One of the more well-known Green Bay Packers podcasts is the one presented by the guys over at the Acme Packing Company. In their most recent episode, the question of which Packer might not make the opening 53-man roster that might surprise Packers fans was brought up. The first name they mentioned was wide receiver Jeff Janis, a player who hasn’t reached his receiving potential. The Acme Packing Company crew argued that the potential of rookie wide receivers Malachi Dupre, a seventh round pick out of LSU, and DeAngelo Yancey, a fifth round pick out of Purdue, was more than what Janis currently brings to the table. Although potential is always a good thing when it comes to young players, still, Janis has done more and deserves to make the cut.
Jeff Janis Has a Spot on the Green Bay Packers 53-Man Roster
There is no defending the numbers Janis has put up during his three-year career. So far, the former Saginaw Valley State star has only registered 15 career regular season receptions for 188 receiving yards and only one touchdown reception. In most cases, those types of numbers, especially for a player who was just a seventh round draft choice, wouldn’t be enough to secure a regular season roster spot. But there is more to this story than just what he has done in the Packers offense. Without being able to make his mark in the Packers passing attack, Janis did what most young NFL players have to do when they are fighting for a roster spot. He focused on special teams.
Janis Proves his Worth on Special Teams
Janis came from a Division II football program that asked him to do one thing, use his speed and athletic ability to beat his overmatched opponents. Janis was a man among boys at that level, but when he joined the Packers, he quickly learned that there was more that goes into being a professional wide receiver. Even heading into his fourth year in the NFL, he is still learning to play wide receiver at the next level. To go along with having to learn the position, he has also had to earn the confidence of his quarterback, Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers is a stickler for having his fellow offensive teammates play like they practice during the week and it appears that Janis has had issues with doing just that. In the NFL, if you are one-dimensional and you aren’t getting the job done doing that one thing, there isn’t much value for you in the league. But Janis’ size (6’3”, 219 pounds), speed (4.40 in the 40-yard dash), and athletic ability were too much to be overlooked. That is where special teams came in.
Packers special teams coordinator Ron Zook covets explosive athletes and Janis fits that bill to a “T.” With nowhere to fit in the Packers offense, Zook took the ultra athletic Janis and inserted him into his kickoff and punt coverage units in 2015 and Janis quickly took to it. Janis became the gunner on punt coverage as well as a key member on their kickoff return coverage unit. He quickly made his mark on both of them. He registered 16 total tackles in his two seasons as a member of the Packers special teams.
Not only is Janis a core player on the coverage units, he also has been asked to return kicks for the Packers. During the past two seasons, Janis has returned 20 kicks for an average of 26.2 yards per return. In 2015, Janis returned three kicks for 40 yards or more. Janis might not have reached his potential as a wide receiver, but he seems to have found a niche on the Packers special teams unit.
This wouldn’t be the first time a wide receiver has made a mark in the NFL as a special teams player. Current New England Patriots wide receiver Matthew Slater has become a standout on special teams in the NFL. Slater has made six Pro Bowls as a special teams player and it doesn’t appear he is slowing down anytime soon. Former Buffalo Bill Steve Tasker had a very long career as a special teams player. Listed as a wide receiver, Tasker made his mark on special teams and some have argued that he is Hall of Fame worthy. Janis isn’t to either Slater or Tasker’s level, but if he keeps doing what he has done, there is no reason to believe he can’t reach those levels.
Yancey and Dupre seem like they are very solid receiving prospects. But at this point, their value doesn’t match what Janis brings to the table as a special teams player for the Packers. With the Packers having standout wide receivers Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, and Davante Adams line up as the number one, two, and three wide receivers, the receivers behind them need to do just more than play wide receiver. It appears Geronimo Allison has the best shot to be the number four wide receiver for the Packers this season and even he has been practicing on special teams this training camp. The NFL is a win now league and with that, you need your best players on the field, and Janis has shown that he is more of a value at this point.
Still, the chance of Janis contributing to the Packers passing game isn’t over. True, the numbers don’t support that theory, but let us not forget what he did in the Packers playoff game against the Arizona Cardinals in 2016. With the wide receivers unit depleted by injuries, Janis stepped in and had seven receptions for 145 yards and two touchdowns. So far, Janis is off to a strong start this preseason with with four catches for 83 yards and one touchdown.
Janis might not be where the Packers would like as a wide receiver, but he has made his mark on special teams and really, has earned the right to be on the Packers 53-man roster.