QB Aaron Rodgers
Much like Peyton Manning used to be considered money in the bank as the league’s elite fantasy signal caller, that throne has now been passed to Aaron Rodgers. Entering his fifth season as the Packers starter, Rodgers has finished as the 2nd, 1st, 2nd and 1st rated fantasy quarterback with the 2011 season rating as his most remarkable season to date. Despite sitting out the finale, Rodgers set career highs in passing yards (4,643) and touchdowns (45), topping his previous best of 30 by 15. If that wasn’t impressive enough, he also chipped in 257 yards and three touchdowns on the ground, bring his season averages as a starter in those categories to 281 and four. Shall we continue? The Packers have the best group of wide receivers in the league and go five deep at the position. Their tight end has the potential to emerge a notch below Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham. Their head coach treats the running game as an afterthought. Rodgers is just 28 years old, the age where most quarterbacks are entering their prime. Could he be even better in 2012? Well, if he starts all 16 games, why not? We wouldn’t go so far as to predict that but we wouldn’t discount the possibility. If Rodgers isn’t the first quarterback off the board in your league, then join a new one. After Arian Foster, Ray Rice and LeSean McCoy are gone, feel free to grab Rodgers. And if you are picking in the top three and really love him, go for it. As noted, he’s money in the bank.
RB James Starks
The Packers spent the offseason talking up Starks and his potential as a workhorse back in their offense. Then they signed Cedric Benson midway through training camp after Starks suffered a turf toe injury. Some players spend their whole careers on the cusp of earning a major role and you get the feeling that will be the story of James Starks. A 6th round pick in the 2010 draft, he entered the league with the reputation of being injury prone and he’s spent his career backing up that claim, having missed 13 games of his rookie season due to injury and then three more in 2012 while also playing nicked up in numerous other contests. Starks entered training camp as a solid RB3 with upside given the expectation that he would not be splitting the job with a veteran back like he did with Ryan Grant. However, with Benson likely to earn a roster spot, Starks is a RB4 and most likely best suited to using in the flex role in leagues that use that position.
RB Cedric Benson
With a pile of injuries at the running back position, the Packers restocked midway through training camp by signing Cedric Benson. Despite topping 1,000 rushing yards in each of the three previous seasons, there was little market for Benson’s services this offseason but he will get a decent opportunity to earn a starting role in Green Bay. Or he may enter the season on the street. With the Packers not paying him any signing bonus, it is clear that Benson will need to prove his worth in the preseason in order to make the roster. However, with James Starks’ return from turf toe uncertain and Alex Green recovering from a torn ACL, it seems likely that Benson will open the season either in a starting role or in a reserve capacity. It’s too early to tell what the Packers plans for him are but he is worth taking a flier on given his potential starting role in the league’s best offense.
RB Alex Green
The Packers liked Green enough to select him in the third round of the 2011 draft but he spent his rookie season nailed to the bench before suffering a season ending ACL tear in Week 7. Green shaped up as a potential late round flier in 2012 as the player most likely to enter the season behind James Starks on the depth chart but injuries at the running back position forced the Packers to sign free agent Cedric Benson part of the way through training camp. With Benson on the roster and Green on a reduced workload as he recovers from his injury, don’t expect much from him in 2012. Given Starks’ struggles with injuries and inconsistency, Green is a decent dynasty league prospect but he’s little more than a lottery ticket in 2012.
RB Brandon Saine
Like the other Packers running backs, Saine’s value took a hit when Cedric Benson was signed in training camp. Saine played reasonably well in a backup role after earning a roster spot as an undrafted rookie free agent and seemed like a decent bet to be used in a pass receiving role when training camp opened. While that may still be the case, Benson’s presence coupled with reports indicating that fellow backup Alex Green’s rehab from a torn ACL is going well have torpedoed what little fantasy value Saine had. Grab him off the waiver wire if he plays well early in the season.
WR Greg Jennings
Jennings was on pace to set a career high in receptions, reach double digit touchdowns for the third time in five years (nine in 2008) and top 1,000 receiving yards for the fourth season in a row when he suffered a sprain knee in Week 14 that caused him to miss the rest of the regular season. While the timing of his injury was unfortunate and likely sank the fortunes of many of his fantasy owners, Jennings has remained injury free for most of his career, missing just eight games during his six years in the league. Although Jordy Nelson emerged as one of the league’s better receivers in 2011, Jennings remains the Packers most explosive playmaker at the position and the receiver opposing defensive coordinators are most focused on. While Jennings isn’t a typical diva receiver, it doesn’t hurt that he is entering a contract year. With Jennings, you get consistent production on a year over year basis as well as on a weekly basis as he topped double digit fantasy points in nine of the twelve full games he played last season. In two of the other three games, he put up 8 and 9 points. As fantasy wide receivers go, Jennings has plenty to offer. Consider him a mid-tier WR1 in 2012.
