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The Replacements: Redistributing Davante Adams’s Targets in Packers’ Offense

How will Green Bay's target share look going forward?

While a big part of fantasy football research is trying to assess how players will do when they go to a new team, getting a handle on what the old team is doing to replace those players is critical. It's an opportunity for players to step up and fill the void. In this series, we'll examine six teams that had key departures this offseason and must find new ways to replace key fantasy production.

If you cut Davante Adams’ 2021 targets in half, he would have still led the Packers by a comfortable margin.

Adams, and his mind-meld with back-to-back reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers, is the undefined offense. Or should I say, was? The two-time Pro Bowler was dealt to the Raiders in the offseason, where he promptly signed a market-setting extension. In return, the Packers received Las Vegas’ first- and second-round picks, which may have been in the best interest of the cap-strapped franchise, but the move still left an Adams-sized hole at receiver.

Triple Crown winner Cooper Kupp was the only player to have a higher target share than Adams last season. He accounted for 28.5% of Green Bay’s targets, which made up the bulk of the team’s 43.5% vacated target share, according to Adams matched a career-high 169 targets a season ago, which was tied for the second-most in the NFL. He also set career marks with 123 catches and 1,553 yards. The Packers also lost one of their top receivers, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, to free agency.

This will be the first time since 2015 that Adams isn't an integral piece of Green Bay's game plan and coach Matt LaFleur's first go-around without one of the best pass-catchers in football.

Rodgers is an incredibly efficient passer, one of the league's best and one of the all-time best. He's not necessarily a high-volume passer, though. By the game's modern standards, the Packers were middle of the pack in passing frequency in 2021. Since there is no one-to-one replacement for a player of Adams' stature, a bump in usage for the running back tandem of Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon may be in order, both on the ground and through the air. Green Bay has returning pass-catchers who can help fill the gap, and the front office sent Rodgers a peace offering by adding a rookie in the draft and a veteran in free agency to reupholster the receiver room. Still, how Rodgers, LaFleur and the Packers, as a Super Bowl hopeful, adjust to life without Adams will be one of the biggest stories of the season to come.

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Christian Watson
The Packers did not use either of their first-round picks on a receiver in April’s draft. Instead, they addressed their need at the position early in the second by grabbing Watson, a 6’5”, 208 lb target out of North Dakota State. General manager Brian Gutekunst called Watson a "big, fast, physical receiver," and the numbers bear that out. His size speaks for itself, and he never averaged fewer than 18.3 yards per catch across four seasons in college, consistently turning in big play after big play.

Watson was not a volume receiver in NDSU's run-heavy offense. His senior season was the most action he saw when he caught 43 balls for 800 yards and seven touchdowns—all career highs. It might take Watson time to adjust from the FCS level to the NFL competition, and he could immediately be taking on a heavier workload as a rookie than he did even in college.

Albert Breer compared Watson to the late Vincent Jackson “from how raw Watson is, to the size/speed potential he possesses, to his non-FBS roots.” It took Jackson a few seasons to catch on with the Chargers before he began consistently pumping out 1,000-yard campaigns. To stick with the comparisons, Shawn Childs compared him to Valdes-Scantling, whose physical profile is similar to Watson’s. MVS was very involved as a rookie in 2018—he saw 73 targets, the third-most on the team. For fantasy purposes, Michael Fabiano dubbed Watson a winner based on his landing spot. Still, he's the WR7 in Fabiano’s rookie rankings and the ninth-ranked first-year player.

Cautious optimism is the best approach toward Watson’s value as a fantasy asset. The community is split on who the end-of-season WR1 will be in Green Bay. If it ends up being Watson, it will be likely due to a late-season push, not an early breakout.

Sammy Watkins
Besides jokes about Watkins' proficiency in Week 1, he hasn't been a fantasy asset since 2017. The former No. 4 pick is on his third team in three years and has put together just one season with more than 50 catches since 2015. Watson was largely overshadowed in Kansas City by better pass catchers, and he set a career-low mark with one touchdown across 13 games for the Ravens in 2021.

The hope is that Watkins can recapture some of what he did earlier in his career with the Bills and Rams as a focal point of the Packers' offense. Somewhat similarly to Watson, Watkins does not profile as a high-volume target. He set career highs as a rookie in 2014 with 65 catches on 128 targets and has not broken 100 targets since. As of late, Watkins has not made the difference with trips to the end zone. He scored 25 touchdowns in his first four seasons and had nine across his next four.

There’s no reason that Watkins cannot or will not be a solid possession receiver for Rodgers, who will be the third MVP quarterback he catches passes from. That doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll provide much value for fantasy managers. Childs put it best, calling Watkins “more of a follow than a fantasy investment.”

Returning Players
The Packer with the most targets besides Adams over the last three years lines up out of the backfield. That would be running back Aaron Jones, who set career-highs with 52 catches and six touchdowns in 2021. That bump in receiving work coincided with A.J. Dillon taking over as the team's leading rusher. Jones is a trusted target of Rodgers, and he saw 11 targets in the lone game Adams missed last season. In terms of volume, he was in the second tier of receiving backs a season ago. Jones could move into the first tier this coming season.

Allen Lazard is coming off the best season of his career in his fourth year in the league: 40 catches on 60 targets for 513 yards and eight scores. He began to perform more consistently as the season went on, but Lazard has not yet proven his worth as a high-target player.

Robert Tonyan did not replicate his 2020 success, and his 2021 season ended early in October when he tore his ACL. The big target burst onto the scene two seasons ago with 11 touchdowns on 52 catches. For now, that campaign remains an aberration, but he should see a bump in work in the team-wide effort to make up for Adams' targets.

Beyond those three returners, veteran Randall Cobb, second-year player Amari Rodgers and rookies Romeo Doubs and Samori Toure comprise the rest of the pass-catchers of note. The last time Adams was not Green Bay's leading receiver was in 2016, and the Packers' target distribution was much more evenly distributed. That looks to be the case for 2022.

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