The offseason is now officially underway and with it the roster decisions are starting to be formulated. For many teams who have messed up their salary cap, that means cutting valuable players or letting key players go in free agency (see Chicago, Denver). But for teams like the Packers who have great health under the cap, the time comes to not only evaluate the roster and make cuts, but to look toward the market, whether it is street free agents, UFAs, or the Draft.
So we now get to continue to evaluate the 90-man roster of the Packers as it stands right now. We already went through the quarterbacks and running backs, which leads us to the fun part. Now we get to talk about the wide receivers. The receiving core was so decimated last season that we forget how strong it really is when healthy. And each piece complements the others pretty well. So before we panic, let’s look at the position while also keeping an eye on some free agents and potential draftees.
We start with the back breaking injury that decimated the offense.
It’s no secret that the moment that Jordy Nelson went down with a torn ACL in Week 2 of the preseason that the team went down with him a little bit. A blue collar player who had given his all week in and week out for years and developed from a one dimensional receiver to one of the Top 10 in the NFL, Nelson is a valuable piece of this team and is linked to the history like few receivers. And among all our panic after his injury, we look back on his career and his three seasons of 1250 yards. If he can come back full strength (as of this publishing he was ahead of schedule and said he might’ve been able to play in the post season) he will be a major boost to this receiving core. And at age 31 with his skill set, he should have plenty left to give.
Our first major disappointing player in this article, Cobb got a hefty contract in free agency to remain in Green Bay and was expected to duplicate or exceed his gaudy numbers from 2014. That season he caught 91 balls for 1287 yards and 12 touchdowns. But he was the number two guy then, not facing double teams or a large amount of press coverage. Teams had to focus on Nelson which freed up Cobb to do what he does best, get in space and cause havoc. And he did that early on in the season, but once teams figured out he was not good at beating the jam at the line, his production cratered. He still ended up with 79 catches and 829 yards but it was far short of expectations. Even his phenomenal catch that was nullified in Arizona will be forgotten because of this season. He is another guy who should be much better next season with Nelson back in the lineup.
Here we go. The most disappointing receiver in recent memory. I don’t think anyone can disagree that Davante Adams 2015 season was a complete failure, and he would agree with that. After showing up on the big stage as a rookie including the fake spike and two big games against New England and Dallas, Adams was expected to emerge as that #3 receiver who could be a potential 3rd 1000 yard guy in this offense. But after Nelson’s injury he was forced into a bigger role and was now expected to replace Jordy’s production. Those were quite lofty expectations from us fans and while he didn’t deliver I have a couple of theories as to why that was. The first was that when he got injured early on in the season it sapped is confidence. He was no longer able to play like he was capable of for fear of reinjuring himself and everything snowballed. The other theory is the typical sophomore slump. Let’s remember that he is just a kid at 23 years old, 22 during the season. We have seen what he is capable of and if he can just stay in that #3 role for now he could be deadly.
The surprise of the draft for a lot of Packer fans, many were wondering why a team deep at receiver would take one in the third round. Well, after these injuries we now know why. And Montgomery was a star in training camp and in the preseason and was supposed to excel as the primary kick returner, and he was good whenever he saw the field during the season. Sadly, that was only in 6 games. He caught 15 passes for 136 yards and 2 touchdowns in limited time before his injury ended his year, but he showed a strong burst and a natural ability to break tackles as a returner which makes me extremely hopeful for him in 2016.
The man who saved the Packers season, at least early on. A two time cut victim in the summer of 2015, Jones came back home to the team that he had his most success and was a saving grace for a team decimated by injuries. With two scores in week 1 and a huge impact early in the season, he appeared to solve all the problems. But, as the season went on, he started to show his age and the wear and tear on his body started to take a toll. He continued to have a great rapport with Aaron Rodgers and a knack for the circus catch, but he too often jogged his routes and disappeared against top competition, including the playoffs. He was an extremely valuable piece of the puzzle in 2015, but as a free agent at 31 and with so much young talent, it is probably time to say goodbye to the hoodie, and to get ready for his eventual induction into the Packer Hall of Fame down the road.
The local boy from Wisconsin finally was able to see the field in 2015 and he showed that he can be a solid player in this league, especially as a slot receiver. Arguably the best route runner on the team, Jordy Nelson notwithstanding, Abbrederis has a special knack for getting open, and he makes the most of his opportunities. He just couldn’t stay healthy until late in the season. From a concussion in camp to another nagging injury after a nice drive in Detroit. All in all he caught 9 passes for 111 yards and had a key two point conversion against Washington to help ice the game. He also provides toughness and a willingness to sacrifice his body on offense and special teams, two things that are extremely valuable to this team.
The Peoples’ Champion. The most hyped receiver since Sterling Sharpe. Jeff Janis has all the natural talent you want in a receiver: speed, size, incredible leaping ability, and a knack for finding the endzone. There is just one problem: he cannot run good routes at all right now. Still a developmental guy, he showed his immense talent in the divisional playoff game against Arizona, catching 7 passes for 145 yards and 2 touchdowns, the final two of which were Hail Mary’s against Patrick Peterson. On top of that, he is a special teams beast, easily the best gunner the team has had in years and a big hitter as well as an explosive returner. Now in Year 3, he needs to sure up his route running to see time on offense. Hopefully he spends the offseason working with Abbrederis and Nelson on that. If he ever figures it out, this will be fun.
The surprising practice squad receiver, I thought he was pretty low on the depth chart at the end of the season, but Williams made it and was there all season. But he has a lot of work to do to make it again. Only listed at 6’0” and 196 pounds, he is a shifty guy out of the slot but the Packers have a bunch of those guys still. And at 24 years old already, he may need to find another team to have a shot of sticking. But he’s worth keeping around for camp.
A practice squad guy picked up in the middle of the season, Johnson is a big receiver listed at 6’2” and 217 pounds. The rookie from Alabama State was productive in college, catching 5 TDs his final year. But he is another long shot unlikely to make it through camp.
I don’t expect any receivers to come in free agency, but just for due diligence here are some of the most realistic options to look at Green Bay. These guys are #4 or #5 receivers at best: Chris Owusu, Jordan Norwood, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Brian Quick, and Dorin Dickerson. Not the best crop of guys.
But here is the fun part. If the team were to take a receiver, and I personally doubt they will with the depth of guys they have and the lack of roster spots for all of them, here are a few they could look at with the round they are likely to go in. The earliest one to look at would be Braxton Miller if he falls in Round 2. The dominant player at the Senior Bowl, he is a guy who looks like a natural receiver after three years as a quarterback and he has the speed to get open all over the field vertically and horizontally. Also in Round 2 would be Tyler Boyd of Pittsburgh. A big, physical receiver with great production, he could be a steal there. Other guys to look at are Rashard Higgins in Round 3 from Colorado State, De’Runnya Wilson from Mississippi State in Round 4, or maybe Jalin Marshall from Ohio State on Day 3.
My projections for the upcoming seasons are that the only guys they add are street free agents or a late round pick. The depth chart will be as follows: Nelson, Cobb, Adams, Abbrederis, Montgomery, Janis. All will get snaps on offense, and the last three are interchangeable depending on the situation. But all, if healthy, can be scarily productive and bring the offense back to the levels of 2010-2014.——————
Mike Wendlandt is originally from Iola, Wisconsin and graduated from Drake University in 2015 with a degree in History. With a significant journalism background both in writing and broadcasting, Mike can be heard as the play-by-play voice of Central Wisconsin High School sports on WDUX FM 92.7 and on Twitter @MikeWendlandt.
Mike Wendlandt is a writer covering the Green Bay Packers for PackersTalk.com.