2015 Fantasy Football Outlook: Green Bay Packers
June 4, 2015 | Chet
The Packers are coming off of a 12-4 campaign in 2014. It was their sixth consecutive trip to the postseason and their first visit back to the Conference title game since their Super Bowl winning run in 2010. As usual, the strength of their team centered around Aaron Rodgers and the offense, providing fantasy owners with the top overall quarterback, the sixth highest scoring running back in Eddie Lacy and two top eight scoring receivers in Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb.
2015 Packers Schedule
You know the drill by now; tread lightly over early season strength of schedule analysis. That said, the Packers were an offense that was electric, but also one that was opponent driven in 2014, so it’s not entirely a poor effort to look ahead to some degree. Post bye week, things really open up for them on paper as the roughest part of their schedule is early. They have a tough early season slate against some stingy fantasy defenses, but the good news is they get to open with four of their first six in the comfy surroundings of Lambeau.
The Packers scored on 49.7 percent of their offense drives (79 of 159) last season, the sixth highest percentage since 2000 and they scored a touchdown on 32.7 percent of their possessions which led the NFL. Those aforementioned home tilts could be relevant in overcoming those stronger opponents because this offense was a pinball machine at home during the 2014 season. Take a look at their splits at home from last year.
This was a team that was 4-5 on the road last season including the postseason and even though they’ll travel in six of their final ten games (including two of three in the fantasy playoffs), the road games they lost a season ago where against much stiffer defenses than they are expected to face in 2015. Still, it’s worth a little food for thought if they carry over their road troubles into this season.
Pick Up the Packer Receivers
Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb were two of the most fantasy reliable assets of the season a year ago as both had career campaigns. Nelson had six top-six scoring weeks which trailed only Antonio Brown and 10 top-24 scoring ones which were tied for the third most on the season. Cobb wasn’t quite as top heavy with three top-six weeks, but was steadier with strong weeks. He notched seven top-12 scoring weeks to Nelson’s six. Both also came with low variance floors as each only had one week outside of the position’s top 48 in a given week. With Nelson expected to be on the shelf for 2015, C.D. Carter points out in his elite receiver equity scores that Cobb is properly priced in as a top-12 option.
Cobb, who will be just 25 years old this August, also posted career highs in targets (127), receptions (91), yards (1,287) and scores (12) in 2014 and signed a fresh new four-year extension to remain a Packer and play out the apex of his career with Aaron Rodgers. While Cobb doesn’t profile as the prototypical type of player that will score a lot of touchdowns when the field is compressed, his touchdown rate on receptions in 2014 (13.2 percent) isn’t far off from the 10.8 percent he had over the previous two seasons. He may lose a few touchdowns, but I wouldn’t bank on him falling completely down into the 5-6 range.
That mainly has more to do with Rodgers than Cobb, because since Rodgers took over as starting quarterback in 2008, the average receiver attached to him has benefited from touchdown production more so than the average league-wide receiver.
A lot of the concerns about Davante Adams transitioning from a weaker collegiate conference to the NFL popped up in his rookie season as he was inconsistent and inefficient with his opportunites. Despite playing on 756 snaps (70 percent) and with Green Bay using three receivers on 91 percent of their passing plays (most in the league), Adams had 11 games with two or fewer receptions and 10 games with 20 or less receiving yards. The silver lining for Adams is that his two best games of the season came in big spots for the team (a 6-121 game versus New England in week 13 and a 7-117-1 line in the playoffs versus Dallas) and his rookie season wasn’t far off from early round Ted Thompson receiving investments of the past.
With Nelson now expected to miss the season with an ACL injury, Adams gets the most immediate bump, but I’m not quite ready to go the heights I’m expecting acquiring him will get to. To start, the one constant here all summer is that Adams’ position won’t be changing. He didn’t fill in for Nelson when Nelson missed OTA’s, nor did he move over by all reports after the injury. If Adams is going to get a big target bump, those targets are going to come in a different fashion than Nelson was acquiring his looks. He’s going to need to be more efficient as a sophomore target, but he’s very likely going to reach triple digit targets with an unknown cap on his fantasy output. He very well could be a top-20 option when the paint dries on the season. The area where he slides in for me is in the Martavis Bryant, Allen Robinson tier of high upside players in the bucket of options I love as my third wide receiver more than my second.
If Adams does remain inconsistent, Green Bay has a wealth of young depth in fellow second year receivers Jeff Janis and Jared Abbrederis, as well as rookie third round selection Ty Montgomery, who our Chad Scott profiled prior to the draft. Each have their own separate following, but the most intriguing still is Janis as he has the alluring physical profile to make a splash impact given opportunity. It’s worth noting that Janis has been filling in for Nelson all summer long, playing his role in OTA’s when Nelson was still recovering from his hip injury and substituting for his role so far this preseason. When Green Bay goes three wide, which they do often, it appears Janis will have that opportunity. He’s a great double digit dart throw, especially in best ball formats. Montgomery figures to serve as the primary kickoff returner and could be mixed in creatively, but still has much to grasp in terms of playing the receiver position to really push for time there this season. I compare his abilities at this stage to be not that far off of Cordarrelle Patterson entering the league. By all intents this summer, he’s made a great first impression, so stick a pin in monitoring his usage with the first team to close the preseason. Since everyone here is so young and offers a different immediate strength, I believe the Packers will play both Montgomery and Janis and maximize all of tactical variance each provide.
