This article is part of our Team Previews series.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers struggled for a second straight year, and it led to major changes, as Matt LaFleur replaced Mike McCarthy at head coach and the defense was given a facelift. If Aaron Rodgers avoids the injury bug, the team will have a good chance to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2016.
THREE THINGS TO KNOW
MIND OVER MATTER
Matt LaFleur has never been a head coach at any level, but that didn't stop the Packers from naming the offensive guru the 15th head man in franchise history. Former boss Mike McCarthy had a successful run in Green Bay, but the team was ready for some fresh ideas, which they hope LaFleur will implement. LaFleur is close with masterminds Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay, two highly thought-of coaches who aren't afraid to lean on the ground game. The Packers led the league in passing play percentage in 2018 and were no lower than ninth in any of the past three seasons. Alternatively, LaFleur directed a balanced Titans offense, which finished 31st in pass play rate (49 percent) last year. With that knowledge, don't be surprised to see fewer throws from Aaron Rodgers – not a bad thing for an aging quarterback who was sacked 49 times last season – and more runs from Aaron Jones and company. While there could be more emphasis on running the ball in Green Bay this year, LaFleur's potential impact on Rodgers can't be discounted. Omitting his brief time in Tennessee, LaFleur's previous two stops yielded top-10 passing attacks with the Falcons (2015-16) and Rams (2017). Regardless of his run/pass mix this fall, LaFleur has proved capable of righting the ship with QBs, and Rodgers is a perfect candidate for a late-career resurgence.
ON THE RECEIVING END
The Packers' wideout group underwent major changes the last couple offseasons, as long-time members Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb – fifth and 11th, respectively, on the club's receiving yards leaderboard – were jettisoned from the roster. The cupboard is hardly bare in their absence with Davante Adams becoming a matchup-proof threat, but the battle to round out the depth chart behind him is unsettled. Many thought the Packers might address the position in free agency or the draft, but the front office focused on defense and will head into 2019 with essentially the same group from last year. Next on the list behind Adams figures to be Geronimo Allison, who may be the replacement for Cobb in the slot with 24 of his 55 career receptions occurring on the inside. Beyond Adams and Allison, sophomores Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown follow in the pecking order. It was no surprise that both had ups and downs as rookies, and St. Brown played ahead of Valdes-Scantling by year's end. Valdes-Scantling flashed the most upside of the two, though, topping 100 yards two times over a three-game stretch between Weeks 6 and 9, giving him a bit more intrigue heading into the new season. Rounding out Green Bay's collection of wide receivers are Jake Kumerow, J'Mon Moore and Trevor Davis.
THE DEFENSE...DOES NOT REST
In the first year under coordinator Mike Pettine, the Packers defense showed promise early, but injuries took their toll at every level, leading to one more point allowed per game than in 2017. GM Brian Gutekunst shocked no one when he decided to give Pettine more to work with during the offseason, signing three high-priced defenders and spending two first-round picks on that side of the ball. Despite the enhancements, the main player in this group could be the returning and rising Kenny Clark. Surrounding Clark will be a host of new pass rushers – free-agent additions Za'Darius and Preston Smith (no relation), and No. 12 overall selection Rashan Gary. In a front seven that also includes double-digit sack artist Kyler Fackrell, the Packers should have fewer issues getting after the quarterback. Their cause will be aided by two new safeties (Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage) and a cornerback duo (Kevin King and Jaire Alexander) that will seek to limit opponents' explosive pass plays. In the middle of it all is the ever-reliable Blake Martinez. After breaking out with 144 tackles (T-1) in 2017, he matched that total last season to rank second only to Colts rookie sensation Darius Leonard. When taking a comprehensive look at the league, this unit hasn't been relevant for years, but the tide could change if all the pieces click.
PIVOTAL PLAYER: Aaron Rodgers
Which version of Rodgers will show up this year? If it's the one limited by injuries the last two seasons, there could be disappointment from fantasy players and Packers fans alike. If it's the one who averaged 36.3 touchdowns per year between 2014 and 2016, those in fantasy leagues should get a bargain, and Packers fans will be beaming.
RISING: Aaron Jones
It may take a few guesses to get here, but none other than Jones' 5.5 YPC led all players with 100-plus rushes last year. Health is a concern, but assuming more run plays are called, the sky's the limit if he's on the field.
