So the first five years of the Aaron Rodgers era in Green Bay have gone reasonably well. The Packers are 52-26 in the regular season under Rodgers, making four playoff appearances, claiming two division titles and winning Super Bowl XLV. Rodgers himself has been an All-Pro, league MVP and Super Bowl MVP. He holds the single-season and career records for passer-rating (122.5, 104.9). He has the lowest interception rate in NFL history (1.7) and the second-highest completion percentage (65.7). His career yards-per-pass-attempt (8.1) is the highest posted by any quarterback since the AFL-NFL merger.
Fantasy-wise, Rodgers has ranked among the top-three scorers at his position every year since 2008. He's only missed two games over five seasons, so durability isn't a concern. Rodgers certainly doesn't come cheap at the draft table (ADP 14.7), but his history of consistent top-tier production supports the price. Over the past two seasons, he's thrown 84 touchdowns passes while rushing for five additional scores. Rodgers and Drew Brees are the only quarterbacks in the player pool who can be projected for something close to 40 TDs in 2013.
It's fine to say that you like the QBs who are typically available in the mid-rounds in fantasy drafts, of course — guys like Romo, Luck, Stafford and Wilson. Just please don't assume those lower-tier options will keep pace with game's elite passers. The names at the very top of the ranks have separated themselves.
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If there's a potential weakness in the Pack's Death Star-offense this season, it's the O-line. Rodgers was sacked a league-high 51 times last year. Green Bay ranked 25th in run-blocking in 2012, per Football Outsiders, and next-to-last in pass protection. It's difficult to imagine the line improving substantially in the year ahead, not with left tackle Bryan Bulaga sidelined (ACL).
Still, Rodgers is an assassin against the blitz, and mobile enough to extend plays when pressured. He'll be without Greg Jennings and Donald Driver this season, true, but this team's receiving corps remains loaded. James Jones is entering his seventh season with Rodgers, Jordy Nelson and Jermichael Finley their sixth, and Randall Cobb is in year three. Continuity clearly isn't an issue here. Nelson had a knee scope early in camp, but he has returned to practice and isn't at risk of missing the opener. Cobb has dealt with a biceps issue recently, though he's also on track for Week 1.
Green Bay's passing attack is absurdly productive, so it should come as no surprise that Cobb (ADP 29.7), Nelson (49.7) and Jones (61.6) are all drafted as top-25 fantasy receivers. Cobb should be a PPR monster — he's a devastating short-range weapon, a matchup nightmare — while Nelson and Jones could each score double-digit TDs, assuming good health. Jordy has visited the end zone 22 times over the past two years, and Jones has 21 spikes. No one expects Jones to match last year's TD-to-catch ratio (14-to-64), but that's not much of a draft day concern, since we're only paying a WR3 price for his services.
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Finley has been a multi-year disappointment to fantasy investors, but he's really had a stellar offseason by all accounts:
“It’s not just this camp, the whole spring,” [OC Tom] Clements said. “[Finley] has been outstanding. He’s been working hard. I think he’s improved his blocking tremendously. He’s become a more detailed route runner. He’s finishing plays.”
As the ninth tight end off the board in an average draft (ADP 83.9), there's little risk attached to Finley in 2013. He actually established a new career-high in receptions last season (61), not that anyone noticed, and he's likely to pick up a share of Jennings' old targets (7.8 per game in 2012). Don't overlook Finley, just because the brand slightly tarnished.
Green Bay's running game has averaged less than 4.0 yards per carry in each of the past three seasons, which is of course pathetic. But this team stole Eddie Lacy late in the second round in April's draft, addressing a major shortcoming. Lacy initially found himself in a competition for touches on a crowded depth chart, but in recent weeks DuJuan Harris was placed on IR (knee), Alex Green was released, and fourth-round rookie Johnathan Franklin has consistently underwhelmed.
Thus, the Packers will enter the season with Lacy in a featured role. He was a terror at Alabama last year, rushing for 1322 yards at 6.5 per carry, scoring 19 touchdowns. We should note that he did his collegiate running behind a line of five crimson mastodons, two of whom were first-round picks themselves (DJ Fluker, Chance Warmack). Lacy won't find the running lanes to be quite as wide in 2013 as they were last year. Still, it's hard not to love the kid's fantasy setup. He should dominate the backfield touches for a hugely productive offense. Over the past month, Lacy's ADP has jumped from the mid-fifth round to the mid-third. But no matter where you snagged him, he offers profit potential.
This defense features several respectable names — notably Clay Matthews and Morgan Burnett — but it was a middle-of-the-pack group last year. The Packers allowed 4.5 yards per carry to opposing rushers last season (and a whopping 7.4 to Adrian Peterson. AP completely humiliated this team, running for 409 yards over two games.) I can't recommend this D/ST as anything more than a match-up play. First-round DE Datone Jones will help, as will a healthy version of LB Nick Perry. But I wouldn't touch the Packers D in the season-opener, when they travel to San Francisco to face the quarterback who torched 'em in the playoffs last January.
2012 team stats: 27.1 points per game (5), 271.4 passing yards per game (8), 106.4 rushing yards per game (20)
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