StrategyAugust 11, 2009

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Daily Preview: Green Bay Packers

By Matt Blevins

The Green Bay Packers are now one full season removed from the Brett Favre cloud that hung over their entire season last year as he played out his “final” season in New York. Aaron Rodgers did what he needed to do to put the “what ifs” out of people’s minds by having a fantastic first year as a starter finishing as a top-three fantasy QB. The big questions surrounding the team this year whether Rodgers can offer an adequate encore performance, whether Ryan Grant can return to form, and how the defense will fare moving to the 3-4 under Dom Capers this season.

QB: Aaron Rodgers, Matt Flynn/Brian Brohm
RB: Ryan Grant, Brandon Jackson
WR: Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson
TE: Donald Lee, Jermichael Finley
PK: Mason Crosby

Quarterback: After being looked at with some apprehension before last season with being a first-year starter, Aaron Rodgers emerged as a top-five QB in many people’s eyes for the upcoming season. He is certainly top ten, and easily has top-five potential as evidenced by his performance last season. He has shown great chemistry with top WR Greg Jennings and has a solid veteran WR opposite Jennings in Donald Driver, with last year’s second-round pick Jordy Nelson playing the slot. It’s also worth noting that Rodgers reportedly played through a rather painful shoulder injury all season and still managed to put up over 4,000 yards and 28 TDs to just 13 INTs.

The backups don’t really matter all the much at the moment. There is little separating Flynn and Brohm and should Rodgers go down, the fantasy value of the entire Green Bay passing game could go with him. There have been some reports that Michael Vick is a possibility to bring on as a backup/Wildcat sort of QB, but no one else at QB will have any value unless Rodgers goes down.

Running Back: There is no real threat of a committee style approach in Green Bay this year. Ryan Grant is the lone starter and Brandon Jackson is really only there to spell him on occasion and on some third downs. Grant had 312 carries last year to Jackson’s 45, although Grant only had 18 receptions all season. Grant’s value does take a hit in PPR leagues because he has caught an average of just 24 passes per season in his first two years in the league, and with Jackson as the third-down back, that’s unlikely to change.

The word out of Green Bay is that they want to be more of a balanced team this year, which could mean more carries for Grant than he even had last season. It’s not crazy to think that we could see him with 325 carries this season, and if he’s able to get his average back up over four yards per carry again, he could have some nice value where he is going in drafts.

Wide Receiver: Greg Jennings is easily considered a top-ten WR by most. He has top-five potential too, as his TDs per reception rate is outrageously high; the guy just plain knows how to find the end zone and that’s something you can’t teach. He had a big jump in receptions last year, 80 up from 53, and had nearly 1,300 yards receiving. If that’s something that is able to continue over into this season, he could easily find himself within the top-five WRs by the season’s end. He’s not drafted as a top-five WR in drafts, however, so he could be a good guy to look at as someone you can get later than the other “top” guys, but who has the potential to be right up there with them.

Donald Driver had another solid season, with his fifth consecutive season over 70 receptions and 1,000 yards. He will be 34 this season and has to slow down sometime, but he hasn’t really shown any signs of it quite yet. It isn’t crazy to expect 75 receptions, 1,000 yards and 4-6 TDs from him, which makes him a solid buy at WR if you need someone in the mid-rounds.

Jordy Nelson is someone who could see his value skyrocket should Driver prove to finally be feeling his age or even miss some time. As a rookie slot receiver last season, he managed 33 receptions for 366 yards and two TDs, and those numbers would only rise if he were thrust into a more prominent receiving role. He’s someone to keep your eye on as the season progresses.

Tight End: The current listed starter for the Packers this year is Donald Lee, but the one more likely to produce from a fantasy standpoint is going to be Jermichael Finley. The Packers staff loves this guy, and he is apparently emerging as a great receiving threat and could easily surpass Lee before long to get the nod in receiving situations. Neither of the Green Bay TEs are really worth drafting except in the deepest of leagues right now, but Finley is someone to keep your eye on if you need a bye-week filler or want to pick up a TE mid-season.

IDP: The tough thing about IDPs for the Packers this season is their move to the 3-4. It’s nearly impossible to say how certain players will be able to transition to the new system, but we’ll do our best here.

The chances are high that a player making the switch from the 4-3 DE to 3-4 OLB like Aaron Kampman could still have DL eligibility next season, so if you’re in a league that distinguishes between defensive lineman and linebackers then he could be a nice pickup as he’s a great pass rusher who could benefit from an aggressive blitzing system that the 3-4 could generate. If he is only LB eligible however, temper your expectations from him this season. Rookie OLB Clay Mathews could end up being a stud on the other side as well, so he’s someone to definitely keep your eye on.

Nick Barnett is a great candidate to potentially lead the team in tackles next season at one of the ILB positions. He’s a great run stopper, and in tackle heavy leagues he’s probably the one you’ll want to look at most from this Packers defense next season. Nick Collins had a huge season last year at safety with seven INTs; while that’s unlikely to happen again, you can probably expect solid tackle numbers and a handful of picks. Fellow safety Atari Bigby was the DB to own in Green Bay in 2007 with big numbers that season but struggled with injuries last year. If he’s able to stay healthy this season, he could be a nice steal at DB in most drafts.

The Packers have a few upper echelon fantasy players this season with two potential top-five players at their position in Rodgers and Jennings as well as a solid starting RB in Ryan Grant, all who have more upside than where they are being drafted currently. Much of their success will rely on Rodgers’ ability to build on the positive things they were able to develop last season and if he’s able to stay healthy, Green Bay could have one of the league’s most potent offensive attacks.

Matt Blevins is one of a growing number of fantasy experts who write for the Cafe. You can catch up with Matt in the Cafe's forums where he posts under the name of mattb47.
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