Grading on a Salary Cap Curve: Wide Receivers

In Part 2 of our series, we grade the performances of Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams and the others relative to their contracts. With a combined 25 touchdown receptions, Nelson and Cobb were big bargains. (Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY)

We’re taking a different spin on everyone’s favorite end-of-season exercise — player grades — by grading on a curve. Building a roster means building around the restraints of the salary cap, so our grades are based relative to the players’ salary-cap worth on the roster.

Part 3 of our “Grading on a Salary Cap Curve” series continues with the wide receivers. Salary cap figures are from a source with access to NFLPA salary data. Stats are regular season only unless noted.

Jordy Nelson

2014 cap number: $5,925,000.

2014 recap: New contract in hand, Nelson again proved to be a bargain. He earned Pro Bowl and All-Pro accolades by turning in one of the finest seasons in NFL history. Nelson caught 98 passes for a franchise-record 1,519 yards and 13 touchdowns. He is one of only eight players in league annals to catch at least 95 passes for 1,500 yards and 13 touchdowns. Nelson finished second in the league in touchdown receptions, and he had more 60-yard touchdown receptions (five) than any player had 50-yard scoring grabs. Whether it was catching a deep pass or turning a short pass into something more, Nelson delivered. According to STATS, he tied for third with 12 receptions of 25-plus yards and tied for second with 24 third-down catches that he turned into first downs; among wide receivers, his 539 yards after the catch ranked third. Nelson also showed his worth as a tremendous blocker. However, he dropped eight passes and was relatively quiet against top competition. Against New Orleans, he caught just three passes for 25 yards. Against New England, he caught just two passes, though he turned one into a 45-yard touchdown. Against Buffalo, he caught five passes for 55 yards, and his drop of a potential long touchdown was a big reason why the Packers didn’t host the Seahawks in the NFC title game. In the two playoff games, he caught seven passes (13 targets) for 93 yards with two drops.

Season grade: B-plus.

Randall Cobb

2014 cap number: $1,021,181.

2014 recap: Cobb might have wanted a contract extension months ago but he made himself millions of dollars with a monster fourth season in what was the final year of his rookie deal. Cobb finished tied for ninth with 91 receptions, 11th with 1,287 yards and tied for fourth with 12 touchdowns. He’ll never be a huge weapon on the outside but was lethal in the slot and, late in the season, the backfield. According to ProFootballFocus.com’s slot-receiving numbers, his 75 receptions were 11 more than the Eagles’ Jordan Matthews, his 1,067 yards were 232 yards more than Matthews and his 12 touchdowns were almost as many as the next two players combined (Matthews, eight; Kendall Wright, five). Among all wide receivers with at least 50 catches, Cobb ranked second with 618 yards after the catch (according to STATS) and third with an average of 6.6 YAC (according to PFF). He also ranked third with 12 receptions of 25-plus yards, tied for second with 24 third-down receptions that he turned into first downs, tied for first with 16 receptions in the red zone and first with 10 red-zone touchdowns, according to STATS. He also was a fearless blocker at just 192 pounds. About the only knock was Cobb dropped eight passes. He has to be the team’s top offseason priority (and second, third and fourth priority) because of his age (24), skill and desire. He is the type of player you build a franchise around.

Season grade: A.

Davante Adams

2014 cap number: $715,164.

2014 recap: Never mind the instant stardom for the Giants’ Odell Beckham and the Buccaneers’ Mike Evans. Adams, a second-round pick, had a typically inconsistent rookie season. He caught 38 passes for 446 yards and three touchdowns. He caught seven passes for 117 yards against Dallas, six passes for 121 yards against New England, six catches for 77 yards against Miami and five catches for 50 yards against the Jets. He followed up those games with a combined five receptions for 45 yards. Adams, who caught about a million passes at Fresno State, handled it all with professionalism. Among the 17 rookie receivers who caught at least 20 passes, Adams was tied for 11th in receptions, 13th in yards, tied for 10th in touchdowns, 12th in yards per catch (11.7), eighth in catch percentage (61.3), seventh in YAC per reception (4.9) and tied for ninth with four drops, according to Pro Football Focus. With an offseason to build chemistry with quarterback Aaron Rodgers, he should be poised for an excellent second season.

Season grade: C-minus.

Jarrett Boykin

2014 cap number: $570,000.

2014 recap: Boykin was by far the biggest disappointment on the roster. After catching 49 passes in 2013 — all in the final 12 games — he fell off the face of the earth in 2014. He caught as many passes as he dropped, and his three receptions out of 12 targets gave him the worst catch rate (25.0 percent) among receivers who caught at least two passes, according to ProFootballFocus.com. He went from saying, “I want to be a household name. I want to be a Pro Bowl receiver” during OTAs to declining all interview requests during the season. Considering last year’s minimum restricted free agent tender was $1.431 million, he almost certainly won’t be tendered in March.

Season grade: F.

Jeff Janis

2014 cap number: $432,848.

2014 recap: After missing the start of training camp due to shingles, the seventh-round flashed his potential during the final three preseason games with touchdown catches of 34 and 33 yards and a 61-yard kickoff return. He made the roster but was a nonfactor with two receptions for 16 yards — all against Chicago in Week 5 — and was inactive for the final 12 games (including postseason). That he couldn’t even get ahead of Boykin on the pecking order spoke volumes to the learning curve for the former Division II star. That makes this a big offseason for Janis, who has inviting measurables at 6-foot-3 and a 4.42 40-yard time at the Scouting Combine.

Season grade: D.

Jared Abbrederis

2014 cap number: $339,140.

2014 recap: The seventh-round pick tore his ACL during the first week of training camp and spent the season on injured reserve. Abbrederis was drafted to be a slot receiver and returner, and he showed those skill-sets before the injury. Assuming he’s ready for training camp and the injury hasn’t permanently deprived him of his quickness, he’ll hit the ground running after a year of studying the playbook and watching behind Cobb.

Season grade: Incomplete.

Kevin Dorsey

2014 cap number: $241,412.

2014 recap: A seventh-round pick in 2013, Dorsey started this season on the practice squad but was promoted to the active roster when Ryan Taylor was released on Oct. 6. On Nov. 8, he was placed on injured reserve with a broken foot. He caught one pass for 4 yards and added two tackles on special teams. Losing Taylor and then Dorsey was a blow to a special teams that went into the abyss during the second half of the season. With a combination of speed (4.47 at Maryland’s pro day) and power, he remains an interesting prospect.

Season grade: Incomplete.

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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