Evan Silva

Offseason Low Down

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Packers Fantasy Preview

Monday, July 4, 2016


Packers Year in Review

2015 Pass Attempts Rank: 18th (573)
2015 Rush Attempts Rank: 12th (436)
2015 Total Offensive Plays Rank: 9th (1,056)
2015 Yards Per Play Rank: 29th (5.1)

Projected Starting Lineup

QB: Aaron Rodgers
RB: Eddie Lacy
WR: Jordy Nelson
WR: Randall Cobb
WR: Jeff Janis
TE: Jared Cook
LT: David Bakhtiari
LG: Josh Sitton
C: Corey Linsley
RG: T.J. Lang
RT: Bryan Bulaga

Passing Game Outlook

A top-two fantasy passer in six of his previous seven years, Aaron Rodgers slumped to QB7 last season amid supporting cast chaos. Losing Jordy Nelson to a preseason ACL tear and getting offensive line play that vastly underachieved for a unit that was returning all five starters, the Packers' passing game fell into a weekly state of dysfunction. As Green Bay's receivers couldn't win versus man coverage -- and Mike McCarthy's staff refused to help them -- the passing "attack" amounted to Rodgers scrambling around to buy time, then heaving improvised passes into a covered-someone's direction. Especially late in the year, that covered someone was 32-year-old James Jones, who during the 2015 offseason was cut by both the Raiders and Giants and is currently unsigned. Even in his career-worst year, Rodgers finished top ten in the NFL in passing touchdowns, eighth in completions of 20-plus yards, and seventh in fantasy quarterback points. Green Bay again returns its entire offensive arsenal with Nelson back, Eddie Lacy rounding into shape, and intriguing speedster Jeff Janis potentially primed for a third-year leap. For good reason, early fantasy drafters are approaching Rodgers as an obvious bounce-back candidate, making him the QB2 off the board behind only Cam Newton. Rodgers' outlook is boosted by a plus slate versus the AFC South, NFC East, and Falcons at the Georgia Dome.

The Packers took no chances with Jordy Nelson this spring, holding him out of team drills at OTAs. He declared himself game ready in early June. Although reports on Nelson's ACL recovery have been overwhelmingly positive, it's worth noting that the list of starting NFL receivers with past ACL tears is somewhat alarmingly short, and Jordy suffered his injury on the wrong side of 30. The most notable recent success story was a 26-year-old Jeremy Maclin, who went 85-1,318-10 with Philadelphia after missing all of 2013 with a torn ACL. A top-12 WR1 in three of his prior four seasons, Nelson remains a solid bet to return as an every-week fantasy starter, though expecting him to fully recapture previous form would require a leap of faith. At present, Nelson is my overall WR13 behind Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham, Julio Jones, A.J. Green, Dez Bryant, Allen Robinson, DeAndre Hopkins, Keenan Allen, Alshon Jeffery, Brandon Marshall, T.Y. Hilton, and Brandin Cooks.

Two years ago, Jonathan Bales penned a Rotoworld column showing how and theorizing why players tend to decline or regress after signing big-money contracts. Randall Cobb's 2015 would have strengthened Bales' data set, as the Packers' slot receiver inked a four-year, $40 million deal last offseason only to establish career lows in yards per target (6.43), yards per reception (10.5), and catch rate (61.2%). Cobb's WR25 (PPR) and WR31 (non-PPR) finishes were incredibly disappointing considering his career-high 129 targets and ADP inflation following Nelson's ACL tear. Still just 25 -- he'll turn 26 in late August -- Cobb is a strong bet to rebound as explained in Rich Hribar's Wide Receiver Notebook. Improved perimeter play will eliminate the cloud coverages Cobb failed to sift through last year, and it wasn't long ago that Cobb was producing close to Nelson's level. Both were top-six fantasy receivers in 2014. It is assumed Nelson will immediately retake Green Bay's lead receiver job, an aggressive take seeing as Jordy is 31 years old and just missed an entire season of football with a significant knee injury. If Nelson returns at 70-80 percent of his old self, I don't think it's out of the question that Cobb could pace the 2016 Packers in receiving. He's one of my favorite third-round fantasy picks.

