The Green Bay Packers are enjoying one of the finest seasons the franchise has seen from a group of wide receivers, and the great thing is, everyone involved thinks they still have a long way to go before they reach their potential.
The Packers' foursome of Javon Walker, Donald Driver, Robert Ferguson, and Antonio Chatman have piled up numbers that are near the tops in the league. Through seven games, the four receivers have tallied a combined 101 catches, a number that is only bested by the group of wideouts from the St. Louis Rams.
Walker (41) and Driver (40) have teamed up to catch 81 passes, which ties for best in the NFL, and their 1,221 receiving yards are by far #1 in the league. With Ferguson's production figured to increase as he returns to full health, the wideouts look to continue to terrorize opposition secondaries for the rest of the season and beyond.
Brett Favre, the man responsible for getting the ball into the hands of these playmakers, says that this is the best group of receivers he's had in his time in Green Bay, but he knows they can get even better.
"I would say that this is our best group," their quarterback said. "I think they can get a lot better, which at times it doesn't seem that way because of the statistics that they're putting up, but they can get so much better and that's a good thing. I expect over time that they will, as they've done over the last two years. With each game, they've gained more confidence individually, and as a group, and I've gained more confidence in them."
GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman said Wednesday that he believes the receivers really began to break out towards the end of the 2003 season.
"I really thought it started last year, the last five ballgames in particular," Sherman said. "They really stepped up and started making some very significant plays in the ballgames. Part of it was them, and maybe part of it was us as well. We gave them more opportunities to make plays. They can't make plays unless we give them the chance to make them. I think we did that in the last five ballgames. I think that also continued into this season."
Sherman went on to praise the efforts of his receivers so far this season, stating this level of success wasn't unexpected, but there may be a surprise in the group.
"(Chatman) came back knowing that in order to keep his job as the return man he had to be our fourth receiver and he's probably come the farthest in the shortest period of time," Sherman explained. "Fergie's been banged up a little bit, but he had a heck of a preseason and has made plays when given the opportunity. Driver has been very consistent and I think Walker certainly has made some explosive plays. I'm pleased with all four of them.
"They haven't done anything I didn't expect them to do, to be honest with you. Again, it started last year. You could see the signs of that group. The biggest surprise is probably Chatman. He is running excellent routes, he does what you ask him to do, and he's caught the ball."
Chatman knows that his success in the passing game may be a surprise to those around him, but he's always had the confidence that he could get the job done at this level.
"When people look back, I wasn't just a return man in the Arena League," said the 5-foot-9 receiver. "When I first came here, I said I could play receiver but everybody just kind of smirked and laughed at me. It's nothing new to me."
Chatman said that he not only has confidence in himself, but the receivers as a unit have confidence in each other. He feels that has come through hard work both on the field and in the classroom.
"I think we all have confidence in each other," he said. "We all sit as receivers with Brett and we go over the plays so we're more on the same page. We know what Brett thinks and Brett knows what we think and it's a lot easier."
Favre sees unlimited potential for this group of pass-catchers.
"If these guys stay healthy, the sky's the limit," said the quarterback. "They have a lot of talent and a work ethic that continues to get better with each year and each week."
Sherman envisions greater production leading to greater confidence for the group, which in turn could lead to even greater things from the youthful bunch.
"I think the more they do, the more they're involved, the more confident they've become. They're all young, so I think it applies to all of them."