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2012 Team Report: Green Bay Packers

Quarterbacks

Starter: Aaron Rodgers
Backup(s): Graham Harrell

Starting QB: Aaron Rodgers was dominant in 2012 with an incredible 48 total touchdowns to 6 interceptions and 4643 passing yards in 15 games. This was the fourth consecutive season that Rodgers was the first- or second-ranked fantasy passer. Rodgers can make every throw and has complete command of the Green Bay offense. His coaching staff has complete confidence in him, and Rodgers helms one of the most prolific pass-centered offenses in the NFL. With Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Jermichael Finley, and James Jones in the prime of their careers and the versatile Randall Cobb on the rise, there�s no reason Rodgers can�t remain among the truly elite for a fifth year.

Backup QB: Graham Harrell and his development in college was rooted in the Mike Leach spread formation passing game at Texas Tech.

Running Backs

Starter: Cedric Benson
Backup(s): Alex Green, Brandon Saine, James Starks
Fullback(s): John Kuhn, John Hoese

Starting RB: Cedric Benson will be the lead back in Green Bay to start the season. The veteran has shown good burst and his usual patience that helped him earn the lead job in Cincinnati. James Starks split carries with Ryan Grant last year in this high-octane passing attack and managed only 162 touches in 13 games. He also yielded red zone touches to John Kuhn, managing only one touchdown all season. Late in the year, the Packers also incorporated undrafted free agent rookie Brandon Saine into packages as a receiver from the backfield. Starks may have the lead role with Grant gone, but a toe injury, the addition of Cedric Benson, and a heavy passing system could make him more of a lead back in name only, and that is only if he returns from injury and shows enough to regain teh job. There is also a bevy of situational rotation of runners, including second-year runner Alex Green, to limit his upside.Benson has the most proven experience and if he plays as he has in recent seasons, he can eke RB2 fantasy stats in this offense if he earns the lead job.

Backup RBs: Alex Green is the wildcard on the depth chart. His build and style is reminiscent of former Falcons star Jamal Anderson. The second-year back from Hawaii is a powerful runner with an excellent burst and good hands in the passing game. He�s used to play in spread offenses. If he returns to form from an ACL tear suffered last year, he could become a significant part of a rotation with Starks. Brandon Saine is more of a straight-line runner, but has excellent speed and good power. He and Green were arguable the best two receivers at the RB position in the 2011 NFL Draft class.

Fullback: John Kuhn is a gritty runner and has good hands for a fullback. He has 18 career touchdowns, and now that he's in his prime as a player, can be counted on for about a half-dozen scores in a season.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb
Backups: James Jones, Donald Driver, Jarrett Boykin

Starting WRs: Greg Jennings posted his fifth consecutive season with production that placed him among the top-20 fantasy receivers in 2011 despite missing three games with a knee sprain. He is an excellent deep threat with equal skill as an underneath receiver who can make plays after the catch with the ball in his hands. Jordy Nelson had a massive breakout season in 2011. He displayed good deep speed and great timing on fade routes. These skills and an excellent rapport with Aaron Rodgers allowed Nelson to emerge in a big way. Jennings and Nelson, who was the second-best wide receiver in fantasy football with 1263 yards and 15 touchdowns, are one of the top 1-2 combos at receiver in the NFL. Both have deep speed, skill after the catch, and the hand and toughness to make plays in coverage anywhere on the field. Randall Cobb will be the third receiver. He has had an impressive camp, but a mistake filled preseason. He is a big play waiting to happen and the most versatile player on the offense.

