Change of Seasons: WRs

We continue our look ahead by looking back by looking at a group with some maddening inconsistencies. The receivers were among the best with the ball in their hands — but only if they caught the ball. And what do the Packers do when Driver starts acting his age?

After nine months of watching everything from offseason practices to games, Packer Report looks ahead by looking back, continuing with the wide receivers.

Depth chart

Starters — Greg Jennings, Donald Driver. Backups — James Jones, Jordy Nelson, Patrick Williams. Injured reserve — Brett Swain. Practice squad — Khalil Jones.

Overview

At the start of training camp, the Packers' receivers made it known that they wanted to lead the NFL in yards after catch, just like they did in 2007. They also wanted to cut down on their drops.

They went 0-for-2 in those goals.

On the plus side, the Packers finished a respectable fourth in yards after the catch with 2,090 after finishing 14th in 2008, according to STATS. That's pretty big-time production considering a lot of the YAC-leading teams have an electric running back to do some of the handiwork. Greg Jennings topped the individuals by ranking 11th overall and sixth among receivers in YAC and sixth in YAC per catch.

On the down side, the Packers dropped passes as if Aaron Rodgers was throwing rockets coated in lard. The Packers finished with 36 drops, according to STATS, which tied for fifth-most in the league. The median number of team drops was 26. The 10 fewer drops probably would have given the Packers the YAC title, which they missed out on by only 64 yards. Woefully, Driver (seven), Jennings (five) and Jones (five) all ranked among the top 16 in the conference in drops. Nelson dropped three of the 31 passes thrown his way.

Cheers


Greg Jennings
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
The Packers' receivers are a remarkably versatile group. For all of those one-step routes that Driver or Jennings turned into 7 easy yards, they also were deadly going down the field. The Packers ranked fourth in 25-yard-plus catches with 39. Jennings tied for fifth in the NFL with 12 and Driver tied for 10th with 11. The Packers were the only team to boast two of the top 10 in big catches. They also were the only tandem with at least five 40-yard catches — Jennings had six and Driver five — and Jennings leads the NFL with 21 catches of 40-plus yards over the last three seasons.

Jeers

Jones is just too talented to drop so many passes. He makes everything look so effortless, which could be the problem. His hands are so good that his concentration lapses. At some point, Driver is going to retire, sign with another team (he's a free agent after this season) or have to be demoted to a reserve role. Will Jones, with his inconsistent hands, or Nelson, with his lack of YAC ability, be good enough to keep two and three defenders from ganging up on Jennings?

2010 contracts

Jennings — Through 2012 ($1.85 million base salary in 2010).

Nelson — Through 2011 ($475,000 base).

Williams — Through 2011 ($395,000 base).

Driver — Through 2010 ($4 million base).

Jones — Through 2010 ($550,000 base).

Swain — Through 2010 ($395,000 base).

2010 outlook

Jennings wasn't able to duplicate his breakout 2008 season, when he caught 80 passes for 1,292 yards (16.2 average) and nine touchdowns. Still, there was really nothing wrong with his production, other than his touchdowns falling to four. Among NFC receivers, his 68 catches ranked 11th, his 1,113 yards ranked sixth and his 16.4 average ranked fourth. The declines were more a byproduct of pass-protection issues and Rodgers looking more to tight end Jermichael Finley. Jennings, a team player, took it all in stride.

More importantly, his production didn't decline down the stretch, as it had in his first three seasons. He topped 100 yards in three of his last four games and was one of the best players on the field in the playoff loss to Arizona with some remarkable catches.

Driver, who turns 35 in two weeks, probably will remain a starter next season. He's coming off of his sixth consecutive 1,000-yard season, and his 15.2-yard average was just inches away from being his best since becoming a starter in 2002. How's that for remarkable? But while Jennings picked up steam down the stretch, Driver had just 21 catches in his last six games with no more than 76 receiving yards. He was held out of the end zone in the last five games, plus had a costly fumble early in the playoff game.

Jones scored a career-high five touchdowns (six, including his 30-yarder in the playoffs). Nelson caught 33 passes with no drops as a rookie but fell to 22 catches with three drops this season. At this point, both look like role players more than future starters.

As for the others, the Packers like Williams' route-running ability. Barring an early draft pick, he's probably the favorite to be the fifth receiver over Brett Swain, a special-teams demon until suffering a season-ending knee injury vs. Cleveland. Jones, a late-season addition to the practice squad, ran track at Miami but wasn't a productive receiver in college.


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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 and Facebook under Bill Huber.


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