Looking Back/Ahead: Wide Receiver

We review 2013 with our good, bad, surprise and grade, plus take a look at what's ahead in 2014. Even with Aaron Rodgers' broken collarbone and injuries to Randall Cobb and James Jones, the Packers fielded one of the game's top receiver corps.

In Part 5 of our season-ending review of the Green Bay Packers, we look back and ahead at wide receiver.

DEPTH CHART: 2013

Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Randall Cobb, Jarrett Boykin and Chris Harper. (Myles White, Sederrik Cunningham and Kevin Dorsey on injured reserve; Alex Gillett and Tyrone Walker on practice squad).

UNDER CONTRACT: 2014

Boykin, Cobb, Cunningham, Dorsey, Gillett, Harper, Nelson and White. (Jones is a free agent; Walker was not retained.)

2013 REVIEW

The grade: A-minus. You can forgive the Packers if they didn't reach Jones' forecast of having three 1,000-yard receivers.

The Packers were without Aaron Rodgers for half the season. Cobb missed 10 games. Jones wasn't close to 100 percent during the final two-thirds of the season. Because of injuries, Nelson wore a bull's-eye for much of the season.

Still, this unit kept producing.

Despite the injuries, the Packers finished fourth in the league in yards after the catch. While that's a team total, this is not: The Packers' receiver corps gained 3,319 yards. Only Denver, which had record-setting Peyton Manning for 16 games, had more with 3,696 yards. Moreover, the team finished tied for sixth with just 18 dropped passes. The receivers were responsible for nine out of 350 targeted passes.

The good: Without Donald Driver and Greg Jennings, and with the depleted state of the rest of the offense, Nelson emerged as a no-doubt-about-it elite receiver.

He finished 10th in the NFL with 1,314 receiving yards and became just the fourth player in franchise history to record at least 85 receptions and 1,300 receiving yards (Sterling Sharpe twice, Robert Brooks and Javon Walker). Perhaps most remarkable, Nelson had 19 catches of at least 25 yards. That led the league. Among receivers with more than 45 receptions, he finished third in catch percentage (70.8), according to ProFootballFocus.com.

Before breaking his tibia at Baltimore in the fifth game of the season, Cobb was on pace to catch 93 passes for 1,209 yards. Then he returned and scored two touchdowns in the do-or-die game at Chicago.

Jones, who never fully recovered from a knee injury sustained early in the Baltimore game and then sustained broken ribs against Pittsburgh, caught 59 passes for 817 yards in 14 games. He scored just three touchdowns after a league-high 14 in 2012. Still, his 6.3 yards after the catch per reception ranked fifth among wide receivers with more than 45 receptions, according to Pro Football Focus.

The bad: Hmm, something bad about this group. That's a challenge. Knowing he had to replace Jennings and Driver, general manager Ted Thompson used seventh-round picks on Charles Johnson and Kevin Dorsey. Both players spent most of training camp on the sideline due to injuries. Dorsey spent the entire season on injured reserve. Johnson landed on the practice squad, was signed by Cleveland and wound up on injured reserve.

The surprise: Why are the Jaguars the Jaguars and why are the Packers the Packers? Because Jacksonville gave up on Boykin, the all-time leading receiver at Virginia Tech, after its rookie minicamp in 2012. Boykin stuck with Green Bay in 2012 and emerged in 2013. After not having a pass thrown his way in the first four games and then catching 1-of-6 passes in the Baltimore game, Boykin caught 48 passes for 638 yards and three touchdowns in the final 11 games. He's big and sure-handed. His athletic limitations notwithstanding, he averaged 5.4 after the catch after just 1.4 on his five catches in 2012.

The coach says: "You want to be that guy (No. 1 receiver). Everything starts with our QB. Aaron is by far the best playing the game. He's one of the greatest to ever play the game, for that matter. It starts with Aaron. All of our guys, when they get in position, they want to make the most of their opportunities. It goes back to your preparation, that's your starting point, and then it's about the results, your performance. When you get those chances, you've got to make the most of them." — WRs coach Edgar Bennett

2014 LOOKAHEAD

What do the Packers do with Jones? After a drop-filled 2010 and a lockout following the Super Bowl, the Packers were able to retain Jones for the bargain-basement price of three years and $9.6 million. Jones is tough, sure-handed and a consummate pro. He's scored 24 touchdowns over the past three seasons. He's also going to turn 30 on March 31 and lacks explosive athletic ability. So, who knows what Jones' market will be. If the price is right, the Packers would like to have him. Boykin, however, offers a similar skill-set, and is younger and cheaper.

The Packers also have to deal with Nelson and Cobb, who will be entering their final season under contract. Nelson is a steal with a cap number of $3.875 million in 2014. Cobb, who will be playing out his rookie deal, has a cap number of $1.02 million. That's less than $5 million between them — a rate that figures to at least double if they can be retained for 2015.


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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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