Packers Fantasy Preview

Rich Hribar
Rotoworld

2018 Stats (Rank)

Total Offense: 5,905 (12th)
Offensive Touchdowns: 39 (16th)
Offensive Plays: 1,026 (9th)
Pass Attempts + Sacks: 693 (2nd)
Rush Attempts: 333 (32nd)
Unaccounted for Targets: 109 (18th)
Unaccounted for Carries: 26 (27th)

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Coaching Staff

This offseason, the Packers and 13-year head coach Mike McCarthy finally parted ways after McCarthy’s voice, play-calling and relationship with Aaron Rodgers all finally reached a stale point beyond repair. Replacing McCarthy, the Packers gave 39-year old Matt LaFleur his first NFL head coaching job. LaFleur has climbed the ranks swiftly over the past few seasons after being attached to the best NFL offenses during the 2016 and 2017 seasons. After he was the quarterbacks coach for the 2016 Atlanta Falcons and the offensive coordinator the Rams in 2017, things didn’t go as smoothly for LaFleur in his first offensive coordinating coaching job without Kyle Shanahan or Sean McVay providing their oversight and input. LaFleur’s Tennessee offense ranked 25th in total yards, 27th in scoring and 31st in passing across the league.  The Titans dealt with a number of injuries on offense that played a significant role in the structure of their 2018 offense, so trading that offensive roster for one helmed by Rodgers will be a step up in offensive personnel for LaFleur entering the season.

 

Passing Game
QB: Aaron Rodgers, DeShone Kizer
WR: Davante Adams, Geronimo Allison
WR: Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Jake Kumerow
WR: Equanimeous St. Brown, J’Mon Moore, Trevor Davis
TE: Jimmy Graham, Jace Sternberger
 

Aaron Rodgers did play in all 16 games last season, but suffered a fracture his right shinbone during the opening week of the season and left Week 17 after just three offensive snaps due to a concussion. Despite playing through that leg injury and missing a near full game to close the season, Rodgers still managed to finish the 2018 season and the QB6 in overall scoring and the QB9 in points per game. He also did that while posting a career-low 4.2 percent rate after posting a 6.5 percent touchdown rate for his career prior.

After the Packers were dead last in the league in rushing attempts in 2018, LaFleur has already stated that he is dedicated to establishing the run, and using his backfield more in the passing game, but most importantly, increasing the use of play action. The past three quarterbacks that LaFleur has been associated with -Marcus Mariota, Jared Goff and Matt Ryan- each ranked fifth, second and first in play action dropback rate in those seasons. Rodgers has ranked 30th, 32st, 29th and 32nd in play action dropback rate in each of the past four seasons. The last time that he used play action at a high level was the 2014 season when he ranked 11th in the league with 24.1 percent of his dropbacks as play action passes. That reduction of play action passing also lines up with the massive yards per pass attempt that Rodgers has suffered over the past four seasons. In that 2014 season, Rodgers averaged 8.4 yards per pass attempt (second in the league) and won his second NFL MVP Award. It was the last time Rodgers averaged over 7.4 yards per pass attempt for his career. After leading all quarterbacks in yards per pass attempt (8.27) over the 2008-2014 seasons, Rodgers has ranked 27th in yards per pass attempt (7.12) for all quarterbacks with over 200 pass attempts over the past four seasons.

Rodgers may not be his most comfortable turning his back to the defense and using play action, but it’s a change that he should swallow his pride on and embrace because it can place him back on the pantheon of quarterback play. If that play action utilization spikes to go along with a kickback on his touchdown rate and getting through a full season healthy for the first time in three seasons, Rodgers can find himself back at the top of the position for fantasy purposes.

Davante Adams made a massive jump in 2018, catching 111 passes for 1,386 yards and 13 touchdowns. More impressively, Adams accomplished this through arguably the toughest individual schedule any lead wideout faced. Running through a plethora of cornerbacks and secondaries who limited fantasy output, Adams was the highest-scoring fantasy receiver through 16 weeks before missing the final game of the season due to a concussion. He accomplished that by posting 16 or more fantasy points in every game he played during the season. A touchdown machine, Adams has scored 35 times over the past three seasons, which trails only Antonio Brown. Leading the league in targets per game (11.3), the 26-year old Adams has little competition for targets and will play with a healthy Aaron Rodgers in 2019. He is my number one wide receiver for fantasy purposes. 

Seemingly everyone involved in the Packers’ receiving depth chart behind Adams has had some amount of hype prior to training camp opening. That said, the two early consensus favorites to receive the most opportunity behind Adams are Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Geronimo Allison.

Valdes-Scantling is in line to build off a rookie season in which he posted the most PPR fantasy points by Packers rookie wide receiver since Aaron Rodgers became the starting quarterback in 2008.  In the 10 games in which he played at least half of the team snaps, Valdes-Scantling averaged 6.4 targets and 10.2 fantasy points per game. He averaged 5.7 yards after the catch (18th) to have ability thriving in the slot role vacated by Randall Cobb and also led all rookie wide receivers with 311 receiving yards on targets 20-plus yards downfield. Valdes-Scantling averaged 3.3 yards of separation per route, which led all Green Bay pass catchers. I’ve frequently grabbed Valdes-Scantling all offseason as a bench receiver and still find him undervalued even after his recent groundswell of support.

