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Fantasy Forecast: Green Bay Packers

Heading into Matt LaFleur’s second season as head coach, which @Packers players should you invest in for fantasy? @FF_MarvinE evaluates each position going into 2020!

2019 Recap

The 2019 season was the beginning of a new era for the Green Bay Packers for two notable reasons. First, Mike McCarthy, who was the Packer’s head coach for 13 years, was replaced by the Titans OC Matt LaFleur. Secondly, unlike his predecessor Ted Thompson, Brian Gutenkunst would take advantage of the Packers’ significant cap space, signing a trio of noteworthy free agents – Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith, and Adrian Amos. Additionally, to cap off a very active off-season, the Packers would use their two first-round picks to add Maryland safety Darnell Savage Jr. and Michigan DE/DL Rashan Gary. You’re probably noticing a pattern here. Because defense wins championships, Gutenkunst ensured that the Packers would enter the 2019 season with plenty of talent.

Offense

With a new head coach and several new additions, there was plenty of uncertainty heading into the 2019 season. Would the defense finally improve enough to alleviate pressure on Aaron Rodgers? Could the offense take the next step forward despite not upgrading at WR? The Packers would certainly exceed expectations finishing with a 13-3 record, which was the most wins by a rookie head coach in Packer history. And while the Packers were only 15th in points per game (23.5), their defense would finish 9th in points allowed (19.6) per ESPN, which is a massive improvement from the last few seasons.

Defense

Where the Packers’ defense struggled the most was against the run game. They were 10th worst in the league in rushing yards allowed per game, and 7th worst in yards allowed per rush attempt with 4.67 Y/A. This was especially evident in the NFC championship when the Packers struggled to contain 49ers RB Raheem Mostert, who ran for 220 rushing yards and 4 touchdowns. The Packers would trail the whole game, losing to San Francisco 20-37, ending their playoff run. Going into 2020, the Packers are entering the season with a mostly unchanged roster. So what can you expect from the Packers from a fantasy standpoint? Let’s dive in!

Quarterback

Source: ClutchPoints.com

Aaron Rodgers

Aaron Rodgers’ 2019 season was not quite what fantasy players had anticipated, though he was still very productive for the Packers. He finished the 2019 season with the 8th most passing attempts (569), 11th most completed air yards (2113), and 8th most passing TDs (26). Additionally, Rodgers was once again exceptional at taking care of the ball, leading the league with an absurd 0.7% interception ratio. Interestingly, per PlayerProfiler, Rodgers would also finish 2nd in deep ball attempts (94) but was only 22nd in deep ball completion rate (34.0%). What stands out is that his receivers were 3rd in the league in dropped passes (34), which undoubtedly affected his efficiency scores. Rodgers would finish right outside the QB1 range from a fantasy standpoint as the QB13 in PPG (17.6 – minimum ten games played).

Source: RBSDM.com

As he approaches his 16th season in the league, which version of Aaron Rodgers will we see? If we use the metric CPOE (completion percentage over expected), which adjusts the expected completion rate based on the difficulty of the throw, we can see that Rodgers has been very successful over the last decade. He ranks 8th among all QBs finishing three percentage points above expected. However, we can see a noticeable split starting in 2018. Prior to 2018, Rodgers had +3.7 CPOE; in 2018 and 2019, his CPOE would decline to +0.5.

With no significant upgrades at WR, I do have some reservations going into the 2020 season. In dynasty leagues, after being drafted as a top 5 QB over the last decade, Rodgers is currently being drafted as the QB13 (per DLF). In redraft leagues, he is currently at QB12 per FantasyPros ADP. For the short-term, I do believe that Rodgers will be a high end QB2 with QB1 potential. However, his dominant years are likely behind him. Therefore, I would not be surprised if fantasy players opted to draft someone like Daniel Jones, Matthew Stafford, or even Jared Goff, who are currently sitting behind Rodgers in both dynasty and redraft ADP.

Jordan Love

In the 2020 NFL Draft, the Packers moved up to the 26th overall pick to draft Jordan Love. He was an extremely polarizing prospect coming out of college. What immediately stands out with Love is his ability to make jaw-dropping plays with his arm strength, athleticism, and mobility. His best season was his Sophomore year, throwing for 3,567 passing yards, 32 TDs, and only 6 interceptions. However, the following season, his production declined as he set a career high in interceptions (17) while only throwing for 20 TDs.