At tight end, Richard Rodgers was also hurt by return of Cobb. He made the most of the little offensive involvement he had, but there just aren’t opportunities available to him entering the season to warrant using a fantasy pick on him. He outsnapped Andrew Quarless just four times all season and was a travesty in the run game. If we could combine both Quarless and Rodgers we’d have a streaming option, but with both suppressing each other’s overall involvement on an already limited opportunity, the Green Bay tight end position is avoidable.
In the end, the Packers passing game is going to look a lot different than in years past because of the inexperience they now have at the position. Also, no matter how you slice the snaps among the young receivers and how they contribute this season, this is now the first offense led by Rodgers that will run through the slot receiver.
All In on ARod?
Outside of the 2011 season in which there was a typhoon of high end quarterback play that may or may not be properly attributed to the lockout, 2014 was the best season in Aaron Rodgers’ career in terms of efficiency. Rodgers registered 9.5 adjusted yards per attempt and almost two thirds of a passing point (0.610) per throw. He posted 11 top-12 scoring weeks (tied for second) and eight top-six scoring weeks (tied for first) on the season on his way to winning the league’s MVP award. He also had the highest volume of red zone passing in his career, with 105 attempts in the red zone. His previous season high was 88 red zone attempts, but his 24 red zone touchdown tosses were just the third most in his career.
It wasn’t all supremely efficient for Rodgers, however. He went nuclear against some lesser pass defenses, fattening up his season long totals. The Packers faced six pass defenses that ranked 24th or lower last season, and in those tilts, Rodgers averaged 33.7 points per game. Taking a look at the RotoViz Game Splits App, here’s how Rodgers feasted on the soft portion of his schedule.
In the weeks Rodgers faced a front half passing defense, he finished the week at QB28, QB28, QB11, QB3, QB7, QB26 and QB2. That’s not a massive concern heading into 2015 as he still had a few high end games against high caliber opposition and he did what you drafted him to do against the soft spots. Looking back at this season’s upcoming slate, there’s nothing overly daunting in his path, either.
When it comes down to Rodgers’ fantasy viability, it’s the same story that is has always been with him. Within the position, he’s easily on the pantheon. But at what point does he become a value for fantasy purposes? I’d recommend going back and reading this piece from J.J. Zachariason as you begin draft prep every summer in which he reminds you that you always want to take your quarterback late until fantasy football changes how it’s played and scored. That’s a philosophy that I subscribe to as the demand for the quarterback position just doesn’t match the capital you need to invest into running back and wide receiver early on and overall when properly building and insulating your team from sure misses. With Nelson out and the receiving unit so raw, I still believe Rodgers is the QB2, but he’s a lot closer to the QB3 now than he was to Andrew Luck beforehand. At the very earliest I would consider Rodgers would be in the fifth round when I already have a quartet of high end skill options.
Latching Onto Lacy
Lacy turned in a top six fantasy season as a sophomore, improving his efficiency across the board per touch over his rookie season. That efficiency was required as Lacy actually had 31 fewer touches last season than in his rookie year. He had 15 or fewer carries in 11 games last season and nine games with 70 or fewer rushing yards. The biggest area of improvement and point smoothing over the volume decrease came from the passing game department as caught 42 passes on 55 targets for 427 yards and four receiving touchdowns. 39.9 percent of his PPR output (108.7 points) stemmed from the receiving department as opposed to 25 percent (60.7 points) as a rookie. Those four receiving scores are going to be tough to repeat, but his pass game involvement should stay in a similar area.
Lacy also improved his agility and overall elusiveness in 2014. After forcing a missed tackled once every 5.2 touches as a rookie, he ranked fourth in the league in missed tackles forced (73) and fifth of all backs in touches per missed tackle forced out of all backs with 200 or more touches.
Of course, just as was the case with the majority of Green bay offense, Lacy did struggle versus top shelf run defenses. In weeks versus bottom half teams against the run, he finished as RB6, RB14, RB3, RB4, RB4 and RB6 while his average weekly finish versus front half run defenses was 25.6.
The true trump card that Lacy also has is his attachment to an elite passing game, which creates a plethora of opportunity for scores. Over the past two seasons, Lacy has 26 carries inside of the 5-yard line, tied for the fourth most in the league. Of all backs with 20 or more attempts near the paint over the past two seasons, nobody has been better converting those carries into touchdowns.
With Nelson out, Lacy is arguably the Packers best offensive player outside of Rodgers. With so much yet to be determined and delegated among the receivers, Lacy gets a bump in his role within the offense and could (and should) be used in a fashion like he was to close 2014 when Rodgers was dinged up. Lacy is definitely in consideration for 1.01 selection.