The Green Bay Packers were forced to make some tough decisions at receiver the past few years in allowing proven options like Greg Jennings and James Jones bolt in free agency.
Yet, they still find themselves deeper than ever at the position.
While it might not all be proven depth, the current group has a chance to be special. The re-signing of Randall Cobb in March to a four-year, $40 million contract ensured quarterback Aaron Rodgers would have his top three receiving targets (Jordy Nelson, Cobb and Davante Adams) together for the next three seasons.
That proposition has the Packers’ offense salivating at the thought of what Rodgers and a budding collection of weapons could accomplish, especially coming off last season when the offense led the NFL in scoring (30.4 points per game).
“I think it’s a solid, deep room of talented guys,” said first-year receivers coach Alex Van Pelt, who’s also coaching the quarterbacks. “There’s some talented guys in that group. But the depth that we have is outstanding, and it’s a good problem to have competition.”
If there’s any problem, it could be trying to keep all the mouths fed. In 2014, Cobb and Nelson became the first duo in NFL history to both register 90-plus receptions, 1,200-plus receiving yards and 12-plus touchdowns in the same season. Both earned trips to their first Pro Bowl.
Soon after re-signing, Cobb admitted his and Nelson’s numbers could take a hit with Adam’s emergence. Coach Mike McCarthy tabbed the 2014 second-round pick as the MVP of the Packers’ offseason program, devouring the extra looks afforded to him from Nelson’s absence following hip surgery.
In the few instances where teams tried to take away both Nelson (98-1,519-13) and Cobb (91-1,287-12), Adams showed he could be counted on to gain separation in one-on-one coverage on the perimeter. It’s what helped him usurp Jarrett Boykin for the job less than a month after the season began.
Adams’ six catches for 121 yards were pivotal in a 26-21 win over New England on Nov. 30. He also put a quiet December behind him to come up with seven catches for 117 yards and a touchdown in a 26-21 win over Dallas in the divisional playoffs.
“Davante’s another guy that the arrow is pointing up,” Van Pelt said. “The ability to make the plays he made for us late in the season I think gave him confidence coming in that he can be a go-to guy in our system.”
Already deep at the position, general manager Ted Thompson made the somewhat surprising move of drafting Stanford’s Ty Montgomery in the third round of May’s draft. A potential backfield threat like Cobb, his most immediate impact likely will be as a returner on special teams.
Last year’s draft picks, Jared Abbrederis and Jeff Janis, will be competing with Montgomery and a hoard of undrafted free agents for that coveted No. 4 job. Abbrederis, a native of Wautoma, showed some flashes in the slot last summer before missing the entire season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
Janis’ seventh-round selection a year ago marked the second consecutive year the Packers used a late-round pick on a receiving prospect of the NCAA Division II Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
The first was Grand Valley State’s Charles Johnson, who’s developed into a starting receiver in Minnesota after spending time on Green Bay and Cleveland’s practice squads. The Packers have been more patient with the 6-foot-3 Janis, who’s as lengthy as he is quick.
“Man, he’s big, he’s fast. He’s everything you like to see,” Van Pelt said. “I think early on it was maybe a little big for him. But this year now, that’s not going to be the case. I think he’s feeling better about where he is as a player in the NFL now.”
The Packers also return second-year receiver Myles White, who spent all of last season on the practice squad after playing seven games in place of an injured Cobb in 2013. He faces a host of new challengers, including former Texas A&M-Commerce standout Ricky Collins.
Collins, one of five undrafted free agents the Packers signed, is a relative unknown coming out of D-II ranks. He played only one full season of college football after stepping away to take care for his father following a stroke.
“That’s a good group,” Van Pelt said. “And the young kids that came in, they’re still behind but they’ve got some talent there as well. And what Ty showed from the rookie camp was impressive, the type of player he could be. It’s a deep group, which is a good thing.”
The Packers don’t have a lot of question marks on offense, but most of them revolve around the tight end position. Veteran Andrew Quarless is coming off his best year, but could be subject to league discipline after being arrested July 4 for allegedly discharging a gun in public.
Former third-round pick Richard Rodgers lacks elite speed at the position, but makes up for it with his hands and crisp route-running. His biggest hurdle will be refining his run-blocking, which cost him the starting job after the first three games last season.
“I think the main thing for us with Rich is still maintaining improvement in our run-blocking,” tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot said. “Pass-protection, he was very solid. We’ll continue to emphasize that. The thing he brought from college was his ability to run routes and move very efficiently for a guy his size. That’s something that’s in him.”
The Packers cut bait on converted tight end Brandon Bostick in February. They’ll take another swing at developing an athletic difference-maker in the middle of the field with sixth-round pick Kennard Backman out of Alabama-Birmingham.
The Packers aren’t completely sold on their holdings. Last week, they brought in former Cincinnati tight end Jermaine Gresham for a visit before he signed a one-year deal with the Arizona Cardinals.
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