In nursery-rhyme terms, the Green Bay Packers’ passing offense was more tortoise than hare last season.
Even in his prime, veteran receiver James Jones wasn’t going to win many footraces. A bum ankle didn’t make second-year receiver Davante Adams any faster. Tight end Richard Rodgers and receiver Jared Abbrederis weren’t drafted because of their 40-yard times.
Yet those guys were central figures in a sputtering Packers passing attack.
The injury to Jordy Nelson, their lone proven stretch-the-field weapon, crippled the Packers’ passing offense. Without him in 2015, Aaron Rodgers’ average pass traveled 8.09 yards and his average completion traveled 5.39 yards, figures that ranked 17th and 26th, respectively, among the 34 qualifying quarterbacks. After entering the season with the third-highest yards per attempt in NFL history, Rodgers’ meager 6.68 yards per attempt ranked a woeful 30th. The player with the highest passer rating in NFL history finished with a mark of 92.7, which ranked 15th. With Nelson in 2014, Rodgers’ average pass traveled an identical 8.09 yards but his average completion traveled 6.82 yards, figures that ranked 20th and ninth, respectively, among the 33 qualifying quarterbacks. Rodgers averaged 8.43 yards per attempt en route to a 112.2 passer rating and his second MVP award.
Not surprisingly, the differences in numbers added up to a difference of more than seven points per game.
With the road to the 2016 season continuing with the start of OTAs next week, the passing offense has traded the stubby legs and cumbersome shells for some springy legs and fuzzy tails.
So long, tortoise. Hello, again, hare. (Minus the midrace nap.)
Nelson, one of the premier big-play threats in the NFL, is back after missing last season with a torn ACL. Jeff Janis, following his coming-out party in a playoff loss to Arizona, should get a bigger role in the script. Adams and follow receiver Ty Montgomery are healthy, and fifth-round pick Trevor Davis was one of the most-athletic receivers in this year’s draft.
“Feel really good about the wide receiver group,” coach Mike McCarthy said as the draft concluded on April 30. “I’m not concerned about overall speed at all. You can just make that clear right now. It’s been great that we’ve been able to add 4.3 to the mix (with Davis). But we’ve got guys who can run, that can run fast, that can go over the middle. I think getting the health of that unit back will be the biggest improvement. So we feel very good about the wide receiver group.”
Moreover, free-agent addition Jared Cook provides the athletic tight end the Packers have lacked since Jermichael Finley’s career ended in 2013. Richard Rodgers might be sure-handed and productive, but his lack of explosiveness further bogged down the offense. Of the 43 tight ends who caught at least 20 passes last season, Rodgers ranked 39th with 8.8 yards per reception. If not for the game-winning Hail Mary at Detroit, his average would have fallen to 7.9 – next-to-last among tight ends.
Cook, who ranked 12th with a 12.3 average, changes that dynamic. Based on Cook’s performance from the 2009 Scouting Combine, he would have been the most athletic tight end in this year’s draft – and it’s not even close, as he ran 0.14 seconds faster and jumped 3 inches higher than any member of this year’s tight end class. And Cook’s 40 time of 4.50 and vertical jump of 41 inches was far better than Rodgers’ 4.87 clocking and 31.5-inch leap in 2014.
Throw in a slimmer Eddie Lacy, and the Packers’ offense should be able to return to its big-play ways and be, ahem, a hare-raising challenge for defenses to face.
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 www.twitter.com/PackerReport.