Too much of something good can be bad in our little universe of egocentric athletes, and especially with wide receivers who just want the damn ball. Depending on the chemistry assembled on a depth chart, there could be discontent as players grow concerned about their personal bottom line.
Packers head coach Mike McCarthy doesn’t care about that. Yesterday after veteran receiver Donald Driver’s contract was restructured he said that Green Bay could strongly consider breaking camp at the end of August with six wide receivers. That’s a little unorthodox since most teams use five at most, but it’s also yet another sign of the passing game’s rapid growth in today’s NFL.
McCarthy said that six receivers may be a necessity for his roster, not a luxury.
From the Green Bay Press-Gazette:
“The way we play, you could make a legitimate argument for six receivers with the overall roster,” said McCarthy. “Special teams will play a big part on which positions are heavier than the others. It always does.”
He’s right, and while keeping more special teams contributors will be a nice added resource with Tori Gurley and Diondre Borel (both practice squad members last year) now likely to receive serious consideration, there’s a case to be made for further depth offensively too.
Between Driver, Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, James Jones, and Randall Cobb, the Packers used five receivers in 2011. Cobb was the lowest on the depth chart, yet he finished with 25 catches for 375 yards, which included a 61-yard reception. He was still a key part of a passing offense that ranked third with 307.8 yards per game during the regular season.
Looking at the teams surrounding Green Bay’s passing game in the top five last year, the fifth receiver didn’t exist. The Giants finished fifth in passing yards, and combined Victor Cruz (1,536 yards) and Hakeem Nicks (1,192) were on the receiving end for 55.3 percent of Eli Manning’s passing yardage. The Lions had a sizable gap between Calvin Johnson (1,681) and Nate Burleson (757) at the top. Add in Titus Young, and the distribution for Matthew Stafford among his wide receivers was limited solely to his top three, with no other wideout registering even 10 catches.
Meanwhile, the Patriots were led by their tight ends, and among the wide receivers 173 balls were thrown to either Wes Welker or Deion Branch, and then there was a tumble down to Chad Ochocinco, who only had 15 receptions. The Saints led the league in passing yards per game and spread the ball around a bit more. But the distribution didn’t go past the fourth slot on the WR depth chart, with Devery Henderson catching 32 passes for 507 yards.
The WR depth chart quandary was raised in Green Bay because inquiring minds wanted to know if Driver is guaranteed a roster spot. It’s a logical worry since he’s 37 years old, and the transition to Jennings and Nelson is abundantly clear, especially since Driver only has 1,010 receiving yards over his past two seasons. But as Andrew Brandt notes, teams don’t pay a player $2.5 million and guarantee $500,000 of that contract if he’s not sticking around.
That means there’s a strong possibility McCarthy will follow through and keep six receivers. A year after their fifth receiver accounted for seven percent of Green Bay’s passing yardage, more depth could add further flexibility to an offense that habitually spreads the ball around and flows through multiple targets.