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2011 Fantasy outlooks: Green Bay Packers

Senior Fantasy Writer
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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.

Fantasy Value Chart
Player Draft Day value
Quarterbacks
Aaron Rodgers
Running Backs
Ryan Grant
James Starks
Alex Green
Wide Receivers
Greg Jennings
James Jones
Donald Driver
Jordy Nelson
Tight Ends
Jermichael Finley
Kickers/Defense
Mason Crosby
Packers DST

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.

Schedule breakdown

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
NO @CAR @CHI DEN @ATL STL @MIN bye @SD MIN TB @DET @NYG OAK @KC CHI DET

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.

2010 Touches Leaders
* includes postseason
Player Touches
Brandon Jackson 244
John Kuhn 111
Greg Jennings 98
Donald Driver 65
James Jones 61

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.

Injury update

Jermichael Finley (knee; probable for the start of training camp) ... Donald Driver (ankle; probable for the start of training camp) ... Jordy Nelson (knee; probable for the start of training camp).

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter . You can also follow Dave at @daverichard . Do you have a question or a comment for our Fantasy staff? Drop us a line at dmfantasyfootball@cbs.com .

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Player News
Texans' O'Brien: WR DeAndre Hopkins can 'be one of the best'
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(12:28 am ET) Texans head coach Bill O'Brien is very encouraged by the performance of wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins last season, per ESPN. O'Brien went as far as to say that Hopkins can be one of the best.

"He had a really productive year," Texans coach Bill O'Brien said. "The thing that we really like about Hop and that we want him to continue to do is his work ethic. He’s a hungry player. He works every single day. He came into the spring a year ago and he was learning the offense and thinking out there, then all of a sudden you could see all the work he put in and learning, he just took off."

Due to the departure of wide receiver Andre Johnson, the progression of Hopkins will be under the microscope as he is now the focal point of the passing offense.

"We just want to see him continue and progress," O'Brien said. "We think he can be one of the best, we think he is one of the best. We have a lot of confidence in him and we’re looking forward to seeing him progress when the offseason program starts."

In two years with the Texans, Hopkins has reeled in 128 receptions for 2012 yards and eight touchdowns.


Giants won't rush WR Victor Cruz back to the field
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(12:12 am ET) Although Giants head coach Tom Coughlin is hopeful that wide receiver Victor Cruz will be ready by training camp, the team will not rush him back, reports ESPN.

"I shouldn't say this, because medically I really don't have a definite answer, but by training camp hopefully, even if it's just to bring him," Coughlin said. "We're not going to just throw him to the wind. He'll work his way through. But I hope that would be the target."

Cruz tore his patellar tendon in week six of the 2014 season, causing him to miss the rest of the year. Coughlin is hopeful that he'll return to be the player that he was before the injury.

"I think he'll be the player that he was, and hopefully better," Coughlin said of Cruz. "But as far as when, I would be careful of what I would say there. Hopefully it's the first game. But if it isn't, you know we've done that one before. We just went through it. But I'm hoping it would be."

The former undrafted free agent has tallied 264 receptions for 3,963 yards and 24 touchdowns.


Lions QB Matthew Stafford to take more chances through the air
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford was in new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi's system for the first time last season. The team plans on taking more chances down the field in Stafford's second season in the new offense, Lombardi said, according to the team's official website.

“In his second year (in the offense) he’s going to be that much more comfortable,” Lombardi said.

“We’ll be able to tailor the offense a little bit more to what he likes and what he’s good at. I thought he played smart football and sometimes to a fault. We’ll look for him to maybe take a few more chances this year with the football.”

Although Stafford didn't take many shots down the field, he did throw a career-low 12 interceptions in 2014. 

The former first overall draft pick has thrown for 21,714 yards with 131 touchdowns and 85 interceptions during his six-year career.


Colts OLB Robert Mathis plans to be ready for training camp
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) Colts outside linebacker Robert Mathis is not ready to run yet, he told Alex Marvez of SiriusXM NFL. Mathis added that he plans to be ready for the start of training camp.

“It’s not going as fast as I would like to, but we are getting well and we should be clicking in camp,” Mathis told Sirius.

Mathis was suspended for the first four games of last season due to violating the league's substance abuse policy. He then suffered a torn achilles, forcing him to miss all 16 games of the 2014 season.

During his 11-year career with the Colts, Mathis has collected 487 total tackles, 111.0 sacks, 15 passes defensed and 48 forced fumbles.


Lions TE Eric Ebron has been working out with Matthew Stafford
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) Lions offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said that tight end Eric Ebron has been working out with quarterback Matthew Stafford in Atlanta this offseason, reports the Detroit News. Lombardi also said that the plan is to have Ebron be the No. 3 weapon in the passing game this year.

Ebron, 21, finished his rookie season with 25 catches for 248 yards and one touchdown. 


