Too little production from too many Packers receivers
Second in a nine-part Packers position-analysis series.
GREEN BAY - From the moment quarterback Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone in Week 6 last season, the production from Green Bay Packers wide receivers and tight ends had to be accompanied by an asterisk.
Backup Brett Hundley simply couldn’t run the offense in a way that involved the majority of his weapons, and nearly everyone experienced a decrease in output from the middle of October through the end of the season.
The B-side of that record, however, was the uncovering of serious deficiencies without the precision and preternatural instincts of Rodgers, who often threw his receivers open based on his talents alone. Which is why new general manager Brian Gutekunst will face several difficult decisions when selecting his 53-man roster. He and his personnel department must try to analyze last year’s tape and apply their findings to an offense run by Rodgers instead of Hundley.
Once again, depth was not a problem for the Packers when the 2017 season began; they kept three tight ends and five wide receivers. But too many of those players were incapable of producing, weren't trusted by the coaching staff or both, and the end result was a finite group of contributors for positions that took up a large chunk of the overall roster.
It can be argued that this category starts and stops with Davante Adams, the only player who consistently struck fear in opponents all season. Adams emerged as the clear-cut No. 1 receiver and found ways to produce with both Rodgers and Hundley at quarterback. Signing him to a contract extension was a big win for the Packers. Aside from Adams, the only positive was the availability and toughness of veteran Randall Cobb, who continues to establish himself as one of the team’s grittiest players, even if his overall production left something to be desired.
As it stands, the Packers seem to have missed on at least five of the last six wide receivers drafted by former general manager Ted Thompson, dating to Jared Abbrederis in the fifth round in 2014. That trend continued with two more disappointments in 2017: fifth-round pick DeAngelo Yancey, who battled weight problems and spent the entire season on the practice squad, and seventh-round pick Malachi Dupre, who was not invited back to Green Bay after training camp. Even some of those who did make the roster — such as 2016 fifth-round pick Trevor Davis and 2014 seventh-round pick Jeff Janis — failed to earn the trust of Mike McCarthy and his coaching staff and watched from the sideline all season. In other words, the Packers need contributions from more than just their perennial big three.
Speed, speed and more speed. It was painfully obvious that the Packers had very little explosiveness at the wide receiver and tight end positions, evidenced by only 38 pass completions in excess of 20 yards, seventh-worst in the league. When an article in The New York Times used data from Sportradar to rank the Packers’ receivers as the slowest of all 32 teams, few were surprised. Their fastest wide receivers were Davis and Janis, who combined to play 153 snaps. The departure of tight end Jared Cook in free agency made the group seem even slower.
Davante Adams: It would be hard to imagine the Packers’ offense without Adams, who turned in the best season of his career under trying circumstances. His footwork and quickness at the line of scrimmage have become his best weapons, and opposing cornerbacks of all body types struggle to stop him within the first few yards. He finished tied for second in the league in touchdown receptions (10) and flashed an ability to make difficult catches in the red zone. His toughness cannot be questioned after he endured brutal hits from linebackers Danny Trevathan and Thomas Davis. Grade: B+
Geronimo Allison: More was expected from Allison after a strong rookie season in which he made the team as an undrafted free agent. But after sitting out the opener due to a suspension (marijuana) and returning to play sizable roles in Weeks 2 and 3, he did not top 20 snaps for the next 10 games. Exceeded 35 receiving yards just once, and a costly fumble in Week 15 against the Carolina Panthers will weigh on his mind for months. Grade: D
Michael Clark: He dazzled fans, teammates and coaches in training camp with wondrous acrobatic catches on a daily basis before sticking around on the practice squad. Thompson promoted him to the active roster Dec. 1, and Clark played 75 snaps in two games after the Packers were eliminated from playoff contention. He remains equal parts raw, unpolished and wildly intriguing. An offseason of dedicated work should be beneficial. Grade: D
Randall Cobb: Missed only one game and played 70.9 percent of snaps in what amounted to a decent season. He led the Packers in yards after the catch with 409, which ranked 21st in the league, but struggled to break away from defenders at the line of scrimmage and lacked top-end speed. Still finished second on the team in catches and remains tough as nails despite his slender build. Cobb, who excels on scramble plays, should be more valuable with Rodgers back on the field. Grade: C+
Trevor Davis: Though he endured bouts of questionable decision making, Davis flourished as a punt returner in his second season and finished second in the league in yards per return with 12. He is dynamic, fearless and wants to make things happen at every opportunity. Took the kick-return job from Janis midway through the season and finished eighth with 22.8 yards per return. Never fumbled. Played 103 snaps from scrimmage, more than half of which came in the final two games. Should receive more playing time at receiver next season. Grade: B
Jeff Janis: Played 50 snaps from scrimmage but 42 came after the Packers were knocked out of the playoff race, evidence that the coaches don’t see his value as a receiver. To opponents, Janis is still the most feared special-teams player on the roster due to his speed, toughness and willingness to make tackles, the combination of which attracted frequent double teams. Finished tied for fourth on the team with 4 special-teams tackles. He becomes an unrestricted free agent in March. Grade: C-
Jordy Nelson: Endured the worst season of his career since becoming a significant contributor in 2010. Nelson failed to top 100 yards in any game and had three or fewer catches eight times. He turns 33 in May and appears to have lost most of his juice. Struggled to gain separation from cornerbacks all season and finished 153rd in yards after the catch with 2.5 per reception. It’s doubtful the injury to Rodgers was the only factor in Nelson’s massive decline. Scheduled to make $9.25 million in base salary next season. Grade: D
Emanuel Byrd: Signed to the practice squad Nov. 3 and promoted to the active roster Dec. 26 after an injury to Richard Rodgers. Byrd played 11 snaps in the season finale against Detroit and caught two passes for 31 yards, including a 29-yarder. Lacks ideal size for the position and doesn’t have enough speed to offset his diminutive frame. Grade: Incomplete
Lance Kendricks: Led all tight ends in playing time with 467 snaps (44.6 percent) but watched his role erode as Richard Rodgers’ snap count increased late in the year. Joined the Packers on a team-friendly contract worth $4 million over two years with $1.2 million guaranteed. Caught only 18 passes for 203 yards, including a 51-yard reception that accounted for 25 percent of his production. Poor but willing blocker. Grade: D
Richard Rodgers: Began the season as the third-string tight end behind Kendricks and Martellus Bennett but handled the demotion with class. Rodgers averaged 35 snaps per game from Week 9 through Week 15 in what amounted to a fairly even split with Kendricks. He caught 12 passes for 160 yards and one touchdown, all of which were the lowest numbers of his career. Like Kendricks, he is a poor but willing blocker. Rodgers will be a free agent in March. Grade: D