Backup WRs: From the standpoint of combined ability and experience, James Jones, Randall Cobb, and Donald Driver could have been a better starting trio for any team in the NFC North � and for that matter much of the NFL. Jones� 634 yards and seven touchdowns made him one of the top bye-week options in three-receiver fantasy leagues and his combination of strength and speed make him a dangerous player after the catch. Cobb was more exciting as a return specialist last year, but he lit up his rookie training camp with plays at every wide receiver position and the promise is there for him to become a dangerous part of the starting rotation this year or next. Driver�s departure from the Packers � and possibly football � is imminent. Nevertheless, he had 445 yards on 37 catches and six touchdowns while splitting time with Jones and Cobb. If he sticks around another year in Green Bay, he�s excellent depth capable of starter fantasy production if injury strikes the rotation. Jarrett Boykin is a big, speedy player from Virginia Tech with solid hands and skill to adjust to the football, but played in a system that didn't feature him in full route tree. He did well enough in camp to earn a chance to develop.

Tight Ends

Starters: Jermichael Finley
Backups: Tom Crabtree, D.J. Williams, Ryan Taylor

Jermichael Finley had what could be best described as an inconsistent, top-five fantasy season among tight ends in 2011 � posting only four double-digit performances and seven games with five points or less. Last season was supposed to be a huge year for Finley so as strange as it seems, last year was a minor disappointment. The Packers opted to sign Finley to a new deal rather than let him test the market. While Finley has potential to have a huge fantasy year during his career, as long as the Packers have a strong receiving corps, don�t expect him to be the featured receiver. He�s a solid pick as a No. 1 tight end, but there are better receiving options within the confines of their system than Finley. D.J. Williams is beginning to grasp the transition to the NFL and is seeing some time as a fullback and H-back. The second-year tight end is a fluid receiver with skills after the catch and a waiver wire option to watch. Tom Crabtree is a move-tight end that lacks the elite athleticism of Finley, but he�s a reliable presence and understands how to exploit open zones. He�s often paired with Finley in two-tight end sets. Williams has Finley�s talent as a pass catcher and runner, but the second-year player from Arkansas still has to develop as a blocker and route runner. Andrew Quarless is returning from an ACL injury. He was buried on the depth chart last year. Ben Taylor was used in the red zone once last year with a four-yard touchdown and that was the extent of his production as a rookie in 2011.

Place Kicker

Mason Crosby : Once again the Packers enter camps with just three specialists, all the same starters as last year. Brett Goode is back at long snapper as is punter/holder Tim Masthay. Kicker Mason Crosby is coming off the best statistical year of his five year NFL career. In 2011 he post career highs with a field goal percentage of 85.7% (24 of 28) and extra points (68). The Packers have ranked in the top six in attempted kicking points in five of the past six years, including 6th last year.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Randall Cobb, Brandon Saine

WR Randall Cobb showed the Packers were correct to draft him in the second round of the 2011 draft not only by showing flashes of talent at WR, but also by finishing in the top ten in yards per return for both punt and kickoff returns. He fielded the lion's share of both types of kicks last season, and the same can be expected of him this year.

Punt Returners: Randall Cobb

Cobb should get a nice boost in leagues that give players points for return yardage, though he still will have to contend for his piece of the receiving pie to be fantasy relevant.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Marshall Newhouse, LG T.J. Lang, C Jeff Saturday, RG Josh Sitton, RT Bryan Bulaga
Key Backups: T Derek Sherrod, G Evan Dietrich-Smith, T Dan Barklay [R]

