The Packers clinched a wildcard berth in 2009 on the strength of the team’s offense and the passing exploits of quarterback Aaron Rodgers. With Rodgers emerging as one of the league’s top young passers and with a number of young key performers on offense, the Packers should be an offensive juggernaut for the next few years.
Unfortunately, the team’s defense collapsed in a 51-45 playoff loss to Arizona, continuing a season-long trend of poor play in key games that included a pair of losses to Minnesota in which they surrendered 68 points. The defense, in particular the secondary, will need to perform better if the Packers expect to go deep into the playoffs.
On offense, the Packers will once again feature a strong passing attack led by Rodgers. The team finished 7th in passing offense last year and would have finished higher if not for the inordinate number of sacks they gave up. Rodgers was sacked a league-leading 51 times, with many of those sacks a direct result of his refusal to get rid of the ball early.
The Packers feature four solid wide receivers in Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, James Jones, and Jordy Nelson, as well as the league’s top receiving tight end prospect in Jermichael Finley. Rodgers spreads the wealth among his receivers, and each player is capable of making big plays in the passing game.
Jennings had a mildly disappointing season, failing to generate as many big plays as he had in each of the previous two seasons. His touchdown production plummeted to only four, but he remains one of the league’s top receivers.
The aging Driver had another solid season, but may be replaced by Jones in the starting lineup as early as 2011. Jones and Nelson have not yet reached their potential, but both players have starting potential if they continue to develop.
Finley was a revelation during his second year in the league, displaying big-play ability when head coach Mike McCarthy increased his playing time. He possesses outstanding size and speed and has the opportunity to become one of the league’s elite tight ends in 2010.
Running back Ryan Grant isn’t a flashy runner, but he excels in the Packers system. He is a one-cut runner and, although not one of the fastest backs in the league, is able to break long runs. He is one of the league’s most underrated running backs, despite averaging 80 rushing yards per game since becoming the team’s starter at the midway point of the 2007 season. Grant’s backup last year was the disappointing Brandon Jackson. This season, Grant will be challenged by rookie sixth-round pick James Starks.
The offensive line suffered through injuries last season and did not have a great year, particularly in pass protection. With aging tackles Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher healthy and ready to start the season, along with rookie first-round pick Bryan Bulaga on board, the Packers expect greater things from this unit in 2010.
With the team returning all of their key skill position players on offense, they are set for another solid season. The only issue that could prevent that from happening is an injury along the offensive line or to Rodgers. The Packers seem set to challenge the Vikings for the NFC North crown, and a run to the Super Bowl isn’t out of the question for Green Bay in 2010.
Rodgers was the top-ranked fantasy quarterback in 2009, courtesy of 4,434 yards passing and 30 touchdowns. He also put up 304 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns, propelling him past Drew Brees. The one knock on Rodgers was his refusal to get rid of the ball to avoid being sacked, which bogged down the offense on occasion.
With a mixture of emerging young players and veterans returning from injury, expect better offensive line play in 2010. The Packers are four deep at receiver, with Jones and Nelson both capable receivers in backup roles.
Finley provides a dynamic receiving threat at tight end and could emerge as one of the league’s top receiving tight ends this year. The ingredients are there for Rodgers to repeat his 2009 performance, with the only risk being a potential injury, due to his inability to get the ball out quicker.
Grant is coming off a solid 2009 campaign, where he finished with a flurry, scoring six touchdowns and gaining 322 rushing yards over the final four games of the season. He topped 1,000 yards for the second year in a row, finishing with a career-high 1,253.
While Grant has put up solid production during his three years in Green Bay, he remains undervalued for fantasy purposes, and there is a lingering concern that the Packers would like a more explosive player at the position.
While both issues may be true, the bottom line is that he’s put up 3,412 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns in what amounts to two and a half seasons in Green Bay. That means he’s productive.
Jackson has been a disappointment, and the team waited until the sixth round before drafting Starks. That should translate into opportunity for Grant. Throw in the fact that the Packers should be a top five offense in 2010 and there’s not much more you can ask for. Grant is a borderline top 10 back with little risk.
