Packers: Jeff Janis enjoying another strong preseason, but role may limited to special teams in regular season
GREEN BAY — Jeff Janis knows he’s entering his fourth NFL season. He just can’t quite believe it.
“I’m pretty much a veteran in the league now,” the Green Bay Packers wide receiver said this week. “It’s pretty weird to say.”
It’s also atypical for a fourth-year player to still have a lot of potential in front of him. By Year 4, most players are who they are. But in Janis’ case — given the rudimentary offense he played in at Division II Saginaw Valley State and the talent ahead of him on the depth chart — it’s possible, at age 26, his best football is still in front of him.
And with the playmaking ability he’s shown — yet again —this preseason, who’s to say it’s not?
“I’ve seen it go both ways, as far as when guys come into the league, maybe they don’t take off quite when you’d expect,” offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett said. “But I’ve seen other guys, when they hit that third, fourth and, in some cases, even (further) down the road, they really start to take off. Timing is everything.
“Once you get into a situation where you get comfortable as far as understanding your assignment, the fundamentals and the techniques that are involved in your assignment, I think it certainly helps your play and you’re able to play a little bit more consistently. That’s something we all strive for.”
After not playing in any of the four preseason games last summer because of a broken right hand, Janis has been up to his old summertime tricks this year, having caught four passes for 83 yards and a touchdown in the first two exhibition games.
In the Aug. 10 opener against Philadelphia, he caught a 20-yard touchdown pass from Brett Hundley on a nifty stutter-go route; last Saturday night, he caught three passes for 63 yards, including an attention-grabbing 38-yarder.
“Jeff’s really in the groove,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “He’s an excellent four-down player both on offense and special teams, and he’s had big plays both last week and this week. He’s having a great training camp.”
That’s not the first time that’s been said about Janis, who flashed as a rookie seventh-round pick in 2014, when both his preseason receptions went for touchdowns (34, 33 yards), and in 2015, when he caught 10 passes for 149 yards and three TDs.
But Janis’ contributions in games that actually count have been limited. He enters his fourth season with 15 career receptions for 188 yards and one TD in regular-season play. His production in the Packers’ 2015 NFC divisional playoff loss at Arizona — seven receptions, 145 yards, two TDs — nearly matched in one game his production in 35 career regular-season games.
“I think when you look at the work ethic that he puts into it, his study habits, I think he is putting himself in a position where he’s able to step out on that field and be extremely productive,” Bennett said. “But just like anything else: You have to continue to do it every single time and make the most of every opportunity as far as from a rep standpoint. As far as being fundamentally sound and doing it the way the coaches are asking him to do it, I think he’s moving in the right direction. Now, it’s time to apply it.”
Most of Janis’ contributions last season came on special teams, where he has emerged as one of the Packers’ best players in coverage. It also looks like the kickoff return job is his to lose this preseason, as he’s been the first man up on kickoffs.
Ideally, Janis would like to contribute on offense, too. Already behind Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Davante Adams on the depth chart, he watched as undrafted rookie Geronimo Allison moved ahead of him midway through last season. Janis played 233 of a possible 1,294 regular-season offensive snaps last year, but he went from playing 190 snaps on offense during the first eight games to playing just 43 in the final eight.
Now, with the Packers having added two rookie receivers in the draft (fifth-rounder DeAngelo Yancey and seventh-rounder Malachi Dupre), with two second-year receivers still in the mix (Allison and Trevor Davis) and with former practice-squadder Max McCaffrey coming on, Janis has plenty of competition for playing time on offense — even if he’ll likely make the team on his special teams prowess alone.
“That’s a big role for me on this football team, to play well on special teams, so I take it really seriously,” Janis said. “And if that’s going to be my job, I’m going to go out there and do it to the best of my ability.”
Janis is entering the final year of his contract, and perhaps it’ll take a change of scenery — and a team with less depth at receiver — to allow him to realize his potential. He feels he’s come a long way with quarterback Aaron Rodgers — “I think I’m starting to get there,” he said of being on the two-time NFL MVP’s wavelength — and insists that more in-game snaps would further accelerate his connection with No. 12.
“I would love to stay in Green Bay — obviously. I love it here and I think I fit in really well here. So I’d love to stay here. But you never know,” Janis said. “There’s a lot of teams that don’t have a lot of depth at receiver, and we have eight, nine, 10 guys who could play for us. There’s teams out there that have two or three guys that can play and that’s it. So I definitely feel like I could play.“I look at it as, I’ve got a lot of good talent in front of me as well. I’ve got Jordy, Randall, Davante — I mean, those are hard guys to beat out for a job. I’m just trying to show up every day and do my best. If my role is to play on special teams, that’s what I’m going to do and I’m going to do my best. And if something happens to those guys, I’m going to go in there and try to make plays.”