UPDATE: Former first round pick Derek Sherrod suffered a bad leg injury last season and his recovery has not been smooth. Sherrod is on the PUP list with no return date set. This downgrades the Packers' depth, specifically at swing tackle. Andrew Datko, late round selection out of Florida State, has been impressive in his place, so it's not all bad news. This is a small downgrade for the Packers' line. The Pack still round out the top ten in the rankings. PRESEASON OUTLOOK: Free agent center Jeff Saturday is a former All-Pro and is easily the most highly regarded player on this line. Saturday should keep his form for another season or two but should be watched closely for signs of aging. Marshall Newhouse and former first-rounder Derek Sherrod are competing for the left tackle position vacated by Chad Clifton. This uncertainty hurts the team's cohesion score. Newhouse is expected to win this battle and do a good job on the blind side. Whoever loses and is the swing tackle will be one of the league's best backups (not many teams have good backup left tackles). Left guard T.J. Lang is a decent but replaceable starter. Right guard Josh Sitton was a Pro Bowl alternate in 2010 and is one of the better guards in the conference. Former first-rounder Bryan Bulaga is a tough, technical right tackle that excels in run blocking. Line coach James Campen is a smart former player who has risen through the ranks with Green Bay. Seventh-round pick Andrew Datko is in competition with Herb Taylor for backup right tackle. Undrafted tackle Dan Barklay is in competition with the gritty Evan Dietrich-Smith for backup left guard. Sometimes an outstanding quarterback, with a quick release, running a particular system can make an offensive line look like All-Pro's. This is often the case with the Green Bay Packers line. They are a very good line, top third in the league, but they have uncertainty at left tackle and that keeps them from being considered an elite line.

Team Defense

The Packers had the worst pass defense in the league last year, averaging 299.8 yards passing per game. They only managed 29 sacks (tied for third worst in the league), however in many league formats, they were a Top 5 defense, due to 38 total takeaways (tied with SF for most in the league). Thirty-one of those takeaways were INTs - by far the most of any team. Seven total defense/ST TDs also helped them reach that level. Green Bay's success as a fantasy defense, despite a porous pass defense, was largely due to a secondary that knows how to create and force turnovers. The good news for 2012 is that the secondary will still be in tact, led by CB Charles Woodson with considerable contributions from CBs Sam Shields and Tramon Williams, plus safeties Charlie Pepprah and Morgan Burnett. The Packers used the draft to make improvements on a weak pass rush. They added DT Jerrell Worthy, plus OLB Nick Perry, who will combine with Clay Matthews as the team's edge rushing force. KR/PR Randall Cobb will have another year under his belt and could provide a spark to a good, but could be even better, return game. The 2012 Packers Defense/ST is considered a Top 10 defensive unit that could find themselves in the Top 5, if their first and second round draft picks perform above expectations and/or the turnovers continue at rapid pace.

Defensive Line

Starters: NT B.J. Raji, DE Ryan Pickett, DE Phillip Merling
Backups: DE Jerel Worthy, DE C.J. Wilson, DE Mike Daniels, NT Daniel Muir, DE Mike Neal, DE Jarius Wynn

Starting DL: The Packers boast one of the biggest and most physical defensive lines in the NFL, led by imposing 335-pound nose tackle B.J. Raji. After a tremendous 2010 season in which Raji racked up 29 solos, 10 assists, and 6 sacks, Raji's numbers fell off to 15 solos, 8 assists, and 3 sacks last year. The Packers are hoping Raji can revert back to the form he showed in 2010 in which he was one of the most dominant interior linemen in the NFL. Raji is athletic enough to play defensive end in the Packers' 3-4 defense and that is no small feat given his size. Veteran Ryan Pickett will join Raji in the starting lineup. Pickett is not a pass rushing threat, but he is a solid run-plugging lineman. Pickett is also capable of playing nose tackle. For the time being, Philip Merling is probably going to be listed as the starter at the other defensive end spot, but there will likely be several contenders for the job.

Backup DL: The Packers were hoping to find a candidate or two in the draft to vie for the starting defensive end spot opposite Ryan Pickett. They wound up using a second-round pick to draft Michigan State standout Jerel Worthy. Worthy played defensive tackle in college but seems to be a good fit as a defensive end in the Packers' 3-4 scheme. Worthy is expected to be a serious contender for a starting spot as a rookie. Mike Neal was suspended for violating the league's policy related to performance enhancing substances. Neal has battled injuries in his short career. Third-year defensive end C.J. Wilson will compete for playing time in the defensive line rotation, along with former Colts' defensive lineman Daniel Muir and fourth-round draft pick Mike Daniels. Lawrence Guy, a seventh-round pick in the 2011 draft, will compete for a roster spot. Veteran lineman Anthony Hargrove, who will miss the first eight games after being suspended for his role in the Saints' bounty scandal, was released.

