Thursday, September 19, 2013
The possibility of three 1,000-yard receivers
By Rob Demovsky
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Projecting statistical numbers two weeks into the season can be fun, if somewhat meaningless.
Take Green Bay Packers receiver James Jones for example. He didn’t catch a single pass in Week 1 against the San Francisco 49ers. Last Sunday, he caught 11 passes for 178 yards against the Washington Redskins. After two weeks, Jones is on pace for 88 catches and 1,424 yards for a 16-game regular season.
The reality is that Jones’ numbers will probably end up somewhere in the middle, considering that over the past three seasons he has averaged 51 catches and 699 yards.
But it was Jones who suggested before the season started that the Packers could have three 1,000-yard receivers this season.
“That’s a high bar; that’s a pretty high bar there,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “I think it’s possible.”
Sure enough, after two games, Jones, Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson all are on pace for 1,000 yards receiving (see accompanying chart).
“You all thought I was lying?” Jones said Thursday. “I was dead serious. I believe in Jordan and Randall, and you’ve definitely got to believe in yourself playing this game. And I knew if all three of us could stay healthy and the quarterback we’ve got throwing the ball, you know, three 1,000-yard receivers can happen.”
Considering how much the Packers have used their three-receiver set with Jones, Cobb and Nelson so far this season, that might not be as far-fetched as it sounded at the time.
The Packers have used some variation of a three-receiver set (sometimes with one tight end and one running back, sometimes with two running backs and sometimes with two tight ends) on 111 of 128 snaps this season, not including plays nullified by penalties. The most common set -- three receivers, one tight end and one running back -- has been used 103 times.
Jones has played all but three snaps this season, and Nelson has played all but four. Cobb has played all but 17.
“All the years I’ve been here, we’ve had a wide receiver rotation, and this is the only year that me, Jordy and Randall [are] the three,” Jones said. “And we’re going to be on the field all the time, basically.”
What’s more, tight end Jermichael Finley isn’t far off the 1,000-yard pace either. His numbers through two games project out to 88 catches for 968 yards.
But Jones wasn’t willing to say four 1,000-yard pass-catchers is in the cards.
“I’m only going to stick with three right now,” Jones said. “And if J-Mike ends up beating one of us out for a thousand yards, I still told you we would have three 1,000-yard receivers.”
According to ESPN Stats & Information, only five teams have had three players each finish with 1,000 yards receiving (see accompanying chart), the most recent of which was the Arizona Cardinals in 2008 with Larry Fitzgerald (1,431 yards), Anquan Boldin (1,038) and Steve Breaston (1,006).
With a combined 610 yards through two games, the Packers lead the league in combined yards by wide receivers, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Of the Packers’ trio, only Nelson has a 1,000-yard season (1,263 in 2011) to his credit. Cobb had 954 yards receiving last season but missed the final 1½ games because of an ankle injury. Jones’ career best was 784 yards last season.
“If we all have more opportunities like we’re getting this year, I think it’s possible,” Nelson said. “It’s two games, but you can see how quick it can happen. James went from no yards in Week 1 to  in Week 2. That’s how quick it can change week to week. It’ll be interesting how the year plays out.”