GREEN BAY, Wis. — Over a three-day period during the 2014 NFL Draft, the present and the future of the Green Bay Packers wide receiver position changed. Some of the changes that will result from the Packers drafting three receivers are absolute, while others still have much to be worked out. But it certainly set off a series of events that will unfold over the next year.
When Green Bay drafted wide receiver Davante Adams in the second round, it made a lot of sense. He’s a very good player at a position that was one of the team’s top four needs, while also presenting a lot of value at the No. 53 pick.
Adams didn’t immediately change the landscape of the Packers’ wide receiver depth chart, though. Yes, he instantly became a fourth quality receiver option for quarterback Aaron Rodgers to throw to, but Adams’ instant impact stopped at about that point.
Then Green Bay selected wide receiver Jared Abbrederis in the fifth round. Good player, good value, another target for Rodgers. Makes sense, especially if Abbrederis was the best player available on the Packers’ big board. But with that pick, it started to look like a possible turnover was underway for Green Bay’s future at wide receiver.
When the Packers concluded their 2014 draft by selecting wide receiver Jeff Janis in the seventh round, it was the final piece that signaled a lot of potential changes for Green Bay during the 2014 season and beyond.
Starting with the big picture, it could impact Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, both of whom will be unrestricted free agents next offseason. Cobb is still only 23 years old and is all but assured to get re-signed at some point, but having three new wide receivers in town could put Nelson’s time with the Packers on the clock.
By the time NFL free agency begins in 2015, Nelson will be two months away from his 30th birthday. That’s not an age that a wide receiver wants to be when playing for a Ted Thompson-led Green Bay team. When Greg Jennings signed with the Minnesota Vikings, he was 29 years, 5 months and 25 days old. When James Jones signed with the Oakland Raiders, he was 29 years, 11 months and 16 days old.
Basically, Thompson has a recent history of walking away from very productive receivers and longtime Packers before they had a chance to turn 30.
Also, for comparative purposes, the Chicago Bears just gave 30-year-old receiver Brandon Marshall a three-year contract extension worth $30 million (with a reported $23 million guaranteed). That will keep Marshall in Chicago until he’s nearly 34 years old. Is Thompson willing to make a similar commitment to Nelson?
Jarrett Boykin is also scheduled to be a free agent next offseason, but he’ll be restricted, making it very likely he remains in Green Bay in 2015 and beyond.
Looking at the short-term impact of the Packers drafting three receivers, Boykin is at the top of that list. Before the draft, it was widely assumed that Boykin would be the No. 3 wide receiver on the depth chart. That’s a quick climb for a player who went undrafted two years ago. Now, Adams could challenge Boykin for the No. 3 spot, and perhaps Abbrederis or Janis challenges him for the No. 4 spot.
Boykin exploded onto the scene in 2013 in a post-Jennings, post-Donald Driver Green Bay offense with 49 receptions for 681 yards and three touchdowns. But there could have been some concern that Boykin, if permanently established as Rodgers’ No. 3 target, could be exposed if faced with unfavorable matchups.
There were two other players greatly affected by the developments in the draft: wide receivers Myles White and Kevin Dorsey. If the Packers hadn’t drafted a wide receiver this year, White and Dorsey could have been competing for the No. 4 and No. 5 spots on the depth chart. Now, they go into training camp somewhere around No. 7 and No. 8, with the chances of them making the team being very slim.
While training camp will go a long way in making final determinations, the odds of Green Bay being able to get Abbrederis or Janis onto the practice squad as rookies aren’t good. That means the Packers might already have six receiver spots guaranteed for their 2014 active roster. That certainly doesn’t help White or Dorsey.
"It definitely gives us a lot of competition," coach Mike McCarthy said after the draft. "I don’t think you ever go into the draft and put limits or expectations on how much competition you’re trying to create in one specific area. It had a lot to do with the way the board was set.
"The receiver position obviously has a lot more competition."
Boykin, a player that was released by the Jacksonville Jaguars after just three days in May 2012, was the best example of the theory that Rodgers can make average receivers look quite good. For a quarterback who signed a five-year, $110 million contract extension last offseason, perhaps "make average receivers look quite good" should be in the job description. But even with Boykin’s impressive Week 10 performance last season (eight catches, 112 yards) in a game without Rodgers behind center, it would have been a risk on Green Bay’s part to assume that non-highly touted receivers can continue to play well above their talent level just because of the quarterback throwing them the ball.
Some of these answers will be revealed in July when training camp begins. Others will be known once the regular season begins. And it might not be until next offseason when the evidence is there as to whether the Packers drafting three receivers had any impact on the future of Nelson or Cobb.
But with Adams, Abbrederis and Janis all on board now, it certainly raised some important questions for Green Bay’s wide receiver group.