After taking a break for Brett Favre’s return to Green Bay and the annual release of the Green Bay Packers’ financial data, we continue our training camp positional series with the wide receivers.
Starters: Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Davante Adams. Nelson and Cobb earned their big paydays by forming arguably the NFL’s most dominant receiver duo in the NFL last season. Nelson caught 98 passes for 1,519 yards and 13 touchdowns, setting career highs in receptions and yards. Cobb caught 91 passes for 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns. Those were career-high totals across the board, with Cobb having 13 touchdowns catches in his first three seasons combined. By percentage of Green Bay’s total passing attack, Nelson and Cobb caught 54.2 percent of the passes, accumulated 63.1 percent of the yards and piled up 65.8 percent of the touchdowns. Among NFL duos, those numbers ranked second, second and third, respectively. They were the only tandem to rank in the top three in all three categories. Given Green Bay’s heavy usage of three-receiver sets, Adams should be considered a starter, as well. Big things are expected after he caught 38 passes for 446 yards and three touchdowns as a second-round rookie.
Top backup: None.
Contenders: Jeff Janis, Jared Abbrederis, Ty Montgomery, Javess Blue, Ricky Collins, Adrian Coxson, Jimmie Hunt, Larry Pinkard, Myles White. At 6-foot-3 with 4.42 speed, a 37.5-inch vertical jump and 20 reps on the bench press, Janis was one of the most impressive receivers physically in the 2014 draft. A seventh-round pick out of Division II Saginaw Valley State, he flashed that potential during his two preseason games but mostly languished on the bench as a rookie with two catches for 16 yards in three games. Abbrederis, a fifth-round pick last year after a record-setting career at Wisconsin, is the anti-Janis physically. At 6-foot-1 with 4.50 speed, a 30.5-inch vertical and just four reps on the bench, he was one of the least-imposing receivers in the draft class. He spent the season on injured reserve due to a torn ACL. Montgomery, a fourth-round pick in this year’s draft, was called a bigger version of Cobb by West Coast scout Sam Seale. If nothing else, he should provide instant impact for Green Bay’s feeble kickoff-return unit, which ranked 30th in 2013 and 31st in 2014. He averaged 27.4 yards per kickoff return with three touchdowns for his career at Stanford. White, an undrafted free agent in 2013, spent the season on the practice squad after contributing nine catches as a rookie. As he enters his third year with the club, it’s probably do-or-die for White.
The other five are undrafted rookies. Due to family issues, Collins and Coxson went the small-school route. Collins was headed to the SEC until he quit football to take care of his dad, who had suffered a stroke. In his only season at Texas A&M-Commerce, Collins caught 77 passes for 1,187 yards and 14 touchdowns. Coxson started his career at Florida until his father went blind due to diabetes. As a senior at Stony Brook, he had team-best figures of 43 receptions for 664 yards and six touchdowns. Blue, a junior-college transfer, caught 29 passes for 525 yards and five touchdowns while averaging 18.1 yards per reception as a senior at Kentucky. Hunt caught 40 passes for 698 yards and seven touchdowns as a senior at Missouri. He capped an underwhelming career in grand fashion with six catches for 169 yards in the SEC Championship Game against powerhouse Alabama. Pinkard didn’t play as a senior after getting kicked off the team at Old Dominion. In 2013, he caught 68 passes for 1,020 yards and nine touchdowns.
From their pro days: Blue (6-0, 188) ran in 4.56; Collins (6-0, 198) in 4.53, Coxson (6-1, 209) in 4.47, Hunt (6-0, 208) in 4.55 and Pinkard (6-0, 196) in 4.51.
How long can Nelson dominate?: Over his past two seasons, Nelson caught 182 passes for 2,833 yards and 21 touchdowns. Last season, he recorded one of only seven seasons in NFL history of at least 98 receptions, 1,519 yards and 13 touchdowns. However, he is 30 and is coming off hip surgery that sidelined him for most of the offseason practices. When he scored last season, the Packers went 10-0. When he didn’t, the Packers were just 3-5 — including both losses to Seattle.
