The Packers are working through a dynamic preseason environment that is unique in the franchise's long, storied history. After almost two full decades of Brett Favre pulling the trigger, 2008 was the dawning of the Aaron Rodgers Era. How, and if, Rodgers could fill Favre's shoes was the big question, both on the field and for fantasy owners last year.
This year, though, the Packers have confidence in their young quarterback. Rodgers was a stud last year, and the offense shouldn't be the question. The defense, though, is in a state of transition. Dom Capers was brought on board to move the Packers to a 3-4 defense, with All Pro defensive end Aaron Kampmann picking his hand up and becoming a linebacker.
There are lots of unique questions heading into 2009 for the Packers, and we haven't even talked about winning games.
Quarterback: Aaron Rodgers
2008 Numbers: 341-536 (63.6%) 4,038 yards 28 TDs 13 INTs (207 rushing yards, 4 rushing TDs)
2009 Projections: 370-570 (65.0%) 4,200 yards 30 TDs 16 INTs (150 rushing yards, 1 rushing TD)
Rodgers has a lot of great weapons to play with, and his running game is questionable. He's also on a team that should challenge for a division crown in an offensively loaded division. Translation: he's going to have to win games with his arm.
Unless Ryan Grant wakes up and begins running like he did for half of 2007, Rodgers is going to have to win games every week with his arm. His touchdown-to-interception ratio was solid enough in what was truly his rookie season last year to give fantasy owners confidence that he's a top-five fantasy quarterback.
The Packers offensive line has had issues, and the potential for Grant to be sub-par like he was in 2008 will have teams loading up their nickle packages earlier in games if the Packers become too pass-happy. His picks might go up if Grant's numbers don't improve.
Running Back: Ryan Grant
2008 Numbers: Rushing – 312 att 1,203 yards 3.9 yds/carry Receiving – 18 rec 116 yards 5 total TDs
2009 Projections: Rushing – 345 att 1,300 yards 3.8 yds/carry Receiving – 15 rec 100 yards 8 total TDs
Grant had his highs and lows in 2008, with two 20 yard rushing performances in the first four weeks last year. He also had issues getting into the end zone last year, with only four rushing touchdowns. He still ran for over 1,200 yards, however. If he sees an increase in his carries this year (to take pressure off Rodgers and bring another body into the box), his gross production should increase, even if his yards per carry doesn't go up.
He isn't a primary target in the red zone for the Packers. With the weapons the Packers have outside, and Grant's limited role in the passing game, he's a one-dimensional threat that won't score a lot again this year. He also lost three of his four fumbles last year. With the Packers questions on their offensive line, and if the 3-4 defense doesn't keep opponents out of the end zone, the probability of shoot outs on Sundays for the Packers could limit Grant's touchdowns.
Wide Receiver: Greg Jennings
2008 Numbers: 80 rec 1,292 yards 9 TDs
2009 Projections: 95 rec 1,550 yards 11 TDs
This could be the year that Jennings emerges as an elite fantasy receiver, even more than his 2008 season has already labeled him a top-tier receiver. As I noted before, if the Packers 3-4 doesn't take right away, and with the talented offenses in the division, Jennings could blow up this year and join names like Fitzgerald and Moss at the top of the receiver list.
Donald Driver isn't what he once was, and Donald Lee isn't a vertical threat at tight end. If the Packers cannot establish a quality running game, opposing secondaries could begin focusing their coverages on Jennings. The Packers have some nice pieces on offense, but need someone to compliment Jennings each week to keep him open.
Tight End: Donald Lee
2008 Numbers: 39 rec 303 yards 5 TDs
2009 Projections: 55 rec 600 yards 7 TDs
Lee didn't get much of the ball last year, but considering one in every eight receptions was in the end zone is a fantastic ratio. As his role continues to emerge, and as Rodgers grows into more of a field general, Lee should see more balls coming his way. He shouldn't be at the top of your tight end rankings, but could be a valuable backup or decent starter in Green Bay's offense.
Lee's numbers will probably be tied to Grant's production this year. If Grant's effective on first and second downs, Lee stands to see fewer balls. If Grant struggles, Lee could get the ball, especially in the red zone, more often.
Defense/Special Teams SLEEPER
2008 Numbers: 23.8 ppg 27 sacks 22 INTs 6 Def TD 1,785 total return yards 2 return TDs
2009 Projections: 25.0 ppg 20 sacks 14 INTs 1 Def TDs 1,500 return yards 0 return TDs
This might be one of the biggest question marks for a fantasy owner entering the 2009 season. The Packers weren't an exceptional defense last year, but the eight defense/special team touchdowns they scored last year rank among the best in football.
The Packers still have an excellent, ball-hawking secondary and good athletes all over the field. The goal for the Packers, if they want to contend for the division crown, will be to keep the score lower than they did last year.
They're the sleeper for the Packers because, if they take to the scheme and other teams in the division want to throw the ball with Cutler, Favre and Stafford/Culpepper, their ballhawks might get a pick-six and the turnovers might be big again in 2009
I don't think you can count on the touchdowns again this year, and with Capers moving Kampmann to a linebacker spot I don't think you can guarantee the sacks will stay near 30 either. Indeed, there will be a learning curve this year for the Packers defenders.