Fantasy thoughts: After his strong 2010 regular season and his stunning performance in the playoffs, quarterback Aaron Rodgers(notes) is obviously one of the hottest passer in fantasy football. The only debate is where he stands among the likes of Drew Brees(notes), Tom Brady(notes), Peyton Manning(notes), Philip Rivers(notes) and Michael Vick(notes).
Manning is likely too big a risk right now because of his neck surgery, but keep a close watch on his situation. Brady has been amazing, averaging 38 touchdown passes over his past three full seasons, but he's also 34. Brees and Rivers are incredibly consistent and Vick is the most explosive. My personal strategy with that group is to wait for four of the six to get drafted, then select the best of the two remaining so that I don't get caught in a lurch. However, if forced to rank them, Rodgers would go fourth behind Vick, Brees and Brady. Vick is more of an injury risk than the others, but he should be pretty safe.
The big question for the Packers is who will be the primary running back. Ryan Grant(notes) is trying to come back from an ankle injury. He has looked OK at times, but not great. James Starks(notes), the sixth-round picks in 2010 who took over during the postseason, looks like he's a good candidate to get a lot of carries. The only problem with Starks is he runs very high, making him susceptible to injuries. Starks does a good job of cutting back for a guy who is 6-foot-2, but he also hasn't gotten banged around much. The dark horse in the group is rookie Alex Green(notes), a third-round pick from Hawaii with good power and straight-line ability.
The player to watch on this offense is tight end Jermichael Finley(notes), who tons of fantasy owners know about but aren't quite sure what to make of him. Finley was not expected to play in the preseason opener after getting banged up early in camp. Last season, Finley had 21 catches for 301 yards and a touchdown in the first four games. That projects to 84 catches for 1,204 yards and four touchdowns, which are terrific numbers for a tight end. Finley is a truly explosive runner for his size and could be dominant if he stays healthy.
The wide receiver position is deep and well-established with Greg Jennings(notes), Donald Driver(notes), Jordy Nelson(notes) and James Jones(notes). Jennings and Driver are musts in any draft. Nelson would be a starter on a lot of teams, and Jones could be a huge impact player if he can maintain his concentration. Not to be forgotten is Randall Cobb(notes), taken in the second round of this year's draft.
Line still in work: If there is a major concern about the Packers, it is that their run defense can be shoddy at times, and losing veteran lineman Cullen Jenkins(notes) in free agency doesn't help much. The Packers allowed an average of 4.7 yards per carry and 114.9 yards per game (ranked 18th last season). Nose tackle B.J. Raji(notes) has been excellent in his two seasons with the team, but Green Bay really needs second-year end Mike Neal(notes) to come through in a big way. Neal is an excellent athlete at 6-foot-3, 296 pounds, but he's a bit of a stretch at a two-gap lineman in a 3-4 system. It remains to be seen if Neal will give the Packers enough punch upfront against the run or whether the Packers will have to depend on their quick-scoring offense to create fear in opposing teams and force them away from the run.
The rebuilding process for the offensive line continues as the team is starting first-round pick Derek Sherrod at left guard. Eventually, Sherrod is expected to move to left tackle to replace Chad Clifton(notes), but the team is hoping to milk another year or two from the 35-year-old Clifton. Sherrod will be the backup at left tackle if anything happens to Clifton.
While the Packers secondary has taken a couple of hits in the past few years, it remains the deepest, toughest group in the league. The Philadelphia Eagles may have a better trio of cornerbacks, but the Packers really win the secondary battle when you include safeties such as Nick Collins(notes).
Tidbits from the road: After a couple of days without anything interesting on the food scene, there were three compelling spots along the road between Bourbonnais, Ill., (where the Bears train) and Green Bay.
In Bourbonnais, Chicago Sun-Times reporter Sean Jensen entertained several visiting scribes at the Brickstone Brewery. It's a very nice spot with a wide variety of its own beers and a strong menu. Also around town are some rather interesting family-owned joints, like Vito's Pizza and Madelaine's Drive-In. As for the town, there's not much to see, particularly once you get off the Olivet Nazarene University campus.
Like Bourbonnais, Green Bay is filled with lots of cool, family-owned spots, although it's being taken over by some chains. But between Kroll's Bar and Cheese Cake Heaven, you can get a great burger or a fabulous sandwich. Kroll's does an interesting chili that includes spaghetti noodles (it's a Wisconsin thing, I'm told). Not exactly my taste, but it's hearty. Over at Cheese Cake Heaven, the sandwiches are excellent, the soup is strong and the service is friendly. Hard to beat that combo for a good lunch.
- the Packers