Linebackers

Starters: LOLB Clay Matthews, LILB A.J. Hawk, ILB D.J. Smith, ROLB Nick Perry [R]
Backups: OLB Frank Zombo, OLB Erik Walden, ILB Rob Francois, OLB Brad Jones, OLB Dezmon Moses, OLB Vick So'oto

Starting LBs: The Packers are set at three of the four starting linebacker spots. Desmond Bishop, who was inserted into the starting lineup in 2010 after a season-ending injury to Nick Barnett, suffered a season-ending injury of his own. He will be replaced in the starting lineup by D.J. Smith. Smith, a sixth-round pick in the 2011 draft, started three games last year and racked up 19 solos and eight assists in those games. Smith will be joined at inside linebacker by former first-round pick A.J. Hawk. Hawk is looking to rebound from a sub-par and injury-plagued 2011 season in which he saw his solo tackle numbers fall to a career-worst 53. Starting at one of the outside linebacker spots is elite pass rusher Clay Matthews. After recording 22.5 sacks in his first two seasons, Matthews only had six last year. The other outside linebacking spot is up for grabs and the Packers are confident that first-round draft pick Nick Perry will earn the starting spot opposite Matthews. Perry led the PAC-12 in sacks last year with 9.5.

Backup LBs: With Bishop and Hawk missing a combined five games last year, a couple of linebackers, including the previously mentioned D.J. Smith, got valuable playing experience in their absence. D.J. Reserve linebacker Rob Francois racked up 10 solos, 3 assists, and 1 interception in two starts last season. with Smith starting, Francois is expected to be the key backup at inside linebacker. Rookie Terrell Manning, a fifth-round pick in last year's draft, will battle for a reserve spot at inside linebacker. Erik Walden, who started 15 games last year, is likely to be a backup this year. Walden recently signed a one-year contract to remain with the Packers. Frank Zombo will battle for playing time at outside linebacker with Brad Jones and Walden. Undrafted free agent Dezman Moses will compete for a backup spot at outside linebacker.

Defensive Backs

Starters: FS Morgan Burnett, SS Charles Woodson, CB Tramon Williams, CB Casey Hayward
Backups: CB Sam Shields, CB Davon House, CB Jarrett Bush, S Jeron McCmillian, S M.D. Jennings, CB Davon House

Starting DBs: The Packers secondary will once again be led by veteran Charles Woodson, who is now formally listed as the starting strong safety. The ageless Woodson continues to defy father time and is still one of the best playmaking defensive players in the NFL. Woodson, who will turn 36 in October, has picked off 37 passes in his six years with the Packers, including seven last year. Despite being listed as the starting strong safety, Woodson is still expected to see time at cornerback in various subpackages. Starting at free safety for the Packers will be third-year player Morgan Burnett. Burnett, who was a starter for the first time last year, racked up more than 100 solos. Last year's starting free safety, Charlie Peprah, was released in late July. Tramon Williams will start at one of the cornerback spot for the Packers. Williams has picked off 19 passes in his last four years. With Davon House suffering a shoulder injury in the first preseason game, rookie Casey Hayward is now the leading contender for the starting cornerback spot opposite Williams.

Backup DBs: Davon House was considered the leading candidate for the other starting cornerback spot, but an injured shoulder is likely to keep him out for several weeks. House, a fourth-round pick in the 2011 draft, will likely begin as a reserve once he returns from his injury. Sam Shields returns as the primary slot corner for the Packers. Shields picked off four passes last season. Jarrett Bush signed a three-year contract to remain with the Packers. Bush struggled in coverage last season and will likely spend most of his time on special teams. Jerron McMillian, a fourth-round pick in this year's draft, will contend for a backup safety spot along with M.D. Jennings.

Last modified: 2012-09-02 20:17:11

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