The Pack Without Cobb: Can They Still be Effective?

Can Aaron Rodgers overcome a rash of injuries to his wide receivers?

Aaron Rodgers is going to get the opportunity to justify the 40 million dollars the Packers are paying him this year. With Randall Cobb on the short-term IR and James Jones looking like a game time decision in Week 7, there is a strong chance that Jarrett Boykin and Myles White (an undrafted rookie who was a practice squad member as of Monday) will be the Packers' number two and three wide receivers this week. Even Tom Brady cringes at that thought.

But that's just Week 7. Randall Cobb's absence will surely make a big impact down the stretch. How? Just take a look.

Jordy Nelson Survives!

Thankfully for Rodgers, his last healthy wide receiver, surprisingly enough, is the injury-prone Jordy Nelson. Nelson, according to numberFire’s advanced metrics, has been the Packers best receiver and the fourth-most productive one in all of football this year, posting a reception NEP of 44.31 so far. This metric shows how many points a player is adding for his team above or below expectation. In this case, Nelson has contributed over 44 points for the Packers compared to an average receiver in a similar situation.

Despite his robust production, Nelson has only been the 38th-most targeted wide receiver in football, with Davone Bess and Greg Little somehow garnering more looks. With Cobb out, expect Rodgers to look to Nelson more than he has thus far in the season. Our projections have Nelson as the eighth-highest scoring wide receiver for the rest of the year, partially due to Cobb's absence.

Eddie Lacy and Jermichael Finley

Also, look for the Packers to continue working their surprisingly effective ground game (5.2 yards per carry as a team). The Packers currently have the sixth-best rushing NEP, generating 6.06 more points across the 2013 season compared to an average rushing attack. Eddie Lacy ran for 122 yards against a formidable Ravens rushing defense and the Packers pass to run ratio was a season low 1.46:1. Expect a continued emphasis on the ground game and a departure from the three wide receiver sets the Packers have used around 80 percent of the year so far. Jermichael Finley and Andrew Quarless should get more playing time in two tight end sets as a result.

Finley, in particular, is a Packer who could see a large spike in production. He has 29 targets (tied for third on the Packers with Jones), but has done it in 25 percent less offensive snaps than Jones (208 to 281). He has actually been on the field for less than 60 percent of offensive plays all year. We project Finely to have 50.77 catches during the remaining games, the sixth-highest of any tight end. With Finley likely be taking over many of Cobb's short to intermediate routes, Finely becomes an even more solid option in PPR leagues the rest of the way.

Jarrett Boykin and James Jones

Boykin was a popular fantasy pick-up this week, but he derives most of his value from the extent of James Jones' injury. If Jones can’t play or is very limited, Boykin will see a lot of playing time in standard two wide receiver sets. He saw six targets last week and has hopefully bought stick-um to put on his gloves after some unfortunate drops. If Jones is close to his typical self (rather than performing a Roddy White-esque impersonation of his former self), Boykin will be a clear fourth option behind Nelson, Finley, and Jones with Cobb out. We project Jones to still be the 21st highest-scoring receiver for the rest of the season, but that optimistic projection is based on Jones coming back fully healthy.

What to Expect

It will be interesting to see if any one receiver takes over Cobb’s role as the slot/possession receiver. Despite missing most of the last game, Cobb still leads the Packers with 45 targets and 29 receptions. With Nelson and Jones serving as deep threats on the outside, Cobb often worked the higher percentage underneath routes. Will Boykin move into this role if Jones is able to go? Will Finley see more time split out as a slot receiver? Will McCarthy move Nelson around the field more to get him more targets?

It appears as though we should expect Lacy to see a heavier workload and we should assume more targets for Nelson and Finley. Unfortunately, with most of their weapons down, Nelson figures to face Joe Haden and a Browns defense this week that has allowed the sixth-fewest points to opposing wide receivers. However, after a tough matchup this week, the Packers face a schedule that would have drool dripping off Rodgers fu manchu. Over the next eight weeks, they have six matchups against defenses in numberFire's bottom 10. The Giants, Eagles, Vikings (who they play twice), Falcons, and Cowboys have combined for an NEP of 212.57. This essentially means they have allowed 212 points more than an "average" defense would. I don't care if Rodgers is throwing to the ghost of Sterling Sharpe, the Packers will be able to put points on the board. Nelson, Lacy, Finley, and a healthy Jones all look like they'll gain some fantasy value with increased targets/touches and a weak upcoming schedule.