Cowboys' Tony Romo: DeMarco Murray asked me to take a pay cut
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) Eagles running back DeMarco Murray was really hoping to remain with the Cowboys this offseason. So much so, he asked quarterback Tony Romo to take a pay cut to remain with the team, Romo said on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas on Tuesday, per the Dallas Morning News.

"DeMarco ended up asking me, 'Why don't you take a pay cut?' I said, 'I will. I would take a pay cut to go do this,'" Romo said. "I was like, 'They're going to restructure me.' That's the same thing in some ways, just for the salary cap purposes. He was like, 'OK, now we're back to being friends again.' I would take $5 million less if meant getting him back.

"He knew that. It was just funny how he was literally worried about that part of it for a week. I'm like, 'That's not the reason.' I'm like, 'Obviously I'll restructure. I would even take a pay cut.' He was like, 'OK, we can be friends again.' It's amazing what you think about in those moments."


Giants QB Eli Manning wants to take offense 'to another level'
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) Giants quarterback Eli Manning is entering the second year in offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo's system. Manning is ready to take the next step now that he is familiar with the system, reports the NY Daily News.

““This year will be a much easier transition, knowing that we have been through so much of it already,” said Manning, who recently had been working out at Ole Miss with some of their receivers and alumni. “It’s definitely a different starting point. I feel good about it. I feel that I have a good understanding of it.

“But there is still room to grow and that is why I try to keep it as fresh in my mind as possible. Looking at old game-plan sheets and calling plays in my head – throwing routes with receivers trying to call out plays to myself, so you don’t let it slip away. It was new last year and it wasn’t something I have been doing for 10 years, so you want to keep it fresh and go through your reminders and all your checks. So when we come back I haven’t taken a step backwards and have to re-learn things. It is still all there. There will be new stuff and we will be taking it to another level.”

Manning has started all 16 games in each season since 2005, throwing for 39,755 yards with 259 touchdowns and 185 interceptions.


Saints TE Josh Hill wants to grow into new role
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) After trading trading Jimmy Graham to the Seahawks, tight end Josh Hill is ready to step into his new role with the Saints, according to the team's offical website.

“I think it might open a few opportunities for me as I continue to grow in my role and just do everything they ask me to do,” Hill said when asked about the trade of Graham to the Seahawks.

Hill recognized that Graham helped him transition from college to the professional level.

“It’s a big difference, especially coming from a smaller school and a smaller city," Hill said. "He was always there for me. We became pretty good friends over the past few years so it will definitely be different without him.”

Head coach Sean Payton believes that Hill is ready to step up.

“Josh Hill is a player that we value a lot," Payton said last week at the NFL annual meeting. "He’s not on anyone’s fantasy first three rounds, I promise you, but he’s a real good tight end. He’s versatile in the running game, in the pass receiving game, a special teams player.”

Hill, heading into his third year in the NFL, has recorded 20 receptions for 220 yards and six touchdowns. 


Cowboys QB Tony Romo excited about this offseason
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is excited about what the offseason holds for him, according to ESPN.

“This is the first offseason where I’ve been able to kind of get after it this early and be able to kind of improve in a lot of different areas that I think you aren’t able to until you get healthy enough to attack it,” Romo said on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas on Tuesday. “I’m just excited about that, really.”

Romo, 34, is encouraged by the fact that he is able to do a lot of different things during the offseason process while working out.

“Now I’m able to do that while actually doing functional strength training through different versions of squats,” Romo said. “I’m not putting anything on my back and doing stuff like that but you are doing a lot of single-leg stuff and different things that I started getting into during the season that helped a lot. Now it’s nice to be able to do that in the offseason.”

Romo has thrown for 33,270 yards with 242 touchdowns and 110 interceptions in his 12-year career. 


WR Dwayne Bowe looks to revitalize himself with Browns
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) Wide receiver Dwayne Bowe is looking to revitalize his career now that he has joined the Browns, reports ESPN. Bowe was cut by the Chiefs in the middle of March.

"I have a chance to revitalize myself," Bowe, 30, told ESPN.com via telephone Tuesday. "Just sit back and watch."

Browns general manager Ray Farmer has familiarity with Bowe from their time with the Chiefs. The two sat down and watched tape from the 2010 season when he racked up 15 touchdown receptions.

"Him knowing what I can do, seeing me in practice, making crazy plays, splitting the safeties, he knows I still can do that," Bowe said. "I couldn't showcase that last year. He was pulling up old plays, saying, 'We are going to use you just like that.' Moving around, going on motion, trying to hit the deep ball, trying to break plays."

The 30-year-old wideout appreciated his time with the Chiefs and he has no regrets.

"It's been up and down, but it's been fun," Bowe said. "I don't regret nothing. People can talk about the NFL and playing wide receiver -- I feel I still have a good four more years in me."

Over his eight-year career, he has totaled 532 receptions for 7,155 yards and 44 touchdowns.


 
 
 
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