QB Aaron Rodgers
(2013 QB Rank—#26, 23.0 FPts/G)
It’s strange to look at quarterback rankings from 2013 and see a double-digit number next to Aaron Rodgers’s name. He still finished tied for fourth in FPts/G. A broken collarbone sunk his stats and nearly the Packers’ season before he came back in heroic fashion to save their season in week 17 against Chicago. Rodgers has remained at the top of nearly every important fantasy quarterback stat for the past six years and he’s always in the running for first quarterback off the board. Will Rodgers pick right up where he left off and continue to make Green Bay’s offense a fantasy factory?
Let’s not be silly, if Rodgers is your starting quarterback, your roster will be in great hands. Coaches and players lie, but numbers usually don’t. If Rodgers had played the full season, he would have finished 2013 with roughly 4,500 yards, 30 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Those numbers would have put him in the low end of the top 10 and approached his career starter lows.
There are a few factors to consider before making that all-important quarterback selection, though. First, the emergence of Eddie Lacy. The rookie runner carried the ball 285 times and 11 scores last year and proved to be the reliable and efficient running back the Packers have been looking for since Ryan Grant in 2009. Grant’s numbers from that year are eerily similar to those of Lacy last year: 1,100 yards with 11 touchdowns. Rodgers in 2009: 4,400-30-7, very close to his 16-game projection for 2013. Another factor to consider is the change in player personnel. In consecutive offseasons Rodgers has lost familiar veteran pass catchers in Greg Jennings, James Jones and Jermichael Finley. Their talent will be easy to replace, as Rodgers makes the players around him better. Working with younger receivers in Randall Cobb and Jarrett Boykin and a potential rookie tight end could affect his consistency, especially early in the year. The bottom line here is that Rodgers is one of the league’s best, but baring major injury to the running back corps, he won’t be asked to carry this team like in 2011 and 2012. Expect numbers to be closer to that of mere mortals, but still good enough to make him a top QB1 selection.
RB Eddie Lacy
(2013 RB Rank—#7, 14.0 FPts/G)
In 2013, Eddie Lacy rumbled his way into the fantasy scene and into the record books for one of the NFL’s most storied franchises. Great things were expected from the first-round rookie, and despite a very slow start – 51 yards in 15 carries after three games – he nearly single handedly kept the Packers season alive when Aaron Rodgers missed time with a broken collarbone. His nearly 1400 yard, 11 touchdown season was much needed given the team’s instability. Lacy finished as a top-10 back in just his first year, during which he had 10 games of 20+ carries, and was the sole offensive threat for most of those contests. As a true 3-down, goal line back on an elite offensive team, Lacy should maintain a grip on RB1 status. For fantasy owners looking for a vast improvement in his numbers, though, they might want to think again.
What Lacy excels at is far more important on the field than in a fantasy box score. He was an elite pass-blocker and ball handler last season with only one fumble. There has been chatter that the Green Bay staff wants to lessen the running load on Lacy during the upcoming season. Lightening the load might be a good idea, as Lacy suffered a severe concussion early in the year and played with an ankle injury down the stretch. He wasn’t the most explosive back last year with only nine carries of 15+ yards. He gained yardage mostly with pile-moving leg drive and nimble feet at and near the line of scrimmage. His volume of carries was leveraged against a decent, but nothing-special 4.1 yards-per-carry average.
The return of Rodgers should open up the offense and allow Lacy some bigger running lanes, but at the same time, result in fewer carries. Injury aside, rushing yardage totals should be very close to where they were in 2013. What will elevate Lacy into the top five or relegate him to fringe RB1 status are his touchdown totals. With Rodgers at the helm full-time, more scoring chances should be available. However, Mike McCarthy has always been comfortable allowing Rodgers to throw inside the red zone and that philosophy won’t change especially with Randall Cobb coming back from his leg injury. Expect Lacy’s 2014 numbers to be close to his career highs, but not quite good enough to carry your fantasy roster alone.
RB James Starks
(2013 RB Rank—#46, 6.3 FPts/G)
During his four-year career with the Packers, James Starks has been a playoff hero, a training room resident and on-the-roster bubble. In the early offseason of 2013, he was nearly cut or traded away following the drafting of rookies Eddie Lacy and Jonathan Franklin. This year, he signed a new contract and plays a valuable back-up role on a playoff team. What happened? Well for one, Starks stayed relatively healthy. Playing in a career-high 13 games, Starks amassed nearly 500 yards and three touchdowns playing second fiddle to Lacy. Secondly, he capitalized on the struggles and subsequent injuries to rookie Jonathan Franklin and DuJuan Harris, and showed why lack of health and not talent has held him back from his true potential. Sporting an explosive 5.5 yard-per-carry average, Starks is back on the fantasy map, but unfortunately, barring a long-term injury to Lacy, is no more than a deep roster stash or handcuff. With coaching-staff-favorite Harris healthy, Rodgers back in the fold and Lacy dominating carries, don’t expect much from Starks in 2014. Maybe that’s what fantasy owners should have done all along with Starks. though. You can, however, hope for surprising value at some point in the season.
RB DuJuan Harris
(2013 RB Rank—N/A)
Despite missing all of 2013 with a knee injury, the 5’8’’ scatback from Troy gives the Packers an offensive element they hoped to get from Jonathan Franklin before he was released this offseason with a career-ending neck injury. His familiarity with the system and loss of Franklin allow Harris to stay on the roster and earn a handful of touches. Should Lacy miss an extended amount of time, Harris would likely be part of a three-headed committee and could warrant a look by a needy owner.