WR Jordy Nelson
While it’s not exactly fair to say that Nelson burst onto the scene in 2011 since he had showcased some playmaking ability during his first three years in the league, it is fair to say that he shocked those outside of the Packer Nation with his performance last season. Nelson finished as the 2nd ranked fantasy wide receiver courtesy of his 68 reception, 1,263 yard, 15 touchdown season. What is perhaps even more remarkable is that Nelson put up those numbers despite being targeted just 96 times, easily the lowest amount of any top 10 fantasy receiver. Nelson clearly benefited from consistently facing single coverage, hauling in eight touchdowns on passes of 36 yards or more. While Nelson may get more targets in 2012, expecting another 15-touchdown performance isn’t very realistic. It’s also worth noting that Nelson also benefitted from the absence of Greg Jennings down the stretch, as he racked up 20 receptions for 387 yards and six touchdowns between Weeks 14 and 17. With so many mouths to feed, Nelson isn’t going to get the 140 or more targets that many top wide receivers get but expect another productive season in 2012, one that will likely rank him as a lower tier WR1 or upper tier WR2.
WR Donald Driver
Since Driver’s string of seven 1,000 yards seasons over last eight years ended in 2009, he has gone from being a solid fantasy producer to a bit of a vulture in the Packers offense. Driver was targeted 56 times in 2011, hauling in 37 receptions for 445 yards and six touchdowns. However, unless you had a chance to be a fly on the wall in the Packers game planning meetings, you wouldn’t ever know when to start him. With younger players James Jones and Randall Cobb in the fold as backups, Driver wouldn’t even see a big increase in targets if starters Greg Jennings or Jordy Nelson were lost to injury. Driver isn’t worth owning in 2012.
WR James Jones
Poor James Jones. Despite spending almost his entire career as a backup, he has averaged 46 receptions for 608 yards and 4.8 touchdowns per season during the four years that he has played 16 games. That’s pretty solid production for a backup. Unfortunately, when he hit the free agent market prior to the 2011 season, the market for his services never developed and he re-signed in Green Bay. Then the Packers drafted Randall Cobb in the 2nd round of last year’s draft and kept aging veteran Donald Driver. Both players return in 2012, meaning Jones will once again split the backup role with two other players. While it helps matters that the Packers love to play with five wide formations, Jones doesn’t get fed enough (just 55 targets last season) to make him fantasy relevant. Unless he gets a new home during the preseason, Jones will shape up as a low end WR4 or as a WR5 in 2012.
WR Randall Cobb
Taken in the 2nd round of the 2011 draft, Cobb looked like a future stud after he took a kickoff back for a touchdown and caught a nifty 32 yard touchdown pass in the Packers opening game of the season. While he showcased his play-making ability in that game, it didn’t change Green Bay’s plans to limit his role and Cobb ended up finishing the season with just 31 targets, catching 25 passes for 375 yards and that one touchdown. Unfortunately for Cobb, the Packers re-signed aging veteran Donald Driver in the offseason and James Jones remains on the roster despite reports indicating that the team was considering moving him. As we noted last season, most 2nd round receivers end up getting a decent shot at playing time but that’s a difficult proposition when you play on a team with the deepest, most talented group of wide receivers in the league and one that also possesses a Pro Bowl quality tight end. While it’s easy to love Cobb’s game and potential, it’s pretty much impossible to love his fantasy prospects for 2012. He’s waiver wire material this season but a solid prospect in dynasty formats.
TE Jermichael Finley
While the sky may be the limit in terms of Finley’s upside, the fact remains that he was mostly a bust in 2011 even though the season-ending numbers indicate that he finished last season as the fifth ranked fantasy tight end with 55 receptions for 767 yards and eight touchdowns. Unfortunately for his owners, Finley was the most inconsistent top ten fantasy tight end. Of his 124.7 fantasy points, 26.5 came during a three-touchdown performance in Week 3, 12.4 came in Week 17 (when most leagues were finished) and he had double digit point performances just three times in the first 16 weeks of the season. In his 13 non-double digit performances during weeks 1-16, he averaged just 4.7 points per game. The issue with Finley isn’t talent, it is lack of opportunity as he finished with the lowest average targets per game amongst the top 10 fantasy tight ends. And with the Packers returning all of their key skill position players on offense, why should we expect much to change in 2012? Consider Finley a mid-tier starting fantasy tight end with upside but one whose inconsistent production may frustrate you.