Jackson has been a bust for the Packers since being taken in the second round of the 2007 draft. Expected to compete for a starting position, Jackson has not proven to be effective running the ball and has been relegated to serving in a pass-catching capacity. Even in that role he leaves something to be desired given his lack of ability to make big plays, although he is a solid pass blocker.
In three years, he has topped 400 yards only once, and he is coming off the worst year of his career. In fact, he was so bad that the Packers felt the need to dust off Ahman Green and bring him back for the stretch run.
When Grant needed a breather on running downs, the Pack turned to Green. Frankly, there’s no reason to handcuff Grant with Jackson since he wouldn’t be able to accomplish anything anyway. Don’t waste a roster spot on this guy.
The Packers used a sixth-round pick on Starks in the hopes that he can be a quality option running the ball behind Grant. Former second-round pick Jackson hasn’t proven to be an effective runner, and the Packers have had to hit the scrap heap for the likes of Green to supplement Grant.
Starks’ measurables and collegiate production don’t jump out at you, but there is potential here considering that Grant isn’t an overly talented back and that the team lacks enthusiasm for Jackson. It also doesn’t hurt that the Packers' offense is great, which makes Starks worth the gamble in leagues with larger rosters.
Jennings was a fantasy disappointment in 2009. While he posted a solid 1,113 receiving yards, he managed just four touchdowns after scoring 21 over the previous two years. His lack of touchdown production was all the more shocking given the Packers' solid offensive output and the strong quarterback play of Aaron Rodgers. Jennings still showcased his big play ability, averaging 16.4 yards per catch, but he simply couldn’t find the end zone on a consistent basis.
Given his poor fantasy season, a number of his 2009 owners will likely look the other way on draft day, with the result being a solid number one receiver on one of the league’s top offenses potentially being undervalued.
While the Packers are four deep at wide receiver and have an emerging tight end in Finley, Jennings remains their best receiver—and Driver’s age is becoming a concern, given the low number of receivers that produce at his age.
Driver turned thirty-five this offseason and, while his production was solid last year with 1,061 yards and six touchdowns, there are warning signs on the horizon. He only had 185 yards with no touchdowns during the last four regular season games of 2009, so there should be a concern that he is slowing down. He is also coming off double arthroscopic knee surgeries, and older players generally take longer to recover from surgery.
Few wide receivers play well after turning thirty-five, and Driver could very well follow that trend. He is certainly a risky fantasy play in 2010, although the risk is somewhat mitigated due to his prominence in Green Bay’s solid offense. Based on his production last year, Driver will be drafted as a WR3 in most leagues, but his value lies as a fantasy backup when considering his risk/reward factors.
Based on his performance last year, it looks like Jones has solidified the third receiver role ahead of Nelson. Jones is a tall target with decent, but not great, speed who has inconsistent hands. He is a solid red zone target (five touchdowns last year) and is talented enough to produce if injury strikes Jennings or Driver, although he may not have the upside of those two players.
With 32 receptions for 440 yards last year, Jones doesn’t get enough targets to be a flex option, so his value lies as a prospect in dynasty leagues and as a fill-in if Jennings or Driver goes down for an extended period of time.
If Driver retires or is ineffective in 2010, you may be glad you grabbed Jones for your dynasty league.
Not many fourth wide receivers are worth mentioning in fantasy circles, but Nelson is an exception. The third year, former second-round pick is a talented player who suffered through an injury-plagued 2009 season, which allowed Jones to pass him on the Packers depth chart.
While Nelson isn’t worth taking in redraft leagues, he is worth taking a flier on in dynasty leagues. He has good speed and is reasonably shifty in the open field. With Donald Driver in a contract year, Nelson could battle Jones for a starting spot in 2011.
Finley had a coming-out party in 2009 with 55 receptions for 676 yards and five touchdowns, despite playing in only 13 games with nine starts. In those nine starts he amassed 97 fantasy points, and he averaged 11.5 fantasy points per game over the last five games of the season. Finley is a talented receiver with excellent size, speed, and hands, and his production last year might just be just the tip of the iceberg.
Given Finley’s obvious skills, he figures to only get better with more experience. With a young quarterback at the helm in Green Bay, Finley has major upside and should be regarded as the top-ranked tight end in dynasty leagues. A top five fantasy ranking in 2010 is within reach, and a number one ranking isn’t out of the question.