WR Jordy Nelson
(2013 WR Rank—#11, 11.2 FPts/G)
“White Chocolate” was once again a sweet treat for fantasy owners in 2013. The king of the sideline toe tap combines elite body control, precise route running and deceptive speed to be considered a perennial top pick at wide receiver. Even without Aaron Rodgers for a long stretch of the season, Nelson was able to improve on his No. 11 ranking from 2012, while setting career highs in catches (85) and yards (1,314). With the loss of Greg Jennings and James Jones, Nelson remains Rodgers’ most familiar and reliable target. Nelson’s effective back-shoulder fade and ability to take short screens long distances make him a consistent fantasy wide receiver fixture, as long as Rodgers is throwing him the ball, which may not for long. Nelson is entering the last year of his contract and remains in negotiations for an extension. Constantly fighting and clawing for respect since drafted out of Kansas State, Nelson isn’t likely to see a spike in production due to contract motivations. He could expect Rodgers to throw him the ball for 16 games. Nelson racked up four of his five, 100-yard games and seven of his eight touchdowns with Rodgers behind center. While the outside receiver in the Packers West Coast system doesn’t usually flirt with extremely high catch totals, Nelson is a strong bet to approach his career-high 15 touchdown total from 2011. With the return of a healthy Randall Cobb and a more balanced offensive attack, Nelson’s yardage and catch totals could dip slightly, with an uptick in touchdowns. Because he does more with less – with the second-lowest number of targets for a receiver in the top 15 – and plays with one of the league’s best quarterbacks, Nelson could give you WR1 value at a WR2 price.
WR Randall Cobb
(2013 WR Rank—#61, 12.5 FPts/G)
Coming off an 80-954-8 line in 2012, Randall Cobb was poised to enter 2013 as a serious threat among the upper tier of fantasy wide receivers. He was on his way, combining for a ridiculous 22 targets, 16 catches, 236 yards and two touchdowns in the season’s first two weeks. He cooled slightly over the next several weeks before suffering a broken leg in Week 6. He returned in heroic fashion with teammate Aaron Rodgers in Week 17 to net two scores to beat the Bears.
Once again, Cobb enters a season with big expectations. With the changing of the guard out wide, the Packers will count on Cobb more than ever to be a reliable target for Rodgers. Can fantasy owners once again put their trust in Cobb to approach WR1 numbers in an era when the wide receiver position is at its deepest in history? Because of his mastery in the slot, ability to use his quickness to get separation and role in the offense, Cobb certainly should be among the league leaders in targets in 2014.
What separates tiers of receivers are their ability and opportunity to score touchdowns. When it comes to touchdowns, bigger is usually better. Those 6’2’’+, 210 pound receivers are able to use their frames to do something Cobb can’t: outmuscle defensive backs for jump balls, slants and curls in the red zone. In his three years, Cobb has proven to be able to do something very few receivers his size haven’t been able to do: score in or very near the red zone. Eight of his 13 career touchdowns receptions have come from 22 yards or less. This is a better rate than similarly-sized Victor Cruz and very close to that of mighty mite Wes Welker, whose last 14 touchdowns were from inside the red zone. Play calling, ability and an elite quarterback mean that Cobb should be able to record double-digit touchdowns, and that combined with catch totals that should be in excess of 80. Cobb is someone you can draft as a WR2 but who could end up out-producing your WR1.
WR Jarrett Boykin
(2013 WR Rank #55—7.2 FPts/G)
Aaron Rodgers is one of those rare quarterbacks who make the receivers around him better. Fantasy owners should then keep a keen eye on the fight for the No. 3 receiver in the Green Bay offense, as the winner of this battle could provide some sneaky WR3 play in 2014. Returning to fight for this role is Jarrett Boykin. Because of injury, Boykin was forced into just eight starts last year and played well in his 16 total games with 49 catches, 689 yards and three scores, especially since all of this production came from Week 6 on. His three, 100-yard games, and four games of 10+ targets signify that coaches were comfortable enough making him a significant part of the game plan at certain times. Should Boykin hold off second-round rookie Devante Adams and lock down the No. 3 role, he could benefit from the loss of James Jones and Jermichael Finley, and put up numbers that would make him a late-round or waiver-wire steal.
WR Davante Adams
(2013 WR Rank—N/A)
Davante Adams, the 6’1’’ rookie from Fresno State, makes up for his lack of experience with superior natural ability. He led the nation in catches and receiving touchdowns as a red-shirt sophomore. While he isn’t a burner, he fits the mold of receivers that the Packers have been able to develop over the last several seasons. Watch the opportunities he gets in camp and preseason games. If he is able to impart a measure of confidence with his coaches and quarterback, Adams could push for serious playing time in the middle part of the year, making him a waiver-wire pick to watch.
TE Andrew Quarless
(2013 TE Rank—#40, 3.3 FPts/G)
The tight position in Green Bay was a fantasy wasteland after the loss of Jermichael Finley in Week 7. Barring his miraculous return, there probably won’t be a TE1 or TE2 to emerge from this logjam position in 2014.
Typically counted on as a quality blocker at the edge or attack, Andrew Quarless was pressed into receiver duty because of the serious neck injury suffered by Finley. As you can see by his No. 40 final ranking, he didn’t exactly burn up the stat sheet. His familiarity with the system and new contract give him a leg up in the battle with second-year man Brandon Bostick and rookie third-round pick Richard Rodgers. His injury history – an ACL tear in 2012 and missing all offseason work thus far in 2014 – and athletic limitations don’t make him a very attractive fantasy option.
Bostik, the former college wide receiver, offers athletic upside, but broke his foot late last year and is still working his way back into condition.
Rodgers, the third-round pick from Cal, averaged a wide-receiver-like 15.5 yards-per-catch and is in his final season with the Golden Bears. He offers the best glimmer of hope for fantasy owners. Recent reports indicate that he has been playing well in OTAs. Should he prove to be a capable blocker, he could emerge from the pack as the starter and might be worth keeping an eye on.