NFC North: Big edge at receiver

Our position-by-position breakdown of the NFC North continues with the wide receivers. The Packers are strong at that position but even they have some issues.

The Green Bay Packers have one of the top receiving corps in the NFL, but that doesn't mean there aren't some questions.

The incomparable Donald Driver just turned 34. How long can Driver, with five consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, continue to defy Father Time? Even the hardest-working athletes can't stay on top of their game forever.

Greg Jennings is a budding star, but for the second consecutive season, he started fast but fizzled late. In the first four games of this past season, he topped 100 yards three times and finished with 91 for the fourth. In the final 12 games, though, he reached those numbers just three times, and one of the 100-yard games was in the finale against Detroit, when he also dropped five passes. And if Driver slows down, will Jennings be able to handle the extra attention he'll see on practically every snap

James Jones' season was ruined by on-again, off-again knee problems. The 6-foot-4 Ruvell Martin's off-the-field connection with Aaron Rodgers rarely showed up on Sundays. And rookie Jordy Nelson had an impressive start to his career but didn't show a lot of explosion.

Still, the Packers are loaded compared to their NFC North cohorts. The Lions have one of the elite young stars in the game in Calvin Johnson but little else to show for Matt Millen's love affair with receivers. The Vikings have big-play Bernard Berrian, who was taken away in both matchups against Green Bay, but not much else. And the Bears have Devin Hester, whose productivity in the passing game took away his magic as a returner.

Here is a breakdown of the NFC North's receivers.

Packers: Starters — Greg Jennings, Donald Driver. Backups — James Jones, Jordy Nelson, Ruvell Martin. Injured reserve — Shaun Bodiford.

Jennings busted out early in the season and figured to be a shoo-in for a Pro Bowl invitation. He tailed off down the stretch, however, with numerous dropped passes. Still, Jennings established himself as one of the league's premier young wideouts with team highs of 80 catches, 1,292 receiving yards and nine touchdowns.

Driver, the most tenured player on the team, had to bide his time until the second half of the season to get in sync with Aaron Rodgers after having been Brett Favre's go-to player in previous seasons. Driver, who attained a fifth straight 1,000-yard season with 74 receptions for 1,012 yards, still is a bona fide playmaker in a starting role.

A knee injury sustained late in the preseason limited Jones to 10 games, and he was an unproductive player at the No. 3 spot with only 20 catches for 274 yards and a touchdown. Nelson, the team's top draft pick last year as an early second-rounder, was a better complement to Jennings and Driver. Nelson didn't exhibit the breakaway skills he was known for in college at Kansas State, but he caught 33 passes for 366 yards and two touchdowns. Martin didn't offer much when the team spread the field in four- and five-receiver formations.

Bears: Starters — Devin Hester, Rashied Davis. Backups — Brandon Lloyd, Marty Booker, Earl Bennett, Brandon Rideau.

Hester made major strides as a receiver, but he's still a long way from being a legitimate No. 1 guy. But, with his speed and run-after-the-catch ability, he gives defenses a home-run threat to worry about. Davis usually started because the Bears had no one better. Ideally he's a No. 4 receiver or a slot receiver. He lacks size and great speed but is tough and can be a role player in addition to a special-teams standout.

Lloyd started off as if he wanted to resurrect his waning career, but he missed six weeks with a sprained knee that many players would have returned from in half the time, and after he came back was almost invisible. He can't be counted on. Booker appeared disinterested for most of the season and doesn't seem to have much left in the tank. He never had much speed to begin with and he's lost a couple steps.

Bennett was unable to take playing time from anyone in this mediocre group, but he has good size and showed some flashes in training camp and the preseason. He'll get a longer look next season but needs to take a big step forward. Rideau is another player with good size who looks good in camp but never gets on the field once the lights come on.

Lions: Starters — Calvin Johnson, Shaun McDonald. Backups — Mike Furrey, Keary Colbert, Adam Jennings, John Standeford, Travis Taylor, Reggie Ball.

Johnson stood out amid the misery. He had 1,331 receiving yards — 999 more than the Lions' next receiver, McDonald. He ranked fifth in the NFL in receiving yards and tied for first in touchdowns with 12, even though he didn't get the ball enough much of the season. He tied for only 20th in the NFL in catches with 78. He is the cornerstone for the future.

McDonald and Mike Furrey had lesser roles without Mike Martz as offensive coordinator, and both finished the year on IR. The rest were fill-ins.

Vikings: Starters — Bernard Berrian, Bobby Wade. Backups — Sidney Rice, Aundrae Allison, Darius Reynaud.

The Vikings made a significant financial investment in Berrian last offseason, giving him a $42 million, six-year deal ($16 million guaranteed) to leave the Chicago Bears as a free agent. For the most part, he proved to be the big-play threat the Vikings were hoping to get. Berrian, who was slowed early in the season by a foot injury and late in the year because of a sprained ankle, tied for the team lead with seven touchdown catches and finished second with 48 receptions that went for 964 yards. His average of 20.1 yards per catch ranked first in the league.

Berrian's presence enabled Wade to spend much of his time playing in the slot, where he is most comfortable. Wade led the Vikings in receptions for the second consecutive season with 53 for 645 yards. Minnesota wished it had gotten that type of production out of Rice or Allison.

Rice was expected to have a breakout year in his second season, but he suffered a knee injury early on and missed three games. He finished second on the team with four touchdown catches but was pretty much a non-factor when it came to the rest of the field. Rice had only 15 receptions for 141 yards. Allison, meanwhile, did not see regular playing time and had 10 catches for 109 yards in 15 games. Reynaud was activated from the practice squad late in the season because of his ability to return kicks. However, a foot injury sidelined him after only three games.


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