2021 Packers Offseason Preview

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Hayden Winks
·11 min read
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My goal with the Offseason Preview series is to get caught up with each team’s 53-man roster, offensive and defensive schemes, team needs, and offseason capital within a 10-minute read. The basics will be at the top -- cap space, draft picks, cut candidates, notable departures -- and the film and analytics takes will be at the bottom. I hope to write these in a way that they’re referenceable throughout not just free agency and the NFL Draft, but also the 2021 season as we look into weekly matchups. The offseason is the time for me to get outside of our fantasy football bubble and learn more about what’s going on at the other positions. You can read the rest of my 2021 Offseason Previews here and can follow me on Twitter (@HaydenWinks).

Packers 2020 Recap

Packers2020
Packers2020

From Patrick Daugherty's 2020 Season in Review: "When the Packers used their first three draft picks on a Derrick Henry clone, H-back and first-round quarterback, they seemed to be saying to Aaron Rodgers, “if you want to play out of your mind, that’s your prerogative, but we’re not giving you any help in the passing game.” Challenge accepted. Rodgers rebounded from his sleepy 2019 to win his third career MVP award, laying waste to everyone but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who supplied his worst regular season start before sacking him five times in the NFC Championship Game. It was in that title tilt that coach of the year candidate Matt LaFleur shrunk from the moment. After seamlessly combining his and Rodgers’ visions during the regular season, LaFleur dialed up the worst field goal attempt in NFL history. In the aftermath, Rodgers questioned whether he would be back before walking his comments back 99 percent of the way if not 100. Mike Pettine’s firing instantly made the defense better, but the Pack can’t count on another season of career years from role players and unusually good offensive health. Rodgers needs help. Just like the quarterback was humbled last offseason, now it is the front office’s turn."

Packers 2021 Offseason

Notes

Packers Cap Space

-$11.4 million (26th)

Packers Draft Picks

1.29, 2.62, 3.93, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, plus compensatory picks

Packers Departures

C Corey Linsley, RT Rick Wagner, TE Robert Tonyan, RB Aaron Jones, WR Allen Lazard, LB Christian Kirksey, TE Marcedes Lewis, RB Jamaal Williams, CB Kevin King, Slot CB Chandon Sullivan

Packers Cut Candidates

EDGE Preston Smith ($8.0M cap savings)

Packers Depth Chart

Position

Base Offense

Notable Backups

Personnel

11

-

% of Passes

63%

-

QB

Aaron Rodgers

Jordan Love

WR

Davante Adams

Equanimeous St. Brown

WR

Marquez Valdes-Scantling

WR (Slot)

???

TE

Jace Sternberger

Josiah Deguara

RB (Early Down)

A.J. Dillon

???

RB (Third Down)

???

LT

David Bakhtiari

LG

Lucas Patrick

Jon Runyan

C

Elgton Jenkins

RG

Billy Turner

RT

???

Offensive Coordinator: Matt LaFleur is one of the best offensive minds in the league, and he’s won the ear of Aaron Rodgers. In his MVP season last year, Rodgers was money throwing to the perimeter and in the red zone. 82% of the Packers’ throws were to the sideline (2nd) and a league-high 80% of their red zone trips ended in a touchdown. The outlier efficiency is bound to regress -- particularly that red zone scoring -- but LaFleur’s slow-paced, rhythm-based offense is methodical in both phases, using outside zone to set up big plays on the ground and a top-10 play-action rate (30%) to set up big plays through the air. Some key run-game pieces are set to hit free agency, but the core of the passing offense is back and Rodgers/LaFleur have the formula to repeat as a top-six scoring offense in 2021. They were first last year.

Passing Offense: Aaron Rodgers’ career-high 9.1% touchdown rate will not repeat in 2021, but the in-structure nature of this offense will continue being chain-moving and efficient as long as Davante Adams can stay healthy. Adams, arguably the best route runner and most savvy receiver in the game, is the clubhouse favorite to lead in receiving volume after running away with the most per-game fantasy usage last year (21.4 expected PPR points per game). The front office is still looking for play-makers behind him, however, and both Allen Lazard and Robert Tonyan (restricted) are pending free agents. The only players under contract that had more than 15 targets in Green Bay’s offense last year are Adams and deep-threat Marquez Valdes-Scantling. Re-signing Tonyan and adding one more starting-caliber receiver are high priorities for the front office.