“I think he’s better than people give him credit for,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “He’s had one of the quieter 1,500-yard seasons. He’s a great player. He’s put up some incredible numbers. He’s been very consistent. He’s a guy who rarely drops the ball. He’s also run the right route. He’s always where he’s supposed to be in normal timing, and then he does a great job on second and third reactions. He’s a guy you can count on every single week, blocks for his teammates and encourages his teammates and makes a lot of big plays for us.”
Can Cobb live up to the money?: It’s not just Cobb’s overall production — which even he admitted would be tough to replicate considering the depth on offense. Cobb led the NFL with 10 red-zone touchdowns. The red zone is usually the land of the giants. Of the five players who scored nine red-zone touchdowns, four of them were tight ends. He was dominant in just about every way imaginable. Among receivers who caught at least 50 passes, he finished fourth in catch rate and fourth in yards after the catch per catch.
All of that led to Cobb earning a four-year deal worth $40 million. At $10 million per season, he’s the NFL’s highest-paid receiver who lines up mostly in the slot. It’s fair to ask how he’ll handle the pressure after he got off to a slow start last season when he was worried about his contract.
“I’m going to continue to go out and work as hard as I can and be the best player I can and try to be the best teammate I can be and do everything I can to put us in position,” Cobb said. “I know there will probably be a lot of outside pressure from other people, but the way I always view it is I feel like we were under more pressure last year going into the final year of a contract than actually having the contract now and being able to go play.”
Can Adams live up the hype?: Coach Mike McCarthy has high expectations for his second-year players. His expectations for Adams are especially high.
“If you want a clear illustration and example of a first-year player taking a jump in his second year, you just saw it here the last four weeks,” McCarthy said during the minicamp. “I think he’s been tremendous throughout the OTAs. And he’s got more in front of him, too, so I think that’s what’s exciting. I think Davante has done a great job in the strength and conditioning. He’s been really, really good in practice throughout this deal. Davante, if you wanted me to pick an MVP or an all-star, he would definitely be atop the list.”
The key will be consistency. Including the Dallas game, Adams had 31 receptions in five games. In the other 13, Adams had only 15. Rodgers saw a positive in that up-and-down production.
“The biggest example to me of the kind of guy that he is,” Rodgers said. “is last year when he went through stretches where he didn’t catch the ball, has a huge game against New England, then goes through stretches again where he doesn’t get a lot of balls thrown his way, then has a big game against Dallas. That’s all about approach and focus and you can’t teach that.”
Can Janis live up to the hype?: McCarthy has spoken highly of Janis throughout the offseason, starting at the Scouting Combine. “I think Jeff is going to take a big step,” McCarthy said in February. “He’s got a big catching radius, and he needs to utilize it. Obviously, I think we all saw his vertical speed. He’s an extremely physical young man. He’s an Olympian in the weight room. He’s got a lot of raw skill, and I look for him to make that jump.” To make that jump, Janis is going to have to earn Rodgers’ trust — no different than Adams did last season. He received plenty of first-team reps during the offseason due to Nelson’s recovery.
Is there room for six?: Nelson, Cobb and Adams are locks to make the roster, and it seems like a safe bet that Janis and Montgomery will join them to make it five. Can the Packers keep six? That might all hinge on Abbrederis, who impressed Rodgers during their short time together in training camp last summer. If he’s shown he’s past the knee injury, the Packers likely will feel compelled to keep six. That’s especially true considering the state of the tight ends, which isn’t exactly a position of strength entering training camp.
“An ACL is a tough injury to come back from, but he looks really good out there,” Rodgers said. “He's done a good job with his rehab, it seems like. Last year, he showed a lot with his route-running, and it doesn't matter how big you are or fast, if you can get separation out there, that's all that matters, and he was able to find a lot of separation in the slot. There was a time in shorts and helmets, you're wondering, as you do with all young guys, how is he going to change when pads go on? Are they still going to show up as well? And Jared definitely did, to the point where it looked like that he was a guy who was going to make the team without a doubt. So, it was an unfortunate injury for him, but he's bounced back and he's back in the mix. It'll be good to see how he progresses in Year 2.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.