillo did last year.
There’s no guarantee the duo will be together beyond this year, though, with Cook signing just a one-year contract. Analysts say this draft isn’t particularly deep at tight end, which probably factored into the Packers’ pursuit of Cook, but a future investment is still needed if the right guy is there.
Perillo, Kennard Backman and Mitchell Henry – along with Rodgers – all will get a chance to see what new position coach Brian Angelichio can do for their games. The young trio remains light on game experience, though, so drafting a tight end earlier than later remains a decent possibility. View previous stories in the position-by-position breakdownQB: Drafting another not out of the question
RB: Future not entirely clear for Packers