Per John Newman on NFL Mocks, Love’s unproductive Junior season was likely hampered by coaching changes, adapting to several new receivers, and dealing with an inexperienced and young offensive line. According to July dynasty ADP, Jordan Love is currently being drafted as the QB33. If you have Rodgers on your dynasty team, especially in a SuperFlex league, make sure to acquire Love as he is the likely successor at QB. In redraft leagues, he will remain undraftable as long as Rodgers is healthy.

Running Back

Source: ClutchPoints.com

Aaron Jones 

Aaron Jones has been one of the most efficient running backs since joining the league. Among all RBs since 2017 (with a minimum of 15 touches inside the 10), Aaron Jones ranks first in TD rate, converting 35 touches into 20 TDs. His 57.1% TD conversion rate is nearly 26.7 percentage points higher than the league average (30.5%). Furthermore, Aaron Jones ranks 13th in PPR points per game (14.2), 3rd in total TDs (28), and 2nd in yards per attempt (5.02). He has truly been one of the most efficient and productive RBs despite receiving limited touches. Part of the lack of opportunity was due to coaching and a couple of knee injuries that hampered Jones in his first two seasons in the league.

In 2019, he would finally play a full 16 games, accumulating a total of 285 touches and 1,558 scrimmage yards. He would finish the regular season 4th in evaded tackles (86), 6th in yards created (501), and 10th in yards per touch (5.5), per PlayerProfiler. If we take a look at his PPR scoring breakdown above, the two weeks that stand out are weeks 5 and 8 when he scored more than 40 points. And while he certainly had his matchup-winning games, Jones likely also lost you a few weeks finishing five times below 10 PPR points. Despite the inconsistency, he would still finish as the RB3 in PPR points per game (19.7) while finishing as an RB1 43.8% of the time.

Heading into the 2020 season, FantasyPros redraft ADP has Aaron Jones as the RB11, 16th overall. This season, Jones should remain the lead RB for the Packers. Therefore, if I can acquire him as a high upside RB2 in redraft, I would be ecstatic. But with the acquisition of A.J. Dillon, Jones’ dynasty outlook is a little more unclear. The Packers have yet to agree to an extension with Jones, so he could very well be playing for a new team come 2021. His RB15 dynasty ADP (per DLF) already includes a slight discount due to his unpredictable future. I am more than willing to take him at that price, depending on who is left on the board. If you decide to acquire Jones in your dynasty league, be sure to target A.J. Dillon in the 9th or 10th round of your startup draft to secure his primary handcuff.

A.J. Dillon

The Packers drafted A.J. Dillon with the 62nd pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. In three seasons at Boston College, he would accumulate 4,382 rushing yards and 38 rushing TDs, which equates to an impressive 34.8% college dominator score. In his final season, he generated 1,236 rushing yards against a stacked box to put some of his production into perspective. What is even more impressive is that 66% of those yards (823) came after contact. Dillon may not be the most elusive RB in this draft, but he makes up for it with effort, vision, and size. Below is a great example of Dillon’s strengths.

Going into 2020, Dillon is being drafted as the RB38 in dynasty startups, right behind Tarik Cohen and Sony Michel. In rookie drafts, he is being drafted as the RB9 in the late second round. While his role will likely be capped in 2020, Dillon could become the leader of this backfield as soon as 2021. Therefore, he is a must-own in dynasty, especially if you have Aaron Jones on your roster. This season, Dillon will likely have little value in redraft leagues splitting touches with Jamaal Williams. I do believe Dillon is the primary change-of-pace RB to Jones, rendering Williams undraftable in most leagues.

Wide Receiver

Credit: PFF.com

Davante Adams

“In his six-year career in the NFL, Davante Adams has only once finished above 1,000 receiving yards in a season.” While this narrative is technically correct, it does not tell the full story of his improvement and impact in this Packers offense. We know that Adams was a late bloomer, only accumulating 929 receiving yards on 88 receptions in his first two seasons. However, since 2016, Adams ranks 6th in total receiving yards (4,265), 6th in receptions (343), 1st in touchdowns (40), and 5th in PPR points per game (17.75). He has truly been one of the most dominant receivers in the league.

If we look at Matt Harmon’s (@MattHarmon_BYB) reception perception database, Adams has graded exceptionally well as a route runner over the last two seasons. The progress he has made in this facet of his game is truly remarkable. According to Harmon, Adams had a 47% success rate vs. man coverage in 2014 (2nd percentile). Fast forward to 2018 and 2019, and he has finished in the 99th (79.5%) and 96th (78%) percentile, respectively, which makes him one of the best route runners in today’s game.

In 2019, Adams would deal with a turf toe injury that would sideline him for four weeks. After returning, he would finish the year off strong, finishing as a WR1 in four of the last five weeks. And according to PlayerProfiler, he would finish the season 6th in PPR points per game (17.7) and 5th in yards per route run (2.87) among all WRs. So while his injuries kept him from achieving a second 1,000 yard season, his per-game stats suggest that he was once again a dominant fantasy WR when healthy. 

After pacing to exceed 169 targets over 16 games in 2019, I would not be surprised if Adams exceeded 150 targets in 2020. The only concern I would have is if Green Bay fully transitioned to a more run-heavy offense. If that is the case, their passing volume may decline next season. Nevertheless, Rodgers will target his best receiver as much as possible even if their passing plays decline; therefore, do not hesitate to draft Adams as the WR2 in redraft leagues (per FantasyPros ADP). And at only 27 years old, Adams should have several elite years ahead of him, which makes him an excellent pick as the WR3 in your dynasty drafts.

Allen Lazard

Allen Lazard is currently the lead candidate to assume the WR2 role in this offense. In 2019, he would start out averaging 5.96% of the offensive snaps for the first five games. As you can see below, starting in week 7, his snaps would slowly increase. And in the final six weeks of the year, he would average nearly 67.6% of the snaps. During that same timespan, his 16 game pace was 43 receptions, 685 receiving yards, and 5 TDs, averaging about 9.5 PPR points per game.

Looking at 2020, is there room for improvement for Lazard? Per Rotoworld, Green Bay has the 8th most vacated targets with 132 (24.3%). However, with the additions of Devin Funchess and the expectation for Jace Sternberger to be more involved, there is no guarantee that the majority of those targets will go to Lazard. 

So why should Rodgers target Lazard more? According to PlayerProfiler, Lazard had the 25th highest yards per target (9.2) and 31st best yards per pass route (2.19) among all receivers. In addition, per PFF, Lazard ranked 12th in targeted passer rating with a grade of 117.9, while producing a 3rd down conversion on 43% of his receptions. When looking at these metrics, it does not surprise me that Rodgers views him as an “ascending and reliable player” (per Zach Kruse on on Packers Wire). For fantasy, Lazard is currently being drafted as the WR73 in dynasty and WR64 in redraft. At both of the price points, I will gladly take a flier that Lazard could emerge in his 3rd season in the league.

Devin Funchess

Devin Funchess is the newest addition to this Packer receiving corps. And while players like Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Equanimeous St. Brown, and Jake Kumerow are still on the team, I believe that Funchess has the experience to contribute immediately. If we take a look at his days in Carolina, his 2017 season stands out. He finished with 63 receptions, 8 TDs, and 840 receiving yards, averaging 12.2 PPR points per game (WR25). As a late-round pick, he has potential upside if he can overtake Lazard for that WR2 role.

Tight End

Credit: Packers Wire USA Today

Jace Sternberger 

Jimmy Graham has signed with the Bears, which means that Jace Sternberger will have every opportunity to take over the TE1 role. And while Marcedes Lewis remains on the team, I project Sternberger to be the primary receiving TE. If the Packers do transition to an offense that resembles Kyle Shannahan’s scheme in San Francisco, we may see the TE position more regularly involved.

Since he barely played in his rookie season, what many forget is that Sternberger had a 91.1 receiving grade from PFF, leading the 2019 TE rookie class. He was also first in deep pass receptions (7) and 3rd in deep pass yards (190) among all TEs in 2018. I truly believe that Sternberger is one of the best TEs that Rodgers has had since Jermichael Finley retired. And if given the opportunity, Sternberger should at least be a low-end TE2 for your fantasy teams. In most single TE redraft leagues, he will likely go undrafted. However, in dynasty leagues, he is currently coming off the board as the TE21 (per DLF). Personally, I would not draft him as my starting TE but would be more than comfortable drafting him as my TE2 considering his potential in this offense.

Individual Defensive Players (IDP)

Credit: Packers Wire USA Today

A big thank you goes out to Jeff Abercrombie (@thesofascout), Jordan Rains (@50shadesofdrunk), and Eric Herauf (@ejh1528), who helped me with the following player evaluations! Be sure to check out their IDP articles on the Dynasty Nerds site.

Christian Kirksey

While the Packers were not as active in free agency this off-season, one of their bigger acquisitions was former Cleveland Browns LB Christian Kirksey. After signing a two-year contract with Green Bay, he is reunited with his former head coach, Mike Pettine. Emerging in 2016, Kirksey finished as the LB10 in points per game (14.8 – min. 10 games played), compiling 148 combined tackles and 2.5 sacks. He would follow that stellar year with an LB11 finish in fantasy points per game (14.7) in 2017, totaling 138 tackles and 3.5 sacks.

Unfortunately, Kirksey’s last two seasons were hampered by season ending injuries. Now coming off a pectoral tear in 2019, Kirksey has the opportunity to succeed as the lead ILB for the Packers. Blake Martinez has signed with the Giants, leaving behind an average of 147.7 tackles over the last three seasons. Draft Kirksey with confidence in your redraft leagues since he has the potential and opportunity to finish as an LB1. And at only 27 years old, if he can remain healthy, he should be a solid fantasy LB for the next two seasons with Green Bay.

Za’Darius Smith

Za’Darius Smith was one of Green Bay’s key free agent signings in the 2019 off-season. In his first four seasons, he would play limited snaps (averaging 51%) on a dominant Ravens defense. Even with limited opportunities, he led the Ravens in sacks (8.5) in 2018. Fast forward to 2019, Smith’s snap percentage would rise to 84% with the Packers. With the added opportunity, Za’Darius would finish 6th in sacks (13.5) while leading the NFL in total pressures, pressure rate, and expected sacks (per Zach Kruse). He would finish as the LB35 (with a min. 10 games played), averaging 10.8 fantasy points per game. Unfortunately, because of his limited opportunities for solo tackles, he will continue to be a rotational flex LB for your fantasy teams. Draft him accordingly in your redraft and dynasty leagues, as he should provide similar production in 2020 and beyond.

Preston Smith

Preston Smith would join the Packers in 2019 after playing four years with Washington. While he flashed some potential in his first four seasons, averaging 6.1 sacks per year, 2019 would be a breakout year for Preston. He would finish the year with 56 combined tackles and 12 sacks, averaging about 10 fantasy points per game. Going into 2020, Preston will likely just be a depth LB for your fantasy teams. Therefore, do not draft him as more than an LB3 or LB4 for your redraft and dynasty rosters. 

Kenny Clark

Per Jeff Abercrombie, Kenny Clark is an ascending talent at DT. In 2019, he would total 62 combined tackles and 6 sacks, averaging about 7.6 fantasy points per game. He would finish the season as the 33rd best DL in fantasy (with a minimum of 10 games played). His career trajectory is pointing upward as he was selected to his first Pro Bowl season in 2019. And now that he approaches a contract year with the Packers expect him to have another productive season in this defense. Do not hesitate to draft him as a flex DL in your redraft and dynasty leagues.

Darnell Savage Jr.

Someone to keep an eye on in this defense is Darnell Savage Jr., who was drafted 21st overall in 2019. He checks all the boxes athletically, finishing in the 92nd percentile in speed score (109.6) and 84th percentile in burst score (130.2). Unfortunately, his 2019 season would be slightly derailed by an ankle injury, finishing with 55 combined tackles, 2 interceptions, and 5 passes defensed. And per PFR, when targeted, Savage only allowed a 56.7% completion rate and 71.1 passer rating. He is undoubtedly the starter at strong safety with plenty of opportunity, making him a sleeper pick in your dynasty leagues. For your redraft leagues, he is just a deep bench stash that will likely go undrafted in many leagues.

Conclusion

Credit: TheHuddle.com

In summary, we may see the Packers transition to a new offensive scheme in 2020. Aaron Rodgers’ days as a consistent and reliable QB1 are likely behind him, but that should not affect the fantasy upside of both Davante Adams and Aaron Jones. Despite added competition at both receiver and running back, I expect them to finish in the top 12 at their respective positions next season. And on defense, Christian Kirksey could be in for another LB1 season, making him a sneaky pick in your redraft and dynasty leagues. The Packers will once again battle for that NFC North title, so expect this team to produce plenty of fantasy points in 2020.

If you have any additional fantasy football questions, feel free to reach out on twitter @FF_MarvinE. Make sure to follow @DynastyNerds for more dynasty content all year long. Thanks for reading!

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