FOX Sports Wisconsin’s Paul Imig provides complete coverage of the Packers and the 2014 NFL Draft in his 14-part preview. You can find the entire series here.
TODAY’S POSITION: Wide Receivers
Importance (1-to-10 scale): 7
On the roster
The group of wide receivers for Aaron Rodgers to throw to has dwindled quite a bit over the past year. Greg Jennings is preparing for his second year with the Minnesota Vikings, Donald Driver is enjoying retirement and now James Jones is off with the Oakland Raiders. Yet, even with that much turnover, Rodgers has a very good cast of receivers to work with.
The one-two punch of Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb is a very dangerous threat to defenses. Nelson overcame his 2012 injury woes and responded with a fantastic season in 2013 that looked a lot like his breakout year of 2011. Nelson will turn 29 years old before the upcoming season, and that’s a dangerous age to be on a team that is always among the NFL’s youngest. However, Nelson shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
Cobb has really only had one great receiving year through three NFL seasons, but still only 23, he’s a star in the making. An injury last season didn’t allow Cobb to repeat the success he had in 2012, but that might be the only thing that could stop him. He’s a very good complement to Nelson and has the trust and respect of Rodgers.
The No. 3 spot now belongs to Jarrett Boykin, an undrafted player in 2012 who originally spent three days with the Jacksonville Jaguars before they thought he wasn’t worth their time. Boykin has surpassed all expectations in two seasons and has become a very dependable target. He’s never going to have breakaway speed, but as a possession receiver, he does his job well. Boykin’s next challenge is proving that he can handle an elevated role on a permanent basis.
If the season started right now, the fourth receiver would likely be either 2013 seventh-round pick Kevin Dorsey (who was on injured reserve for his entire rookie year) or Myles White, an undrafted player last year who caught nine passes in seven games before suffering a season-ending injury of his own. The Packers also have Chris Harper, whom they claimed off waivers from San Francisco in October 2013 after beginning his rookie season as a fourth-round pick of the Seattle Seahawks.
Last five wide receivers drafted
Philosophy at the position
General manager Ted Thompson obviously connected with his two most recent second-round wide receiver picks. That’s where he found Cobb and Nelson, both of whom have grown into great players in Green Bay’s offense. Going back to 2006, it’s also the round in which he drafted Jennings.
The Packers had been so loaded at wide receiver that Thompson didn’t find it necessary to draft one in 2012 and then only used seventh-round picks on two receivers in 2013. It’s possible that a seventh-round pick flourishes, but the odds of success are certainly not in their favor. So of course it’s a longshot that either Johnson (now with the Browns) or Dorsey ever become go-to targets. Then again, Boykin’s undrafted status hasn’t stopped him and it didn’t stop Driver (a seventh-round pick in 1999) from becoming a Packers legend. But those are exceptions to the general rule.
Green Bay needs to add early-to-mid-round talent to provide depth to its wide receiver group, and it needs to happen this year. With the roster as is, if either Cobb or Nelson missed multiple games, the Packers’ downfield attack could really be slowed. Remember, tight end Jermichael Finley, another top target of Rodgers, is an unrestricted free agent and has an uncertain future in football as he recovers from a serious neck injury.
Day 1 name to remember (Round 1)
Marqise Lee, junior, USC (6-0, 192). There are as many as six wide receivers who could go in the first round. Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans will be long gone before the Packers are up at 21, then it comes down to team preference between Lee, LSU’s Odell Beckham Jr., Indiana’s Cody Latimer and Oregon State’s Brandon Cooks. Lee does almost everything well and can get separation from coverage. He’s not Nelson big (6-3), but he’s not Cobb small (5-10), possibly making him a good complement for the Packers offense.
Lee on what he’ll bring to the team that drafts him: "The main thing is, I’m going to compete, 24-7, no matter what vet is there, who is coming in, what free agent they got, I’m always going to compete and bring a positive mindset to the game. No negativity, not going to question anything. Just going to get the job done."
Day 2 name to remember (Rounds 2-3)
Davante Adams, senior, Fresno State (6-1, 212). Adams likely won’t last into the third round, so he’s a name the Packers would have to call in the second round if they want him. Adams is a very well-rounded receiver with good size and, somewhat surprisingly given his smallish hands, does not drop many passes. Adams won’t even turn 22 years old until the final week of the 2014 regular season, so he’s young and has room to grow. It’s easy to see him being Thompson’s next second-round star find.
Day 3 name to remember (Rounds 4-7)
Jared Abbrederis, senior, Wisconsin (6-1, 195). Abbrederis will be an early third-day pick, likely not lasting into the sixth round. Like he did in college going from a walk-on to a No. 1 receiver, if Abbrederis is going to succeed in the NFL, it will be despite his lack of elite athleticism. It’s difficult for a coach to teach hard work, though, and Abbrederis certainly has proven that he’ll give it his all.
FOXSports.com’s draft expert Peter Schrager says:
"The Packers could look to scoop up a wideout at 21st overall, especially if a star talent like Texas A&M’s Mike Evans somehow slips. Marqise Lee had a better 2012 at USC than 2013, but could make an immediate impact at the next level. I could see Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews — a guy who consistently got it done against the top competition in the country — in a Packers uniform, alongside Cobb and Nelson. Abbrederis starred locally at Wisconsin. Nice second or third day possibility."