With James Jones gone and stalwarts Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb entrenched as the Green Bay Packers' top two wide receivers, the No. 3 job is open -- though Jarrett Boykin will get the first crack at it.
Packers wide receiver Jarrett Boykin finished last season with 49 receptions for 681 yards and three touchdowns.
Jeff Hanisch / USA TODAY Sports
By Paul Imig
Green Bay Packers beat writer Paul Imig will be analyzing the 25 most important players to the Packers' success in the 2014 season. Check back each weekday to see the latest player on the list. You can find every report here.
NOTE: This is not a list of the team's 25 best players, but rather it's a list of which players mean the most to how Green Bay will fare this year. Criteria such as depth at that player's position, general expectations and overall importance of that player having a good season are all highly considered.
There's no question in Green Bay who the top two wide receivers are with Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb still around. But with the offseason free-agent departure of James Jones, the No. 3 receiver spot on the depth chart is wide open. If Jarrett Boykin continues his positive development, that role should be his this season.
Two years ago, Boykin was cut after just a few days with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Boykin found a home with the Packers, though, showing that his 40-yard dash time (4.74 seconds at the 2012 Scouting Combine) wasn't going to stop him from making an impact in the NFL.
Boykin had a minor role with Green Bay as a rookie, totaling only five catches in 10 games. Last season, however, Boykin took a major step forward with 49 receptions for 681 yards and three touchdowns. He even proved that he wasn't just benefitting from the Aaron Rodgers factor when Boykin had a career-high 112-yard receiving day with Scott Tolzien at quarterback.
Boykin is No. 22 on this list because he's the most veteran player of the Packers' second-tier of wide receivers. Sure, it's possible that Davante Adams, Jared Abbrederis or Jeff Janis have breakout rookie seasons, but expecting any of them to do so in their first year in the NFL is a bit much. Not even Cobb and Nelson surpassed 400 receiving yards in their rookie seasons. Chris Harper, Myles White and Kevin Dorsey are possible options, too, but none of them seem capable of outperforming Boykin.
EXPECTATIONS FOR 2014
Boykin needs to at least get close to replacing Jones' production. Jones had been hovering around the 800-yards receiving mark the past two seasons. Boykin is coming off a season with 681 receiving yards.
There is a difference, though, even if it's somewhat slight, between being the fourth or fifth receiving option (don't forget that tight end Jermichael Finley was a top receiving target in recent years) and being the third guy that Rodgers looks to. That means Boykin will be drawing more attention and will be matched up with better cornerbacks at times. Perhaps Boykin excelled as the No. 4 or No. 5 target but struggles when elevated up the depth chart. That is possible, but it's exactly why Boykin is as important to the Packers in 2014 as he is.
A big question surrounding Boykin in 2014 is how he's able to perform if Cobb or Nelson miss any time due to injury. Nelson had injuries two years ago that limited him to 10 starts, and Cobb was only able to play in six games last season. If one of them is out for even a game or two in 2014, that brings Boykin potentially all the way up to No. 2 on the receiver depth chart, and that might be a lot to ask from him. But it could also be his opportunity to really shine.
WHAT WOULD THEY DO WITHOUT HIM?
Drafting Adams, Abbrederis and Janis did a lot for taking some of the pressure off of Boykin, but it doesn't alleviate it completely. If any of those three rookies become great players, recent history in Green Bay has shown that it's unlikely their breakout seasons come in their first years. Again, if Cobb and Nelson can't finish with more than 400 receiving yards as rookies, what would make anyone think that Adams, Abbrederis or Janis will?
But there are plenty of options behind Boykin if he fails to progress or if he suffers an injury. Adams, a second-round pick, seems the most likely to then take his spot. Eventually, the Packers would like Adams to be more than a No. 4 option for Rodgers, but the former Fresno State star would first have to outperform Boykin.
Really, Green Bay's options at receiver are Nelson, Cobb and then a bunch of players who could fall anywhere between Nos. 3 and 9 on the depth chart. But the No. 3 job is Boykin's to lose, and the Packers will benefit greatly if he's able to step up and perform well in that role.