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2014 Fantasy Outlooks: Green Bay Packers

Senior Fantasy Writer
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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

2013 Touches Leaders
825 total touches
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%
All others 179 21.7%

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.

Schedule analysis

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.

Bold prediction

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.

Injury report

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.

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Player News
Report: OT Jake Long visits Giants Thursday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(8:45 pm ET) Free-agent offensive tackle Jake Long visited the Giants on Thursday, ESPN reports.

The Giants are having to shuffle their offensive line with Will Beatty expected to miss the first part of the season with a pec injury. Long was scheduled to make $9.25 million in 2015 but was released by the Rams in March.


Saints CB Brandon Browner impressing teammates, coach
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(7:11 pm ET) New Saints cornerback Brandon Browner is having a positive impact on not just the secondary, but the entire defense. At least that's the view of defensive backfield mate Kenny Vaccaro.

"Browner's a good dude, leads by example, talks when he needs to talk," Vaccaro told the New Orleans Times-Picayune. "He's real serious, kind of keeps everybody level headed and knows what we've got to work for. He's won two Super Bowls, so he knows what to do."

Sean Payton echoed those sentiments.

"He's competitive," he said. "He's driven and certainly one of the things we talked about this offseason through the draft, through the acquisition of players is the makeup and making sure that this is something we felt like was a plus and certainly with him we feel that that is a strength of his."

The Saints are Browner's fourth team in six seasons in the NFL.


Eagles LB DeMeco Ryans working way back from injury
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(6:37 pm ET) There was a bit of a discrepancy Thursday in regard to the practice participation of Eagles inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans.

Chip Kelly said before the session that Ryans would be a full-go despite him being just seven months removed from rupturing his Achilles tendon. Ryans did practice, but he told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he was not a full participant.

Ryans missed half of the 2014 season with the injury, but contributed to 45 tackles in eight games before going down.


Eagles QB Mark Sanchez optimistic as offseason rolls on
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(6:28 pm ET) A stronger arm, greater familiarity with the offense and more confidence has Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez feeling quite good these days.

Sanchez underwent shoulder surgery two years ago that affected him early last season. He expects to be better in 2015, especially if given an opportunity to play over newcomer Sam Bradford.

"First thing, physically, I feel so much better," he told the team website. "The farther it gets away from surgery and all the reps I've had, all the rehab on through, it can only get better and stronger. So this is definitely the best I've ever felt. And then as far as the scheme, every rep, every time we sit down and watch film, every meeting, that can only help with my growth as well."

The chance to play is one reason why Sanchez chose to return this offseason to the Eagles.

"Were there other opportunitites? Absolutely," he said. "Did they look potentially good, better, similar, maybe worse? Potentially, yeah, there was some stuff out there. But when I factored it all in, I just felt this was the best spot for me. I enjoy playing for coach Kelly, I love this system, I love the tempo, I love the pace."

Sanchez also expressed a desire to remain on the team for which he threw his highest completition percentage of his career in 2014. He hit on 64.1 percent, by far a personal best.

Chip Kelly has seen a difference in Sanchez.

"I think you can see it in how he's performing out there now," he said. "He's also not learning an offense again. ... He is really comfortable in terms of the scheme."


Ravens waive/injured Julian Wilson
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(6:04 pm ET) The Ravens waived/injured cornerback Julian Wilson on Thursday, the Baltimore Sun reports. Wilson suffered a broken leg on the first day of rookie camp and will miss the season.

Saints' Anthony Spencer works ahead of Junior Galette Thursday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(6:01 pm ET) Saints linebacker Anthony Spencer worked ahead of Junior Galette in the team's base 4-3 defense, a run-heavy look that featured just three linebackers, ESPN.com reports.

"However it came out, we’re not worried about depth chart now," defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said. "We’re putting in a defense, we’re all working hard together and getting to know each other, our teammates and what we got. But I know both those guys can play, so we’re excited about 'em."

Spencer had a career-high 11 sacks in 2012 but has managed just 24 total tackles and a half-sack in 14 games over the last two years while dealing with a major knee injury.

