The Green Bay Packers are looking to not only reclaim the NFC North but establish themselves as Super Bowl Contenders once again through a new look defense, and a Pro Bowl Tight End.
The Packers started the offseason by moving Ted Thompson from GM to an advisory role and promoting Brian Gutekunst to GM. In his first offseason and draft Gutekunst wasted no time making an impact by moving out of and back into the 1st round which in result netted the Packers an additional 1st round pick in next years NFL draft, but also drafting two highly touted Cornerbacks in Jaire Alexander (Louisville) and Josh Jackson (Iowa). Both are expected to help improve the Packers Secondary that ranked 23rd in the league in Pass Defense.
In addition to the draft Gutekunst also solidified the defense by signing Muhammad Wilkerson, bringing back Davon House and Tramon Williams, and trading away inconsistent CB Damarious Randall which also netted second year QB DeShone Kizer. Having both House and Williams will help provide veteran leadership to a young secondary that also includes second year pro Kevin King.
To mold the defense into an asset than a liability the Packers brought in Mike Pettine to replace Dom Capers at Defensive Coordinator. Pettine brings in a track record of having no worse than a top 10 ranked defensive when he was the Defensive Coordinator for the Jets and Bills.
Normally Pettine runs a 3-4 scheme in his defenses, but when speaking with the Media after joining Green Bay he mentioned he would run variations of the 3-4 and 4-3 defenses. Pettine also praised Clay Matthews ability to line up in different spots, so I would expect Matthews to be a focus on the defensive scheme, and if he stays healthy it wouldn’t be unreasonable to see him post numbers close to his 2010 and 2012 seasons where he posted 13.5 and 13 sacks.
Even though going back and forth between the 3-4 and 4-3, Pettine’s approach executing the system will be focused on keeping the communication simple for the players unlike what they experienced with the exotic schemes Dom Capers used.
Pettine’s defense also provides a lot of pressure to opposing Qbs which will help create a lot of sack opportunities for Matthews, Nick Perry, and Mike Daniels. The Packers can be a sneaky fantasy defense sleeper in your leagues with the amount pressure they can create which will make sacks and turnovers happen.
On offense there wasn’t as many changes, but one that will be talked about all season is the Packers decision to part ways with WR Jordy Nelson, and sign TE Jimmy Graham. The choice at first wasn’t well received as Nelson was a fan favorite. But to remind everyone there were times this season where he wasn’t as explosive after being 2 seasons removed from his ACL tear. Which for Nelson whose game is depended on his speed to create separation and create big plays could become ineffective in Mike McCarthy’s West Coast Offense that is reliant on timing.
What Green Bay got in Jimmy Graham is a playmaking Tight End that they desperately needed since Jermichael Finley. Graham will feast in the Red Zone once again and will have no problem repeating 10 touchdowns from a year ago. Slotted as the second option in the passing game Graham should also be able to surpass the 520 yards that he posted last year with the Seahawks run first offense.
One setback from a fantasy perspective for Jimmy Graham is the fact that Aaron Rodgers target share to TE is low.
2015: Richard Rodgers 15% Target Share (4th on the team)
2016: Jared Cook: 8.2% Target Share (5th on the team)
Also, another concern for Jimmy Graham is his position schedule is ranked as the 28th hardest in fantasy this upcoming season.
However, I feel the target situation will be improved as both Richard Rodgers and Jared Cook are not the tight end Jimmy Graham is, and the fact that Jimmy Graham is slotted to the second option in a passing scheme that includes Wide Receivers Davante Adams, Randall Cobb, and Geronimo Allison.
Green Bay will be expected to once again utilized a Zone Run scheme for running game. The difference this year is that Mike McCarthy wants to run a committee at running back between Ty Montgomery, Jamaal Williams, and Aaron Jones (Suspended first 2 games of the season).
Currently Aaron Jones has an ADP of 94 followed by Williams at 103.30, and Montgomery at 122.70. Here is a breakdown of their 2017 stats below.
The numbers suggest that Aaron Jones would be the better runner of the three. He missed 4 games and was only 108 yards behind Jamaal Williams in rushing yards. Jamaal Williams was great in the passing game last year should get the ball on third downs over Ty Montgomery. The only thing that could hinder Aaron Jones is the 2 game suspension because if Williams or Montgomery get off to a hot start Jones might play second fiddle again like when he came back from his knee sprain last year to play behind Jamaal Williams.
The safe bet for fantasy purposes would be Williams as he has shown he can be a three down back in this offense, but I would keep an eye out during training camp and preseason to see if anyone comes up front from this committee.
As for Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams. They should be a tandem I would stack on fantasy teams and daily fantasy. The packers will not shy away from the run which will keep defenses alert and susceptible to the play action pass which Rodgers has feasted on defenses for years with.
Adams should see most of those deep opportunities with Nelson gone along with being a red zone threat he was last year. Expect Adams to reach and surpass 1,000 yards for the first time in his career with a healthy Aaron Rodgers. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Adams as a top 5 receiver in fantasy over the likes of AJ Green (WR7), Michael Thomas (WR6), and Julio Jones (WR5).
The return of Joe Philbin as Offensive Coordinator seemed to go under the radar but will be a huge impact on how this offense will perform mainly because he already knows the scheme from his time in Green Bay from 2007-2011. Here are how Both Aaron Rodgers and his top 2 receivers did from 2008-2011 when he was the starter.
With the numbers posted above with having Philbin at coordinator, and now having him back expect Adams, and Graham to have huge seasons as the top 2 options in this offense.
The only 2 things stopping the Packers this year to a super bowl is the health of Aaron Rodgers and their defense which from the looks of it should be much improved from last year.