The Packers were tested all season long in 2013, suffering a string of injuries nearly everywhere and at different points of the season. Their depth provided serviceable fantasy options at times, with Jarrett Boykin, James Starks, and even Matt Flynn coming through at random moments for desperate owners. Now coming back into the season at full strength, what can we expect from one of the best offenses in the NFL in 2014?
2014 Packers Schedule
|2||New York Jets|
|8||@||New Orleans Saints|
|13||New England Patriots|
|16||@||Tampa Bay Buccaneers|
You know the caution on projecting schedules, but there’s a lot to salivate over here. Outside of a week one trip to Seattle, Green Bay doesn’t really run into anything daunting in terms of slowing them down. It gets especially tasty after their mid-season bye week and into the fantasy playoffs. The first three weeks of the season couldn’t possibly open any worse for those investing a first round selection in Eddie Lacy, but even that clears up for the stretch run.
2013, A Tale of Two Seasons
As mentioned, Green Bay lost Aaron Rodgers to a broken collarbone on the opening drive of their eighth game versus Chicago. Coming into that week, they were 5-2 and sizzling on offense. Seneca Wallace, Scott Tolzien and Matt Flynn all started games over the next seven weeks before Rodgers returned in the Packers final game to push them into the playoffs. Losing a player like Rodgers is bound to have an impact, and the ripples were felt.
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The Packers lost a lot of efficiency as expected without Rodgers, losing three plays per game overall and plummeting in terms of scoring output per play. Their pace with Rodgers would’ve been good for sixth best in the NFL had they maintained it for the remainder of the season. Without him, their pace ranked 22nd in the league.
I could go on and on about how amazing Rodgers is and pull out stat after stat reinforcing such, so let’s not linger here. He’s part of the big three quarterbacks in a special tier with Peyton Manning and Drew Brees that provide a consistently steady QB1 floor. If your league starts only one quarterback, I wouldn’t reach for him based on positional scarcity at running back and receiver, but I won’t fight you too hard if you have to have an early round quarterback and select him.
The real reason we’re appreciative of Rodgers in fantasy is not what he can do himself for us, but what he does for his wide receivers that we can pluck in drafts as a play on poaching his personal output. I have every receiving season with 30 or more PPR fantasy points scored recorded since 1970, and here’s where receivers attached to Rodgers stack up in terms of fantasy production and their scoring distribution.
Rodgers provides a sensational fantasy boost over par for his receivers. His receivers still perform laterally as a collective group with their peers in terms of point distribution of yards and receptions; they just get much more of them. Jennings was already in his third season when Rodgers began his run, which is why his numbers are so large overall. The real fantasy nectar is provided from the touchdown boost that Rodgers provides. Since 2008, Rodgers has tossed an average of 2.1 scores per game.
His loss was felt in this regard last year, as the Green Bay passing offense struggled in the red zone without him.
Green Bay RZ Production With Rodgers
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Green Bay RZ Production Without Rodgers
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The hydra of backup quarterbacks didn’t have Finley or Cobb to alleviate the pressure of producing in that area of the field, but on the same number of attempts, output was cut in half everywhere. The player that was affected most by the loss of Rodgers was Nelson. With Greg Jennings leaving via free agency last summer, Nelson began the year in lock step with Rodgers and was a dominating force in fantasy circles. Using the Game Split App available at Rotoviz, here’s his output based on who played quarterback.
Even with his output taking a dip, he finished as the third best receiver in terms of being the most effective target on his roster. With a healthy Rodgers, full steam ahead on selecting Nelson in the second round or even late first.
Randall Cobb is interesting player since there seems to be an argument over whether his fantasy relevancy is created solely by Rodgers, or if he’s a star on his own. The top chart paints him as a player reliant on yardage more so than any other area. That’s weighted down a good amount from his rookie season in which he only scored one touchdown, however. Over the past two seasons, he’s become pretty touchdown reliant, with 21.5 percent of his PPR output coming from scores. As long as Rodgers is under center, I’m not too concerned about those scores falling off. But he’s going a little earlier than I would like to select a player with his skill set, because without those touchdowns, his equity slips far below that ceiling you’re paying to acquire him which makes him a member of the red-flag team.
