While the Packers did not address the wide receiver position early in last weekend’s NFL Draft, they did add one weapon to the position group that is worth getting excited about. Former California wide receiver Trevor Davis, taken in the fifth round with the 163rd overall selection, brings speed, reliable and large hands (10 inches) and deep threat ability to a group that was sorely lacking it in 2015. All of the qualities were lauded by Packers director of football operations Eliot Wolf when discussing the Davis pick with the media.
Davis now goes from catching passes from Jared Goff, the first overall pick, to a two-time league MVP and perhaps the greatest quarterback in his alma matter’s history Aaron Rodgers. So, assuming Davis sticks around come September, that will obviously have serious implications for a number of players at the position group. Who is in and who is out has already been hotly debated and training camp is still far off on the calendar.
Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel already wrote about Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb being the only sure things. Assuming he is correct, which we have every reason to believe, how will it shake out?
Well, sort of. Let’s see how much of a case we can make for the returning receivers whose job security took a bit of a hit on draft weekend.
A few things to keep in mind:
- This, too, is one of those things written at this time of year that probably requires “way too early” somewhere in its title because none of us know what the heck can happen in the next two months before any meaningful type of football is being played. Or practiced, for that matter.
- Things change at the drop of a hat. One injury in camp could change the entire outlook for any of these players, and could take them from chopping block to roster lock. Heck, one of these players could get injured themselves which, depending on how you look at it, could save them from unemployment come September. Getting paid to receive physical therapy and watch every Packers game and practice sounds like sort of a dream compared to real life.
- Davis could suck. No pick is guaranteed to be worth a damn, regardless of how high an investment is made. Khyri Thornton was a third round pick in 2014 and was with the Packers for just over a calendar year. A quick trigger is necessary if your evaluation on a guy was just dead wrong. Thornton is allegedly still in the league, by the way. So, maybe a third round pick at least grants you a second chance somewhere else?
- The Packers could opt to keep seven receivers. That seems like one too many, but should they choose to sacrifice one roster spot elsewhere to keep another body at receiver, it’d likely come from the backfield where the Packers kept two fullbacks and three running backs last season.
- THIS IS GOING TO BE FUN! A wide open position battle of skilled players sounds like a great excuse to watch pre-season football, in case you needed one. And for the first time in a while, the Packers enter training camp with what we have every reason to believe is a very competent backup quarterback. Brett Hundley was downright nasty in the pre-season last year, but we didn’t know that until after he lit it up. So that means that these receivers will have a chance to give talent evaluators and armchair general managers like us a good look with passes that aren’t floating off the halfway retired arm of Vince Young or the never that good to begin with arm of Graham Harrell. Rejoice, you guys. Those days are over.
Arguably the best thing Abbrederis has done as a Packer is earn the respect of his quarterback but in a crowded wide receiving core, that certainly isn’t enough to warrant a roster spot on its own. Abbrederis enters 2016 with 32 targets and 15 receptions in his career, including the two playoff games he participated in last season. That’s it. In fact, Aaron Rodgers giving him public praise on his former ESPN Wisconsin radio show is about the only reason for optimism for Abbrederis aside from that whole Wisconsin Badger thing. Ask yourself this question: if Abbrederis hadn’t shown the ability to shine with fairly abysmal quarterback play at Wisconsin and if he weren’t a homegrown talent, would he be someone you would be excited about? Let’s say he played his high school and college football out west with kickoff times well after your usual blackout point on college football Saturdays like, say, Davante Adams. Then all we would have is a few YouTube highlight videos, scouts opinions that are basically just educated guesses, one quasi medical redshirt season and 15 NFL catches to build an opinion off of.
So, needless to say, Abbrederis is going to need to shine in training camp and in the preseason to make the final 53, and Davis is the second reason why it is now a long shot for him to make the roster. Abbrederis brought special teams value as a player with return experience but given Davis’ speed (4.42 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine compared to Abbrederis’ 4.50) there is reason to believe his upside as a return man is greater.
Best guess: Abbrederis no longer has practice squad eligibility and will have to outplay a number of receivers to make the team. The investment level and the upside in players like Adams, Ty Montgomery and Davis are higher and for that reason, I see Abbrederis as a guy falling victim to the final roster cut before the regular season begins.