The same can be said for Allison. After being tendered $2.025 million in restricted free agency this offseason, Allison and the Packers came to agree on a 1-year, $2.8M contract. While you’d like to see a longer commitment made to anchor the franchises' faith in Allison, he has been a productive player with all opportunities he has received. In just 11 career games in which he’s played 50 percent or more of the team snaps, Allison has caught 43-of-67 targets for 648 yards (58.9 yards per game) and three touchdowns while averaging 11.3 fantasy points per game. That includes the opening four games of the 2018 season when Allison was a starter. He was a WR3 or better in three of those games while averaging 14.9 points per game before appearing in just one more game the remainder of the season after suffering a concussion and then a season-ending groin injury. 

While Valdes-Scantling and Allison are the early favorites to garner the most reps behind Adams, there is some buzz for the second-straight offseason around the relationship that Jake Kumerow has with Rodgers. After a productive collegiate career at UW-Whitewater, Kumerow was on the Bengals practice squad for his first two years before catching on with the Packers last season. He then led the Packers in receiving yards in the 2018 preseason before suffering a shoulder injury that placed him on injured reserve for the opening 11 games of the regular season. On return, he caught a modest 8-of-11 targets for 103 yards and a touchdown. The competition is still open, leaving Kumerow as an end of the draft dart to throw.

Equanimous St. Brown, Trevor Davis and J’Mon Moore reportedly all worked in after the starters at OTAs with Kumerow. Of the group, St. Brown holds the most intrigue after catching 21-of-36 targets for 328 yards (15.6 yards per reception) as a rookie, but he was far behind Valdes-Scantling in production and opportunity in games where they each played significant snaps as St. Brown played half of the team snaps in just five games as a rookie, never seeing more than five targets in any of those games.

At tight end, the Packers figure to run out the clock on Jimmy Graham before their window to release him at a minimal cap hit opens up after this season. Graham was the TE12 in overall scoring last year, but he was hardly a starting tight end for rosters. Graham ran the third-most routes at the position in 2018 but finished ninth in receptions (55) and receiving yardage (636). The biggest thorn for fantasy owners is that he reached the end zone just twice all season. Graham should play a lot once again and find the end zone more often than just twice, but entering 2019 at 32-years old, Graham has averaged fewer than 40 yards receiving per game over the past two seasons, leaving him in a deep bucket of tight end options that can have relevancy on a given week, but are not set-and-forget options.

 

Running Game
RB: Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams, Dexter Williams
OL (L-R): David Bakhtiari, Lane Taylor, Elgton Jenkins, Billy Turner, Bryan Bulaga

 

With the Packers anticipated to use their backfield more – as well as having an above average offensive line- this season, there’s excitement that Aaron Jones is heading towards a year three breakout. Jones ranks third in yards per carry (5.5) for backs over their first two seasons in the league since the NFL merger in 1970. Improving across the board in counting stats in his second season, Jones wrestled away the starting job in the Green Bay backfield in Week 8 last season. From Weeks 8-14 as the primary ball carrier, Jones was the RB5 in PPR formats over that stretch, averaging 19.7 fantasy points per game. Over that span, he ranked ninth among all backs in touches (17.0 per game) and fifth in rushing yards (76.0 per game) and yards from scrimmage (99.7 per game) while scoring eight total touchdowns.  Jones then suffered a knee injury in Week 15 and was lost for the remainder of the season.  That has been the early career bugaboo on halting Jones’ ascension as he has now missed four games in each of his first two seasons and five of those eight total missed games have stemmed from three different MCL injuries. From a talent perspective, Jones is far and ahead above the other options on the depth chart in Green Bay and can thwart any potential split or timeshare with his ability, he just needs to remain on the field.  Checking in with an early average ADP of RB16 so far through the summer, owners are remaining cautiously optimistic, but that price tag leaves room for him to be a massive hit in the new scheme if he can make it through the season unscathed.

Behind him, the dueling Williams’s will fight to make it in the rotation weekly while holding upside in the event that Jones should miss time for a third consecutive season. Jamaal Williams has struggled with efficiency during his first two seasons in the league -which look particularly poor compared to what Jones has done in the same offense. He also has ranked near the bottom of the running back position in catch rate (a non-nice 69 percent) to begin his career. With Dexter Williams now added to the roster, Jamaal’s days as a force-fed opportunist are likely done even if Jones were to go down in season. In that scenario, I’d wager we see a split between the two Williams’s with Jamaal Williams being used in pass protection over the rookie, while Dexter Williams would have an opportunity to jump ahead in rushing situations over the struggling rushing acumen that Jamaal has shown to begin his career.

 

Win Total

The Packers’ win total sits at an even nine across the majority of books. This comes after winning just six and seven games over the past two seasons.  That number feels right on the button and although a healthy and reengaged Aaron Rodgers can carry the team to double-digit wins, the over on the bet is sitting at -150 at many books. There’s little value in betting that line, but the books are offering positive odds on the Packers coming up short. With a first year head coach playing in a modest division, the under is the better value of the options.

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