The Packers run three-receiver packages on over 70 percent of their snaps, so Green Bay's third wideout position is worth monitoring, even if recent fantasy returns have disappointed. Most disappointing was Davante Adams, a 2014 second-round pick who flopped in the role last season. PFF charged Adams with ten drops on just 92 targets, and his average of 3.1 yards-after-catch per reception ranked 108th among 119 qualified receivers. Adams ranked dead last in the league in yards per target (5.14) among receivers with at least 40 catches. Adams can't be written off at age 23, but he should be approached with skepticism. His primary competition will be Jeff Janis, a third-year project out of Saginaw Valley State who runs 4.42 at 6-foot-3, 219 and exploded for a 7-145-2 line on 11 targets in Green Bay's Divisional Round loss to Arizona. Via noted receiver guru Matt Harmon, here is an excellent summation of Janis' breakout game. A darker-horse contender is gadget guy Ty Montgomery, a 2015 third-round pick who returned kickoffs and sprinkled into the Packers' offense when he wasn't battling a recurring ankle injury as a rookie. Even if Janis is utilized as a low-volume role player, I think his ability to lift the lid would give the Packers' offense a dimension it presently lacks, and certainly lacked sans Nelson last year.

Because they spend so much time in three-receiver "11" personnel, the Packers' two-tight end "12" usage is limited. Incumbent Richard Rodgers logged 62 percent of Green Bay's 2015 snaps, while Nos. 2 and 3 tight ends Justin Perillo and Andrew Quarless both came in under nine percent. This year, athletic underachiever Jared Cook will push un-athletic Rodgers for first-team work. Neither is a good enough blocker to earn a full-time role, but beat writers foresee Cook winning the job. Although Cook stands 6-foot-5, 246 and runs like a wideout (4.50), he has never been a high-volume pass catcher and has never produced in the red zone. Cook has three touchdowns over his last 32 games, a span of 91 receptions. Two of those three scores occurred in the same game. Essentially a one-trick-pony vertical tight end, Cook is best employed as a seam stretcher between the twenties. Even with Aaron Rodgers now throwing him footballs, Cook's history and skill set suggest he is more likely to prove a fantasy tease than break out as an eighth-year veteran at age 29. Assuming he does beat out Richard Rodgers in camp, it is of course within the realm of possibility that Cook proves worthy of an in-season waiver add.

Running Game Outlook

A top-six fantasy back in each of his first two NFL seasons, Eddie Lacy plummeted to RB26 (non-PPR) and RB31 (PPR) as a third-year pro. Commonly viewed as fantasy football's "safest" running back pick entering last season, Lacy was derailed by a Week 2 ankle sprain, a Week 9 groin pull, and injured ribs late in the year. The Packers also demoted Lacy on Thanksgiving for missing curfew. It's believed the rash of injuries affected Lacy's conditioning; he was rumored to balloon north of 260 pounds during the season. Lacy's 2013 Combine weigh-in was 5-foot-11, 231. Lacy took up P90X in the offseason and arrived at OTAs weighing "in the 240s," according to ESPN Packers reporter Rob Demovsky. Now in his contract year, Lacy has quite a bit riding on his physical fitness. His ADP has dipped into the third round, where Lacy's league-leading touchdown ceiling becomes quite appealing. Lacy has the look of a boom-bust fantasy pick this year, but I'm willing to strongly consider him where he's going.

After re-signing for two years at $6 million, 30-year-old James Starks will return as the Packers' clear-cut No. 2 running back. With Lacy struggling, Starks set career highs in touches (191), total yards (993), receptions (43), yards per reception (9.1), and all-purpose TDs (5) last season. Even if Lacy gets his conditioning in order, it's fair to wonder if Starks has earned a bigger role, particularly in the passing game. Starks' 86-percent catch rate led last year's Packers, and Pro Football Focus has not charged Starks with a sack allowed in pass protection since the 2011 season. Starks is one of fantasy football's top handcuffs and could provide some standalone flex value in PPR leagues. I like him as a 13th-/15th-round RB4/5 pick in MFL10 best-ball leagues.

2016 Vegas Win Total

The Packers' Win Total is 10.5 games, tied with Seattle, Pittsburgh, and Carolina for highest in the NFL. I previously discussed the ease of Green Bay's 2016 slate. Strength of Schedule guru Warren Sharp agrees, pegging Mike McCarthy's team with the league's fifth softest schedule based on opponents' Win Totals. Green Bay is a pre-season favorite in 14 of its first 15 games, the exception being a Week 2 trip to Minnesota, where the line is Pick 'Em. Even in a hard-to-watch 2015 season, the Packers grinded out a 10-6 record and won a playoff game. They have won 11 games or more in five of McCarthy's last nine seasons with double-digit wins in seven of them. Save slot corner Casey Hayward (Chargers), Green Bay returns every critical component from last year's roster, while the defense should benefit from Clay Matthews' return to outside linebacker. Betting overs on big totals never feels entirely comfortable, but I like this Packers club's chances of hitting 11 victories and potentially 12-13.



Evan Silva is a senior football editor for Rotoworld.com. He can be found on Twitter .
Email :Evan Silva



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