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Dynasty Capsule: Green Bay Packers

As part of the premium content package, we’re unveiling dynasty capsules for every team in the NFL all Spring and Summer. This year, we also have a precursor to every team capsule, with more detail on one of our favorite pieces – the dynasty sleeper. We continue our alphabetical journey through the NFL with the Green Bay Packers.

Quarterbacks

Aaron Rodgers

There’s really not much to be said about Rodgers that isn’t already understood by those in NFL or fantasy circles.  With his 2011 performance, Rodgers has now risen above all others at the position.  Some may argue that Tom Brady, Drew Brees or even Cam Newton could be drafted ahead of Rodgers, but at 28 years of age, with four years of consistent production and squarely at the helm of one of the NFL’s most prolific (third overall) passing attacks, he’s as easy a choice to make at quarterback as you’ll find.

As good as the Packers have been on the offensive side of the ball, there’s room for improvement.  Not many would disagree with the fact that the 2011 campaign that saw Rodgers complete 68.3% of his passes for 4,643 yards and a remarkable 45:6 touchdown-to-interception ratio was one of the best single-year performances in fantasy history.  Aiding Rodgers in this feat was the fact that Green Bay’s passing defense was the worst in the NFL in 2011.  With no lead safe, he had to continue to put points on the board.  Considering the fact the Packers’ rushing attack couldn’t generate more than 97.4 yards per game (good for just 27th in the league), it’s obvious on which side Rodgers’ bread is buttered.  But within this equation are the very reasons to doubt that Rodgers can match last year’s performance.

With emphasis squarely on the defense in 2012, the hope is that Rodgers won’t have to rely as much on his arm in 2012.  Combine that with the understanding that being single dimensional on the offensive side of the ball became the Packers Achilles heel late in 2011.  Defenses simply stopped defending the run in favor of more nickel and dime coverage packages.  Green Bay understands they may need to run the ball more effectively to create a more balanced attack.  With Ryan Grant gone as a free agent, a currently healthy James Starks (who did average 4.3 ypc.) as the lead back and with a young defense, perhaps on the rise, enough variables in the equation exist to suggest fewer fantasy points in 2012.

In the end, don’t overanalyze Rodgers’ situation.  He’s easily the cream of the crop at the position and, barring injury, should be for many years to come.

Graham Harrell

Our bet would be that ninety percent of fantasy coaches couldn’t tell you the name of the backup quarterback in Green Bay.  The other ten percent are Green Bay fans or true dynasty nuts – probably people just like you who are premium members.  Give yourself points if you knew that Harrell is in the unenviable position of backing up the NFL’s current most-elite quarterback.

Already 27 years old, Harrell will likely be a career backup.  Unless you are a coach who believes Harrell can be the next Matt Flynn (and we’re not), he’s likely not rosterable in all but the deepest of leagues or for those that wish to handcuff Rodgers.

B.J. Coleman

Double points if you knew that Green Bay selected rookie B.J. Coleman in round seven of the 2012 NFL rookie draft.  He’s a mildly intriguing prospect to follow as he develops, nothing more.

Running Backs

James Starks

Can he stay healthy?

Owners of Starks understand exactly what he brings to the table as a running back.  He’s big (6’2″/218), possesses good quickness and agility for a back of his size and has very good hands out of the backfield.  Starks’ owners also understand his drawbacks.  Dating back to his college days in Buffalo, he hasn’t been able to stay healthy.  Simply put, he’s never carried the load in the NFL.  And perhaps just as important as any, the Green Bay offense de-emphasizes the primary  running back in their game plan.  This isn’t to say that the Packers haven’t had backs who could have been fantasy relevant, but rather they’ve relied heavily upon the passing game and used a significant committee approach in the backfield.  This next year could be shaping up to be a departure from recent history.

Free agent Ryan Grant remains unsigned as a free agent and may still be in the picture if his free agency status continues.  In camp, all signs point to Starks being relied upon to be the workhorse.  While concern from the coaching staff regarding durability has been voiced, it’s obvious the Packers want to feature Starks as their primary runner.  There’s also been talk of having a more balanced running game to make for a more dynamic offense.  With only Alex Green, who is returning from injury and Brandon Saine as backups, Starks has an enormous opportunity in 2012.

