The Green Bay Packers have consistently been one of the top offenses in the NFL over the last several seasons, with Aaron Rodgers at the helm of a dynamic passing attack. However, since the end of the 2012 season, Rodgers and the Packers have bid farewell to Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, James Jones and Jermichael Finley. The cupboard is hardly bare in Green Bay when it comes to the skill positions, but GM Ted Thompson used the 2014 NFL Draft as an opportunity to restock the passing game, giving Rodgers several new toys to play with during the upcoming season.
Thompson has a good track record when it comes to picking up wide receivers in the second round of the NFL draft, previously hitting on players like Jennings, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb in round two. Green Bay is hoping that trend continues following the selection of Fresno State receiver Davante Adams with the 53rd overall pick. A red shirt sophomore who played just two years of college football, Adams had an incredible run over his last two seasons with the Bulldogs. In just 26 games at Fresno State, Adams set school records for receptions (233) and touchdown catches (38), leading the nation in both categories in 2013.
Adams is a terrific athlete who also starred on the basketball court in high school. That supports the superb box-out and jump-ball skills that made him such a prolific touchdown scorer at Fresno State, where he found the end zone in 22 of 26 career games. Adams has good hands and adjusts well to the ball in the air, but needs to clean up his route running at the next level. Some will also argue that his college numbers were inflated by playing in a spread offense against lesser competition. He also certainly benefited from playing with big-armed quarterback Derek Carr, who was also a second-round draft pick this year. As an early entrant into the draft that won’t turn 22 years old until December, Adams has tremendous upside potential.
Regarding his opportunity to contribute for fantasy owners in 2014, Adams landed in a good spot with the Packers. The team regularly utilizes three-receiver sets and there isn’t much experience behind Nelson, Cobb, and Jarrett Boykin. Adams should challenge Boykin for snaps this season and the rookie could be a real weapon for Green Bay in the red zone, where the Packers will need to replace James Jones’ 13 red-zone targets in 2013 and 17 touchdowns over the last two seasons. Adams’ skill set should translate immediately as a possession receiver and target around the goal line, but the development of his overall game within the Packers’ high-powered offense could offer fantasy owners a real asset as the season progresses. Those in dynasty leagues should note that Nelson and Cobb will each be in the last year of their respective contracts with Green Bay in 2014. Another departure from the Packers receiving corp. would only boost Adams’ long-term value.
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After losing Finley to a career-threatening neck injury in October that required spinal-fusion surgery, the Packers had been in the market for a tight end. Green Bay used a compensatory pick at the end of the third round of the NFL Draft to address the need. With the 98th pick, the Packers selected Richard Rodgers from California, a former high school wide receiver that was recruited to play tight end at Cal by current Buccaneers offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford. Following a coaching change from Tedford to Sonny Dykes after the 2012 season, Rodgers shed 30 pounds and shifted to more of an “F” tight end role, which allowed him to line up as an interior receiver and better suited his natural skill set. Subsequently, Rodgers had his best collegiate season in 2013 when he was third on the team in receptions and receiving yards.
The son of Carolina Panthers special teams coordinator Richard Sr., Rodgers battled ankle, foot, shoulder and thumb injuries in his college career, but has proven to be a hard worker. While he isn’t the biggest (6’4”, 257lbs) or fastest (4.87 in the 40) tight end in this draft class, Rodgers has adequate size and athleticism and catches the ball very well with his big hands (10 1/8”). He is likely to be used as a “move” tight end by the Packers, utilizing the skills and route-running abilities that he demonstrated as a junior at Cal, but Rodgers remains a work in progress that needs to demonstrate greater consistency and discipline in his game. Given the need for additional pass-catching depth in Green Bay (particularly at the tight end position), Rodgers could carve out a role for himself as a possession receiver and red-zone target, although he only managed two touchdowns in his career at Cal. Rodgers has the upside potential to be a player similar to Jordan Reed in Washington, but fantasy owners shouldn’t count on that same type of first-year impact.
In addition to the early-round selections of Adams and Rodgers, the Packers also invested in their receiving corp with the team’s fifth and seventh-round draft picks. Jared Abbrederis is a former walk-on that ended his Wisconsin career as the Badgers all-time leader in receptions (202), also ranking second in team history in receiving yards (3,140) and touchdowns (23). Abbrederis made a name for himself last season by torching touted Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby for 10 catches, 201 yards and a touchdown. He was also an effective kick and punt returner at Wisconsin and a special teams role might be the most likely path to playing time for Abbrederis in Green Bay.
Although drafted two rounds after Abbrederis, Jeff Janis is possibly a more intriguing prospect. He set multiple school records at Saginaw Valley State as a junior in 2012, with 106 receptions for a Division-II-best 1,635 yards and 17 touchdowns. He followed that up with 83 catches for 1,572 yards and 14 touchdowns as a senior. Janis wowed scouts at this year’s NFL Combine, running a 4.42 at 6’3” and 219 pounds. He also recorded a 37 1/2-inch vertical and 10’3” broad jump. Janis’ biggest hurdle will be the massive jump in competition from D-II to the NFL, but he has an elite blend of size and athleticism and will offer tremendous upside potential if he can carve out a role for himself with the Packers. As with Adams, Janis would be an interesting long-term option in Green Bay if either Nelson or Cobb leaves via free agency after the 2014 season.
From the undrafted ranks, the Packers tried out and ultimately signed talented-but-troubled tight end Colt Lyerla. The former Oregon Duck had a slew of off-the-field issues, including an arrest for cocaine possession in October. Still, Lyerla has off-the-charts athleticism (he ran 4.61 in the 40 at 6’4”, 242lbs and ranked considerably higher than any other tight end at the NFL Combine with a 39-inch vertical) and produced 34 catches for 564 yards and 11 touchdowns in an abbreviated college career. If he can get his life together, Lyerla could be the type of “move” tight end that Aaron Hernandez was.