Admit it, you either love him or hate him. The battle lines are drawn, and there’s little use in trying to change the set minds of people at this point. So how did Jeff Janis come to be so polarizing?
Janis never launched any public relations campaign. He’s not boastful, a showboater, or a self-promoter. The Hype Train, as Janis fans are sometimes called, formed very naturally. What he did in the 2014 training camp, and then again in 2015 – and is doing again this summer, after spending the 2016 preseason in a hand cast, is make plays – many of them big and spectacular.
I’ve gone through Jeff’s history a number of times, but for new readers, for anyone who still might possess an open mind, and for those who think his good showing this preseason is a surprise, let me recap.
Three Years of Futility
In 2014, as the seventh-round draft choice out of Division II Saginaw Valley State, Jeff barely got to play in the preseason. He had two passes thrown his way. They both went for touchdowns, 33 and 34 yards.
His very first catch in a game as a pro was a simple dump-off, one yard past the line of scrimmage and between the hash marks. Janis simply left all Rams’ defenders in his wake as he swung to the sideline and turned the corner. It was electrifying and a love affair by the fans had begun.
In 2015, Janis was the dominant receiver in preseason, this time catching 10 balls, and taking three of them into the endzone.
Despite his preseason success, Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy barely gave him any playing time in either of his first two years. Janis, unbelievably, had only two regular season catches in 2014, and two more in 2015.
Finally, Fat Mike was left with no choice, due to injuries, but to insert Janis into the lineup in the second quarter of a playoff game with the Cardinals, following the 2015 season. Jeff’s seven-catch 145-yard, two-touchdown performance in that near-miracle comeback and overtime loss, is simply one of the finest receiving displays in NFL postseason history. And Janis got only 55 percent of the offensive snap counts in the game!
Janis fans were confident that he’d finally get a chance to show what he could do in the 2016 season. We were wrong. For the third year in a row, McCarthy refused to play him beyond token snaps or when he simply had no other healthy receivers. Even then, Janis continued to show his knack for making big plays and getting into the endzone.
After spending several weeks in a hand cast to start the 2016 season, Janis was allowed to catch 11 passes on the season. Despite other receivers playing with injuries, a healthy Janis was targeted one time in the last five games of the season.
Never mind that Janis has also looked sharp as a kick returner. Never mind that even McCarthy admits he’s a great special teams player and an “Olympian” in the weight room. Janis has had but one chance in three years under McCarthy to play a good portion of a game. The nation saw the result against Arizona.
The reason Janis is polarizing is simply because McCarthy won’t play him, so all those who blindly believe in the genius of our coach have concluded Janis is no good, he’s a failure, and he should be let go. This will be the fourth year in a row Janis is considered to be on the bubble for making the final roster.
The McCarthy Coverup
Tellingly, it was Fat Mike who added fuel to the Janis debate in the aftermath of that heartbreaking loss to the Cardinals.
Most fans can readily picture that final catch, with time having run out, Aaron Rodgers hurled the ball up for grabs, and Janis went 15 yards to chase it down and out-battle All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson for the catch. Rodgers was credited with a sensational throw; Janis’ two catches for 101 yards (there was a five-yard penalty) on that final drive have ever since been labeled “flukes” by his detractors – even though he’s been making such big plays going back to high school.
Why in the world would the coach, two days later in Green Bay at his season-ending press conference, criticize and belittle the player who performed such heroics? Here’s what Fat Mike said:
“I think Jeff Janis is one of those examples you look for. You look for players to take a jump in their second year and some guys do it at a different point in the season. Jared Abbrederis and Jeff Janis need to earn their opportunities. I thought Jeff struggled in the preseason. I had him in my office for a film session and I thought he picked it up on special teams. He did some big-time things for us. Really as a receiver, he was inconsistent. He had some chances, up-and-down. What’s really impressive about the performance of Jeff as a receiver in Arizona is we didn’t take him off special teams.”
That’s called damning with faint praise.
The fact is: McCarthy has flat-out never given this incredible athlete a fair chance. Instead, after the Cardinals’ game, he’s taken to blaming Janis, not himself, for his lack of prior playing time.
When was Janis given chances as a receiver in 2015? If he was so inconsistent, as McCarthy later claimed, during that preseason, how did he manage 10 catches and three touchdowns in the preseason games?
I followed Janis’ progress like a magnet in 2014 and 2015. He was a preseason star both years, both at practices and when given a chance in preseason games. Back then, no one was carping about route-running, about Janis being “raw,” or about up-and-down performances. That’s all part of the coverup.
What were people talking about in 2015? Let me take you back to October 18, 2015, when Janis got his only two catches on the year. The first one wasn’t even thrown to him, but he came out of nowhere to make a sliding 46-yard catch on Aaron Rodgers’ overthrow. The other was a simple underhanded flip, which Janis turned into a 33-yard ramble.
After that game, people were talking about Janis, and some reporter got these responses when he asked some Packers’ defensive backs about the “surprise” showing:
“(Janis is a) great, great, great deep ball threat.” – Quinten Rollins
“Man, Janis is a hell of a player. Speed? You can’t teach that.” – Sam Shields
“I knew he was fast the first day I stepped in (a drill) at camp. His is deceptive-looking fast because he’s so long-legged.” – Damarious Randall (who insists Janis has 4.3, not 4.4, speed)
“That boy is fast… The first 10 yards, you think you have him, and after that he’s just flying.” – Micah Hyde
None of these defensive backs could fathom why Janis wasn’t in the lineup.
The Great Agility Myth
As long as I’m venting, let’s put to rest the notion Janis is “stiff-hipped,” that he has no moves, and that all he can do is run fast in a straight line.
A player’s agility is measured by two tests at the NFL Combine: the 20-yard short shuttle and the 3-cone drill. Janis’ times are 3.98 and 6.64, for a cumulative agility time of 10.62 seconds. I challenge anyone (mockdraftable.com is one source) to name a player anywhere near Janis’ 6’3” and 219-pound size who can beat that cumulative time – any team, any position, any era.
My conclusion: Janis has possessed enormous ability from the day he arrived in Green Bay and McCarthy has squandered his talent.
After the heartbreaking loss to the Cardinals, McCarthy was besieged by reporters asking why Janis hadn’t been playing. He either had to admit he mistakenly failed to give Janis a fair chance to play, or that Janis really wasn’t much of a receiver – and he chose the latter.
I went into much more detail last summer. In fact, I examined 589 receivers since the late 1990s who’ve taken the NFL Combine tests, looking to see who had the best combination of size, speed, agility, and strength. Jeff Janis came out numero uno!
To not put this guy on the field is an unpardonable offense, and a permanent stain on McCarthy’s coaching ability.
After McCarthy’s continued snub throughout the 2016 season and playoffs, I urged the Packers to do the right thing: “Trade Jeff Janis.”
More than ever, that continues to be my plea. Janis deserves better than to be Fat Mike’s whipping boy. I don’t really care about his special teams play. He’s made to be a receiver. For the good of the team, and for Janis himself, let’s clear a roster spot for someone McCarthy is willing to play.
And, yes, I do continue to think Janis has trade value.