The following is the third installment in a series of stories that’ll examine the Packers’ roster position by position. The series continues with the wide receivers and tight ends.
GREEN BAY—It’s not hard to envision Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb adding their names to the list sometime soon, and perhaps it’ll happen this season.
The Packers have had four wide receiver duos top 1,000 yards in the same year. It started with Antonio Freeman and Robert Brooks on the 1997 Super Bowl team. Freeman and Bill Schroeder did it in 1999, then Javon Walker and Donald Driver in 2004, followed by Driver and Greg Jennings in both 2008 and ’09.
Nelson and Cobb are as entrenched a 1-2 combination as the Packers have had since those back-to-back Driver-Jennings years. Additional playmakers at the top, tight end production and/or injuries have all contributed to the feat now approaching five years from being repeated, and while the Packers like their overall pass-catching depth for 2014, there’s no doubt who the top dogs are.
Nelson is coming off a season in which he posted career highs in both receptions (85) and yards (1,314) despite playing half the season without quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and Nelson expanded his game by taking over in the slot at times for an injured Cobb. Combine that versatility with his increasingly frequent tip-toe sideline catches and the fact that he’s the offense’s best option for a play-action deep shot, and Nelson is as all-everything as they get.
Cobb was likely on his way to a career year last season before a wicked low hit in Baltimore injured his leg and sidelined him for 10 games. In the six regular-season contests in which Cobb did play, he caught 31 passes for 433 yards and four scores. Project those numbers over a full 16-game slate and Cobb would have surpassed 80 catches and 1,100 yards with double-digit TDs.
With James Jones’ departure in free agency, the No. 3 job would appear to be securely in Jarrett Boykin’s hands. Taking over the No. 3 role last year in Cobb’s absence, Boykin answered the bell, recording his first TD and 100-yard game in his first start and finishing with 49 catches for 681 yards and three TDs. Those numbers are comparable to Jones’ best seasons in Green Bay.
If Boykin is to be challenged for that third spot, the top candidate would be rookie Davante Adams, drafted in the second round out of Fresno State. Size-wise, he looks like another Jones, and he’s known for winning the physical battle for jump balls and other passes in traffic. His athleticism and strong hands made him Derek Carr’s favorite target at Fresno, where he compiled otherworldly stats of more than 200 catches, more than 3,000 yards and 38 TDs over the last two years.
Barring injury, those will be four of the Packers’ receivers this season. The question is how many more can fit on the roster, and who will emerge from what promises to be intense competition.
For the first time since 2000, the Packers drafted three receivers in the same year, adding Wisconsin’s Jared Abbrederis in the fifth round and Division II Saginaw Valley State’s Jeff Janis in the seventh, following the selection of Adams in the second.
They’ll be up against another late-round draft pick from a year ago, Kevin Dorsey, who spent his entire rookie season on injured reserve, plus holdovers Myles White, Chris Harper and Alex Gillett.
White is the smallest (6-0, 182) but the most experienced of the bunch, playing in seven games last season and catching nine passes. Harper is a former fourth-round pick of Seattle’s who also spent time in San Francisco before coming to Green Bay, where he played in a few games last season, mostly on special teams. Gillett will be back for his second training camp after getting waived in the first roster reduction last year and re-signed to the practice squad at midseason.
It won’t be easy to break through, though, beyond the aforementioned top four. If the Packers keep one more than the usual five receivers on the roster – a move Rodgers has repeatedly supported, given the number and quality of prospects – that’s six receivers fighting for only two spots.
At tight end, it appears the Packers will have a new No. 1 for the first time in several years. Jermichael Finley remains unsigned following neck surgery, leaving Andrew Quarless and Ryan Taylor as the senior members of a young group.
While Taylor’s prowess remains on special teams, Quarless became a reliable target down the stretch last season, posting a pair of games with identical stats of six catches for 66 yards and a TD. He re-signed as a free agent in the offseason.
He’ll face numerous challengers for the starting job, though. Brandon Bostick has recovered from the foot injury that cut last season short just when he had begun regularly making impact plays in the passing game, and third-round rookie Richard Rodgers from Cal showed impressive size and hands in the no-contact OTAs this spring.
Another intriguing candidate is undrafted rookie Colt Lyerla, whose off-field troubles at Oregon relegated what many analysts considered a second-round talent to nothing but a rookie tryout with the Packers. He was passed over by the entire league in the draft and in rookie free agency, but he earned a contract from that tryout and will get a long look, provided his past is truly behind him.
Lyerla is one of two undrafted rookie tight ends on the roster, along with Justin Perillo from Maine. Ohio State product Jake Stoneburner was an undrafted rookie a year ago who started the season on the practice squad and was signed to the active roster in mid-October, but the competition has been increased for those final roster spots. Previously in Countdown to Camp: