This year at Fake Teams I will be reprising my “tight end guy” role. Don’t read into the title. I didn’t spend much time on it. Or any time at all, actually.
Anyway, gearing up for those rankings leaves me curious about what to do with Martellus Bennett. Bennett signed a three-year, 21 million dollar deal with Green Bay this offseason, which vaults him into surefire TE1 territory. Bennett is 30 years old, but he just finished fifth in yards per route run in 2016, behind only Travis Kelce, Greg Olsen, C.J. Fiedorowicz(!), and Jordan Reed. Shouts to PFF for the statistic. Look at me, giving credit.
Anyway, Bennett’s prospects with Aaron Rodgers at the helm and with no Gronkowski lurking are definitely exciting. Still, I don’t think I can safely project one player in an offense without attempting to project the others. Bennett has some stiff competition for targets, as evidenced by Green Bay’s average draft positions this season. See below:
Jordy Nelson - WR6
Davante Adams - WR18
Randall Cobb - WR42
Martellus Bennett - TE9
Ty Montgomery - RB22
Cobb is interesting, as many pundits project a bounce-back season for him. That might come at the expense of Adams (more on that later). Point is, you can make a case that many are expecting Rodgers to support a WR1, WR2, WR3/4, TE1, and RB2 in this offense. For my part, I want to know if that is possible numerically. My hypothesis is that someone is going to let us down. If I am correct on that, I’d like to find out who to avoid prior to my drafts beginning.
First, let’s acknowledge that Jordy Nelson missed all of 2015 and that the ensuing Green Bay offense was not the same. The receivers couldn’t get open and Rodgers set career lows in average (6.68), completion percentage (60.7), QB rating (92.7), and QBR (64.1). He also threw the most picks (for him) since 2012 (8) and tied a career-high in fumbles (8). The Pack dragged their way to a 10-6 finish that year, a valiant effort considering the loss of their centerpiece on offense.
For my part, instead of taking a three-year average to get an idea of what the Packers can offer the fantasy masses, I am going to skip 2015 and combine 2014 and 2016. I’d consider going back another year, but Rodgers missed seven games of 2013 and I don’t want my numbers polluted by Matt Flynn, Scott Tolzien, and Seneca Wallace. No offense to those guys. I always loved Seneca, especially. I was always the small, fast guy, too.
Anyway, if you averaged 2014 and 2016, you would get a line that looks like this:
376 completions, 578 attempts, 65% completion rate, 36 attempts per game, and 264.35 YPG.
We’re talking 4,229 passing yards, 39 touchdowns, and seven interceptions.
Are those QB1 overall numbers? They absolutely could be, especially when you factor in the running ability of Rodgers. A-Rod was the top quarterback in 2016 with 4,428 yards, 40 touchdowns, and only seven interceptions. His 369 yards rushing and four touchdowns on the ground buoyed him over the likes of Matt Ryan and Drew Brees, who each passed for far more yardage (4,944 and 5,208). For the purposes of projecting the skill players, I won’t spend much time on A-Rod’s running ability. I think we can all safely assume he has QB1 upside. The big question is the value of his skill players.
Right away what leaps out among the skill guys is the consistency of Jordy Nelson. Nelson had 98 receptions on 151 targets in 2014, followed by 97 receptions on 152 targets in 2016. He had 13 scores in 2014 and 14 scores in 2016. Those lines are eerily similar, save for one difference. That one massive difference is yards per reception. Nelson plummeted from a 15.5 average in 2014 all the way to 13.0 in 2016. From 2012 to 2014, he averaged 15.2, 15.5, and 15.5 respectively. And then he had the big drop to 13.0 last season. Granted, he was coming off of a significant knee injury, but I think it’s also safe to assume that the 10-year pro is going to continue to give in to Father Time. However, since he is another year removed from injury and still gets to play with Aaron Rodgers, there is no reason to assume a further drop-off. In fact, with a healthier Cobb and the newcomer Martellus Bennett in tow, it is possible he makes a gain there.
Either way, we have a solid idea of what Nelson is going to offer, given his consistency in recent years. Let’s mark him for 150 targets and keep the same production from 2016 (a 13.0 avg and a 64% catch rate). His line would be:
150 targets, 96 receptions and 1,248 yards. We’ll deal with touchdowns in a bit.