"I think sometimes there are tougher positions to evaluate at this time of year," coach Sean Payton said, when asked to give his early thoughts on Spencer. "But I think, No. 1, he can affect the passer. ... He’s an edge player, I think he’s very good at fitting the run, and I think he can affect the passer."


Report: Bryant participates in drills despite unsigned franchise tender
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(5:46 pm ET) Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant took a huge risk by participating in a limited portion of his team's organized team activities on Thursday, because he has yet to sign his franchise-tag tender, sources told Todd Archer of ESPN.com.

Bryant, who wants a long-term deal, has made a number of appearances at the Cowboys' offseason conditioning program but Thursday was the first day he participated in meaningful on-field work.

Bryant and the Cowboys need to work out a long-term deal before July 15 or he would be forced to play the season under the franchise tag, which would pay him $12.8 million.

In 16 games last year, Bryant caught 88 passes for 1,320 yards and 16 touchdowns.


Browns' Josh McCown not bothered by 'game manager' label
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5:40 pm ET) Browns quarterback Josh McCown brushes off the negative connotation around phrases like "game manager" and "building around the quarterback," per the team's website.

"That stuff doesn't bother me," McCown said after Tuesday’s OTA. "We're trying to win a championship. You can call it what you want to call it. I just want to win football games. That's my main focus. I understand who I am and how I want to go about winning football games. That's the key for us."

Coach Mike Pettine understands why McCown was attracted to Cleveland as a potential landing spot this offseason.

"I think he sees that as potentially a way to win football games," Pettine said. "I think virtually any quarterback in the league, if we said, ‘Hey, we want to get you in second-and-5 and not second-and-11. We want to get you in third-and-2 and not third-and-8,’ I think they’d all be appreciative of that."

McCown also had praise for his new offensive line after getting to work with the unit.

"I knew they were physically good, you see it on tape, but these guys are so smart," McCown said. "It's rare to get a group of five guys that can really see the field the way they do. I've said this all along, they were a big reason why I wanted to come here. After being with them now the last five or six weeks, had I known it was this good, I might not have even had to take a visit (before signing). They're really sharp. I'm looking forward to continuing to work with them."


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(5:33 pm ET) Jaguars running back Denard Robinson is getting a shot at being the team's kick returner this offseason, a role he hasn't performed since early in his rookie season, but he's ready for the challenge, ESPN.com reports.

"Anything they ask me to do, I’m doing," Robinson said. "Now I feel more comfortable [returning kicks] than I was my rookie year."

General manager David Caldwell has said that while Robinson will get work returning kicks, he'd still have a significant role on offense. The running back hasn't dwelled on the comment.

"You just go out there and do yourself," Robinson said. "Do your thing and have fun and get better every day."

Robinson averaged 4.3 yards per carry on 135 rushes last season while racking up 582 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. The Jaguars are expected to use rookie T.J. Yeldon as their primary runner in 2015.


Jaguars' Toby Gerhart feels for first time since last September
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(5:25 pm ET) Jaguars running back Toby Gerhart is expected to fill an H-back role after the team selected T.J. Yeldon in the second round, but he's worried less about his role and focusing on the fact that he's back to full health, ESPN.com reports.

"It’s feeling good," Gerhart said of the ankle that bothered him all of last season. "I feel healthy for the first time since last September. Feeling good and excited to go out there and be healthy and fresh this spring and show what I can do and compete."

Gerhart's new role will open him up to be a bigger part of the passing game.

"I’m learning the F [H-back] and running some of that and also taking just as many reps at tailback and competing and just trying to be the best I can be and see what happens," Gerhart said. "A lot of it so far has been a lot of routes and stuff like that, not so much iso downhill, more get me out in the flat, get me in pass pro and get out. It’s exciting to move around and we’ll see what happens."

Gerhart averaged just 3.2 yards on 101 carries last season while scoring two touchdowns. His average of 9.3 yards per reception represented a season high.


 
 
 
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