Packers Receivers: A Pattern of Regression

2012 10
Jordy Nelson for the win

To get a grasp of the problems concerning Green Bay’s passing game, you need to view things from a wide perspective. With the exception of Davante Adams, the entire receiving corps has caught the virus. Nor can backup QB Brett Hundley assume all the blame, as receivers were trending downward in 2016 too.

Let’s work our way up from the bottom.

Michael Clark

Are receivers really so scarce that a team that had Super Bowl aspirations has to resort to trying to develop a 6’6” 217-pound basketball player? I have nothing against Clark, but it smacks of desperation, doesn’t it?

Meanwhile, the Packers had a more promising candidate in camp: Max McCaffrey. I’ll grant you he has bounced around from practice squad to practice squad: Raiders to Packers to Saints to Jaguars (active roster), then back to the Packers, and now with the 49ers. But if you want to “develop” someone, wouldn’t he be a more logical choice?

Jeff Janis

You can’t really regress if you aren’t given a chance to play.

Geronimo Allison

In 2016, Allison was targeted 22 times, and had 202 receiving yards. Last year he was thrown to 39 times, but only gained 51 more yards. That’s not progress. I’ll grant you he’s made some plays, but his modest combine numbers and undrafted status are strong indicators that he’s not an adequate receiver for an NFL playoff contender.

Trevor Davis

In two years Davis zoomed up from three catches for 24 yards to five catches for 70 yards. It’s become obvious that, while he’s a fine punt returner, the Packers don’t view him as going anywhere as a receiver.

Randall Cobb

By his second year, Cobb had established himself as one of Aaron Rodgers’ favorites: 80 catches, 954 yards, eight TDs. His fourth year (2014) was his breakout season: 91 catches, 1,287 yards, 12 TDs. In the three years since, things have steadily careened downhill for Cobb: targets down, catches down, yards down, average gain down, first downs down, and touchdowns down. In 2017 Cobb’s 653 receiving yards ranked him 56th in the league. I’ve yet to come up with an explanation, but three years is a trend, not an aberration.

Jordy Nelson

Nelson’s 2017 season was marred by the fact that Hundley seldom looked his way. Even so, in the half season that Aaron Rodgers was on the field, his production still lagged badly – other than for his six touchdowns.

I’ve tried to chalk it up to an athlete aging more prematurely than most, but it doesn’t wash. Athletes don’t lose half of their ability in a year’s time. Age catches up on you over a bell-shaped curve of about four years. As with Cobb, I’m unable to account for how Jordy could go from 1,257 receiving yards (sixth best in the league) to 482 (88th) in the space of a year.

I do think, however, that this team-wide pattern of regression justifies a change in offensive coordinators – so welcome back Joe Philbin.

While Davante Adams is the lone happy exception, even his progress has leveled off rather than continued upward. Though he missed two games in 2017, he still was targeted nearly as much on the year (117 vs. 121 in 2016), while his yardage dropped from 997 to 885.

We should also include tight end Richard Rodgers, the poster boy of regression, in the conversation. Though he’s stayed healthy, his stats over the last three years have gone from 58 to 30 to 12 catches, and from 510 to 271 to 160 yards. I’ve always considered Rodgers to have a low ceiling, and to have been a poor pick for a third-rounder, but I don’t understand why the Packers have simply written him off as a viable receiver. Talk about a guy who hasn’t been allowed to reach his potential…

As you can see, the problems with Green Bay’s receiving corps are endemic – it’s not just a guy here or there having a bad year. Yes, I continue to favor drafting a big, fast receiver with the 14th draft choice, but the problem goes beyond drafting and personnel. Nelson, Cobb, and even Richard Rodgers had established baselines of performance, but in 2017 they couldn’t even approach their past accomplishments.

Mike Pettine, the team’s new defensive coordinator, has tossed out several ways in which he’s going to bring about change in his players. We’ve heard fewer specifics, though, about an offensive turnaround from the head coach, Philbin, or the new offensive pass game coordinator, new receivers coach, or new quarterbacks coach.

The key staffer is Joe Philbin, who was the Packers’ OC from 2007 through 2011. Philbin’s entry into the NFL was as an assistant offensive line coach under Packers head coach/GM Mike Sherman. The 2010 season culminated in bringing the Lombardi trophy back home.

The following season was the high point of the Packers’ pass attack, when Aaron Rodgers and company set team single-season records for total points (560), total yards (6,482) and net passing yards (4,924). For 2017, the corresponding stats were 320, 4,891, and 3,167. That is serious backsliding.

The closest Philbin has come to disclosing his plans is to say the coaching staff will be debating whether to add more plays, cut back on them, go with more screens, go more vertical, and so on. He made clear that the team’s offensive philosophy flows from coach Mike McCarthy.

I might be in the minority, but I’m much more worried about the offense than I am about the defense as we head into a pivotal year for the team.

Coach Philbin also said it’s his job to “help our players reach their potential.” That hasn’t happened, across the board, for Green Bay receivers for two years running.

About The Author

Rob is currently twiddling his thumbs on Whidbey Island in Washington. He likes to do research, although he has no shortage of opinions. He saw his first live Packers game in 1958, the only win of the year.

