Heading into 2012, there appeared to be two clear choices for who the best wide receiver was on the Green Bay Packers. It was either Greg Jennings or Jordy Nelson, pretty simple right? Well, now that we've had a full offseason to digest the numbers, it sounds silly that we only strongly considered those two in most 2012 drafts. After all, up-and-comer Randall Cobb went over 1,000 yards from scrimmage and scored eight touchdowns, and forgotten man James Jones led the NFL with a whopping 14 receiving scores! The two "studs"? Jennings missed half the season with injury, and Nelson missed a good bit of time himself.
Heading into 2013, there is a new pecking order in Green Bay. Jennings left as a free agent to sign with division rival Minnesota, and longtime veteran Donald Driver danced off into the sunset to begin his retirement. But while the names and faces have changed, one constant still remains: someone will benefit from this vaunted aerial attack, and that someone is going to put up some big numbers.
Most prognosticators expect Cobb to finish with the best stats this season, Nelson close behind, and Jones as a clear third place. This is accurate to me as well. And I think that the difference between Cobb and Nelson will be close to negligible, while the gap from Nelson to Jones will be significant.
James Jones = The Distant Third
It's not that I don't like Jones. It's just that most of Jones' success in 2012 can be attributed to a wildly inflated touchdown total (14). Prior to last season, Jones averaged a touchdown every 9.35 receptions. In 2012, he averaged a touchdown every 4.57 receptions. Now, maybe it's possible that Jones simply figured out the magical formula for how to score more touchdowns. Or perhaps more realistically, that number will regress in 2013 to a more typical level. The 29-year-old Jones has never put up more than last year's 784 yards in a single season. If you want to bank on him suddenly discovering something in his game that wasn't there for a half dozen seasons prior, be my guest. The rest of us are going to go off the assumption that the touchdown thing was a bit of a fluke, the added receiving totals were due to the absence of Jennings and Nelson, and the team's overall passing philosophy is likely to be scaled back for the upcoming season. That should all result in less work for Jones, which means significantly fewer scores. And if he's not scoring touchdowns at will, he doesn't really do enough in the other phases of the game (even in last season's "career year") to make himself a viable week-in, week-out option for a fantasy lineup.
Jordy Nelson = An Elite Fantasy WR1 That Won't Cost You on Draft Day
As for Nelson, he took a little while to break out but MAN did he break out big-time when his moment finally arrived. He followed up his huge 2011 season with a disappointing encore in 2012, but all signs point to him being back closer to the 2011 version. He's always had that big play ability, and now with the aforementioned Jennings out of town, Nelson has a legitimate chance to be the team's number one option. It may not show up in the fantasy stats that way, but you can be sure that he is the team's focal point of the passing game. At 6'2", 217 pounds, Nelson is a bigger red zone target than Cobb as well as having a better knack for the deep ball. If the Packers do, in fact, make the run game a priority, all that is going to do is open up the deep sideline routes that Nelson is so fond of.
Randal Cobb = The Young Emerging Star, Riskier than Nelson but Higher Upside Too
Cobb entered last season as arguably the team's fifth option in the passing game, and emerged as the most reliable weapon they've got. His season becomes all the more impressive when you realize he had just eleven receptions for 96 yards after the season's first three weeks. Then he turned on the jets the rest of the way, en route to a 954-yard campaign. Included in that were six games of seven or more receptions, demonstrating outstanding reliability and consistency along the way. Playing mainly out of the slot, Cobb took on almost a Wes Welker type of role. He ran a lot of slants and curls, which resulted in a lower yards per reception average (11.9), but an outstanding 80 receptions. There is certainly some concern that he will not sneak up on anyone this time around and that teams will be game-planning for him now. But the flip side is also true, as Cobb is still just 22 years old and entering his third season in the league. Considering what he did as a 21-year-old, it's scary to think of what could happen if he improves at all.
- Aaron Rodgers is still throwing the football. As long as that statement is true, and these guys are healthy, there is no reason why they can't all be fantasy forces
- There are enough people who like all three players that they are going moderately high in drafts, but no one feels so safe drafting any of them that their values have gotten inflated
- All three players have at least one excellent season under their belts over the past two years, so a track record of success has been established.
- The Packers brought in not one, but two, highly-touted college running backs in April's draft. If Green Bay makes the running game a focal point of the offense, one has to wonder how significantly the passing game statistics will suffer.
- All three players are very talented, which means they may end up stealing value away from one another. Aaron Rodgers is going to throw to the open man, but this is very much a three-headed monster of talent and he won't need to lock in on any one guy. The team does not really have a true NUMBER ONE guy. It's like the old saying goes, "If you have more than one girlfriend, you don't have any..."
Personally, I would feel very comfortable drafting either Cobb or Nelson at their respective ADP. Nelson provides better value because he can be had at least a full round later in most cases and is very close to Cobb in terms of who the more valuable player actually is. Cobb probably presents a bit of a higher floor based in part on his rushing abilities as well as the fact that he will be so frequently targeted. But Nelson has a WR2 ranking under his belt from as recently as two seasons ago, so you cannot discount the possibility for a huge campaign as Aaron Rodgers's go-to guy. About the only one of the three that I wouldn't be too enamored with is Jones. He is going off the board as the number 72 player overall (WR27), so there is something of a discount already being applied for regression to the mean - but I don't think it's enough. Barring injuries to both Cobb AND Nelson, Jones will be hard-pressed to finish 2013 as a viable starting caliber fantasy wideout considering the reduction in work and the regression of scoring. The other two might steal some value away from one another on an almost-weekly basis, but that being said we don't see any way you wouldn't be happy to have either of these two players regularly in your lineup.
Weston Hodkiewicz of the Green Bay Press-Gazette cautions that we should temper our expectations for the possibility of three fantasy-relevant receivers...
"Anything is possible with a healthy Aaron Rodgers manning the team's offensive controls, but the Packers have only featured a pair of receivers surpassing 1,000 receiving yards in the same season on five occasions - let alone having a trio accomplish it."
Meanwhile, Rob Reischel of the Journal Sentinel believes Cobb is the player to watch in 2013...
"In the 94 years of Green Bay Packers football, just two men have reached the magical 100-reception mark...Don't be surprised if Randall Cobb's name is added to the list by late December."