The big picture
It's the same question heading into 2010 as it was headed into 2009 and 2008. At some point, Driver needs to start playing like an old man, right?
OK, maybe not.
Driver, who turned 35 in February, caught 70 passes for 1,061 yards and six touchdowns last season. That makes it six consecutive seasons of 70-plus receptions and 1,000-plus yards. His six touchdowns were his best since eight in 2006. Had he finished with 1,065 yards, he would have posted a career high in yards per reception. Still, that 15.2-yard average was a full yard better than any season since 2004. It's preposterous, really.
Driver, who with the Colts' Reggie Wayne are the only receivers in the NFL to top 1,000 yards in each of the last six seasons, is the Packers' career leader with 647 receptions. With 607 yards, he'll top James Lofton's franchise-record 9,656 yards.
He caught 62.5 percent of the 112 passes thrown his way, according to the official data taken by STATS. About the only knock on Driver is he's dropped too many passes, and his fumble in the wild-card loss at Arizona put the Packers in a deep 14-0 hole.
Still, where would the Packers be without him? Maybe the ascension of tight end Jermichael Finley will mitigate it, but once Driver is gone, is Jennings big enough, fast enough and strong enough to remain a big-play machine without a proven sidekick to make defenses pay for double-team coverage?
Jennings is just so smooth and runs impeccable routes. Whether it's going deep (Jennings tied for seventh in the NFL with seven receptions of 40-plus yards) or making something out of nothing (he ranked sixth in the NFL in yards after catch by wide receivers), Jennings knows how to make things happen. Incredibly, of his 28 career touchdown catches, 13 of them have covered at least 40 yards. His average touchdown catch has gone for 34.2 yards. In his last three seasons, he leads the NFL with 21 receptions of 40-plus yards. He caught 57.6 percent of the 118 passes thrown his way.
The worry is defensive coordinators will scheme to take away Jennings once Driver's level of play slips. Jones, a third-round pick in 2007, and Nelson, a second-rounder in 2008, haven't shown they are starting-level receivers.
Jones caught 32 passes for 440 yards, with his five touchdowns trumping his combined three from his first two seasons. Plus, Jones had a 30-yard touchdown in the playoff loss at Arizona. He did some of his best work after the catch, with a YAC average of 6.0. However, according to STATS, Jones caught only 50.8 percent of the 63 passes thrown his way. That's by far the worst among the big four receivers.
Nelson fell from 33 catches for 366 yards (11.1 average) and two touchdowns as a rookie to 22 catches for 320 yards (14.5 average) and two touchdowns in 2009. He caught 71 percent of the 31 passes thrown his direction, which was by far the best rate among the top receivers. His straight-line speed makes him a better home-run threat than Jones. Plus, he averaged a solid 25.4 yards per kickoff return, good for 11th in the NFL. However, his drop percentage of 9.68 was worst among the top four receivers.
As a group, the Packers ranked fifth in the NFL in drops, with most of the flubs by the receivers. According to STATS, Driver had seven drops, Jones six, Jennings five and Nelson three.
If the Packers keep five receivers, it will be a wide-open battle. Swain broke from camp last year by beating out popular Ruvell Martin and emerged as a special-teams standout. A torn ACL in the sixth game ended his season. He didn't catch a pass. Williams, a muscular 6-foot-1, was an undrafted rookie last year but hurt his hamstring in training camp. A midseason addition to the practice squad, Williams didn't play a snap after a Week 14 promotion. The coaches like his strength and route-running ability.
An Arena League player and three undrafted rookies will try to get into the mix. None of the four has an eye-catching trait or collegiate production. Dillon, the veteran of the bunch after spending time with the Colts in their training camp in 2008 and with Spokane of af2 in 2009, is 6-foot. Gore and West are both 6-0 and Moturi 5-11.
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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 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 and Facebook under Bill Huber.