Offseason Losses: James Jones, Jermichael Finley
Offseason Additions: Colt Lyerla (Undrafted Free Agent)
Drafted: Davante Adams, Richard Rodgers, Jared Abbrederis, Jeff Janis
The Packers were able to sneak their way into the playoffs last year with an 8-7-1 record, and winning the division. Once in the playoffs, they lost to the San Francisco 49ers in the wildcard round. The reason for such a pedestrian record compared to previous seasons is directly related to Aaron Rodgers not being healthy the entire season and playing in only 9 games. The Packers were able to work their magic in week 17 though with the return of Rodgers, and winning the game off of a spectacular pass from Rodgers to Cobb for the game winning score. For 2014, the expectations are what they have been the past few seasons for the team that has a history of always making the playoffs. With a team as good as the Packers, there is always a plethora of players you can choose from to be on your fantasy squads who can make a positive impact. Let’s take a positional look at who those players can be from the Green Bay roster.
Quarterbacks: Aaron Rodgers, Matt Flynn, Scott Tolzien
Aaron Rodgers would like to forget last season, as he was not able to put up his usual stat line in 9 games. His per game numbers were still great last season at 18 points a game, and would have placed him as the number 3 QB in fantasy. Now we enter the 2014 season, and he is missing two of his targets from the past few years. The departure of Jermichael Finley, as well as James Jones, are two guys he will be greatly missing. Even though the Finley never lived up to the high expectations, he was still a guy who Rodgers was comfortable throwing the ball to at the TE spot. James Jones the last two seasons on the Packers averaged roughly 800 yards, to go along with a total of 17 TD’s. Those are numbers which will need to be distributed amongst the other receivers, but does the loss of those two targets affect his ranking going into the 2014 season? I would answer yes to that question, only because I would personally have him ranked as my number three QB instead of two, which is nitpicking between him and Drew Brees. That does have more to do with the fact that Brees has finished as either the number one or two QB each of the last three seasons. When trying to distinguish from the top guys, you have to look at all the factors, and losing Jones and Finley gives a slight ding to his value. As we saw in 2013, Aaron Rodgers can get hurt, and that causes some interesting things to happen at the quarterback position. Matt Flynn was brought back in to Green Bay midway through last season, after collecting large sums of cash bouncing around the league as a backup. Flynn knows the system the Packers have been using, so he doesn’t have too steep of a learning curve if he is thrown into the starting spot. If an injury does occur, Flynn should be picked up by fantasy owners as a bye-week replacement, or someone to take a chance on because he does have to weapons to help make him a serviceable QB in a 12 or 14 team league if someone is desperate after the Rodgers injury. Scott Tolzien filled in a couple times last year, but didn’t show enough to warrant him immediate pickup if he becomes the starter. He made his one spectacular run to score a TD, but that was about all he did in his time behind center.
Running Backs: Eddie Lacy, James Starks, Johnathan Franklin, DuJuan Harris
Talks before the season about Eddie Lacy showing up to training camp overweight and out of shape were quickly put to bed as he finished as the season as the number 6 RB ahead of Adrian Peterson. Over the last 13 weeks to the season, Lacy averaged over 20 carries per game, and if it were prorated, he would have ended the year with 331 carries total. What is great about Eddie Lacy is that he is not only a smashmouth kind of Running Back, but he is also one who can catch the ball out of the backfield. Over that same 13 game sample, he caught 34 passes, and over a full season that would be just under 42. Those prorated numbers can be classified as the ceiling for Lacy, as a Running Back getting over 370 touches just doesn’t happen anymore. But could 300-310 carries to go with 30-40 catches happen? I believe that is what his projections should be set around. Not only did he have a good number of touches, but he turned those into productive ones as well. With Lacy now there, he took over the goaline back duties, making the days of John Kuhn vulturing TD’s a thing of the past. Currently ranked as my number 5 overall player as well as RB behind Forte and the big three, and ahead of Marshawn Lynch. Our Kylan Easterling had Lacy ranked as his number 4 RB, which I don’t have a problem with, it comes down to personal preference between him and Forte, as they will both be studs again this season. James Starks was the only other Running Back on the roster last year to accumulate over 20 carries in the season. He finished with 89 rush attempts, and that is a number I could see staying near that range, or even dipping down even more. Green Bay is one of the few teams that still likes to employ a one back system, not the two back system with a change of pace guy as well. This is the system that will benefit a backup RB, if Lacy were to get hurt. The two guys that would most likely be fighting out for that spot would be the aforementioned Starks, as well as the 2013 draft pick Johnathan Franklin. My bet is that Starks would take the role and be a serviceable RB2 in that span he starts for the Packers. Franklin last season didn’t look like he completely understood what his role in the offense was when on the field. I am not giving up on him yet, but he appears to be a project more so than a finished product at this moment. DuJuan Harris is still on the roster after being hurt all of last season, but if things were to go his way and he became the starter, he is a must add in all leagues as he could provide more or less the same of what James Starks would provide to a fantasy owner.
