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Fantasy football 2014 draft prep: Green Bay Packers team preview

Fantasy football 2014 draft prep: Green Bay Packers team preview Photo: Simon Bruty/SI

It’s true that fantasy owners can still wait on a quarterback, but the stability provided by the top three -- Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees -- is pure gold. An argument can be made for each of them as the top overall quarterback, but at least two of those will be proven wrong by the end of the season. The one that will be proven right is the one backing Rodgers.

Let’s start the case for Rodgers with some numbers. In 2011, Rodgers threw for 4,643 yards, 9.3 yards per attempt, 45 touchdowns and just six interceptions. One year later, he racked up 4,295 yards, 7.8 YPA, 39 touchdowns and eight picks. His 2013 season was interrupted by a broken collarbone, but he still managed to put up 2,536 yards, 8.8 YPA and 17 touchdowns against six interceptions in eight full games. Rodgers has ranked first, second and fourth in fantasy points per game among quarterbacks in the last three seasons.

A few observations based off those numbers. First, Rodgers is consistent. Rarely, if ever, is he going to give his fantasy owners a dud game. Second, those YPA numbers jump out, and for good reason. Rodgers is the only quarterback to throw for at least 7.8 YPA in each of the last five seasons. Neither Brees nor Manning can say that. What’s more, Rodgers has been north of 8.0 YPA in four of those five seasons. Third, Rodgers takes better care of the ball than Brees and Manning. Rodgers has thrown interceptions on 1.5 percent of his pass attempts in his last three seasons. Manning is at 2 percent and Brees is at 2.6 percent. Rodgers continues to come out ahead of his elite quarterback brethren.

Now, let’s move on to team context. Manning and Brees are strong here, but Rodgers gets the edge once again. All three have great weapons in pass-heavy offenses. Rodgers, however, has the best weapons. Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb are great complements to one another, and are both coming off the board within the first 25 picks of a typical fantasy draft. Nelson, in fact, is an elite receiver who belongs in the same group as Demaryius Thomas, Brandon Marshall, A.J. Green, Julio Jones and Dez Bryant. Rodgers also has by far the best running back behind him in Eddie Lacy. The second-year man out of Alabama is already a top-tier fantasy back and showed surprising ability as a receiver out of the backfield last season. He caught 35 of his 44 targets for 257 yards, giving Rodgers not only the protection of a strong running game, but also another weapon in the passing game.

​​While the difference among Rodgers, Manning and Brees is slim and the drop-off to the No. 4 quarterback is steep, Rodgers gives his fantasy owners one thing that neither Manning or Brees do: production on the ground. Since becoming the Green Bay starter in 2008, Rodgers has averaged 279 rushing yards and 3.6 rushing touchdowns per full season. That comes out to 49.5 fantasy points in standard-scoring leagues, which is the equivalent of an extra 700 passing yards and five passing touchdowns. In other words, Manning and Brees would have to do about that much better through the air than Rodgers simply to cancel out the advantage he has on the ground.

A fantasy owner really can’t go wrong with Rodgers, Manning or Brees. He or she would just be more right by grabbing Rodgers.

Most overvalued player

Nobody

​​​It seems like a cop-out to not pick anyone here, but the Green Bay offense is so potent, and all the players are worth taking at their current average draft positions. Lacy is worthy of a top-five pick. Nelson will cost you a late-second rounder, while Rodgers and Cobb are going in the middle of the third round. Third receiver Jarrett Boykin is coming off the board in about the 10th- or 11th round in a 12-team league, while lottery tickets Davante Adams, Andrew Quarless and James Starks are priced as lottery tickets. Even Mason Crosby is appropriately priced as the No. 6 kicker by ADP, behind Matt Prater, Stephen Gostkowski, Justin Tucker, Steven Hauschka and Dan Bailey. There simply isn’t an overvalued Packer in fantasy drafts this season.

Most undervalued player

Jordy Nelson, WR

When a player is the No. 7 overall receiver and carries a top-20 ADP, it’s hard to call him undervalued. However, Nelson is such a player. In the eight games started and finished by Rodgers last year, Nelson had 49 receptions for 810 yards and seven touchdowns. You can easily do the math on those to envision the season Nelson might have had if Rodgers were healthy all year. That translates to 15.4 fantasy points per game in standard-scoring leagues. Only Josh Gordon (16.2 points) and Calvin Johnson (15.8 points) were better. At 6-foot-3 and 217 pounds, Nelson is a nearly impossible cover in the red zone, and he also has the speed to break a defense deep. Despite all this, Nelson is widely seen as a cut below the top tier of receivers, and is taken behind running backs with question marks, such as Arian Foster and Giovani Bernard. Like the other elite receivers, Nelson is a sure thing. He may have a top-20 ADP, but even that feels like highway robbery.

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Depth chart

QB: Aaron Rodgers, Matt Flynn, Scott Tolzien

RB: Eddie Lacy, James Starks, DuJuan Harris, Michael Hill

WR: Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Jarrett Boykin, Davante Adams, Kevin Dorsey

TE: Andrew Quarless, Ryan Taylor, Richard Rodgers

Defensive analysis

  Total vs. Pass vs. Run Points allowed
NFL rank 25th 24th 25th 24th
  vs. QB vs. RB vs. WR vs. TE
Fantasy rank 24th 26th 24th 23rd

If the defense is going to be better this year, Clay Matthews will have to find a way to stay healthy. The heartbeat of the Green Bay defense has missed nine games over the last two seasons, and when he’s out, the unit loses its linchpin. Assuming Matthews is healthy, the strength of this defense is in the middle. It will be interesting to see how new Packer Julius Peppers adjusts to being an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme after spending his entire career as a 4-3 defensive end. Despite the big names in the linebacker corps, the relatively unheralded Brad Jones may be the best member of the group. All four (including A.J. Hawk) are worthy of IDP consideration.

Even with Rodgers missing half the season, the Packers likely would have locked up the NFC North before the very last play of the regular season if not for what was a terrible defense. Aside from racking up 44 sacks, this defense was bad at every metric: 29th in run defense, 26th in pass rush and 19th in pass coverage. Add it all up, Green Bay had the 25th-ranked defense, according to Pro Football Focus. 

Morgan Burnett, who had 96 tackles last year, captains the secondary from the strong safety position. The team used its first-round selection on Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, and chances are he ends up as the starting free safety. Casey Hayward, Tramon Williams and Sam Shields will all see plenty of time, with Hayward manning the key spot in Dom Capers’ defense that revitalized Charles Woodson’s career. Burnett and Hayward should be looked at in IDP leagues.

Owners who use the traditional team defense position will want to keep the Packers on the radar, but they have a lot to prove and have a challenging schedule. In addition to the six NFC North games, the Packers play Seattle, New Orleans, Philadelphia and New England.

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