That leaves Rodgers with about 428 targets up for grabs. In steps Davante Adams.
If we assume that last year’s 121 targets (up from 66 and 93 in his previously inconsistent seasons) mark the growth of a young player, then we can assume that Adams’ target share stays roughly the same. I’d be hesitant to give him any more targets given the health of Randall Cobb and the addition of Martellus Bennett. For a nice even number, let’s mark him for 120 targets.
As a rookie, Adams averaged 11.7 yards per reception, a number that plummeted to 9.7 in 2015 (Nelson’s lost season). Last year with everything clicking, Adams managed 13.3 per reception, even outproducing Nelson by a hair. My own personal view is that this entire offense benefits from the attention demanded by Nelson, and that there is no reason to discredit the gains Adams showed in 2016. So let’s keep him at the same 13.3 average. Adams’ catch rate also follows the same trend—in 2014 he had a 57.6% catch rate, dipping to 53.2% in 2015, and spiking to 62% in 2016. That means his career catch rate is at 58 percent, which seems like a pretty conservative mark to use. So let’s use it:
120 targets, 70 receptions and 931 yards. Again, touchdowns later.
Actually the even 70 receptions comes on a 58.3% catch rate. Sue me. It’s still conservative.
Randall Cobb is curious. He averages 6.42 targets per game for his career, but that includes the big spike in Nelson’s missed year when he averaged a shade over 8 targets per game. Last year Cobb managed 6.46 targets per game, which is right in line with his career mark. But he was also a walking wound last season. This year, Green Bay’s wide receiver coach (Luke Getsy) has already publicly communicated the need to get Cobb the ball more. Cobb crushed it in three playoff games last season, catching 18 passes for 260 yards and three touchdowns. That flash of production is probably driving the optimism. Still, I am hesitant to push Cobb higher than seven targets per game, given the addition of Bennett and the emergence of Adams and Montgomery. Lastly, if we honor Cobb’s career average of 12.3 yards per reception and his career catch rate of 70.4% we get this line:
112 targets, 79 receptions and 972 yards.
It feels generous to gift Cobb a 12.3 average, but he was at 14.0 and 14.1 in 2013 and 2014. If we throw out the crappy 2015 season sans Nelson (10.5), that leaves Cobb’s 2016 (10.2) as the lone aberration. Given that Cobb battled a litany of injuries last year, is healthy heading into 2017, and is still only 27 years old, I think it is fair to expect a rebound. I don’t buy a massive return to 2013-2014 levels, but I am giving those folks who do a little bit of ground with the 12.3 average (and by increasing his target share slightly).
Finally, the last major piece of our passing pie. Martellus the “Black Unicorn” Bennett averages 4.44 targets per game over his career, and last year in New England he averaged 4.56 targets per game. That’s where the predictability ends, though.
In 2015 he spiked to 7.27 per game, a year after averaging 8.06 in 2014. In 2013 he had 6 per game. In 2012 he was at 5.63 per game. His usage has been all over the map in recent years. In 2015, Alshon Jeffery only managed nine games, so that helped a bit I’m sure. Brandon Marshall missed three games for the Bears in 2014, so that may have driven a few more targets—but I honestly don’t remember that far back. What I do know is Bennett just got paid good coin to be Aaron Rodgers’ tight end. And last season he battled nagging shoulder, ankle, and knee injuries. So even though he suited up all year, he wasn’t at 100 percent. Therefore, I expect that paltry 4.56 targets per game to go way up this year.
Jared Cook was the starting tight end for the Pack in 2016, and he averaged 5.1 targets over 10 games. In 2015, Richard Rodgers averaged 5.31 targets per game. Both marks feel low for a player of Bennett’s caliber. Besides, the money just paid to Bennett points to him getting more of a share than those two guys. For that reason, I think we can safely project the Unicorn for six targets per game, with perhaps room for a little more at the end of this lengthy and rudimentary analysis.
The big query is how many yards per reception for the big guy? His 10.6 career average feels low, given that he is playing in the Green Bay offense with a player of A-Rod’s caliber. In his time with the Bears (2013-2015) Bennett averaged 11.7, 10.2, and 8.3 respectively. Last year with Tom Brady he set a career-best mark of 12.7, though (if you exclude his rookie season where he was used sparingly). So, for the excellent reasons known as “Aaron Rodgers” and “great offense” I am going to push Bennett a little higher. If we split the difference between his career average and his time with Brady we get 11.65, which would be a shade below his best Chicago year. When you factor in Father Time and the knowledge that the 11.7 year in Chicago was four years ago, I think the 11.65 mark is fair.
Here is another trend: with Tom Brady in 2016, Martellus caught 75.3% of his targets. His career average is 67.2 percent. The only year Bennett ever approached the “Brady-percentage” was his rookie season when he caught 20 of 28 targets (71.4). His best mark in Chicago was 69.8% in 2014. His marks in 2013 and 2015 were 67.7 and 66.3...so that’s a fairly stable point to consider (between 66 and 69 percent).
However, factoring in Green Bay’s offense and Aaron Rodgers’ awesomeness means we should give Martellus a bump, in my opinion. If we employ the same tactic and split the difference between his career average and his high-water mark with Brady, we get a 71.25% success rate. I know it seems high compared to his career average, but not many tight ends get to catch passes from Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. I am counting on that to mean something. Therefore, Bennett’s rough projection is:
96 targets, 69 receptions and 804 yards.
Last (and certainly not the most time-consuming) is Ty Montgomery. Montgomery averaged 3.73 targets per game last year, but he wasn’t truly involved in the offense as a running back until Week 6 of last season. I think we can safely put him at four to five receptions per game, so let’s split the difference and roll with 4.5. Montgomery averaged 7.9 yards per reception last year, and I trust that mark more than I trust his 9.1 mark from 2015 (when he was still a wide receiver). By that logic, his catch rate from 2016 is a more viable mark than his rate from 2015, so we’ll go with the 2016 rate of 78.6 percent. Over 16 games, his receiving line would look like this:
72 targets, 57 receptions and 450 yards.
If you add it all up you get this:
Jordy: 150 targets, 96 receptions, 1,248 yards.
Adams: 120 targets, 70 receptions, 931 yards.
Cobb: 112 targets, 79 receptions, 972 yards.
Bennett: 96 targets, 69 receptions, 804 yards.
Montgomery: 72 targets, 57 receptions, 450 yards.
That’s a total of 550 passes, which is 28 passes lower than our two-year average for Rodgers of 578. That allows for some scraps to go to backup tight ends and running backs. So I think it’s a pretty reasonable projection for those mentioned above. It also comes out to a combined 4,405 passing yards. Also a reasonable projection.
Now for the touchdowns. How do we decide who gets how many red zone looks? I personally lean toward Nelson and Adams garnering the bulk of the opportunity, followed by Bennett and then Cobb. But that’s just a gut thing. There’s no way to truly know how much a guy like Bennett is going to muddy the waters. But we can look at the past, at least.
***Note that all red-zone numbers were taken from NFLsavant.com and DO include penalties. So you may see different numbers elsewhere (sans penalties).***
Last year the Packers threw the ball on 66 percent of their red-zone plays. Jordy had 35 looks (11 scores) and Davante had 25 looks (9 scores). Randall Cobb was third with 16 red-zone looks (4 scores). TyMont managed one measly touchdown on his 14 red-zone targets. How does all of this change with Bennett in the fold?
Well, first off, Nelson is going to get his. In 2016 he garnered 28.23% of the RZ looks. In 2014 he had 29.09% of the looks. In short, Nelson is the main man and that isn’t changing this season. To make it easy, let’s roll with an even 28% of the red-zone share for the big guy.
In Davante’s rookie season (2014) he received 10.91% of the red-zone targets. He was the fifth option in the red-zone that year behind Nelson, Cobb, Andrew Quarless, and Eddie Lacy. In 2015 (Nelson’s lost year) Adams was the fourth option with 12.75% of the red-zone market (behind Cobb, Richard Rodgers, and James Jones). Last year, Adams vaulted all the way to second with a 20.16% share, behind only Nelson. Cobb (12.90) and Montgomery (11.29) were a distant third and fourth. Jared Cook only managed 8.06% in an extremely disappointing campaign. Yes, I ranked Cook too high last year. Moving on.
Again, I prefer to assume that Davante’s gains will remain. The only question for me, then, is how does Bennett’s arrival impact the red-zone shares of Cobb and Montgomery? Bennett received 15.48% of the red-zone looks from Tom Brady last season, second only to Julian Edelman. On those 13 targets he managed six touchdowns. Last season, Packers tight ends combined for 13.71% of the red zone looks. Given the prowess of Nelson and the emergence of Adams, I am inclined to let Bennett hover right around the 14% mark. He’d basically be taking over the share of two players from last season (Jared Cook and Richard Rodgers) so I think that’s fair.
Before we get to Cobb and Montgomery, let’s look at what opportunity is left.
In 2014, the Pack had 110 passes in the red zone.
I’m throwing out 2015, remember?
In 2016, the Pack had 124 passes in the red zone.
I am splitting the difference, assuming that an improved ground game will allow Green Bay to ease off a bit with the red-zone throwing. So for 2017, let’s assume 117 red zone passes.
At 28% Jordy Nelson gets 32.76 targets (let’s say 33).
At 20% Davante Adams gets 23.4 targets (let’s say 24).
At 14% Martellus Bennett gets 16.38 targets (let’s say 17).
Last year, Cobb received only 12.90% of the red-zone looks. If we kept him there (say 13 percent) that would come out to 15.21 targets (let’s say 15).
Lastly, Montgomery should roll in around 11 percent like last year. I’m looking at James Starks’ 2015 (9.80%) and Eddie Lacy’s 2014 (11.82%) for inspiration. I’d even feel comfortable with Montgomery at 12 percent given his chops as a receiver, so let’s go there:
At 12% Ty Montgomery nets 14.04 targets (let’s say 14).
That’s a total of 87% to the key players, which feels about right. That would leave about 14 red-zone looks to go to backup running backs/wide receivers/tight ends.
Red-zone looks in summation:
Nelson - 33 looks
Adams - 24 looks
Bennett = 17 looks
Cobb = 15 looks
TyMont = 14 looks
How you want to prognosticate red-zone prowess is up to you. I am rudimentary at best when it comes to numbers, so I’ll be keeping it simple. If Jordy scored 11 TDs on 35 RZ looks last season, it seems reasonable to assume he’ll be about as productive this season. However, 2014’s data shows 32 targets and only five touchdowns. But this is an elite receiver, and five scores feels far too low. If we average the two years together to make a larger sample size, that gives us 16 TDs on a total of 67 targets...or a TD on 24% of RZ looks. On a projected 33 looks, that comes out to 7.8 TDs in the red-zone.
Trust me on the math, but here’s my final projection for each player:
Nelson: 150 targets, 96 receptions, 1,248 yards, 11 TDs (eight of the RZ variety).
Adams: 120 targets, 70 receptions, 931 yards, 9 TDs (six of the RZ variety).
Cobb: 112 targets, 79 receptions, 972 yards, 5 TDs (four of the RZ variety).
Bennett: 96 targets, 69 receptions, 804 yards, 7 TDs (seven of the RZ variety).
TyMont: 72 targets, 57 receptions, 450 yards, 2 TDs (two of the RZ variety).
If we look at last year’s numbers as a baseline, the above statistics would make Nelson the WR5, Adams the WR15, Cobb the WR29, and Bennett the TE6. That means my hypothesis was wrong, assuming everyone remains healthy this year.
As for Montgomery, his reception totals won’t be the reason he is or isn’t a RB2 this season. Early-down work is the dicey bit after the Packers drafted three running backs this offseason. For giggles, last year’s RB22 (TyMont’s current ranking) had 388 yards receiving and a pair of touchdowns (Bilal Powell). Montgomery’s projection here is a pretty safe one and it exceeds Powell’s line. Time will tell about that early down work.
So, according to this mostly descriptive (maybe slightly predictive) accumulation of numbers, you should be buying ALL Packers skill players at their current ADPs. You stand to profit the most from Randall Cobb, which honestly surprised me. I had him mired in WR40 territory, but after looking at all of this data I have moved him up to WR30 in my rankings.
What stuck out to you, ladies and gents? Let me know if the rudimentary math exercise was actually helpful to anyone. My apologies for the length, but I wanted to share as much of my thought process as I could. I am open to any criticisms, agreements, or disagreements you may have. You can find me in the comments or on Twitter. Good luck out there, and...
Go Pack Go, I suppose!