The Green Bay Packers won’t be able to replace Jordy Nelson with one player.
The eighth-year receiver’s unique combination of size, speed and intelligence has catapulted him into the league’s upper echelon of playmakers. In the wake of Nelson’s season-ending knee injury, his lost production will need to be recouped in bits and pieces.
Veterans have to take on more responsibility and young players must mature quickly. With that in mind, here are five skill-position players impacted the most by Nelson tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in Sunday’s 24-19 preseason loss in Pittsburgh.
Aside from Nelson, Adams is the only other proven outside receiver on the roster.
Randall Cobb (5-foot-10, 192 pounds), Ty Montgomery (6-0, 216), Myles White (6-0, 190) and even the injured Jared Abbrederis (6-1, 195) all fit the best in the slot, while second-year receiver Jeff Janis has played in only two regular-season games.
Adams played 738 offensive snaps as a rookie, 70.3 percent of the Packers’ total. He caught 38 passes for 446 yards and three touchdowns, starting 11 games after overtaking Jarrett Boykin for the No. 3 job.
Adams’ athleticism went viral in March when a video surfaced of his 360-degree under-the-leg dunk. He carried that hype into the offseason program when he was lauded by coach Mike McCarthy and quarterback Aaron Rodgers for his substantial improvement.
Without Nelson, the Packers need the 22-year-old Adams to play well beyond his years at a position where patience is required. Nelson or no Nelson, the 6-1, 215-pound receiver still expects to make a jump in his sophomore season.
“Regardless of what happens with that situation, I’m trying to play the best I can week in and week out,” Adams said Sunday. “I can only play my best regardless. We’re hoping everything is good. We’ll see what’s going on with all that.”
It’s difficult to envision a scenario in which the Packers make the playoffs in 2013 without Lacy.
Lacy kept the offense afloat in 2013 during the eight games Rodgers was out with a broken collarbone, rushing for 666 yards and seven touchdowns during that stretch. The Packers likely wouldn’t need Lacy to accept any more responsibility with Nelson gone, but more will be asked of him.
The vertical threat Nelson and Cobb pose to opposing defenses meshed perfectly with Lacy’s hard-charging style. If teams kept two safeties back, it opened up the field for Lacy. If they brought one into the box, Nelson or Cobb could beat you for an explosive gain.
The one area where Lacy has made his biggest jump from his rookie season is as a pass-catcher. His 42 catches, 427 yards and four touchdowns all shot up after having 35 receptions for 257 yards and no scores.
The 25-year-old appears to be slightly bigger this season, but remains as explosive as ever. He’s looked good so far in the preseason with 11 carries for 66 yards and a touchdown. His maturation as a three-down back has made him one of Rodgers’ go-to weapons.
Rodgers isn’t the fastest player on the field and his blocking remains a work in progress, but the 6-4, 257-pound tight end knows how to catch the ball.
Rodgers, a third-round draft pick a year ago, led the Packers with three receptions for 30 yards and a touchdown against the Steelers. Active in the red zone throughout camp, he plucked a Scott Tolzien pass out of the air for a 21-yard touchdown before halftime.
The Packers have lacked a difference-making tight end in the middle of the field since Jermichael Finley suffered his neck injury in October 2013. Sixth-year tight end Andrew Quarless has started 19 of 26 regular-season games since then, but Rodgers appears to have the higher upside.
His playing time likely depends on his maturation as a run-blocker, but an increased role awaits him regardless.
“He’s an ascending player,” Aaron Rodgers said Sunday. “We’re going to need both him and Andrew to continue to play well for us, to have guys who can get down the middle of the field and guys you can have in the red zone as security blankets.”
In need of a returner, the Packers drafted Montgomery with their third-round pick instead of addressing what appeared to be a more pressing need at inside linebacker.
Early indications are the 6-foot, 216-pound receiver makes for a good investment. He’s looked explosive so far in camp and caught the ball well despite some questions about his hands.
Montgomery, who’s drawn a lot of comparisons to Cobb, mostly has worked in the slot with the second-team offense in the preseason with second-year receiver Myles White often lining up opposite Janis on the perimeter.
His size and athleticism may be enough for him to play outside, though. His 401/2-inch vertical at the NFL combine actually was higher than Adams’ 39-5. Receiver depth made it appear as though his biggest impact may come on returns as a rookie, but the Packers might have to call upon him offensively this season.
“Specifically, if we’re talking about the depth, I think we got it,” Montgomery said Sunday. “We have a lot of guys in the room who can make plays and they can do a lot of things well.”
“I feel like we have a lot of depth in the room. Guys can do what they need to do if they have to do it.”
Physically, Janis (6-3, 219) is the only receiver on the Packers’ roster that’s comparable to Nelson (6-3, 217).
While he made last year’s roster with an array of jaw-dropping catches, consistency and dependability have been the area coaches have talked with Janis about the most. Arguably the fastest player on the team, everyone understands what Janis can do on a go-route.
It’s the other branches of the route tree that he’s working on. His raw potential made him a good bet to make the Packers’ roster from the beginning, but he’ll be expected to contribute more in Year 2 than he did in the two regular-season games he was active as a rookie.
White, the third-longest tenured receiver on the roster, added five pounds to his 6-foot frame this offseason after spending all of last season on the practice squad. He’s caught a lot of passes in camp and three more for 22 yards in the first two preseason games.
“It’s business as usual,” said White after admitting he didn’t know anything about Nelson’s situation Sunday. “We have a pretty good room. We pride ourselves on that. Everything is going to be OK.”
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @WesHod.