Backups - Antonio Chatman, Robert Ferguson, Rod Gardner, Andrae Thurman, Terrence Murphy
The wide receiver position is very deceptive for the Green Bay Packers. On the outside, the Packers appear to be deep with talent, but because of a few serious injuries to key receivers last season, and weak showings by others, the position will need plenty of attention this off-season.
The Packers suffered a huge blow in Week 1 of the 2005 season when first-time Pro Bowler Javon Walker suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee after catching a 55-yard pass from Brett Favre in the third quarter of the season-opening loss at Detroit.
With Walker lost for the season, Robert Ferguson was in position to have a breakout season, but his persistent woes with injuries continued and he never made an impact. Ferguson didn't have more than four receptions in any game, finishing with a just 27 and suffered a torn knee ligament at midseason that kept him out of five games and landed him on injured reserve for the final week. It's possible Ferguson, who's signed through 2008 but has a salary-cap number of $2.8 million this year, will be cut loose, especially if unrestricted-free-agent-to-be Rod Gardner is re-signed.
Donald Driver turned out to be the only legitimate threat at receiver for the Packers, and easily the team's MVP. He fought his way through a multitude of double coverages on routes mainly over the middle to set career highs with 86 catches for 1,221 yards.
Because of injuries to Walker and Ferguson, Antonio Chatman started three times and made the most of his opportunity. The 5-foot-9 Chatman was more than serviceable in a prominent role (three starts) and more than doubled his 2004 output with 49 catches. Expect Chatman, who also doubles as the team's punt returner, to be re-signed as a restricted free agent this off-season.
Look for the Packers also to re-sign the 6-foot-2, 215 pound Gardner. The former first-round draft pick of the Washington Redskins had four catches for 67 yards in the final two games of the season for Green Bay. He began the season with Carolina before the Packers signed him off waivers in mid-December. He has ideal size for the West Coast offense and showed an ability to run with the ball after making a catch.
The future Terrence Murphy, a second-round draft pick last year, is uncertain. He sustained a bruised spinal cord on a hit by Carolina's Thomas Davis while returning a kickoff in Week 4 and hasn't been cleared to return to football activity. There is a good chance that Murphy will retire from football. Even if he does return, he likely will fight to regain the confidence that he had prior to the scary injury.
Andrae Thurman had a number of opportunities to make an impression last season, but like Ferguson, was unable to capitalize. His fumble on a kickoff return late in the game against Philadelphia sealed his fate on special teams. He did little to distinguish himself in four-receiver sets throughout the second half of the season.
The Packers need to select a receiver in the upcoming NFL draft to improve depth at this position. There is no guarantee that Walker will be the same player he was prior to his knee injury. Same with Murphy. If Ferguson is cut to clear room under the salary cap, look for the Packers to select a receiver on the first day of the two-day draft.
Todd Korth is managing editor of PackerReport.com and Packer Report. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.