Might Packers Catch Receiver in First Round?

The Packers have little depth at wide receiver and there should be several first-round prospects available at No. 21 on Thursday. We examine a quartet of players who had tremendous on-field production.

For all of the predraft attention on the Green Bay Packers' safeties, in particular, and the defense, in general, it could be argued that wide receiver is their No. 1 need entering next week's draft.

It wasn't so long ago when the Packers had the deepest receiving corps in the NFL, with veterans Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson and James Jones, rising young star Randall Cobb, promising Jarrett Boykin and old pro Donald Driver. With Jennings and Jones having departed in free agency, Driver in retirement and no significant additions to the roster during the past two drafts, the Packers' receiving corps is about as thin as any team's in the league.

Cobb and Nelson are a formidable one-two punch and Boykin has developed into a solid contributor, but the Packers might not have another legit NFL receiver on the roster between Myles White, Kevin Dorsey and Chris Harper. Throw in the expected departure of Jermichael Finley, and the Packers would appear short on passing-game playmakers for an offense that revolves around former MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Packers general manager Ted Thompson isn't one to reach to fill a need, but given the talent and depth at a receiver class whose ranks were swelled by underclassmen, it certainly wouldn't be a reach for Thompson to grab a receiver on Thursday night.

"I might sound like a broken record, but we feel that the draft is a long-term investment," Thompson said on Thursday. "We don't get too carried away with what our perceived needs are at the moment. We think that's good business. If you can marry those things up that's fine, but if you stretch to try to fill "need" somewhere, then you end up messing up a couple of spots, so we try to stick to the best player available."

While Clemson's Sammy Watkins and Texas A&M's Mike Evans will be long gone at No. 21, LSU's Odell Beckham, Vanderbilt's Jordan Matthews, Oregon State's Brandin Cooks and USC's Marqise Lee — likely in that order — are the "best of the rest." There's a good chance that all four of those players will be available when Green Bay is on the clock.

Beckham is an intriguing possibility. As Thompson and his staff assess the possibilities of how the first 20 selections might unfold, it's a good bet that Beckham is on any "short list" of possibilities at No. 21.

At 5-foot-11 and 198 pounds, Beckham is similar to Cobb as a do-it-all playmaker. Beckham, who won the Paul Hornung Award as the nation's most versatile player in 2013, would provide an explosive receiving threat with his elite athletic ability. Plus, he'd upgrade the return units; the kickoff return was dreadful all season and punt returner Micah Hyde might be starting at safety.

During an outstanding junior season in 2013, Beckham caught 59 passes for 1,152 yards — an explosive average of 19.5 yards per reception — and eight touchdowns. Paired with his 26.4-yard average on kickoff returns and 8.9 average on punt returns, Beckham piled up 2,315 all-purpose yards. That set a school record and fell 81 yards short of Cobb's single-season SEC record.

Beckham put on a tremendous athletic display at the Scouting Combine. Not only did he run a 4.43 in his 40-yard dash but he he posted a 3.94 in the 20-yard shuttle and a 10.93 in the 60-yard shuttle. His short shuttle ranked third among receivers and fourth overall, and was the fourth-fastest among all receivers over the past 10 Scouting Combines. His long shuttle was third-fastest among this year's receivers and seventh-best over the past decade.

However, he had 14 passes knocked away from him. Among the four first-round options, Cooks had 19 (but caught 128), Matthews had 14 (but caught 112) and Lee had nine (but caught 57).

If Beckham is 1-A on the Packers' list of offensive weapons who are likely to be available in the first round, Matthews might be 1-B.

At 6-foot-3, Matthews lacks Beckham's special-teams appeal but provides excellent size — which has appeal without Finley and Jones. That would provide a three-wide formation of Nelson and Matthews outside and Cobb in the slot.

Matthews was a one-man wrecking crew, despite defenses designed to take him away and a parade of inept passers preceding and succeeding Jordan Rodgers. Among active receivers, Matthews ranked second with 262 career receptions and first with 3,759 yards. He obliterated the SEC career marks of 236 receptions by Earl Bennett and 3,093 yards by Terrence Edwards.

As a senior, he set SEC records with 112 receptions for 1,477 yards. To put that in perspective, he accounted for 46.1 percent of the completions, 49.9 percent of the passing yards and 46.7 percent of the passing touchdowns. Despite the surrounding challenges, he caught a whopping 77.2 percent of passes thrown his way. Of the team's 15 passing plays of 30-plus yards, Matthews had 12. He either scored or set up 33 of the Commodores' 49 touchdowns as a senior.

At 5-foot-9 3/4, Cooks officially is 1 1/2 inches shorter than Beckham and likely would be limited mostly to work in the slot. That might be an issue, though the Packers could go with a four-receiver grouping of Boykin and Nelson on the outside and Cobb and Cooks in the slot.

Cooks was more productive than Matthews and more athletic than Beckham. He caught a stunning 128 receptions for 1,730 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2013, with the first and second of those numbers setting conference records. At the Combine, his 4.33-second clocking in the 40 was second-fastest among all players. Moreover, his 10.72 clocking in the 60-yard shuttle was fastest by a receiver over the last 10 years and his 20-yard shuttle of 3.81 was second-fastest among all players over the last decade.

He caught 76.2 percent of the passes thrown his way but fumbled five times — almost as many as Beckham, Matthews and Lee (two each) combined. He also lost yardage or was held to no gain on 11 catches; Beckham (zero), Matthews (three) and Lee (four) had a combined seven.

While Cooks doesn't have Beckham's return pedigree — his importance on offense limited him to 12 punt returns and eight kickoff returns in his three seasons at Oregon State — he has the quickness, toughness and vision to excel in that role

In 2012, Lee caught 118 passes for 1,721 yards — establishing Pac-12 records that were beaten by Cooks — and 15 touchdowns. In 2013, as he was slowed by a knee injury and the departure of quarterback Matt Barkley, Lee caught only 57 passes for 791 yards and four touchdowns. He went from 2,683 all-purpose yards in 2012 to merely 1,008 in 2013. He finished his career with a 26.1-yard average on kickoff returns. That tremendous drop-off in production likely has pushed Lee well out of the top 20 picks.

Lee (6-0, 192) who qualified for nationals in the long jump in 2012, ran in 4.52 at the Combine.

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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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