Receiver Depth Rises To Incredible Levels

The Packers have the best five-man receiving corps in the NFL. The Vikings and Buccaneers tried to raid their practice squad. Three intriguing rookies have been added to the mix. Driver or no Driver, can the Packers break with the norm and keep six receivers?

The Green Bay Packers are loaded at wide receiver.

Greg Jennings has made two consecutive Pro Bowls, and if not for a knee sprain that cost him three games, he would have had a fourth consecutive season of 1,000 yards. Among receivers playing at least half of his team's snaps, he ranked sixth in the league with a catch percentage of 69.8, according to Pro Football Focus.

Jordy Nelson had 1,268 yards and six touchdowns in his first three seasons but 1,263 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2011. Among receivers playing at least half of his team's snaps, he ranked third in the league with a catch percentage of 73.1.

James Jones set career highs with seven touchdown catches and 16.7 yards per reception. If he would have met PFF's 50 percent playing time threshold, he would have tied for fifth with a catch percentage of 70.4.

Donald Driver had his fewest receptions (37) and yards (445) since 2001 but his six touchdowns equaled his most since 2006.

Randall Cobb made the most of limited opportunities to finish with 25 catches for 375 yards and one touchdown. He made the all-rookie team on the strength of his No. 2 ranking in kickoff returns (27.7 average) and No. 7 mark on punt returns (11.3 average).

Tori Gurley and Diondre Borel had their salaries quadrupled to entice them to stay on the practice squad rather than take 53-man promotions to Minnesota and Tampa Bay, respectively. Coach Mike McCarthy said those two "stood out" at last weekend's rookie camp, which you'd expect, since they know the playbook and the professional way of life.

If that seven-man list isn't strong enough or long enough, Dale Moss was one of the draft's sleepers, with perhaps the draft's best combination of size (6-foot-3) and speed (4.39 in the 40-yard dash at his pro day) among the receivers in the draft. The former college basketball player caught 61 passes and dropped just one ball in his one season on the football field.

Nos. 9 and 10 on the training camp depth chart will be Buffalo's Marcus Rivers, who signed after the draft, and Virginia Tech's Jarrett Boykin, who signed after participating on a tryout basis last weekend. Rivers is 6-foot-3 and Boykin is 6-foot-2, though neither have Moss' speed (Boykin ran 4.74 at the Combine and 4.62 at pro day and Rivers ran 4.61 at pro day).

"You look for the skill-set, what they bring to the table, how they fit, the potential to make the team. You look at all those factors," McCarthy said of the rookie receivers adapting to a new playbook and new quarterbacks. "So, you look at all of those factors. It's tough because you also have to really trust their (college) game tape because that's the tape that really factors because they're in pads."

What an embarrassment of riches, which leads to one big question.

Even setting aside the 37-year-old Driver's future in Green Bay, can the Packers squeeze six receivers onto the final 53-man roster?

"I really don't concern myself with that in May," McCarthy said. "It's important to make sure you go to camp, you have your numbers at every position, create the competition. Your roster will come to you. I think, like a lot of decisions in the game of football, I don't chase roster moves in May and June and not really until we get into August. I never try to pick the team this early. I don't do the fantasy football because I wouldn't be doing my job evaluating players for what they do on a daily basis if I approached it that way."

McCarthy has done some unorthodox things with the roster, including five tight ends last year and three fullbacks in 2010. Going with six receivers wouldn't be unorthodox — not in the pass-happy NFL — but after the front-line players, most of the Packers' roster decisions boil down to special teams. McCarthy found special teams value in the fullbacks and tight ends.

Where is the special teams value in a wide receiver if he's not returning kicks? Cobb was drafted in large part because of his kick-returning ability, and he's not likely to lose that gig after being one of just three returners in the league to score touchdowns on a punt return and kickoff return last year. Can Borel or Gurley cover kicks or serve as a jammer on punt returns? Moss, Rivers and Boykin are big and strong, but can they block and tackle?

The outrageous depth and intriguing potential in the young receivers are why the beloved Driver potentially has played his last game in Green Bay. Driver or no Driver, the receiver battles will be raging over the next three-plus months.


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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