Boykin is an equity score all-star and has remained an early summer bargain, even if you wish to pursue a zero WR strategy. He was the only receiver outside of Josh Gordon to post a top 24 week with three different quarterbacks when garnering snaps due to injuries to Cobb and the departed James Jones. His price is likely low now due to the draft being fresh in our minds and the Packers selection of scoring stud Davante Adams in the second round. Adams may earn snaps at some point in the season, but the three Packers starters are set for 2014. With Cobb and Nelson both free agents after the season and Boykin a restricted free agent, it’s possible he has at least two seasons (or more) as the third receiver in the offense. He’s an easy arbitrage if he holds his price point that you could cut at any moment if things went south.
— Packer Nation (@Packer_Nation) March 28, 2014
Quarless was only used sparingly and out of desperation a season ago when Finley was lost. 73.6 percent of his targets came with the Packers trailing, with another 20 percent down double digit points. Bostick was used even less, but he was still far from ready in year two of a positional change from his days as a receiver in college. Mike McCarthy has talked him up plenty, but that was prior to the Packers re-signing Quarless, using a third round pick on Rodgers, and bringing in the troubled, but versatile Lyerla. None of these guys can really block effectively, so this is one battle that is going to play out all summer long. My personal favorite to win relevancy for 2014 is Bostick, Mathew Freedman makes a compelling case for Rodgers here as well, but I wouldn’t be sowing oats to anyone in this group today for redraft purposes. With Bostick suffering a fractured fibula and miss at least the first two weeks of the regular season if not more, the door is open for Rodgers to play passing situations with Quarless being used more in running sets.
Thunder In Green Bay
My first ever article written for XN Sports was a piece suggesting avoiding Eddie Lacy last season. Luckily my second article was about buying in on Fred Jackson and Danny Woodhead, because Lacy was a fantasy behemoth last year. He scored 11 touchdowns and posted 11 top 24 weeks despite missing essentially two whole games with a concussion.
Lacy finished fifth in the league in fantasy points that stemmed from rushing alone, and performed on a fantasy per carry basis the same as Marshawn Lynch and Adrian Peterson. He was stellar near the end zone, notching the third best conversion rate of carries inside the five yard line for touchdowns. His usage running the football also really didn’t waver with the availability of Rodgers.
The noticeable area above is that the backup quarterbacks peppered him check downs more frequently than Rodgers, which were gravy on the power back’s production. Sophomore runners that have rookie seasons like Lacy had tend to regress immediately and he was already one of the backs that underperformed in terms of FPPRR a season ago. I won’t make the same mistake twice in fading him, but I do prefer my backs to tack on more receptions than I’m anticipating from him this season. I likely won’t own him anywhere due to his cost, but scoring opportunities will always present themselves in this offense, even versus tougher competition.
James Starks had a semi-post hype bounce back last season that netted him a contract extension. Starks had six runs of 15-plus yards on only 89 attempts while Lacy totaled nine such runs on 284 carries. That may not be fluky either, as 11 of his 133 attempts in 2011 (he missed 10 games in 2012), went for 15 or more yards. Not thought of as a splash back, all six of Starks’ career touchdowns are from outside the ten-yard line. He’ll still need an injury have fantasy relevance in season, but don’t dismiss him if Lacy goes down.
The other side of the Packer backfield coin a year ago was fourth round selection Johnathan Franklin, who recently retired after one season due to a neck injury. The ghost of DuJuan Harris has reappeared once again if you’re looking for someone unconscious to claim a role as a pass catcher, but everything past Starks is avoidable.
2014 Fantasy Relevant Projections
Best Option to Crash through their projection without injury: Boykin – We’ve seen the effect that Rodgers has had in fantasy for his receivers. Any injury outside or touchdown regression from Cobb opens the door for him to return serious value on his cost.
Biggest Risk to fall through their projection: Lacy – Cobb is worrisome here, but Lacy is the type of mauling back that usually isn’t my preference for fantasy. Attached to an elite offense, it’s hard to fault those who buy in, but I can see him coming back to the pack of running backs in year two and coming out of the blocks slow.
Best Waiver Wire Option: Whoever wins out as the starting tight end not named Andrew Quarless. If Quarless holds on to start the season, he’s largely avoidable outside of streaming desperation.