Driver, Packers' reserve WRs worth watching
This is the second in a series of 13 previews leading up to the Green Bay Packers' July 26 start of camp.
July 10: Quarterbacks
July 11: Running backs
July 12: Wide receivers
July 13: Tight ends
July 16: Offensive linemen
July 17: Defensive linemen
July 18: Linebackers
July 19: Safeties
July 20: Cornerbacks
July 23: Specialists
July 24: Coaches
July 25: 5 things to accomplish in camp
July 26: Fans' guide to camp
TODAY'S POSITION: WIDE RECEIVERS
Rating (1-to-10 scale): 10
Projected starters: Greg Jennings (7th season), Jordy Nelson (5th season)
Backups (asterisks indicate players expected to make the roster): Diondre Borel, Jarrett Boykins, *Randall Cobb, *Donald Driver, Curenski Gilleylen, Tori Gurley, *James Jones, Dale Moss, Shaky Smithson
The breakdown: After three seasons as an average receiver with very few significant playmaking moments, Nelson had a breakout year in 2011. He totaled just six touchdowns in his first three NFL seasons, but Nelson exploded for 15 TDs last year, the third-most in the league. He finished ninth in the NFL in receiving yards and became a huge weapon for quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Nelson had long touchdown receptions of 93 yards, 84 yards, 58 yards, 55 yards and 50 yards.
Nelson's development is not only relevant for his own statistics but for the Packers' offense as a whole. With Nelson now proven to be the type of receiver opposing defenses must gameplan for, it opens up more one-on-one coverage for Jennings.
In previous seasons, it was logical for teams to dedicate double-coverage to Jennings. Sure, the Packers had Driver and Jones, but neither had performed at Nelson's 2011 level. Driver hasn't had a 1,000-yard receiving season since 2009, and Jones' best year ever was for 679 yards.
That is why Nelson becoming a Pro Bowl-level receiver -- he was arguably snubbed last season -- is so important to the Packers' offense. If Jennings draws the opposing team's best cornerback, Nelson is likely going to have a big game. If Nelson is double-teamed, Jennings is going to shine.
If that isn't scary enough for the rest of the NFL, Cobb appears to be a playmaker in training. The speedy wideout, who was Green Bay's second-round pick in 2011, had only 25 receptions for 375 yards with one touchdown as a rookie. However, in those opportunities, Cobb's athleticism provided Rodgers with the type of option that even Nelson and Jennings can't provide.
Jones sometimes is the forgotten one in the group. His five seasons in the NFL -- all with the Packers -- have not been spectacular, but in a receiver group this good, his chances are relatively limited. In some offenses, Jones could be a No. 2 receiver. In Green Bay, including pass-catching tight end Jermichael Finley, Jones is the fourth or fifth option. He did have several long touchdown receptions last season, including for 70 yards and 65 yards.
Driver, perhaps now best known in some circles for his victory on "Dancing with the Stars," is back for a 14th season. As the all-time leading receiver in Packers franchise history, anything Driver can bring to the team at age 37 is a bonus. Last year, he had 37 catches for 445 yards, his lowest output in both areas since 2001.
Those are the five receivers from last year's active roster. However, there are several intriguing prospects on the practice squad who could be moving up to playing on gamedays this season.
Best position battle: How many receivers will head coach Mike McCarthy keep? If the Packers stick with only five, Driver could be in for one heck of a competition from Borel and Gurley. The guaranteed money on Driver's new one-year contract indicates that, while it's a long-shot he would get cut before the regular season, it's not impossible. If Driver is released, it would be due to the continued rise of Borel and Gurley, each of whom received contract offers from other teams last season. If McCarthy opts for keeping six receivers on the active roster, Gurley versus Borel could be the most interesting battle in all of training camp. If one or both of them don't make the team this season, their comments during offseason workouts indicate that there is little to no chance they would spend another year on Green Bay's practice squad if another team offers them a spot again. With Driver's playing career coming to an end sooner or later and Jennings on the last year of his contract, the Packers have to be concerned about losing either or both of Gurley and Borel.
Ranking against the rest of the NFC North: 1. Packers; 2. Lions; 3. Bears; 4 Vikings. Detroit's Calvin Johnson is the best wide receiver in the NFL and, at 6-foot-5, is a nightmare cover for every team in the league. However, Johnson doesn't have the help next to him for his dominance to quite outshine the collective group of Packers receivers. The Bears adding Brandon Marshall in a trade from Miami could prove to be significant. Marshall and Jay Cutler were teammates in Denver, and Marshall could give Chicago the No. 1 receiver it has lacked -- especially because the experiment of trying to convert Devin Hester to wideout hasn't worked out well. Minnesota has an unhappy Percy Harvin at receiver, and that's about it.
Driver says: "I'm still the guy until they tell me otherwise. I don't think anything changed on that part of it. I'm going to continue to play football. I'm going to embrace every moment of it and when it's all said and done, I can know that one day I'll be in the Packers Hall of Fame and that's something special."
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