James Starks continues to remain under-appreciated and is flying under the radar in drafts.   He’s a complete mystery as to what to expect in 2012, but it’s not often that you can acquire a relatively young starting running back on the cheap.  There are a lot of red flags and risks ahead, but Starks has a great chance to emerge in 2012.  Whether he can seize that opportunity is one of the biggest questions during this off-season.

Alex Green

Alex Green was a hot commodity as a sleeper in 2011 before an ACL injury ended his campaign.  Now on the road to recovery and ten pounds heavier than in 2011, Green is in a fight with Brandon Saine for the RB2 role behind Starks.  Coming out of Hawaii in 2011, Green played in a wide-open offense that featured a high-octane passing attack.  Consequently, the running lanes available were often gaping and ultimately inflated Green’s statistics.  Still, his collegiate stats when combined with his size and hands made him a notable sleeper candidate.  We weren’t high on Green coming out, but understand why many were and still are.

In Green Bay, the RB2 role has significant upside due to Starks’ inability to stay healthy and due to the Packers’ penchant for using multiple backs each week and riding the hot hand.  While all indications in camp are that Starks will be the primary ball carrier to begin the year, there’s little confidence that he can hang onto the job.  Most recently, Green has been running and cutting on his injured knee with no reported problems.  Brandon Saine was mildly productive in 2011 and is similarly sized.

Green can be rostered in dynasty leagues on the cheap, but his value will quickly move (in either direction), as the season for Starks unfolds.

Brandon Saine

Out of Ohio State and undrafted in 2011, Brandon Saine caught on with the Packers and began seeing seeing light duty as of week four of the regular season.  For the season, Saine amassed 18 carries for 69 yards (3.8 yards per carry) in addition to ten receptions for 69 yards.  His role in 2012 will likely be determined by the production of Starks as the starter and the ACL recovery of Green.  Thus far in camp, Saine has been running as the RB2 and could hold off Green for the role, at least early into the season.

Saine isn’t ultra-dynamic, nor does he possess a prototypical NFL-starting skill set. However, his hands are good, he’s a willing blocker and he’s capable as a runner.  Preseason games will be a good indicator for how he’s viewed against the more capable Alex Green.

Marc Tyler

Probably best known for his comments to an Internet gossip/new site (TMZ) regarding whether USC athletes make more at USC than in the pros, Tyler is likely headed for the practice squad.  He’s got good size at 5’11” and 230 pounds but is not on the fantasy radar as of yet. He’s flashed a little bit in OTA’s, so continue to follow him.

Wide Receivers

Greg Jennings

We’ve seen a lot of discussion and trade activity this off-season surrounding Jennings.  Is he really a WR1 in fantasy?  It’s a worthy question.

Leaving out his rookie season, Jennings has averaged 69 receptions, 1,108 yards and nine touchdowns per year.  Without looking at his statistics, Jennings is unquestionably considered a WR1 by the majority of fantasy players.  But looking at those stats arguably finds him teetering on the brink (if not already there), into WR2 territory.  In fact, even within DLF’s own dynasty receiver rankings, Jennings is receiving a WR5 (overall) tag.  Pretty lofty valuation for a player not averaging more than 70 receptions annually.

What we do know about Jennings is that he’s a productive 28 year old receiver on the other end of Aaron Rodgers’ passes and that’s good enough for most fantasy coaches.  However you answer the question above is up to you, in addition to the question about whether there are enough balls to go around on offense, but in the end, Jennings is a consistent threat every Sunday.  The offense as it stands has a lot of weapons and this will likely keep Jennings’ receptions lower year after year, but the quality of his receptions can’t be disputed.  The emergence of Jordy Nelson has kept opposing defenses from double-teaming Jennings as has the presence of Jermichael Finley at tight end to work the middle of the field.  Donald Driver is aging quickly, but the speedy Randall Cobb will seemingly add another weapon into an offense that already has them in excess.

The valuation of Jennings is an interesting exercise but he’s clearly a receiver to target in the top ten within the position in dynasty leagues, regardless of  how you slice it.

Jordy Nelson

Much like Jennings above, is Nelson over-valued or under-valued?  Out of nowhere, the fourth year receiver doubled his previous three years of reception yardage and touchdowns by amassing 68 receptions for 1,263 yards and 15 touchdowns, turning what may have been a WR4 campaign to start 2011 into a true WR1 season when it was all said and done.  Can he follow it up in 2012?