Rushing Offense: The Packers offensive line was sixth in adjusted sack rate and helped Green Bay convert 48-of-60 red zone trips into touchdowns. Because of various injuries, there were six primary linemen in 2020 and four of them return -- LT David Bakhtiari, LG Lucas Patrick, C Elgton Jenkins, and RG/RT Billy Turner. The losses of C Corey Lindsley and RT Rick Wagner are softened by the depth already on the roster, so one offseason addition at either right guard or right tackle should do the trick here. At running back, the Packers are guaranteed to have two-down grinder A.J. Dillon on the roster, but his skill set renders him a committee member only. Letting both Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams walk in free agency would leave the Packers looking for a back with soft hands in the NFL Draft and could influence the offense to use more inside zone.

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Defensive Coordinator: Mike Pettine will be replaced by two-time defensive coordinator Joe Barry, who’s previous play-calling stints in Detroit and Washington ended in points allowed ranks of 32nd, 32nd, 17th, and 19th. It’s a risky hire, but Barry is at least bringing over Brandon Staley’s modern defense. On the surface, Pettine’s and Barry’s defenses will look similar (they both used two-deep safeties and blitzed at the 22nd and 19th highest rates respectively), but there are differences. Barry will likely use more Cover 4 instead of Cover 2, and Barry’s execution in the run game will likely be better. Last year, opposing offenses opted to run the ball against the Packers at the highest rate in neutral situations, while the Rams ranked second in rushing EPA. Aaron Donald isn’t walking through that door, but the bar is relatively low for the Packers to have a more disciplined run defense in 2021.

Passing Defense: Green Bay might have the second best coverage corner in Jaire Alexander, the proud owner of an elite 0.64 yards per coverage snap. Pettine didn’t have Alexander fully shadow players -- he was the left outside corner on 73% of his 2020 snaps -- but Barry might move him around more like the Rams did with Jalen Ramsey. The rest of the cornerback group is a mess. Both CB2 Kevin King and slot CB Chandon Sullivan are free agents and backup-level players in general. It’s a spot to upgrade after the Bucs roasted these spots in the playoffs. The safeties, FS Darnell Savage and SS Adrian Amos, are both under contract and quality starters. Up front, the Packers have Za'Darius Smith (12.5 sacks) and 2019 first-rounder Rashan Gary (5.0) with the option to keep Preston Smith (4.0) around at an overpriced cap hit. It’s a rock-solid group front to back that could take a small leap under a new set of eyes. They were 12th in passing EPA defense in 2020.

Rushing Defense: Pettine was let go because of the Packers’ laughable run defense. Like mentioned above, offenses were willingly running the ball in neutral situations against Green Bay, and it was working (19th in rushing EPA). Fixing this starts at linebacker. WLB Christian Kirksey was released last week, and the rest of the depth chart is filled with backup-level players like 2020 UDFA Krys Barnes, 2020 fifth-rounder Kamal Martin, and 2018 third-rounder Oren Burks who has played just 291 snaps through three seasons. It’s the Packers’ biggest offseason need. On the interior, Green Bay has a stud in Kenny Clark at nose tackle/one-tech, and Dean Lowry has been an underrated defensive tackle, too. 2019 fifth-round DT Kingsley Keke will inherit most of Tyler Lancaster’s snaps when the Packers go to their five-man fronts.

Packers Team Needs

1. Corner(s) - The Packers are losing CB2 Kevin King and Slot CB Chandon Sullivan to free agency. Jaire Alexander is obviously the CB1 of the future and 2018 second-rounder Josh Jackson could slide into the CB2 role -- that’d be risky -- but at least one new face at corner is needed even if Jackson pans out. The Packers were 12th in passing EPA defense in 2020.

