In the third in a series of position-by-position looks at the Packers’ personnel entering the 2011 offseason, we analyze Green Bay’s WR situation.
Overview: TE Jermichael Finley was considered to be the undisputed centerpiece of the Packers’ passing offense when the 2010 season began. But after Finley suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week Five, QB Aaron Rodgers definitely had an equal-opportunity mindset in his dealings with his deep and diversified WR corps.
Opposing defenses were unable to focus primarily on WR Greg Jennings, who put up monster numbers after Finley went down for the count, as fellow WRs Donald Driver, James Jones and Jordy Nelson provided Rodgers with equally dangerous options, which he never hesitated to utilize.
With each of them adept at operating out of any of the offense’s four primary slots, Packers wideouts caught at least one TD in 15 of the team’s 20 games (counting playoffs) and registered multiple scores in 10 of those games. Much more often than not, Rodgers spread the ball around in the short-to-intermediate range, as opposed to going deep, but there was no denying the effectiveness of that strategy. It’s worth noting, though, that the results could have been even better had the Packers’ wideouts done a more consistent job holding on to Rodgers’ passes.
Here’s a breakdown of each of the wide receivers on the roster:
Greg Jennings: Jennings couldn’t have been more deserving of his first-ever Pro Bowl berth, becoming a major force to be reckoned with after Finley went down. Running picture-perfect routes and making great adjustments when the need arose, he went on to register 100-yard receiving efforts in five of the last 11 regular-season games, in addition to scoring nine of his 12 TDs. Jennings picked up right where he left off in the playoffs with a pair of 100-yard games leading up to a stellar two-TD performance in the Super Bowl. True to his deliciously deceptive form, Jennings seldom ever tipped his hand and never shied away from contact.
Donald Driver: Aside from an eye-popping 61-yard TD catch-and run against the 49ers in Week 13 — a play which saw him break tackle after tackle — the 36-year-old Driver really started to show his age. But despite the fact he was hindered by injuries a good part of the season and was ordinary more often than not, Driver has indicated he has no intention of throwing in the towel just yet. The fact that he is just 42 yards away from breaking the club record for receiving yards set by James Lofton (9,656) is likely a big reason why he appears so determined to keep on playing.
James Jones: GM Ted Thompson can be excused for likely being kept up at night trying to decide whether or not he should re-sign this talented but flawed four-year vet. Jones, due to be a free agent, finished second among receivers with seven touchdowns and at times made some brilliant catches. He also did an excellent job picking up yards after his catches and has exceptionally strong hands and a great body. But he dropped what would have been sure TD passes in five different games counting the playoffs; had three fumbles, including a really costly one in an early-season loss to the Bears; and displayed a disturbing knack for losing his concentration at very inopportune times.
Jordy Nelson: After coming on really strong in the playoffs, culminating his season with a 140-yard, one-TD performance in the Super Bowl, Nelson looks like he could be a legitimate No. 2 receiver in the making behind Jennings. But he needs to do a much better job of holding on to passes than he did last season in order to be considered more than just an above-average receiver.
Brett Swain: As No. 5 receivers go, the Packers could do a lot worse. Swain did an OK job on special teams, but that might not be enough to earn him a spot on the final roster in 2011.
Bottom line: As well as it performed this past season, Green Bay’s WR unit could be on the cusp of fairly significant change, with Jones being far from a lock to return, and Driver on his last legs. It would not be a shock at all if the Packers spend a high pick in the draft on another wideout.