Camp analysis: NFC North receivers
Starters - Brandon Marshall, Devin Hester, Earl Bennett. Backups - Alshon Jeffery, Dane Sanzenbacher, Devin Thomas, Eric Weems, Johnny Knox, Joe Anderson, Terriun Crump, Brittan Golden, Chris Summers.
If Marshall puts up numbers similar to those he did when Cutler was his quarterback for their last two years together in Denver, he'll be the most productive wide receiver the Bears have ever had. The 6-4, 230-pound Marshall provides Cutler with the go-to guy he's never had in Chicago, and he's also the big wide receiver the Bears have always lacked. Hester has regressed in each of the past two seasons, and he may be relegated to a lesser role in the offense, but he's still a legitimate long-ball threat who must be accounted for. Slot receiver Earl Bennett, when healthy, has been Cutler's security blanket, and he's the team's most reliable underneath possession receiver and a strong runner after the catch. Jeffery, the 6-3 rookie, provides another big target, and his presence could give the receiver position a whole new look this season, especially in the red zone, where his size should create matchup problems. Sanzenbacher is smart, quick and crafty, but he dropped way too many passes last year for a possession receiver who lacks speed. Thomas and Weems figure most prominently on special teams, but there is room for advancement at the bottom of the depth chart. Knox is not expected back this season after last year's devastating hit that resulted in back surgery and will require a lengthy rehab period.
Starters - Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson. Backups - Titus Young, Ryan Broyles, Marcus Harris, Stefan Logan, Jarett Dillard, Wallace Miles, Lance Long, Maurice Stovall, Terrence Tolliver, Patrick Edwards, Nate Hughes.
One of the best receiver corps in the league got better. Johnson, the two-time Pro Bowler who signed an eight-year, $132 million contract in March, is coming off the best year of his career (96 catches, 1,681 yards, 16 touchdowns). The emergence of both Burleson and Young (combined 121 catches for 1,182 yards) made defenses play somewhat more honestly against Johnson. Johnson lined up at various spots, including the slot, and though he still attracted multiple coverages, it was harder for defenses to isolate and neutralize him. They have added another versatile and dynamic receiver in Oklahoma rookie Broyles, undrafted rookie burner Edwards and veteran Dillard. It will be quite a fight for the final two receiver spots, with Edwards, Stovall, Hughes and Tolliver all in the hunt.
Green Bay Packers
Starters - Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson. Backups - Randall Cobb, James Jones, Donald Driver, Tori Gurley, Diondre Borel, Shaky Smithson, Dale Moss, Jarrett Boykin, Curenski Gilleylen.
Arguably the league's most talented receiving corps, thanks in part to the guy (Aaron Rodgers) flinging the football with optimum precision, is far from settled. Some of the toughest decisions to be made by Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy by the end of camp will come with this deep position. Going to the extreme of keeping six wideouts is all but a given. The locks are Jennings, Nelson, Cobb and presumably Driver, who, at 37 and fresh off his "Dancing with the Stars" title, took a $2 million pay cut on the final year of his contract in exchange for job security. Fellow incumbent Jones is a starting-caliber player who has trade possibilities if two players from a group of young prospects are deemed worthy of making the roster cut. The front-runners are the 6-4, 232-pound Gurley and former QB Borel, who can hold his own against Driver and Cobb in the slot. Jennings, who is in a contract year, and Nelson (68 catches for 1,263 yards and 15 TDs in 2011) are undeniably the big-play threats. The electric Cobb may be put in a frequently used position to join them.
Starters - Percy Harvin, Jerome Simpson. Backups - Michael Jenkins, Jarius Wright, Greg Childs, Bryan Walters, Kerry Taylor, Stephen Burton, Devin Aromashodu, Emmanuel Arceneaux.
Simpson, a free-agent signing from Cincinnati, gives the Vikings the potential for something they've desperately lacked since Sidney Rice was catching deep balls from Brett Favre: A legitimate No. 1 receiver that can line up wide and beat defenders with speed, a lanky frame and ball skills. Unfortunately for the Vikings, they'll have to wait until Week 4 to see all of that in a game that counts. Simpson will serve a three-game suspension after pleading guilty to a felony drug charge. Harvin is the team's most electric receiving threat. But his small build, while incredibly strong, has limited his role in this offense to short and intermediate routes from the slot position. Jenkins is coming back from a knee injury. He'll never live up to being a former first-round pick of the Falcons, but he could be a reliable No. 3 receiver. He runs crisp routes and knows the offense well. Wright and Childs are fourth-round picks from Arkansas. Friends and teammates since third grade, they bring two distinctly different talents that could breathe life into a terrible passing attack. Wright is a shifty slot guy similar to Harvin. Childs, who was slowed by a knee injury during his senior season, is a tall receiver that could come in handy in the red zone. If they both make the team, a sixth receiver position could be up for grabs between Walters, Burton, Aromashodu and Arceneaux.
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