FALLING: Jimmy Graham
One of the top fantasy tight ends of his time, Graham nonetheless was inconsistent in his first year in Green Bay. A new coaching staff and a healthy season could help Graham bounce back, but he's no longer an elite option.
SLEEPER: Geronimo Allison
Allison was on pace to catch 76 passes and surpass 1,100 yards last year before his season was cut short. Trust is key with Aaron Rodgers, and Allison has earned it, so big things could be in store if both play a full slate.
KEY JOB BATTLE – NO. 2 WIDE RECEIVER
The Packers seemingly have not had a true position battle on offense for a few years, but they have one on their hands in 2019, and it comes at a key spot. There's no question Davante Adams will be Aaron Rodgers' top target, but when Rodgers is at his best, the Packers have regularly had two receivers capable of making a fantasy impact on a weekly basis. That makes the Packers' No. 2 receiver a potential fantasy commodity. The second wideout to open last year, Geronimo Allison, made noise early in the season, making plays in both the short and long ranges of the field. However, his campaign was cut short by numerous injuries, as he made just one brief appearance after Week 4. In Allison's place, a couple rookies showed their potential, as Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown both showed playmaking ability. St. Brown earned more snaps per week than Valdes-Scantling near the end of last season, which earns him a mention here. However, at this point, Allison and Valdes-Scantling are the two main competitors for this spot. There's been word that Valdez-Scantling has been working as the No. 2 receiver during the offseason, but familiarity is a big thing with Rodgers, and Allison certainly has the most experience with him among the crew. This will be a situation for fantasy players to monitor during training camp, as the winner of the competition figures to be a viable option for fantasy lineups Week 1.
Za'DARIUS SMITH – LB (from Ravens)
The Packers are banking on a breakout as his snap count increases.
ADRIAN AMOS – S (from Bears)
Steady safety should close gaps on the back end.
RASHAN GARY – LB (Rd. 1, No. 12 – Michigan)
Mike Pettine gets a chance to mold one of the draft's top athletes.
DARNELL SAVAGE – S (Rd. 1, No. 21 – Maryland)
Adds speed at a position the team had trouble filling in seasons past.
JACE STERNBERGER – TE (Rd. 3, No. 75 – Texas A&M)
Receiver-first tight end could be the heir apparent to Jimmy Graham.
RANDALL COBB – WR (to Cowboys)
Allowed to move on after a productive, but injury-prone, tenure.
CLAY MATTHEWS – LB (to Rams)
Heads home to California following 10 years in Green Bay.
THE INJURY FRONT
Aaron Rodgers, QB – While Rodgers played in all 16 games last year, he was slowed by injuries for a second consecutive season, playing nearly the entire way on a fractured knee suffered Week 1 before exiting early in the season finale after suffering a concussion. The head injury prevented him from playing in the Pro Bowl, but he did not report any issues when asked about his status a few weeks later. Rodgers decided to forego surgery on his knee, a decision that seems like a good one as of now, as he enters training camp healthy. Rodgers' availability week in and week out is arguably the biggest key to the Packers' success in 2019, as there is a major drop-off from him to backup DeShone Kizer.
Aaron Jones, RB – Jones made a big impact in his sophomore campaign, but for the second time in as many professional seasons, injuries prevented him from playing a full 16 games, as a knee injury suffered Week 15 landed him on injured reserve. The Packers did not provide updates regarding Jones' health during the offseason, indicating the knee issue was not a major one. He presumably heads into training camp healthy and will be the Packers' top running back after putting up 934 yards from scrimmage and nine touchdowns while averaging a league-best 5.5 yards per carry. Jones has all the makings of a breakout candidate, but he'll need to stay on the field to deliver on his upside.
Trevor Davis, WR – The 2018 season was basically a lost one for Davis, who landed on injured reserve with a hamstring injury to begin the campaign, briefly returned for two games, and saw his year come to a close after aggravating his hamstring in the second contest. He's never been a major factor in the Packers offense, but he is the team's top return man, and has made an impact on special teams in the past, finishing third in the league in average yards per punt return two seasons ago. Davis probably won't do much for fantasy players in 2019, but if he makes the cut, he could play a key role in the field position department and help improve the offense's odds to put up points.