Wide Receivers: Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Jarrett Boykin, Davante Adams, Jared Abbrederis
Another great season was provided by Jordy Nelson last year as the clear cut number one target for Aaron Rodgers and co. With the departure of James Jones, Jordy Nelson is only going to be fighting out a bulk of the targets with Randall Cobb. Cobb is a different receiver than Nelson is, as Nelson uses his straight ahead speed to blow the top off of defenses, but can still run precise routes as well. Cobb likes to work the intermediate routes that get him the ball in space where he can do what he does best. When Cobb has the ball in space, he uses his quickness and slippery running skills to beat out defenders one on one. I currently have Nelson ranked as my number 7 WR, and Cobb as my number 11 receiver. Jordan Cable had those two ranked as his number 6 WR, and his number 10 WR respectively. We are pretty much agreeing with how these two should be viewed going into drafts for the 2014 fantasy season. One knock against Randall Cobb would be the fact that he only played in 6 games last year, but take his per game numbers over a full season, and he would have finished as the 8th best receiver. Ranking him at 10 or 11 does take a little bit of the risk into account, but also leaves room for his upside to play up for those who choose to draft him this season. The 3rd WR spot on the Packers will be between the incumbent Jarrett Boykin, and the newly drafted Davante Adams. I see Boykin taking that spot to start the preseason, and never relinquishing it. Adams is probably the better athlete of the two and has the brighter future, but Cobb was brought about slowly in his rookie year as well. With letting Adams run out of 4 receiver sets, and taking a full year to build up that chemistry with Rodgers, and also learning the timing of routes, he could emerge as a great dynasty league stash for next season. For this year though, Boykin would be ranked just inside the top 50 for me. Once again Jordan Cable agrees with me on that assessment as he ranked him as his 45th WR. If one of Cobb or Nelson got hurt before or during the season, Boykin would get a meaningful bump in my rankings all the way into WR3 and FLEX option territory for 10 and 12 team leagues. He showed last season that he can handle running routes from the slot or the outside with decent ball skills in the air. One of the other guys drafted by the Packers in 2014 was Jared Abbrederis out of Wisconsin. He is not one who will use his athleticism to become a productive NFL receiver, but relies on his impressive football knowledge, and sound route running. At no point should he be looked upon as a viable top two option on an NFL team, but he is exactly the guy you would want to have as the number 3 or 4 WR on your team. The stats won’t come this year unless two of the WR’s in front of him get hurt, but if that happens, he could put up some FLEX worthy stats in a deep PPR league.
Tight Ends: Andrew Quarless, Brandon Bostick, Colt Lyerla, Richard Rodgers
A position that is wide open for any of those four guys to grab and run away with after the Packers and Jermichael Finley parted ways due to his injury. The problem is that nobody knows which guy will be able to secure the starting spot at Tight End. The Packers still have two known in-house options from 2013 in Andrew Quarless and Brandon Bostick, but they also drafted Richard Rodgers. To make matters more complicating, they signed Colt Lyerla as an undrafted free agent, a guy touted as being a great athlete who needs to get away from his knuckleheaded ways. Quarless led the in-house options in targets and receptions, receiving a bulk of the playing time after Finley went down. Bostick was merely used in two TE sets, so that should be an indication that he would need a lot to go in his favor to win the starting spot. Of the two rookies, Lyerla is the one who is the most intriguing, and the most intriguing of all the options. He ran a 4.61 at the combine to go with his 39 inch vertical leap. Richard Rodgers ran a 4.87 and could only jump 31.5 inches, and not a pure route runner, or someone who can stretch the middle of the field. My guess is that Lyerla works his way into the starting spot at TE during the preseason, and becomes a lot of peoples sleeper pick. Not to say the sleeper talk wouldn’t be warranted, but if he starts getting drafted as more than a flier deep in drafts, he will be overdrafted. Remember Finley only had one season of over 800 yards, and only eclipsed had two seasons of 5 or more TD’s in his career as a Packer. If Lyerla is announced as the opening game starter for Green Bay, he would be vaulted up my TE rankings all the way to number 19, one spot ahead of Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
With a fully healthy Aaron Rodgers for what should be the entire season, expect the Green Bay Packers to win the NFC North with a record of 12-4, and also securing a first round bye. The guys who should be drafted in twelve team leagues this year include Eddie Lacy, Aaron Rodgers, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, James Starks, Jarrett Boykin, and if Colt Lyerla is named the starter, he can be drafted in the last few rounds. The safety that come with the top guys on the Packers is why you should feel confident drafting them and starting the top four each week. That wraps up the NFC North preview, and we are now done with two divisions. If you missed the NFC East team previews, go check those out, written by fellow writer Brad Coustan. Next week the NFC South will be covered, so keep an eye out for that coverage.