Packers training camp preview: Wide receivers
This is the third in a series of 14 previews leading up to the Green Bay Packers’ July 26 start of camp.
TODAY’S POSITION: WIDE RECEIVERS
Rating (1-to-10 scale): 7
Projected starters: Jordy Nelson (7th season), Randall Cobb (4th season)
Backups (asterisks indicate players expected to make the roster): *Jarrett Boykin, *Davante Adams, *Jeff Janis, *Jared Abbrederis, Myles White, Kevin Dorsey, Chris Harper, Alex Gillett
For the first time in years, the Green Bay Packers enter a season with questions about top-tier depth among their wide receivers group. After the departures over the past two offseasons of Greg Jennings, Donald Driver and James Jones, the Packers will be counting on several relatively unproven receivers to contribute at a significant level.
Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb have been important pieces in the offense for a while, but there is a lot more pressure and expectations on them now. In previous seasons, opposing defenses couldn’t pay too much attention to Nelson because there was still Jennings and Jones to worry about. Now, Nelson will be the primary outside wide receiver against whom all No. 1 cornerbacks will likely match up. Cobb will spend the majority of his time in the slot, and, presumably without tight end Jermichael Finley (still a non-medically-cleared free agent at the moment) there as well, it’ll be up to the 23-year-old Cobb to produce at a high level on a consistent basis.
Two years ago as a rookie, Jarrett Boykin was at the bottom of the depth chart. Now, he’ll enter his third NFL season expected to produce like a No. 3 receiver. General manager Ted Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy obviously have a lot of faith that Boykin is ready for such a quick rise up the ranks. However, as teams study him more and key in on him in certain situations, Boykin will have to prove that he’s ready for this additional responsibility.
Thompson and McCarthy didn’t just sit back and hope the Packers wouldn’t take a step back in the receiving department, though. Green Bay drafted three wide receivers, a relatively drastic measure even under the circumstances. Davante Adams follows in the footsteps of Jennings, Nelson and Cobb, all of whom have been great success stories coming out of the second round. Jared Abbrederis will attempt to make good on Thompson finally drafting a Wisconsin Badgers player. Jeff Janis will try to show that his talent is far better than that of a typical seventh-round pick and that he won’t be held back just because he came from a small Division II school.
Best position battle:
Adams vs. Abbrederis vs. Janis vs. Myles White vs. Kevin Dorsey vs. Chris Harper
Nelson and Cobb will be options 1A and 1B for quarterback Aaron Rodgers this season. It will be up to Boykin to not disappoint as the third option. After that, it is a wide open race between six receivers, only two or three of whom will actually make the active roster.
Adams has the lead going into training camp, simply because his status as a second-round pick assures him of a spot on the team. But that certainly doesn’t guarantee that Adams is the No. 4 receiver on the depth chart. Abbrederis and Janis will have their work cut out for them as rookies to beat out Adams and three second-year players for pass-catching opportunities from Rodgers.
That brings in White, Dorsey and Harper. Given that Green Bay invested three 2014 draft picks in wide receivers, it’s possible none of these players make the active roster. However, the Packers aren’t a rebuilding team, and if White, Dorsey and Harper outperform Abbrederis and Janis in training camp, Thompson and McCarthy will go with the best player.
Dorsey was a 2013 seventh-round pick, but he spent all season on injured reserve. White was promoted from the practice squad midway through the season but didn’t make much of an impact. Harper, a fourth-round pick last year, is already on his third NFL stop after being dumped by Seattle and San Francisco. Each of the three of them has a lot to prove to make the team.
Ranking against the rest of the NFC North:
1. Bears; 2. Lions; 3. Packers; 4. Vikings
The combination of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery slightly edge out the dominant Calvin Johnson to put Chicago atop this position grouping in the division. Marshall has gone over 1,000 yards receiving in seven of his eight NFL seasons, while Jeffery’s 1,421 receiving yards in 2013 had him ranked sixth in the league. Johnson is still the best overall receiver in the NFL, and he’ll finally get some help after Detroit’s offseason signing of Golden Tate. No defense, though, will suddenly think that Tate’s presence is a reason to do anything but continue to key in on Johnson. The Packers’ depth has thinned out, but a team could do a lot worse than a top-two receiving group of Cobb and Nelson. It’ll be up to Boykin, Adams and the rest of the group to get Green Bay back up into the top two. Minnesota has Jennings and the emerging Cordarrelle Patterson, but the Vikings don’t quite stack up to the rest of the NFC North at the wide receiver position.
Follow Paul Imig on Twitter