The Packers overcame injuries, a lack of a run game, injuries, a tough schedule through the postseason, injuries, a loss to the Lions and some more injuries to win Super Bowl XLV. Now the champs are ready for more in 2011, and they're getting all of their hurt players back too.
Yep, another title run for the boys from Titletown is possible. But the injured players aren't the main reason why -- Aaron Rodgers has come into his own as one of the league's elite passers and as one of Fantasy Football's prized jewels, and as long as he's upright the Packers have a good chance. Rodgers totaled 5,016 passing yards, 37 passing touchdowns, 13 interceptions, 410 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns through 20 games last year and has been consistently great since taking over for ol' what's-his-name under center.
Of course, the Packers nearly pulled off two victories (including that blemish at Detroit) without Rodgers, and they won most of their games without a solid run game, so a lot of credit has to go to a receiving corps ripe with talent. Greg Jennings (14 scores in 20 games) is the star there, and Donald Driver (734 yards in 20 games) has moved into a supporting role. With Jermichael Finley returning from a knee injury and young talent in James Jones, Jordy Nelson and rookie Randall Cobb expected to chip in, Rodgers' arm should be in for another season of 520-plus pass attempts.
While the Packers' offense isn't as perfect as it's being made out to be (there is a run game to address), the defense more or less is. As the Packers lost player after player on defense last year, backups stepped into starting roles and made names for themselves. The likes of Desmond Bishop, Sam Shields and Charlie Peprah kept the Packers in games and the defense on top. Now they find themselves with a surplus of talent and only one free agent -- lineman Cullen Jenkins -- on the move. The pieces are there for Green Bay's defense to match, if not exceed, the talent on offense.
Bounce-back candidate ... Ryan Grant, RB
No one should look at Grant and call him over the hill or injury prone. And you'd have to have a selective memory to play the James Starks Card. Fact is, Grant missed 15 1/2 games and the postseason with a freak ankle injury, one that was healed by February. It was a curse for him to succumb to it last September, but it's a blessing now as Grant has basically had a year off and his body feels great entering a contract year. Starks had his moments when he finally got the chance to play late last season, but our hunch is that Grant will get several opportunities to land the Packers' starting job and take on the lion's share of carries. He's done it before, and done it consistently. Starks was in the golden spot last year and couldn't make defenses pay. Grant's a terrific choice as at least a tremendous reserve and at worst a very low-end No. 2 Fantasy rusher.
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Bust ... James Starks, RB
Kind of obvious since we like Grant to bounce back, but because so many Fantasy owners expect Starks to play like he did in, well, one or two games last year, we thought he needed to be addressed. Yes, he rumbled over the Eagles in a playoff game, and yes, he scored on the Bears in the NFC title contest. But otherwise Starks was very pedestrian when he was put in a position to excel. Grant's fine, so he'll provide serious competition for playing time, as could rookie Alex Green (Hmm, why would they spend a third-round pick on a running back if they were happy with Starks?). Tack on Starks' injury history (it would make Brian Westbrook blush) and there's plenty of proof that Starks shouldn't be on your wish list unless you grab Grant with a pick a round or two prior.
Keeper-league target ... Randall Cobb, WR
Cobb is already receiving favorable comparisons to (a younger) Donald Driver. He's got good quickness and hands, offering help not just on offense but on special teams as well. In fact, Cobb might wind up doing most of his damage on kickoff and punt returns this year but eventually drift to the offensive side of the ball where he'll have a shot to pick up a good amount of catches. Of the 144 catches he totaled at Kentucky, a whopping 84 came as a senior in 2010; between that, his speed, his maturity and his intelligence, he's an easy sell for Fantasy owners thinking long-term. Cobb is worth a middle- to late-round pick, probably ahead of a short timer like Driver in dynasty/keeper league drafts.
Someone in the NFL's scheduling department likes the Packers. Aside from the first game of the year at home against the Saints, their double date with the Bears, a rematch at Atlanta as one of a handful of tricky road games late in the season, the Packers made out like bandits. Their home slate includes visits from the Buccaneers, Raiders, Broncos and Rams, and they'll also visit the Panthers during the season. One could argue that the toughest defense Rodgers will face this season will be the one he sees in practice every week. Bottom line: The Packers' schedule is not a detriment at all.
Training camp topics
We know Greg Jennings will start, and we're pretty sure Donald Driver will get involved in the offense from the slot. So what about the receiver spot that's open on the other side of Jennings? James Jones is iffy to return to the Packers and Jordy Nelson, an unsung hero from Super Bowl XLV, could take over. Whoever is there will have a chance to put up some decent numbers since defenses will tilt toward Jennings' side of the field.
The running back battle is obviously worth watching too. Grant should be in line to win the majority of reps but if he's slow or if James Starks comes out hot in camp, that dynamic could change. Of course, there's a chance the run game in Green Bay could become a three- or even four-headed monster (with Alex Green and a fullback to be determined), though much of that will hinge on Grant.
Of course, there's a huge key to the Packers offense we haven't touched on yet: Jermichael Finley. The potential-laden tight end is coming off of a knee injury and should be OK for the start of the season. His productivity when healthy has been solid and his upside is well documented, but at what point will we actually see Finley reach the numbers of someone like Antonio Gates or even Owen Daniels? Finley has missed time in each of his two seasons with knee issues, which is something to be mindful of, as is the Packers' drafting of Arkansas tight end D.J. Williams, who is an athletic pass-catching tight end himself. If Finley can't stay healthy, he might not last much longer in Green Bay. Plenty of risk-reward in Finley -- if you find yourself drafting him, just make sure you pick up a backup or at least keep an eye on a few waiver-wire tight ends every few weeks.
Wow, for a team with such a potent offense, they sure have a bunch of issues to sort out before Week 1. Not a bad problem for the Packers, considering their depth and talent.
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