2. Receiver(s) - Davante Adams arguably has the crown for best receiver in the NFL right now, but the Packers have little behind him. Slot WR Allen Lazard is a free agent, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling maxes out as a deep threat. Green Bay needs a more reliable second option behind Adams regardless if that comes from the slot or on the perimeter.

3. Linebacker - The Packers run defense has been a joke, and veteran LB Christian Kirksey was released to open up cap space. The current linebacker depth chart includes 2020 UDFA Krys Barnes, 2020 fifth-rounder Kamal Martin, and 2018 third-rounder Oren Burks.

4. Offensive Tackle - Green Bay released RT Rick Wagner last week, and stud LT David Bakhtiari will be racing back from a December torn ACL to be ready for 2021 Week 1. Billy Turner can make starts at right tackle if the Packers fall in love with a guard instead, but the upside is in finding a rookie right tackle.

5. Tight End - This is primarily saved for getting restricted free agent Robert Tonyan back under contract after his 11-touchdown season, but veteran run-blocking TE Marcedes Lewis is also a free agent. 2018 third-rounder Jace Sternberger is a pure pass-catcher with just 12 receptions through two seasons.

2021 Fantasy Football Rankings

Consider these my way-too-early 2021 fantasy football ranking ranges ahead of free agency and the 2021 NFL Draft, and here’s where each player ranked in PPR points, expected PPR points, and PPR points over expected last year.

Davante Adams (The WR1) - He averaged 28.1 PPR points (WR1) on 21.4 expected PPR points (WR1) in healthy games last year. Yes, some regression is coming after leading in PPR points over expected per game (+6.7), but Adams’ volume is untouchable and he’s only 28 year old.

FA Aaron Jones (RB2) - The Packers have some interest in re-signing Jones, but he’ll fetch top dollar on the open market. Capable of handling a three-down workload, Jones could have more fantasy value on more fantasy usage elsewhere. He averaged 15.7 PPR points in games with Davante Adams healthy last year. Check out my Fantasy Splits to Know from 2020 column here.

A.J. Dillon (RB2/3) - A second-rounder last year, Dillon did nothing as a rookie to change his pure early-down evaluation. Dillon has 24 receptions in his last four seasons dating back to college. His thicc lower half offers plenty of touchdown upside in this offense, but the Packers are likely to find a quality complement to the power back even if free agents Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams walk. He’ll be in low-end RB2 land if Jones leaves.

Aaron Rodgers (QB1) - The MVP set career highs in passing touchdowns (48), touchdown rate (9.1%), and completion percentage (71%) last year. Rodgers was just the QB4 overall in fantasy, however, because other quarterbacks offered more rushing upside (9.3 rushing yards per game). His floor is safe, but the ceiling/price tag in fantasy likely will make him a fade with negative touchdown regression coming. What happens to Rodgers’ fantasy value if Thunder Thighs is made a priority around the goal-line?

RFA Robert Tonyan (TE1/2) - A negative touchdown regression candidate hall of famer, Tonyan could be an overdrafted player in 2021 after finishing as the TE8 per game on TE25 per-game fantasy usage. He scored an unsustainable 11 touchdowns on just 59 targets. Big Bob Tonyan is best drafted on the TE1/2 border.

FA Jamaal Williams (RB4) - His situation is up in the air, but Williams offers a versatile skill set and he’ll only be 26 years old next season. He should have a complementary role somewhere, possibly back in Green Bay if Aaron Jones finds more money elsewhere.

RFA Allen Lazard (WR7) - The 25-year-old slot receiver is a restricted free agent. Even if he’s retained, the Packers are likely to find more target competition at receiver this offseason. Last year at the No. 2 or No. 3 target in the offense, Lazard was the WR53 per game.

Marquez Valdes-Scantling (WR8) - The deep threat could be pushed to a rotational or backup role by the end of the offseason. MVS averaged 5.8 expected PPR points in games with Adams last year. He’s largely off the redraft radar.