While the Bears, Lions and Vikings have turned over their coaching staffs over the last two offseasons, the Packers continue to rack up accolades. Green Bay has won three straight NFC North titles and has made five straight playoff appearances. There's no debating the Packers' success in the division -- they're the cream of the crop.
Fantasy owners shouldn't be surprised -- this team has Aaron Rodgers, after all. Rodgers, who has 29 games with at least 20 Fantasy points in his last three seasons (39 games), is typically the centerpiece of the Packers offense. But he missed seven matchups last year and the Packers still managed to put up some numbers thanks to running back Eddie Lacy. It was his play in November and most of December that helped put the Packers in good shape for the playoffs.
So is it a certainty that Rodgers will help drive the Packers to the playoffs again? Nothing's certain in the NFL, but Green Bay is one of five teams with below-even odds to win their division (according to the Las Vegas Hilton). But given the Packers offense getting healthy again and the defense adding a bunch of talent including first-round pick safety Ha Ha Clinton Dix and pass rushing veteran Julius Peppers, it's probably a safe bet the Packers will keep doing what they're doing.
Think elite ... Jordy Nelson
What if the 85 grabs for 1,314 yards and eight touchdowns Nelson had last year was on the low side? In breaking down Nelson's season, he averaged 96.9 yards per game with eight touchdowns scored in effectively nine games with Rodgers versus 63.0 per game and one score in eight games without Rodgers (the Packers' playoff game is included).
Moreover, Nelson has 21 games with 10-plus points in the last three years with Rodgers as his quarterback (35 games), a 60 pct. success rate. Nelson also has caught 68 percent of the targets Rodgers has thrown at him over this span, a great conversion rate. Tack on other factors such as the Packers' slightly thinned receiving corps, a potentially easy schedule and Nelson aiming to impress in a contract year and you've got the makings of a player who should finish the season well inside the Top 10 among Fantasy receivers. Run, don't walk, to draft Nelson as a No. 1 receiver as soon as early Round 3.
Late-round flier ... Jarrett Boykin
Boykin really proved himself last season, snaring 49 passes (on 82 targets) for 681 yards and three scores over eight starts. He'll enter training camp as the third receiver behind Nelson and Randall Cobb and probably take over the spot left behind by James Jones' departure.
We already figure Nelson will get his targets and Cobb won't get ignored either, so that does put Boykin in a tough spot. His lack of experience with Rodgers also could mean limited targets, potentially to the point of 6.8 per game like he had in the 12 games where he actually was targeted. But he'll also draw the lightest coverage of any Packers receiver and flashed some nice playmaking skills with 10 grabs for 20-plus yards over 12 games. Boykin's a bench guy deserving of a late pick.
Long-term sleeper ... Davante Adams
|Eddie Lacy||319 (284 car., 35 rec.)||38.7%|
|James Starks||99 (89 car., 10 rec.)||12.0%|
|Jordy Nelson||85 rec.||10.3%|
|James Jones||59 rec.||7.2%|
|Jarrett Boykin||49 rec.||5.9%|
|Randall Cobb||35 (31 rec., 4 car.)||4.2%|
The draft was loaded with great receivers. Had Adams ended up on a roster with a team that could use him right away, he'd be mentioned as a sleeper for this season. But the Packers picked him with plans for the future, not the present, so he's not expected to be a choice in your typical seasonal league.
But if we're looking long term, Adams should be on your shopping list. He snared over 230 passes for over 3,000 yards in his last two seasons at Fresno State, displaying good size (6-foot-1, 212 pounds) and speed. Normally you'd assume a receiver like this would have a chance at making it in the NFL, but when Adams eventually cracks the lineup he'll do so catching passes from Aaron Rodgers. There hasn't been a regular starting receiver in the Packers offense since Rodgers took over who consistently struggled, save for those who got hurt or got old.
It's just a matter of time before Adams makes an impact. He's worth taking after the halfway point in dynasty/keeper league drafts and worth a Top 20 pick in rookie-only drafts as well.
The Packers start the year with three road games in their first four, but they're paid back after their Week 9 bye when they host four potent offenses at home over five weeks. That should mean big numbers for their offense, even if one of those opponents is the Patriots. Green Bay is also one of two teams to play in tough circumstances -- at Seattle and at New Orleans (San Francisco also must play in both spots).
Eddie Lacy particularly has a brutal start to the season with games at Seattle, vs. the Jets and at the Lions. All three finished among the Top 7 in run defense last year and should be stiff again this year.
The other issue that won't deter Fantasy owners but will make Aaron Rodgers nervous is the glut of pass rushers he'll go up against through the first nine matchups. Rodgers already gets sacked a bunch as it is, but defenses will come for him early and often and test that offensive line. Normally we wouldn't care since Rodgers produced big numbers in the past despite getting sacked (once every eight pass attempts over the last three years), but he missed time with an injury on a sack in 2013. Taking too many hits typically leads to bad things.
Training camp battles
Who's backing up Lacy? Odds are James Starks, who was re-signed this offseason, will be the back to get in a lot of work in the event Lacy misses time. But the Packers missed DuJuan Harris for all of 2013 after he tore his ACL and was a guy the coaching staff liked a lot. There are already reports that Harris looks good at practice, suggesting he'll push Starks for the No. 2 role. Whoever wins the job is a very important player to handcuff with Lacy.
Who the heck is the tight end?! The tight end that Fantasy owners have long associated with the Packers -- Jermichael Finley -- is still without a team following neck fusion surgery. Maybe he's back with the Packers, maybe not. But if he's not, Green Bay's tight end is someone from Andrew Quarless, Brandon Bostick, Richard Rodgers, Ryan Taylor and maybe even Colt Lyerla will get a pretty good opportunity. The name to watch, for now, is Rodgers, the rookie out of Cal.
Frankly, there isn't anything bold to say about the Packers that wouldn't come off as obnoxious. Expectations for all the key offensive players are sky-high as it is. But Fantasy owners are wondering about Randall Cobb and whether or not he'll return to form. The feeling here is that he will -- and in a big way.
A broken leg kept Cobb off the field for 10 games last season, though he came back with a big touchdown to put the Packers in the playoffs in Week 17. When he did play he averaged 85.2 total yards per game and scored four touchdowns. That average compares very favorably to what he did in his breakout 2012 season when he averaged 72.4 total yards per game and scored in eight of 15 games.
There is no reason to believe Cobb will be limited or held back in camp this summer because of an injury that has long healed. And there is no reason to believe his role will be altered. The Packers should merely hit reset on their 2013 plans for him and aim for him to stay healthy. Cobb will finish as a Top 10 Fantasy receiver, which means that between him and Nelson the Packers will have two elite receivers.
Andrew Quarless (undisclosed), probable for start of training camp. ... Clay Matthews (thumb), probable for start of training camp. ... Casey Hayward (hamstring), probable for start of training camp. ... Nick Perry (foot), probable for start of training camp. ... Chris Harper (hamstring), questionable for start of training camp. ... Jumal Rolle (undisclosed), probable for start of training camp.