Even with a hefty base salary of $4.1 million for this year, there's little reason to believe Donald Driver won't return for a 13th season in Green Bay. But is it time for Jordy Nelson — or James Jones, if he's re-signed — to supplant Driver in the starting lineup?
As we wrote in the "Battle at RB" story, coach Mike McCarthy's answer to that question would be, "What is a starter?" Given the situational nature of the skill positions, it's a fair point — not to mention an easy way to dodge the question.
However, a look at the snap counts confirms what would seem obvious: The starters get more snaps than the backups.
Even while missing one game and most of another with a quad injury, then being knocked out of the Super Bowl with an ankle injury, Driver participated in 830 snaps in his 19 games — 66.1 percent, according to Pro Football Reference. In the 17 games he completed, he participated in at least 60 percent of the snaps 14 times. He topped 80 percent of the snaps in five games. Clearly, he wasn't just a ceremonial starter. Even while suffering through his worst season since becoming a starter in 2002, Driver had earned more trust — and opportunities — than the others.
In playing all 20 games, Nelson played in 729 snaps (54.8 percent) and Jones 670 snaps (50.4 percent). Nelson topped 80 percent of the snaps in two games while Jones never got more than his 72.1 percent in the regular-season game against Atlanta.
What's interesting is that while Driver (51 catches, 565 yards, four touchdowns), Jones (50 catches, 679 yards, five touchdowns) and Nelson (45 catches, 582 yards, two touchdowns) had similar stats, McCarthy used them in greatly different fashion. Of Driver's snaps, 72.8 percent came on passing plays with 87 passes thrown his way. Of Jones' snaps, 79.0 percent came on passing plays with 86 passes thrown his way. Of Nelson's snaps, 59.7 came on passing plays with 64 passes thrown his way. Despite playing 59 more snaps than Jones, Nelson went out on routes 94 fewer times.
What that suggests is McCarthy and offensive coordinator Joe Philbin think Driver and Jones are better options in the receiving game than Nelson, even though Nelson was far more productive on a per-target basis.
Not surprisingly given Driver's age and sagging production, the changing of the guard began a bit last season. In 17 games in 2009, Driver played in 952 snaps or 79.8 percent, and in 16 games in 2008, he played in 851 snaps or 79.0 percent. The question is, will Nelson (or Jones) be good enough to make the changing of the guard complete, or will Driver rely on the same grit and pride to hold off those young lions for at least another year?
Agree or disagree?: Discuss hot Packers topics in our, free forums. Leave Bill a question in the subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum.
Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport.