QB Aaron Rodgers
In his three years as Green Bay’s starting quarterback, Rodgers has finished second, first, and again second in fantasy points at his position, missing out on repeating as the top-rated passer in 2010 because of a one-and-a-half game absence due to a concussion suffered in Week 14 against Detroit. Despite having starting running back Ryan Grant for just one game, starting tight end Jermichael Finley for only five games, and playing behind an offensive line that struggled in pass protection early last season, Rodgers remained highly productive in leading the Packers to a Super Bowl championship. With the offensive line likely to improve in 2011 and with the return of Grant and Finley as well as a deep, talented group of wide receivers, Rodgers has an opportunity to become the top-rated fantasy passer once again. Deep threat Greg Jennings remains the most underrated wide receiver in the league, and while Donald Driver’s declining skills seem likely to land him in a backup role (or a ceremonial starting position with reduced playing time), Jordy Nelson proved in the playoffs that he is ready to take over Driver’s production. James Jones is a free agent who may not return, but the Packers added another talented receiver in Randall Cobb in the second round of the draft. Since he’s produced both with and without injuries to the team’s other skill position players, Rodgers is as close to a sure thing as there is at fantasy quarterback and is worthy of being taken in the first round in redraft leagues.
RB Ryan Grant
More than ever, the world seems to want the sexy new thing, but when it comes to the Packers backfield, it may make more sense to love the boring old guy, if you consider a 28-year-old with just 790 career rushes “old.” With second-year player James Starks breathing life into the Packers’ moribund rushing attack during the playoffs, third-round pick Alex Green in tow, and Grant having suffered a season-ending Week 1 injury last season, the fantasy world is down on Grant’s prospects for the coming season, perhaps unreasonably so. While he is a poor pass catcher and will never be mentioned as one of the more talented running backs in the league, Grant rushed for nearly 3,400 yards and 23 touchdowns during a 38-game stretch from 2007 to 2009. The risk with Grant is that he is entering the final year of his contract and could end up splitting time with Starks as the Packers build for the future. Or, perhaps more likely, Grant will remain Green Bay’s dominant running back as he becomes motivated by the thought of a new contract, and the Packers will go with their most productive running back in an attempt to return to the Super Bowl. There’s nothing wrong with gambling on Grant in 2011.
RB James Starks
After watching Brandon Jackson and John Kuhn make a futile attempt to give the team a decent rushing attack during the regular season, the Packers turned to rookie sixth-round pick James Starks in the playoffs. Starks was hardly dominant, but he did upgrade the team’s production at the position, gaining 315 rushing yards and four touchdowns over the Packers’ four-game playoff run. With Jackson on his way to Cleveland, Starks will battle incumbent starter Ryan Grant to be the lead back. While Starks was impressive during the playoffs, Grant has a history of solid production, gaining 3,412 rushing yards and scoring 23 touchdowns from 2007 through 2009 despite barely playing for the first half of 2007. That history suggests Starks will enter 2011 in a backup role. However, with Grant entering the final year of his contract—and lacking solid receiving skills in a pass-happy Packers offense—look for a platoon role for Starks with an outside chance of his winning the job outright. He is a great option as the potential Green Bay starter in 2012.
RB Alex Green
With Ryan Grant entering the final year of his contract and Brandon Jackson in Cleveland, the Packers picked Green in the third round to supplement the running game. Playing in the dynamic Packers offense and being a reasonably high draft selection makes Green an obvious candidate for dynasty leagues, but his fantasy prospects for 2011 look dim. Grant has played well as a starter, and James Starks was impressive during the team’s playoff run. That makes it unlikely that Green will see much playing time as a rookie, barring injury to Grant or Starks. He’s waiver wire material entering 2011.
WR Greg Jennings
You pick the narrative. 1.) Jennings was headed for bust status last year as the team chose to feature tight end Jermichael Finley—with only Finley’s season-ending Week 5 injury saving Jennings from WR3 status. 2.) The Packers offensive line was so porous for the first part of the year that head coach Mike McCarthy was forced to feature Finley, but Jennings’ true value became apparent once the O-line shaped up and Finley was injured. Let’s go with the latter. Despite opening the season with just 36 fantasy points (183 receiving yards, three touchdowns) over the first five weeks, Jennings rebounded in a big way over the balance of the season, averaging 14.7 fantasy points over game and finishing as the fourth-ranked fantasy wide receiver. That’s an impressive turnaround. To sum it up, Jennings is entering his sixth year in the league, he’s the undisputed No. 1 wide receiver on what is arguably the most explosive offense in the league, and he’s finished fourth, 20th, fourth, and 12th over the past four years in the fantasy wide receiver rankings. Barring injuries, he is a mid-tier WR1 who could easily finish in the top three.
WR Donald Driver
After an amazing run of seven 1000-yard seasons over the last eight years, the 36-year-old Driver saw his production plummet to just 51 receptions for 565 yards and four touchdowns in 2010. He did have an amazing 61-yard touchdown reception against the 49ers, but he is clearly on the downside of his career and seems unlikely to improve upon his 2010 numbers in the coming season. Driver ran more short patterns last year, but with tight end Jermichael Finley back from an injury that cost him 11 games last season, Driver will likely lose that work this season. Luckily for him, the Packers run plenty of three-, four-, and five-receiver sets, so he isn’t going to just drop off the face of the earth. That being said, he topped six fantasy points just four times last year, and only once over the final 12 games. Let somebody else take a gamble on Driver regaining his glory in 2011.
WR James Jones
Jones isn’t big but he’s big enough. He doesn’t possess great speed but he’s fast enough. His routes aren’t always the right ones but he gets open regularly. Unfortunately, he always leaves the Packers coaches and his fantasy owners wanting more. After four years in the league, Jones is a free agent, and with a solid depth chart at wide receiver and having witnessed Jordy Nelson’s nice playoff run, Green Bay isn’t likely to overpay to retain him. While Jones also had a decent four-game playoff run, with 144 yards and a pair of touchdowns, Nelson appears to have developed into a more reliable option. Look for more of the same from Jones (500-600 yards, four or five touchdowns—good enough for WR5 status) if he returns to Green Bay. However, he’ll gain some upside if he moves to a different team in 2011.
WR Jordy Nelson
With Donald Driver wearing down and James Jones a free agent, Nelson was shaping up as a solid sleeper option for 2011. That all changed with his superlative three-game playoff run in which he caught 21 passes for 286 yards and a pair of touchdowns, culminating in a nine-catch, 140-yard, one-touchdown performance in the Super Bowl. How’s that for getting noticed! While Driver is squawking about remaining a starter, there is little doubt that at 36 his usage will decline, and Jones seems likely to leave as a free agent. That equals opportunity, and Nelson showed in the playoffs that he has the ability to make the most of it. He ranks as a WR4 until there is more certainty regarding the futures of Driver and Jones, but move him up if circumstances warrant prior to start of the 2011 season.
WR Randall Cobb
Most receivers taken in the second round get an opportunity to produce in their rookie seasons, but that might not be the case for Cobb. The Packers possess perhaps the deepest depth chart at receiver in the league, and Cobb will enter the season behind four solid veterans if James Jones is re-signed. If that happens, Cobb figures to dress on game day only if he wins a job as a returner, which seems likely. He is a shifty player with very good but not outstanding speed. He’s not recommended for redraft leagues, but he definitely shapes up as a good prospect in dynasty formats.
TE Jermichael Finley
This side of Antonio Gates, there isn’t a more feared pass-catching tight end in the league than Jermichael Finley. He possesses outstanding size, speed, and agility, and he is entering just his fourth year as a pro. The only problem is that he hasn’t played a lot after spending his rookie year figuring out the team’s offensive playbook, missing three games to injury in his second year when he was just getting rolling, and missing most of last year after he tore his meniscus in Week 5. On the plus side, the Packers featured him over the first four games of last season, targeting him 26 times. In those four games, he averaged nine fantasy points per game on 21 receptions for 301 yards and a score. With Finley, the upside is huge, but so is the injury risk, which precludes him from being in the top-tier at the position. Place him at the top of the second tier, but make sure you have a decent backup at the ready.