Green Bay Packers Buying Guide

The ultimate takeaway from Aaron Rodgers’ 2016 season was “still great,” but it was really two seasons in one for the Green Bay quarterback. Rodgers was uncharacteristically mortal for the first month and a half, then went nuclear from late October through the end of the season. It reminded me of seeing the late, great musician Prince in 2012. He was doing a three-night residency at Chicago’s United Center, and my wife, an avid Prince fan, got us tickets for the second night. The first show was panned by a local rock critic. Prince had an off night, according to the reviewer, letting his band do most of the work and barely picking up his guitar. I’d never seen Prince play live before, and my wife suggested that, based on the review, I should lower my expectations. But Prince was on fire the second night. He played for four hours, ripped through all of his best material and demonstrated his guitar virtuosity throughout, topped off by a face-melting solo on “Purple Rain.” The moral of the story: Not even the great ones bring their A-games to every performance.

There’s no reason to expect anything different from Rodgers this year than the virtuosity to which we’ve become accustomed. His wide receiver corps is completely healthy (for now, at least), and the addition of tight end Martellus Bennett gives him a useful red-zone target. There’s no room here to debate the tactical wisdom of drafting a quarterback in the early rounds since I’ve already wasted valuable time telling Prince stories, but if you’re among the drafters who see nothing wrong with hunting QBs early, Rodgers should give you what you’re expecting.

After missing all of 2015 with a torn ACL, Jordy Nelson didn’t look himself early in the 2016 season, averaging 53.5 receiving yards over his first six games. Fortunately for his owners, he had five touchdown catches over his first four games to keep his fantasy value afloat. Over the last 10 games of the regular season, Nelson averaged 93.6 yards per contest and tacked on nine more touchdowns. Not counting his lost 2015 season, Nelson’s fantasy finishes since 2011 have been WR2, WR30 (when he missed four games), WR11, WR2 and WR1. Some may fret about his age (32) or his durability, but as the go-to receiver for an all-time-great quarterback, Nelson should continue to be one of the most bankable commodities on the market. I have no quibbles with his ADP of WR6.

There is debate within the fantasy community about whether Davante Adams is actually good. I think the more germane question is: Does it matter whether Davante Adams is actually good? Widely ridiculed after bumbling his way through an injury-marred 2015 season, Adams redeemed himself with a 75-catch, 997-yard, 12-touchdown performance in 2016 that made him WR7 in fantasy scoring. Adams’ numbers could have been even better if not for a couple of egregious end-zone drops, but that’s part of the Davante Adams experience. Yes, Adams derived much of his fantasy value from touchdowns, which is why another top-10 fantasy finish is probably unrealistic. But Adams was targeted 121 times last year, and if Rodgers targets him that many times in 2017, a top-20 fantasy finish is well within reason.

It also helps that Rodgers loves to pick on lesser cornerbacks, and Adams often draws easier assignments than Jordy Nelson. We saw a fine example of this in the second Bears-Packers game last season, when the Bears’ lone experienced cornerback, Tracy Porter, locked up with Nelson, and Rodgers responded by completing 13 passes to Adams and 11 to Randall Cobb, repeatedly victimizing Bears rookies De’Vante Bausby and Cre’Von LeBlanc. Rodgers has done this sort of thing for years. Scott Barrett of Pro Football Focus (@ScottBarrettDFB) recently took a closer look at Rodgers’ calculated avoidance of top cover men. “Over the past decade, only 403 of Rodgers’ 2,892 wide receiver targets were aimed at a wide receiver in coverage against a top-25-graded cornerback,” Barrett wrote. “That equates to 13.9 percent, or the lowest rate in the league over this stretch.” Adams should continue to draw coverage from opponents’ second- or third-best cornerbacks, while Nelson sees the shutdown guys. That should keep Adams’ target robust, and I think it helps justify his ADP of WR20, which might actually be a deal.

In 2014, Randall Cobb finished WR6, averaging more points per game than A.J. Green, Mike Evans and T.Y. Hilton. In the two years since, Cobb has averaged 49.6 receiving yards a game and has scored 10 touchdowns in 29 outings. According to Pro Football Focus, Cobb averaged better than 2.0 yards per route run in each of his first four seasons. In each of the last two seasons, he’s averaged 1.3 yards per route run. That’s a BIG drop-off in a telling statistical category, and the decline has now held for two years. Cobb’s poor 2016 season can be at least partially blamed on ankle and hamstring problems that cost him three games and hindered him in others, and it’s worth noting that he had 18 catches for 260 yards and three TDs in Green Bay’s three playoff games last season. Some fantasy writers see a Cobb rebound coming, but I think Adams’ emergence has significantly lowered Cobb’s ceiling. In his big 2014 season, Cobb was a No. 2 receiver. Now he’s a No. 3. The Packers didn’t have a decent pass-catching tight end in Cobb’s big season, and their running backs weren’t especially good receivers. Now they have Martellus Bennett and Ty Montgomery. I’m fading Cobb at his WR39 price tag.

Jeff Janis truthers have been steadfast in their unrequited adulation, but there are few signs that this athletic marvel will ever develop into anything more than a special teams ace and Hail Mary specialist. Late-round rookies Malachi Dupre and DeAngelo Yancey are seeking to take roster spots from incumbent backups Geronimo Allison and Trevor Davis. It would probably take multiple injuries for any of these guys to have 2017 fantasy value.

No Green Bay tight end has seen 90 targets in a season since Jermichael Finley in 2011, but the Packers haven’t had a good pass-catching tight end since Finley departed. Now they do. Martellus Bennett was targeted only 73 times last season in New England, where he had to defer to Rob Gronkowski whenever Gronk was healthy, but Bennett still had 55 catches for 701 yards and seven touchdowns. Martysaurus Rex probably won’t see anything close to the 128 targets he had with the Bears in 2014 – the Packers have too many good pass catchers for that to happen – but Bennett could realistically be targeted 90-100 times, in which case he could make good on his TE7 price. Going early in the seventh round on average, Bennett is starting to get slightly expensive, though I think his ADP is within the realm of reason.

If anything happened to Bennett, Lance Kendricks would be worth your attention. After toiling in obscurity for the Rams the last six years, Kendricks returns to his home state and finally gets a chance to work with a high-quality quarterback. He caught a career-high 50 balls last year, but Kendricks won’t play as many snaps as he did last season unless Bennett goes down.

As a longtime fan of the Packers, I like to think that I usually have a good handle on player roles and usage, but I really have no idea how committed head coach Mike McCarthy is to former wide receiver Ty Montgomery as Green Bay’s lead running back. Montgomery averaged 5.9 yards per carry last season and fared well in various efficiency metrics, but the sample size is small, and nearly half of his 457 rushing yards came in two games against the hapless Bears. Only once during the regular season did Montgomery get more than nine carries in a game, and in three playoff games he averaged 3.6 yards per carry. I think Montgomery is a terrific fit for this offense and good enough to at least be a committee chairman, but McCarthy isn’t one of the more forward-thinking head coaches in the league, so it’s easy to envision him allocating a significant number of carries to a more traditional back. Montgomery’s ADP of RB19 is fair, but there’s a chance that buyers will be paying a fourth-round price for a time-share RB.

Jamaal Williams certainly fits the “more traditional” description. A fourth-round draft pick, Williams is a banger from BYU whose physical style might play well in the frosty climes of November/December games at Lambeau Field. The rugged Williams is also an obvious candidate for goal-line duty. Nonetheless, early drafters have been a little too eager to draft a somewhat unathletic rookie whose workload is far from assured. Williams has an ADP of RB42, which is too rich for me.

Needing to backfill their RB depth chart, the Packers drafted two other running backs: fifth-rounder Aaron Jones from UTEP and seventh-rounder Devante Mays from Utah State. The quick-footed Jones is a small but max-effort back who churned out 2,006 yards from scrimmage and 20 touchdowns in his final college season. He’s an intriguing late-round flyer in deeper leagues. The 230-pound Mays doesn’t have a great college résumé and is probably just a hedge play by GM Ted Thompson in case Williams doesn’t work out.

Aaron Rodgers QB1 QB1 Genuflect
Ty Montgomery RB19 RB19 Consider
Jamaal Williams RB42 RB57 Slow your roll
Jordy Nelson WR6 WR6 Worth the price
Davante Adams WR20 WR15 Don’t scoff
Randall Cobb WR39 WR47 Bet against a rebound
Martellus Bennett TE7 TE10 Find better value