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2014 Team Preview: Green Bay Packers

Kevin O'Brien

Kevin O'Brien

Kevin O'Brien writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

STATE OF THE FRANCHISE

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers may not have won the 2013 MVP award, but his value to the Packers was never more evident, as he returned after missing half the season with a broken collarbone to lead the team to a division-clinching Week 17 victory over the Bears. The Packers once again fell in the postseason at the hands of the 49ers, but the team won six of the eight games Rodgers finished, and the pieces are in place for Green Bay to make a deep postseason run in 2014.

The Packers got off to a 5-2 start last season thanks to an efficient Rodgers and a newfound running game led by rookie Eddie Lacy. However, Rodgers went down with his injury in Week 9, and the Packers were forced to start more than two quarterbacks in a season for the first time since 1992. The running game remained strong, but the Packers struggled to score in Rodgers' absence, and the defense faltered. Things looked bleak as the Packers went winless from that point through Week 13, but the fourth quarterback to enter the mix, Matt Flynn, eked out a couple of late-season wins, and Rodgers returned just in time to help secure the Packers' third straight division crown. However, they were knocked out of the playoffs for the second year in a row by the team that is quickly becoming their nemesis, the San Francisco 49ers.

Though the Packers' 2013 campaign ended in disappointment, they did unearth a fantasy gem in Lacy. Despite missing most of two games himself, Lacy tallied over 1,400 total yards and won the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year Award. Wide receiver Jordy Nelson and kicker Mason Crosby both put up good fantasy numbers as well, as the former finished 10th in the league in receiving yards, and the latter finished fifth in the league in points. The team's offense will be fine in 2014 with a healthy Rodgers at the helm, and the Packers are hopeful that a couple of key additions on defense will help them make improvements on that side of the ball.

The Packers don't typically stray too deep into the free agent waters, but they did make a splash this offseason by bringing in defensive end Julius Peppers, formerly of the vanquished Bears. In the draft, the Packers landed a badly needed safety, snatching up Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix with the 21st overall pick.

Any disappointment from last season will need to be quickly forgotten, as the Packers kick off their 2014 campaign in Seattle against the defending champion Seahawks. Regardless of the outcome of that game, the Packers will be favored to win yet another NFC North title. If they can finally take out the 49ers in the postseason, or avoid them altogether, the Packers have a chance at earning their first Super Bowl title since 2011.

OFFSEASON MOVES

Key Acquisitions

Julius Peppers – DE, Bears
The veteran pass-rushing specialist comes over from a division rival.

Letroy Guion – DT, Vikings
Will provide some depth on an improving defensive line.

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix – S, Alabama (Round 1, 21st Overall)
Will take over as the team's starting free safety from Day 1.

Davante Adams – WR, Fresno State (Round 2, 53rd Overall)
The Packers look to strike gold with another second-round receiver.

Richard Rodgers – TE, California (Round 3, 98th Overall)
Played receiver in college but has ideal TE size.

Key Losses

Jermichael Finley –TE, FA
A neck injury clouds his future but a return to Green Bay hasn't been ruled out.

James Jones –WR, Raiders
Jarrett Boykin and company lack experience but should provide similar production.

Evan Dietrich-Smith – C, Buccaneers
Aaron Rodgers will open 2014 with a new starting center.

TEAM NOTES

HOW WILL THE TOUCHES BE DIVIDED?
The Packers have numerous weapons on the offensive side of the ball, but that means there will be a lot of mouths to feed from a fantasy perspective. Green Bay running backs were forgotten about for a few years, but that changed with last season's addition of Eddie Lacy, who saw the sixth most touches in the league with 319. Lacy has the size to handle a big workload, but in an effort to promote his durability, expect the Packers to give him about 75 percent of the touches in the backfield. While the Packers figure to lean on the running game, they also have one of the top quarterbacks in the league and a talented group of pass-catchers. Jordy Nelson caught a career-high 85 passes last season, but he was targeted heavily by the Rodgers replacements, so that number could fall a little in 2014. A broken leg limited Randall Cobb to just six games last year, but he caught 80 passes in 2012 and could challenge Nelson for the club lead in receptions. Receiver James Jones and tight end Jermichael Finley are no longer rostered, but their departures open up opportunities for other players. Most of Jones' receptions figure to be gobbled up by Jarrett Boykin, who played well last season and could catch more passes this year if he can hold off second-round pick Davante Adams. The team's tight ends didn't do much after Finley went down with an injury last season, but Andrew Quarless, Brandon Bostick and Richard Rodgers figure to share around 60 receptions with Finley out of town. Quarless will start, but Bostick and Rodgers are more explosive receivers, and one of them could surprise if he impresses during training camp. There are a lot of players in the receiving mix, but Packers receivers have averaged 372 receptions over the last three seasons, so there should be plenty of balls to go around.

WHO WILL BE THE TOP PLAYMAKER ON THE DEFENSE?
Offseason additions Julius Peppers and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix both have the talent to change games, but the Packers are hoping that the definitive answer to the above question is Clay Matthews. For him to be that guy, however, the team will need him to stay on the field after missing nine games over the previous two seasons.

CAN THEY STAY HEALTHY?
Nearly every key Packer on both sides of the ball missed time due to injuries last year, so the team has experience playing at less than full strength. However, if they hope to make a run at another Super Bowl, they will need to avoid the injury bug, particularly at the quarterback position.

VALUE METER

Rising: The offense is dynamic enough to support three wide receiver options in most formats, making Jarrett Boykin a middle-round fantasy target.

Declining: Though he scored six touchdowns in both 2010 and 2011, John Kuhn scored just once each of the last two seasons, as he turned into more of a true fullback than a touchdown vulture.

Sleeper: Brandon Bostick caught just seven passes last season, but could emerge as one of Aaron Rodgers' favorite receivers among the team's tight ends.

Supersleeper: If James Starks can stay healthy himself, he could provide value in the event of an Eddie Lacy injury.

IDP WATCH

Morgan Burnett - S
Missed three games but still nearly reached 100 tackles.

Clay Matthews - LB
A good bet for double-digit sacks if he stays on the field.

A.J. Hawk - LB
Coming off most productive season since his rookie year.

TEAM DEFENSE
RotoWire Rank: 20
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