Welcome to the third installment of my position analysis of the 2009 Green Bay Packers...this one is going to be fun!
Why? Because the Packers were one of only five teams to have two 1000-yard receivers in 2009 and one of only three to have both as wide receivers.
The only better one-two wide receiver punch than Greg Jennings and Donald Driver in receiving yards was Wes Welker and Randy Moss. While some of this success has to be credited to Aaron Rodgers, his quick development into a Pro Bowl quarterback is largely attributable to the number of weapons at his disposal.
Greg Jennings: B (68 catches, 1113 yds, 16.4 ave, 4 TDs, 0 fum lost)
Jennings had a great season in terms of total yards and yards per catch, but he had 12 fewer catches for 179 fewer yards and less than half the touchdown success he had in 2008, when he scored nine times. He also saw his reception streak end in game two of the season, when he was shut out by the Cincinnati Bengals.
However, the third-year standout was the Packers most effective wide receiver in the playoffs, catching eight passes for 130 yards (16.3 average) and a touchdown.
Donald Driver: B (70 catches, 1061 yds, 15.2 ave, 6 TDs, 1 fum lost; 1 carry for 13 yards)
Driver also gets only a B because he not only lost a fumble in the regular season, but another in a playoff game that served as a disappointing final exam. In a game in which receivers ran unimpeded for both Arizona and Green Bay, Driver managed only four catches for 43 yards and no scores, with 28 of those yards coming on one catch. He also led the team with seven dropped passes.
However, in the regular season, the then-34-year old receiver had a bit of a resurgence, with his best yardage and touchdown totals since 2006 and best average per catch since 2002. He had his sixth straight and seventh overall 1000-yard season and became the top receiver in Packers history--one that includes such notables as Don Hutson, James Lofton, and Sterling Sharpe.
Jermichael Finley: A- (55 catches, 676 yds, 12.3 ave, 5 TDs, 1 fum lost)
Finley started the season as the No. 2 tight end, and still had to split time with Donald Lee by the end of the season even when it was apparent he was a difference-maker Lee never could be. Part of the reason for this, and the entire reason he does not get a full A, is he still needs work blocking, but he has already shown improvement as the season wore on there.
Despite splitting time, he managed to finish 10th among tight ends in yards, seventh in average per catch among those with 500-plus yards, and tied for 11th in touchdowns--all huge improvements over his rookie campaign. He was also a beast in the playoffs, with six catches for 159 yards (26.5 average), albeit no scores.
James Jones: C+ (32 catches, 440 yds, 13.8 ave, 5 TDs, 0 fum)
Jones qualifies as one of the best third-receivers on any roster, but has yet to come close to his rookie totals of 47 catches and 676 yards. However, he was a big threat to score, tying the team high among Packers receivers, and had a productive enough day in the playoffs, with three catches for 50 yards and a score.
Jordy Nelson: C+ (22 catches, 320 yds, 14.5 ave, 2 TDs, 1 fum lost)
Here I am grading Nelson only on his receiving, not special teams play. There is no doubt in my mind that he is the best fourth receiver any team has.
He gets only a C+ because of his fumbles (two others in the regular season were not lost) and his lack of impact in the playoffs (one catch--on which he fumbled but did not lose it--for 11 yards). He also failed to improve on a rookie season that saw him catch 33 passes for 366 yards (11.1 ave) and two scores, though that is largely because he missed three games.
Donald Lee: D (37 catches, 260 yards, 7.0 average, 1 TD, 0 fum)
Why Lee gets playing time is beyond me. I am not ragging on the guys' work ethic--how many undrafted free agent tight ends spend a few years as the starter for a prolific passing attack? He is also a solid blocker, and while he does drop passes, I think that is a lack of ability to be in the right position, ready for the catch.
But he started six games this year even though it was apparent by the preseason that Finely forced opposing defenses to make adjustments, far outweighing the minimal drop-off in blocking between the two. Lee's contributions as a receiver have become the two-yard out and the safety valve, routes anyone else the Packers get to play the position can handle.
Lee was the only receiver to be shut out in the playoffs, dropping the only pass sent his way. I do not expect him to make the 2010 roster.
Spencer Havner: A (seven catches, 112 yds, 16 ave, 4 TDs, 0 fum)
Havner gets such a good grade despite very little production (he only produced yardage in five games for the season) because as a converted linebacker and practice squad player, he was only the team's third tight end because Tory Humphrey was lost for the season before it started. Getting touchdowns on four of his seven touches (all in his last five catches) also led the team, and he played well in the playoffs, with two catches for 16 yards and a touchdown.
Overall: B- (292 touches, 3995 yards, 13.7 ave, 28 TDs, 2 fum lost)
These are very solid numbers, but again are partially attribuable to Rodgers. Had it not been for dropped passes (there is no current, comprehensive statistic I could find for this, but my perception is we generally had more than our opponents) and fumbles, this would easily have been a high B rather than a low one.