Under pressure: Greg Jennings has already proven himself to be one of the best wide receivers in the NFL. Now he has to prove to GM Ted Thompson that he’s irreplaceable. The two-time Pro Bowler is in the final year of his contract and figures to make at least $11 million per season on the open market (or around $10 million if franchised). Either way, that’s a lot of money to give a 29-year-old receiver – especially when you consider how deep Green Bay is at the position. With Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Randall Cobb and “tight end” Jermichael Finley all signed through at least 2013, the Packers can live without Jennings. It’ll be up to him to make them not want to.
Breakout candidate: Randall Cobb made most of his headlines as a returner last season, but that’s only because the Packers were loaded with talented veteran wide receivers. The former Kentucky standout would’ve made an impact on offense with just about any other team in the league. The 21-year-old needs to be on the field a lot more in 2012, and if that means ruffling the feathers of Jones and Donald Driver, then so be it. Cobb has a chance to be a difference maker. His quickness makes him almost impossible to cover in the slot and he’s electrifying after the catch. He caught 25 balls for 375 yards as a rookie. Those numbers could double this season.
Key role player: He’ll have to make the final 53-man roster first, but if he does, Tori Gurley could be a very useful player when the field shrinks. The former undrafted free agent from South Carolina has rare size (6’4, 226) for the position, and while he’s not a great athlete, he moves OK. Gurley has the potential to be a matchup nightmare for much smaller defensive backs in the red zone. He almost made the active roster as a rookie last summer, but wound up spending the entire season on the practice squad. The coaching staff couldn’t stop raving about how terrific he looked in practice – something that Thompson obviously took to heart when he gave the 24-year-old a significant raise in pay to keep him from leaving for Minnesota last December.
Rookie watch: The Packers didn’t draft a wide receiver in April, and none of the free agents are going to make the 53-man roster. That said, there are a couple of intriguing rookies to keep an eye on. Jarrett Boykin, who put up impressive numbers as a senior at Virginia Tech (61 catches for 761 yards and five touchdowns), enjoyed a solid offseason. He was expected to be drafted in the middle rounds until he ran a 4.72 at the NFL Combine. Curenski Gilleylen also opened some eyes during the spring. He flashed potential as a wide receiver in his sophomore year at Nebraska, but didn’t do much after switching to running back as a junior. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see one, if not both of these players, find their way onto the eight-man practice squad.
Best depth chart battle: Assuming Jones isn’t traded and Driver isn’t released, and assuming the Packers decide to keep six wide receivers (they’ve kept five for the past few years), Gurley and Diondre Borel figure to be battling for one spot. Borel doesn’t have Gurley’s unique size, but I thought he was the more impressive player last summer. The former college QB made a smooth transition to receiver and he should be much better after spending all of 2011 on the practice squad. It’s not often when fans and the media talk about the competition for the sixth spot on the depth chart, but Gurley v. Borel figures to be one of the major storylines during training camp.