With Randall Cobb on short-term injured reserve and James Jones hurting, who exactly is Aaron Rodgers going to throw the ball to?
Last season, the Green Bay Packers had arguably the best wide receiver corps in the NFL. Even with Greg Jennings departing via free agency in the offseason, Green Bay still had a very good group of receivers heading into this season. Now, with Randall Cobb out for at least eight weeks and James Jones hobbled, Aaron Rodgers won’t have very many familiar faces to throw the ball to.
The Packers currently have four wide receivers on the active roster and that includes Jones who at best appears to be a game-time decision with a PCL sprain. If Jones doesn’t play, Rodgers is going to have to get familiar with some new targets and fast. Here’s a look at how Rodgers and the Packers may cope without Cobb and Jones.
Throw the ball to Jordy Nelson … a lot
Nelson dealt with a knee injury during the preseason, but he’s been able to stay healthy since the start of the regular season and it’s a good thing. He’s second on the team in targets and receptions, but he’s likely to become Rodgers’ No. 1 target going forward. Through five games, Rodgers targeted Cobb and Jones an average of 14.6 times per game, or on just less than 40 percent of his pass attempts.
That is a lot of targets to replace and Nelson will likely see a significant uptick in his opportunities. Nelson has been targeted just less than eight times per game, but that number may now climb into double digits. A.J. Green has been the most targeted wide receiver this season at 11.7 times per game and Nelson could move into that range, at least until Jones returns.
And Jermichael Finley too
While Nelson may be Rodgers’ No. 1 target, Finley may not be far behind. According to Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Finley is going to line up more at wide receiver with Cobb out. That will free Finley from his blocking responsibilities as a tight end. At 6’5 and 247 pounds, Finley could be a matchup nightmare for corners, much like how the Saints use Jimmy Graham.
The role should be familiar for Finley who has been used similar to a hybrid wide receiver/tight end during his career. He lined up out wide on 51 percent of his snaps in 2011, according to Pro Football Focus, and that number will likely be much higher going forward. Finley had success once Cobb departed, catching three passes on four targets for 75 yards.
Incorporate Jarrett Boykin and Myles White
Boykin saw increased playing time on Sunday with Jones and Cobb out and caught his first pass of 2013. While he picked up 43 yards on a screen pass, it was obvious he wasn’t quite on the same page as Rodgers. Boykin was targeted six times, but finished with just the one catch. He could move into the No. 3 role with Jones out and could play a significant role going forward.
After suffering a rash of injuries at a position, a lot of NFL teams will scour the free agent wire. They may bring in a handful of free agents for workouts, signing the best of the group. Ted Thompson and the Packers chose a different route, promoting White from the the practice squad. As Tyler Dunne of the Journal-Sentinal said, Green Bay prefers to promote from within and move players around to fit rather than bring in a veteran off the street.
White, a rookie from Louisiana Tech, spent training camp with the Packers and performed well at times during the preseason. He finished with eight catches for 90 yards and Dunne said he seemed to have a “decent rapport” with Rodgers.
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