I know what you’re thinking. How could the 2015 offseason MVP be on the chopping block already? That’s got to count for something, right? Well, as is the case with Abbrederis, production is now what counts, especially after there was precious little production at all out of the receiver group in 2015. The investment level in Adams as a second round pick and the fleeting moments of greatness he so briefly flashed in two games during his rookie season against the Patriots and Cowboys certainly leaves you with a feeling of “there’s a lot to be desired there.”
But it’d be one thing if Adams was full of potential and hadn’t been given the opportunity to really spread his wings like a 2012 Greg Jennings would have wanted him to. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. The Nelson ACL injury was exactly what Adams needed to prove that he could some day be a primary wide receiver in an NFL offense and instead, it ended up being the cause for his stock plummeting to a point where his potential release is even a conversation.
Adams simply got too many opportunities to continue to show how poorly he could play in 2015. Like, I seriously wonder if at some point in that Nov. 11 loss to the Lions when he was targeted 21 times and caught 10 of them for a pretty disappointing 7.9 yards per catch, he wanted to stop being thrown the ball. “Damn it, Rodgers! Quit picking on me.”
Really though, maybe 2015 was a mental thing. Maybe the weight of high expectations pinned him down or something. To be fair, Adams was rushed into a scenario where he figured to be the third option in the offense and instead saw 94 regular season targets on a sputtering offense. On an offense that spreads the love, that’s A LOT of targets. Four fewer than Nelson’s career high 98 in 2014, in fact. Now, with Nelson back, Adams figured to be in a more favorable situation where defenses would actually have to, you know, respect one of the guys lining up to run routes. Yeesh. It’s easy to forget just how ugly things got last year.
Those things can’t all fall on Adams. So what can he bring that others can’t? On paper, Adams would be the third receiver on the depth chart coming into camp and the only one aside from Nelson that has a substantial sample size as a “true” perimeter wide out. But Montgomery, also a fairly significant investment, is now healthy and going to be fighting for reps that he started to earn over Adams in the early portion of 2015 before missing the remainder of the season. Montgomery is safe in my mind, and while he has sort of been labeled a slot guy because of the Cobb comparisons made by Packers brass, Montgomery saw action at pretty much every position in the offense, including running back. He’s larger than Cobb so if he shines in camp, I wouldn’t rule out the idea of a three-wide set with Nelson, Cobb and Montgomery. And if Jeff Janis starts 2016 anything like he ended 2015, than there’s a possibility that Adams falls as low as the fifth man on the totem pole.
If things continue to trend south for Adams then he may just be the next Jarret Boykin, slowly fading into Packers anonymity and eventually buried on the depth chart of a team with a receiving need at the end of camp.
Best guess: I could see Adams remaining on the team this year and sharing reps with Montgomery and Janis. Then, if significant improvement isn’t shown, being cut before playing out the final year on his rookie contract that goes through 2017.
I don’t know what the reaction to this statement would actually be among Packers fans right now. First, it was the popular opinion to demand for more playing time for Janis. Then somewhere down the line, amidst the frustration of losing every home division game and the Vikings winning the NFC North it became blasphemy, with an entire angry fan base swinging to the other end of the spectrum and doing everything in their power to beat down the Janis truthers. But I say this with a fair amount of conviction…
… Janis should be safe and a lock to make the roster.
And it’s not because I love the storyline of an underrated small school white dude, I swear. The case for Janis isn’t that hard to make at all, actually.
His seven catches, 145 yards and two touchdowns against the Cardinals in the NFC Divisional Playoff loss aren’t the primary reason, either. Instead, the case for Janis starts with his special teams value.
Janis was extremely productive as a gunner on special teams, using his own 4.42 speed to run down and make special teams tackles. 15 of them, to be exact, which was second on the team behind safety Chris Banjo’s 21. And while Davis brings return value, there will likely be a competition for kickoff returns at least, which Janis figures to be a part of. He averaged 29-yards per return last season, including a long of 70.
In short, Janis has enough speed to bring value both to both special teams units and to the effort to return the long ball to the Packers offense. And, unlike Abbrederis and Montgomery, he has shown that he can do it. Consistency is certainly a question, but pending a terrible camp, Janis seems well worth keeping around.
Best guess: Janis competes with Montgomery and Adams to earn reps as the third receiver in the offense and at worst, would be the fifth receiver that plays on punt coverage, kickoff coverage, and kick returns.