GREEN BAY PACKERS
The Packers surprised a few people in 2009, winning seven of their last eight games before losing an overtime heart-breaker to the Cardinals in the playoffs. Their switch to a 3-4 alignment under new defensive coordinator Dom Capers paid immediate dividends for a defense that was also boosted by the addition of rookies Clay Matthews and B.J. Raji. Meanwhile, quarterback Aaron Rodgers continued to improve, and the offense developed another weapon in tight end Jermichael Finley.
Although the Packers' defense finished second in the NFL in yards allowed, it surrendered 531 total yards to Arizona in the playoff loss, and a lack of QB pressure allowed Kurt Warner to pass for 379 yards and five touchdowns. The team did little to address its pass rush issue through free agency or the draft this offseason, which could definitely backfire. Matthews managed to finish with 10 sacks in 2009 and is a legitimate pass-rushing threat, but teams figure to double-team him more this year. Beyond him, no other player had more than 4.5 sacks, and it's unclear if there's anyone else on the roster who can step up. In the secondary, Charles Woodson was a fantasy machine, recording two sacks, nine interceptions, four forced fumbles and three touchdowns. He'll continue to anchor a ball-hawking secondary that also includes Pro Bowler Nick Collins and Al Harris, who is coming back from a torn ACL.
The one knock on the productive Rodgers is that he tends to hold the ball too long, and the 50 sacks he took last year tied for the league lead. On the plus side, he was much improved in that regard during the second half of the season, and the Packers bolstered their offensive line during the draft by taking Bryan Bulaga in the first round. Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher return as the starting offensive tackles, but both are over 30 years old and have injury concerns. Subpar offensive line play is the one thing that could sink Rodgers' upcoming fantasy season.
When he's able to stay upright, Rodgers is blessed with one of the better WR corps in the league. Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson and James Jones are all above-average receivers for their respective slots. Meanwhile, Finley has blossomed into one of the better receiving threats at tight end. The abundance of talent can sometimes pose a problem from a fantasy perspective though because Rodgers will spread the ball around to his pass catchers, often keeping any of them from being elite options.
The Packers are looking to take things one step further in 2010 and have very few glaring weaknesses. They have the offense to compete with anybody, but will need to display improvements on defense and the offensive line to make a Super Bowl run.
Round, Overall, Player
1. (23) Bryan Bulaga, OT, Iowa - O-Line needed a boost and he’ll provide it. He’s likely to start out at guard, then move to tackle next year.
2. (56) Mike Neal, DT, Purdue - Will provide depth along the line in the team's 3-4 defense.
3. (71) Morgan Burnett, S, Georgia Tech - Could push Atari Bigby for his job.
4. (154) Andrew Quarless, TE, Penn St. - Off-field concerns, but adds a pass-catching tight end project to the mix.
5. (169) Marshall Newhouse, OT, TCU - Adds youth and depth to the offensive line.
6. (193) James Starks, RB, Buffalo - Missed senior year with a shoulder injury, but may push Brandon Jackson for the backup running back spot behind Ryan Grant.
7. (230) C. J. Wilson, DE, East Carolina - A long shot to make a contribution on defense
Charlie Peprah, S (Falcons) - A quiet season for the team on the free agent front; Peprah returns to Packers after a year in Atlanta to add safety depth.
Aaron Kampman, DE (Jaguars) - Had a couple of huge seasons in Green Bay, but struggled with his conversion to outside linebacker.
DeShawn Wynn, RB (FA) - Cycled out of the backfield in favor of rookie James Starks.
Ahman Green, RB (FA) - One-time fantasy star's second stint with the Packers was uneventful.
What's the Rush?
The Packers finished with 37 sacks in 2009, but 10 of them came from Clay Matthews. Teams are going to start double-teaming him, as Arizona did in the playoffs, and the Packers will need to generate pressure from somewhere else. They didn't add any pass rushers during the offseason, so defensive coordinator Dom Capers will need to devise some schemes to get it done. He likes to bring blitzers from all angles and needs to continue with that attacking mentality. The lack of a consistent pass rush put a lot of pressure on the secondary last year and could be the Packers downfall.
Run, Aaron, Run
The 50 sacks that Rodgers took last year aren't entirely his fault, but there's no denying that he does tend to linger in the pocket longer than the usual quarterback. To help shore up the leaky offensive line. Green Bay selected lineman Bryan Bulaga in the first round of the draft. Moreover, the line did show improvement after the team brought back Mark Tauscher midway through the 2009 season, allowing just 10 sacks in the last seven games. Fortunately, Rodgers isn't a statue in the pocket and is able to take advantage of his legs when the protection breaks down. He was second among NFL quarterbacks with 316 yards rushing and first with five touchdowns.
Can Greg Jennings Be a Fantasy Force?
Jennings' production dropped to 68 receptions and four touchdowns in 2009. Some of that drop may be attributed to Rodgers' lack of time in the pocket. A bigger reason may be the fact that the Packers have so many weapons on offense. Head coach Mike McCarthy and Rodgers love to spread the ball around, which reduces the influence of any one individual. Given his run-after-the-catch ability, Jennings is likely to get more than four touchdown receptions in 2010, but the presence of Donald Driver and Jermichael Finley could keep him from being an elite fantasy receiver.
What to Make of Ryan Grant
Grant, who racked up 11 rushing TDs in 2009, quietly ended up as a top 10 fantasy running back due largely to his durability and the potent offense around him. The Packersʼ attack remains intact, and Brandon Jackson isn't a threat to steal many carries, so Grantʼs value continues to hinge on his ability to stay in one piece. If he stays healthy, he should again be productive, though he doesn't possess the top five upside that some of leagueʼs other top running backs have. He doesn't catch many passes and he didn't have any receiving touchdowns in 2009. Grant may slide in some drafts due to his lack of flashiness, but he should provide solid value as a late first-round/early second-round pick.
Rising: Jermichael Finley, who had a huge game during Green Bay's playoff loss and finished the season strong, can be a top fantasy tight end if he stays healthy.
Declining: Donald Lee lost playing time to Finley as last season wore on, and the Packers selected another TE in the draft.
Sleeper: James Starks missed the 2009 season due to a shoulder injury, but rushed for 1,333 yards and 16 touchdowns as a junior in college.
Supersleeper: James Jones and Jordy Nelson are both ready to step in if either Donald Driver or Greg Jennings goes down with an injury.
Charles Woodson, CB - Coming off a monster year, but note that he turns 34 in October.
Clay Matthews, LB - Burst onto the scene with 10 sacks and
50 tackles as a rookie.
Nick Barnett, LB - Led the team with 106 tackles and also had four sacks.
RotoWire Rank: 6