10 Comments on "Packers Receivers: A Pattern of Regression"

  1. PF4L

    Well…Lets take a look at this regression starting in 2016.

    Cobb?….Yea, whats new, he’s regressed since signing his contract before the 2015 season.

    Clark, Davis, Janis, and even Allison, don’t matter. Non factors save for a few nice catches by Allison showing some potential.

    Now lets look at the Jordy Nelson regression. I’m not even going to waste anyone’s time on 2017 except to say he was on pace to catch 16-18 TD passes. Everyone knows what happened last season, and i’m not going to waste anyone’s time harping any more about it. So lets look at 2016….yes, his yards were down a bit. But then we look at the numbers and he was 6th in the league in yards (not too shabby right, Rob? Now lets look at TD passes caught. I believe he had 14 of them. I also believe that ranked him #1 in the league. Not too shabby huh Rob? That included getting a slow start in 2016. Then we take a step back and we realize, he just recovered from ACL surgery and hadn’t played since 2014. All in all Rob, you may not be, but i’m fairly impressed what Nelson accomplished in 2016. All while being underpaid compared to his peers.

    Davante Adams……CASHED IN!!….Ted Thompson and Russ Ball style. Now, we wait for his 1st 1,000 yard season.

  2. Cheese

    Philbin has also said it’s his job to make McCarthy look like the best playcaller in the league. Maybe that’s why the playcalling has been shit for the past few years and why Philbin is back in Green Bay, to make McCarthy look good again.

    “I might be in the minority, but I’m much more worried about the offense than I am about the defense”
    Hundley taking Rodgers place is a big drop off, but that doesn’t excuse the offense getting blanked at home twice in a season or being down 3-27 to the Lions in the 4th quarter. Or how about going to overtime with the 0-16 Browns? Talk about a shit show. Two years ago this team was 4-6 WITH Aaron Rodgers. They need to do more than just switch around a few job titles to get back on the map.

  3. Savage57

    The two best words to describe the offense are stagnant and moribund. It’s become ‘snap the ball, and do what you do, Aaron’.

    MM’s staid, boring, and bull-headed nature is stamped all over this offense. Of course WR’s are going to regress when the backbone of your passing game is bubble screens and short squat routes.

    I wish Joe Philbin would have just come out and said, “my job is to make everyone forget Mike McCarthy ever called plays.”

  4. Mitch Anthony

    I’m with you Rob, if the BPA in the first round is a wide receiver, there’s a very good case for taking him. A potential for an impact weapon on a rookie contract who can then be the proper long term replacement for Jordy Nelson. Enough with the badminton/volleyball player diamond-in-the-rough type found in the sixth or seventh round.

    Now many others can make a strong case for the taking the defensive BPA in the first round. If that happens then so be it, because the needs are many. But don’t pass on a WR in the next round if that BPA WR is there. Also, the third/fourth round looks like a very good place to find a good TE prospect.

    • MJ

      “A potential for an impact weapon on a rookie contract who can then be the proper long term replacement for Jordy Nelson. Enough with the badminton/volleyball player diamond-in-the-rough type found in the sixth or seventh round”.
      Yes! The diamond in the rough projects are of little or no worth as draft picks. By the time they pan out, they reach their contract year, and next thing you know, you have to pay them at FA rates. Better draft viable contributors that produce from their first or second year on, even if their ceiling is not that high, and choose your developmental projects to the undrafted-free-agent market.

      Regarding TEs, I strongly disagree. Even if you get the one with the highest potential, they cant take the entirety of their rookie contract to develop, and you essentially end up paying up for a FA. Better let them develop elsewhere and acquire one through FA. Granted if he is a future HOF the team will not let him reach free agency, but even good ones can become cap casualties and teams have to let them go. And do you need a HOF TE to win? Would help, sure, but the same would a HOF at other position, as WR or RB. A solid WR with the 14th pick sounds more enticing, as WRs tend to transition more rapidly to the pros, unless they come from a basketball, hockey or mini-golf background.

    • ay hombre

      The thing is…it doesn’t matter how much skill or play-making ability a rookie has coming in. He’ll be put into McCarthy’s offense, which is seemingly impossible to learn quickly unless you’re Ty Montgomery, and will take 3 years to develop. It’s so funny that McCarthy’s complicated offense is so tough to learn, but so easy to defend. Hopefully Gute isn’t as stupid as his predecessor and drafts quality players who have a Wonderlich score which makes them capable of running and chewing gum at the same time.

  5. ay hombre

    I’m way more concerned about the offense than defense as well. I have complete confidence in Pettine and his ability to turn this defense around, but Mike McCarthy still runs the offense. Not a lot to be confident in with ole buffoon still calling the shots.

  6. Kato

    “Are receivers really so scarce that a team that had Super Bowl aspirations has to resort to trying to develop a 6’6” 217-pound basketball player? I have nothing against Clark, but it smacks of desperation, doesn’t it?”

    No team is so loaded at wide receiver that they do not have developmental prospects. Every team has those types of guys on their practice squad. The 2011 packers receiving corps was probably in the top 1% of groups of receivers of all time. That is an exception to the rule. I guess I don’t think that is an issue.

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