This is the fourth installment of my “Five Players That Have to be Good” for the Green Bay Packers. My fourth choice is wide receiver/kick returner Jeremy Ross.
When the Packers made Randall Cobb the 64th pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, I literally jumped for joy. I was sitting in the downstairs living room of my college house and I leapt up out of my chair when Jim Taylor announced his name. I remember watching those random SEC games on Saturdays (you know, before Alabama and LSU played) and thinking to myself, “man this #18 from Kentucky really is just out there taking on the SEC by himself.” He could throw, he could run, he could, he would return, heck he could fill up the water jug and paint your front porch! Anything the Wildcats needed, Cobb was their man. I understand that Cobb’s Cats were only 14-14 during his 2 years as the focal point but, this is Kentucky Football we’re talking about (think Duke football or Alabama basketball).
I was super pumped about the selection, it felt like the Clay Matthews trade-up. I’m certainly not always right about these things, I mean I was pro-Joey Thomas, embarrassingly pro-Ricky Elmore and I’m apparently going to go to my grave waiting for Derek Sherrod to recover. I was fortunate enough to go with 3 of my good Packer buddies to the Thursday Night Football opener against the Saints in 2011. I remember telling the guys I traveled with to watch Randall Cobb. One 108 yard kickoff return and one TD on a broken play later, and Randall was the talk of the game. Cobb would return a punt for a touchdown against the Vikings later that season and finished with excellent punt and kickoff return numbers. He also caught 25 balls for 375 yards.
Fast forward to 2011. Injuries forced both Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson to miss games and Donald Driver’s skills declined faster than anticipated. Cobb stepped up in every way possible. He continued to be effective returning both punts and kickoff returns. He ran the football 10 times for 132 yards. At age 22 (!), he had 80 catches (tying Greg Jennings for most catches by a WR in the Aaron Rodgers era) for 954 yards and would have gone over 80 catches and 1,000 yards had he played against the 24th ranked Vikings pass defense in Week 17. He didn’t play in that game (that would’ve clinched a home game and a 1st round bye) because he injured himself returning a punt in a 55-7 thrashing of Tennessee.
Therein lies the rub. Cobb is now the offense’s second most important player (an argument can be made for LT Bryan Bulaga, but just go with me). The same speed, strength and dynamic ability that makes Cobb an effective returner also make him the most talented receiver on the team. I actually think he has the most raw talent of any WR in the Rodgers Era. The quarterback thinks that Cobb has 100 catch potential. The quarterback also thinks that Cobb should be off specials. The Head Coach wants Cobb off specials. It’s clear Cobb’s importance to the offense should have him on offense only.
In order to take Cobb off of specials, however, a viable returner needs to emerge. No one in Packer Nation wants to go back to the return game B.C. (Before Cobb). Before Cobb’s 108 yard kickoff return TD against the Saints, the Packers had been waiting since Allen Rossum in 2000 (!). Before a certain play in the 49ers playoff loss, it appeared that Jeremy Ross was going to be that returner. In the regular season Ross averaged over 25 yards per kickoff return and an astounding 28.6 yards per punt return. With Cobb injured, Ross was acquitting himself nicely. It appeared as though the hobbled Cobb could stay off of specials until Ross muffed a punt at his own 9 yard line with the Packers up 14-7. San Francisco scored almost immediately and momentum shifted violently. The game ended 45-31 and the Packers were sent home.
There is no doubt in my mind that Jeremy Ross is the most talented returner on the Packers not named Randall Cobb. He needs to be explosive and reliable so that the Packers can appease their Super Bowl winning coach and their MVP quarterback and utilize Cobb as the most dynamic force on the offense. Paul Imig of Fox Sports Wisconsin recently ranked Randall Cobb as the #4 most important Packer, and I do not disagree.
Jeremy Ross could possibly help the team as a receiver as well. Dating back to the acquisition of Koren Robinson in 2006, it seemed that the Packers have always been 5 deep at the position. Some combination of Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, James Jones, Ruvell Martin and Robinson have been the Packers’ “Fab Five”. That’s not the case anymore. After Jones, Nelson, and Cobb there is Jarret Boykin. After Jarret Boykin (who is actually kind of a question mark) there are giant question marks. 7th round picks Charles Johnson and Kevin Dorsey have missed OTAs, opening up the door for UDFAs like Myles White and Ty Walker. It would behoove Jeremy Ross to insert himself into the top 6 at WR and make a positive impact as 2013’s return man.
Jeremy Ross has to be good.