Beginning the year in 2011, Nelson was locked into a battle for the WR3 role with James Jones, who has struggled mightily with dropped passes.  The aging Donald Driver still occupied the WR2 role although was obviously feeling his troublesome knees.  It didn’t take long for Nelson to not only win the WR3 role but also rotate with Driver as the WR2.  Heading into 2012, Nelson is the clear WR2, leaving Driver, Jones and second year up-and-comer Randall Cobb fighting for the WR3 role.

Don’t expect Nelson to match his numbers from 2011 as he’s now a well known weapon and will be accounted for in defensive schemes.  But in an Aaron Rodgers-led offense, Nelson should still post borderline WR1 numbers and may even be a bit under-valued currently in dynasty.

Donald Driver

Driver is that old horse spending his last days in the pasture.  As durable as they come given his shaky knees, and as quality a personality as you could have on a team, the 14-year veteran may occupy some fantasy rosters in re-draft leagues, but likely has little remaining value in the dynasty format.  Note that while he only had 37 receptions in 2011, he did contribute six touchdowns, meaning he could still be used as an emergency WR3 or WR4 during bye weeks if that production holds.

James Jones

Jones has battled drops his entire career and, in fact, has the worst drop-rate compared to all receivers over the past three seasons in the NFL.  That said, Jones wasn’t in the top ten in drop rate percentage in 2011 alone, so he’s making progress.

Jones is a play-making receiver who now finds himself on the trade block in Green Bay.  In the right situation, he could be a productive WR2 for an offense that needs a physical receiver that can also get deep.  This next year will be an important year for him as he strives to shed the tag of being a receiver who simply drops too many balls.  Like Driver, Jones had less than forty receptions (38), but turned seven of them into touchdowns.  In fantasy, he’s worthwhile as a bench player while waiting to see if his scenery changes.

Randall Cobb

Cobb was highlighted as our Green Bay sleeper for 2012.

Tori Gurley

Keep an eye on Gurley as he’s got great size (6’4″/216) and there’s likely to be enough movement ahead of him on the depth chart over the next year to make him a viable deep roster player.

Shaky Smithson

We just like the name … and he’s got great hair.

Tight Ends

Jermichael Finley

Save a three touchdown performance in week three against Chicago, Finley’s 2011 was largely disappointing, for both himself and his fantasy owners.  However, if 55 receptions, 767 yards and eight touchdowns constitutes “disappointing”, then we’re excited to see what 2012 has in store.  After being over-drafted in 2011, fantasy owners appear to be taking a more cautious approach in 2012.  Our recent tight end ADP study finds Finley going off the board as the TE5 at just over pick #56 overall.

During the off-season, Finley has been saying and doing all the right things in preparation for 2012.  He’s more focused, is very disappointed with his 2011 performance and has labeled 2012 as the year that he turns it around.  With statistics that are notable as is, we’re not betting against him.  Finley converted on just less than sixty percent (59.8) of his 2011 targets, a number we believe should increase in 2012.

The case against Finley is similar to all Green Bay receivers in that one has to ask the question as to whether there are enough balls to go around.  In the end, the answer with Finley is that you don’t want to be on the outside looking in when all signs point to him being an uber-productive threat that can’t be covered by a linebacker.  Aaron Rodgers will find ways to get Finley more involved and with Jermichael’s new focus in 2012, that’s not a good thing for opposing defenses.  In a league where the tight end is receiving more attention on offense, few are more dynamic or capable as Finley.

Tom Crabtree

Crabtree only managed six receptions for 38 yards in 2011 and doesn’t factor into fantasy at this time.

D.J. Williams

In the mold of Dustin Keller of the New York Jets, Williams is a very athletic, but smaller receiving tight end.  Not overly adept as an in-line blocker, Williams is now likely Finley’s best receiving backup on the roster.  Still only 23 years old, he is rosterable in deeper leagues.

Andrew Quarless

A late ACL/MCL tear in 2011 ended Quarless’ campaign and could sideline him for the 2012 season as well.  A good young receiving option will now likely give way to D.J. Williams for that role.

We’ll continue our team-by-team capsules with the Houston Texans up next.

Jeff Haverlack
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