Two-a-Days: Receivers

Our two-positions-a-day training camp preview focuses on starting wide receivers Donald Driver and Greg Jennings. We tell you about their strengths and weaknesses, and use our 20-20 general manager's goggles to find better (and worse) options.

Wide receiver

Probable starter:

Donald Driver

Depth:

James Jones, Brett Swain, Patrick Williams. (Note: There is not a true backup at wide receiver, nor is there a true "No. 3" receiver. They rotate in on a situational basis.)

The lowdown

Driver, who turned 35 in February, is a marvel. At a position where athleticism is paramount, Driver continually has bobbed and weaved his way past Father Time. The franchise's all-time leader with 647 receptions and 127 consecutive games with at least one reception, Driver's 9,050 receiving yards are 606 yards behind Pro Football Hall of Famer James Lofton's team record. Driver and the Colts' Reggie Wayne are the only receivers in the NFL that will enter this season with six consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. According to STATS, he had seven drops while being thrown the ball 112 times, and caught the ball 62.5 percent of the time and gained a first down on 43.8 percent of those passes. However, Driver's production slipped down the stretch. After catching 53 passes with five touchdowns in the first 11 games (4.8 catches per game), Driver caught 17 passes (3.4 per game) with one touchdown in the final five games. His fumble in the playoff game helped put the Packers in a quick 14-0 hole. Driver had minor surgery on both knees in the offseason, which he feels will add to his amazing longevity. Jones' season was a mixed bag. He played in 16 games with three starts. His five career touchdowns were a career high — not including his 30-yard touchdown in the playoff game — and had five receptions of at least 30 yards. In a five-game stretch, Jones scored three touchdowns and had a reception of 34, 42, 47 and 74 yards, with the two longest of those plays going for scores. However, he dropped six of the 63 passes thrown his way, with a catch percentage of 50.8 and a first-down percentage of just 25.4. Swain (seventh round, 2008) and Williams (undrafted, 2009) are the front-runners to be the fifth receiver. Neither of them have a reception in their careers, though Swain made a couple of heady plays on special teams last year.

Quoteworthy

Driver, on his surgeries: "I feel so good now. The trainers said, ‘You look 25 again.' I had the scope because I want to play until I'm 40. I wanted to extend my career another five years. I should have done it years ago. I played like this for two, three years, with pain. I can jump now. I can squat."

Could be better

Jones was the 78th pick of the 2007 draft. The Jaguars grabbed Mike Sims-Walker at pick No. 79. In three years, Jones has 99 catches and eight touchdowns. Last year alone, Sims-Walker — who missed his rookie season with a knee injury — caught 63 passes with seven touchdowns.

Could be worse

At pick No. 74 of the 2007 draft, the Ravens grabbed receiver Yamon Figurs. Figurs is already on his fourth team, with three career receptions. Not quite as bad, but at pick No. 75, the Falcons selected Laurent Robinson. He's on his second team, with 55 receptions and two touchdowns in his career.


Wide receiver

Probable starter:

Greg Jennings.

Depth:

Jordy Nelson, Charles Dillon, Shawn Gore, Jeff Moturi, Chastin West. (Note: There is not a true backup at wide receiver, nor is there a true "No. 3" receiver. They rotate in on a situational basis.)

The lowdown


Greg Jennings makes a brilliant TD catch in the playoff game.
Tom Hauck/Getty Images
On the surface, Jennings had a disappointing year last season. In 2007, he scored 12 touchdowns. In 2008, he had a career year with 80 catches, 1,292 yards and nine touchdowns. In 2009, he slipped to 68 catches, 1,113 yards and just four touchdowns. Some of that, however, can be attributed to the extra attention being paid by the defenses. Some of that can be pegged to Jermichael Finley's breakout year. There are only so many balls to go around, obviously. Jennings' 16.4 yards per reception ranked sixth in the NFL among receivers with at least 40 catches, his 1,113 yards ranked sixth, his six receptions of 40-plus yards ranked seventh and his 474 yards after the catch ranked seventh among receivers and tight ends. So, it's not as if Jennings pulled a disappearing act. He just didn't get into the end zone as much. He dropped five of 118 passes, with a catch percentage of 57.6 and a first-down rate of 40.7 percent. Just how big of a big-play threat is Jennings? He had four receptions of 20-plus yards in a sublime playoff performance, and his 28 career touchdown receptions have covered an average of 34.2 yards. In part because of a sprained knee that kept him out for three games, Nelson went from 33 catches as a rookie to 22 last season. The injury took the starch out of his season, with a five-game stretch of nine receptions for just 77 yards. For the season, Nelson was targeted 31 times, with three drops, a superb 71 percent catch rate and a first-down rate of 48.4 percent. His yards per catch increased from 11.1 to 14.5. None of the young players showed enough in the offseason to make you think they'll push Swain and Williams for the No. 5 slot.

Quoteworthy

Receivers coach Jimmy Robinson, on the receivers' drops: "We did not, as you guys know, catch the ball as well as capable of a year ago, and that kind of persisted throughout the year. We've got to start fast and catch the ball well. And our guys know that. They've got a lot of jobs, but the No. 1 job as a wide receiver is to catch the ball. Our four guys are all guys with good hands. I expect that will get back to where it belongs."

Could be better

After the Packers traded out of the first round in 2008, they pegged Nelson at No. 36 and passed on James Hardy at No. 41 (10 career catches), Eddie Royal at No. 42 (128 receptions), Jerome Simpson at No. 46 (one reception) and, drum roll please, big-play machine DeSean Jackson at No. 49 (124 receptions).

Could be worse

In the 2006 draft, the Packers traded back in the second round, allowing the Patriots to take Chad Jackson at No. 36 overall. Jackson has 14 receptions and is with his third team. Jennings, taken at No. 52, has twice as many touchdowns as Jackson has receptions.

On a scale of 1 to 10 ...

With a 10 being Charles Woodson against anybody, a 5 being Mason Crosby from 45 yards and the ball on the right hash and a 1 being Allen Barbre against anybody, this position group rates an 8.5.

There are two knocks against the group. First, the Packers ranked fifth in the NFL with 36 drops. That goes for everyone — running backs and tight ends included — but Driver (seven), Jones (six), Jennings (five) and Nelson (three) combined for 21 of them. That's too many. The second is that neither Jones nor Nelson have played consistently enough to be deemed the heir to Driver. On the other hand, the Packers ranked fourth in the NFL in yards after the catch with 2,090 (among everyone, again), just 64 behind first-place Dallas, and tied for third with 39 receptions of at least 25 yards. There might not be a Larry Fitzgerald in this group but this quartet just makes plays, whether it's getting open on third down and fighting for that extra yard to move the chains or it's making a big play.


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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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