Last week, Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press Gazette took the debate over the Green Bay Packers wide receiver situation up another notch.
While many have speculated that the receiver-rich Packers could take six into the regular season, Demovsky—one of the most plugged in reporters on the Packers' beat—predicted Green Bay will actually carry seven on their first 53-man roster of the 2012 season.
"I think they are going to keep seven," Demovsky said when asked who was the odd man out at receiver . "They've done it before—they've kept five tight ends once, they've kept three fullbacks. I think seven receivers, and all those guys—[Tori] Gurley, [Diondre] Borel, James Jones—they are all here."
The Packers kept five at the position last season and haven't been over that mark to start a season since Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy took over the reins in 2006.
Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb are roster locks, while Donald Driver and James Jones are very likely to make the final roster. Driver has monetary roster insurance in the form of a previously paid $1.2 million bonus, and Jones—despite enduring waves of criticism—has been one of the NFL's most productive third (and sometimes fourth) receivers. Barring an injury or some unforeseen circumstance, both should be on the team come the start of September.
The rest of the receiver debate centers around Gurley and Borel, who each spent the 2011 season on the Packers' practice squad and were later given salary hikes to ensure they stuck around Green Bay for another offseason.
Gurley, a 6-4, 230-pounder, has a unique body among the Packers receivers and also displayed a knack for blocking kicks during training camp last season. If he's taken any steps forward this offseason, he's likely ready to be on an NFL 53-man roster in 2012.
Borel, a former college quarterback who stands 6-0 and weighs 199 pounds, has been praised throughout the spring by both Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers. Like Gurley, Borel is likely ready for an active roster spot if he's made the kind of improvement McCarthy and Rodgers have mentioned.
However, if the Packers keep both Gurley and Borel to start this season, positions on offense will almost certainly need cuts.
Here's a quick positional breakdown of how the Packers could keep seven receivers on their first 53-man roster of 2012:
The early assumption has been that the Packers will keep three quarterbacks, with Aaron Rodgers, Graham Harrell and 2012 rookie B.J. Coleman rounding off the trio.
While Green Bay went into 2011 with just two, replicating that in 2012 would put the Packers at risk of losing Coleman before they ever get a real chance to see what they have. The seventh-rounder from UT-Chattanooga showed enough natural arm talent this summer to think he'd be a difficult player to cut and then get back on the practice squad. But keeping just two quarterbacks on he 53-man roster is something the Packers have been comfortable with, and I wouldn't rule it out here either, especially if there is confidence in getting Coleman back on the practice squad.
Three is the assumption at running back, too. James Starks, Alex Green and Brandon Saine are the overwhelming favorites to be the final three, while UDFAs Marc Tyler and Duane Bennett will attempt to steal a spot in camp. But this is already a bone-dry position overall, and the chances of carrying four running backs is much stronger than two. The Packers can't afford any cuts here.
John Kuhn was the lone fullback last season after the Packers spent three roster spots at the position in 2010. Green Bay won't go three again, but there's no cut available here.
Most will point to tight end as the one position flexible enough for the Packers to carry seven receivers. Jermichael Finley is an obvious lock, but there are unknowns on the depth chart after Finley.
The best case scenario for Andrew Quarless is starting the season on the PUP list, but I doubt the Packers are counting on much from him in 2012 after he tore up his knee last season. There's still talk of him missing the entire 2012 season.
While Quarless' likely absence opens up one roster spot, where does the next cut come from?
Tom Crabtree and Ryan Taylor are similar players, but both have become established special teams contributors. Losing either would be a significant blow to an area in which Packers coach Mike McCarthy puts a high emphasis on. And cutting Crabtree—on top of losing Quarless to injury—voids the Packers of a true blocking tight end.
D.J. Williams was underwhelming in his first season, but his versatility around the offense gives him a good chance at sticking around. I'm not convinced the Packers are ready to give up on a guy that has some natural pass-catching ability, and I'm even less convinced that Green Bay would carry just one fullback and three tight ends if Williams wasn't one.
But let's now do the math: Three quarterbacks and running backs, one fullback, seven receivers and four tight ends, plus a minimum of eight offensive linemen. That scenario puts the Packers at 26 offensive players, a higher total than Green Bay has started a season with in the last three years.
And considering how poor the defense was last season—and the ensuing draft that saw six defensive players picked—keeping just 24 on that side of the ball seems unlikely. To start 2011, Green Bay kept 26 defensive players, including 10 linebackers and 10 players in the secondary. Is there enough on that side of the ball to think Thompson would trim its numbers by two to start 2012?
I'm not ready to rule out the possibility of the Packers keeping seven receivers, mostly because Thompson has a long history of keeping the best players regardless of position. But having seven receivers on the 53 puts serious pressure not only on other offensive positions, but also especially on the defensive side of the ball. At that point, the reward for keeping seven probably outweighs the risk.
Let's also not lose sight of the fact that training camp hasn't even started. Gurley and Borel still have plenty of work ahead of them to make this a worthwhile discussion. We can retrace our steps sometime next month to truly get a grasp on the seven receiver debate.
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