Greg Jennings has had a pretty good run as one of the more reliable receivers in fantasy football. From 2007 to 2011, Jennings averaged 70 yards per game or better every year, and averaged 10 touchdowns every 16 games. Over that five-year stretch, only Larry Fitzgerald, Roddy White, Calvin Johnson, and Reggie Wayne bettered Jennings' 830 total fantasy points. Entering the 2012 season, Jennings had a bright future and a price tag to match, as only seven wide receivers boasted a higher average draft position. Unfortunately for his owners, the year didn't play out quite as anticipated; Jennings injured his groin in week one and the lingering injury kept him off the field for half the season, leaving him limited even when he did play. In Jennings' absence, receivers Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, and James Jones all seized the opportunity to shine, which combined with Jennings' expiring contract to give the Packers the confidence to move on without him. After some delay, Jennings landed with the rival Minnesota Vikings, who had a Percy Harvin-sized hole at the top of their receiver depth chart after trading their star to the Seattle Seahawks. The result is that, in the course of a single season, Jennings has transitioned from reliable star to wildcard, with an average draft position that currently places him as the 26th wide receiver off the board. How much of the uncertainty surrounding Greg Jennings can we carefully peel back, and how much is destined to remain until we see him in action?
What We Know
We know that Greg Jennings is a good receiver. He has made two pro bowls in his career, and managed to maintain his role as the top option in a stacked depth chart for half a decade, despite facing competition from quality receivers such as Nelson, Jones, Donald Driver, and Jermichael Finley. Minnesota valued Jennings highly enough to offer him a five year, $45 million contract with $18 million guaranteed- a very nice payday for a 29 year old receiver coming off of injury. We also know that the competition in Minnesota won't be nearly as fierce as it was in Green Bay. Other than Jennings, Minnesota's most experienced receiver is Jerome Simpson, with 97 receptions in his five year career. Jarius Wright has 22 career receptions, Steven Burton has 7, and quarterback-turned-receiver Joe Webb has just one reception to his name. Minnesota traded back into the first round of the 2013 draft to select receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, but he's just as raw, with only one season and 46 receptions in college. Greg Jennings has talent, has more experience than the rest of Minnesota's receivers combined, and has the kind of financial commitment you'd expect a team to give to its top receiver. Jennings is the kind of consistent route-runner that is vital to the development of good habits in young quarterbacks, and he has enough short-area quickness and straight-line speed to command the defense's respect in all phases of the passing game. We also know that Greg Jennings has made his living to this point deeper down the field. Among top receivers, Greg Jennings' 15.4 career yards per reception ranks only behind deep-ball specialists Vincent Jackson, Mike Wallace, Desean Jackson, and Victor Cruz, youngsters Julio Jones and Kenny Britt, and the transcendent Calvin Johnson. This would appear to be a poor fit for new quarterback Christian Ponder, who had the shortest average depth of target in the league last year at a mere 6.8 yards past the line of scrimmage. Percy Harvin, Minnesota's previous top receiver, was on average targeted fewer than three yards beyond the line of scrimmage. While Greg Jennings certainly has the skill set required for a shorter passing game, he's never before been featured in that role on a consistent basis.
What We Don't Know
We know that Jennings is good, but we don't know just how good. It's difficult to tease apart his success from that of Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, the two Hall-of-Fame-caliber signal callers Greg Jennings has been lucky enough to work with. Both quarterbacks have quite the history of getting sterling production from a whole host of different wide receivers. By contrast, Jennings' new quarterback, Christian Ponder, represents a pretty significant downgrade. In 2012, Christian Ponder was 31st out of the 32 qualifying quarterbacks in yards per attempt, beating only the much-maligned Blaine Gabbert. As bad as that is, it could have been even worse; after losing Percy Harvin, Ponder's statistics dropped even further, to the point where Minnesota averaged more yards per rush than they averaged per pass. Despite the superlative play of Adrian Peterson keeping defenses on their heels, Minnesota ranked 31st in passing yards in 2012. Harvin led the team in receptions and yards despite appearing in just nine games. Minnesota's second-leading receiver was tight end Kyle Rudolph, who failed to top 500 receiving yards. Jennings will have his work cut out for him if he's going to turn around Minnesota's woeful passing game. Fortunately, if Ponder continues to struggle, Minnesota has one of the most experienced backups in the league in journeyman Matt Cassel, who should be capable of stepping up and performing competently if needed.
- Greg Jennings never has to worry about being the primary focus of the defense as long as he's sharing the field with Adrian Peterson.
- Jennings faces little meaningful competition at the receiver position, and should easily lead the team in targets, receptions, and yards.
- Jennings has a track record of success, and was viewed as a top 10 wide receiver as recently as last season.
- As the 26th receiver off the board, Jennings offers more upside at his draft position than he has in years.
- Minnesota is not Green Bay; the Vikings' passing game is one of the worst in the league.
- Jennings has historically been at his best working downfield, a role which does not play into quarterback Christian Ponder's strengths.
- Kyle Rudolph, while not prolific between the 20s, is a proven red zone threat and will compete with Jennings for receiving touchdowns.
While Jennings' history of production and lack of competition should make him an appealing target, especially at his current bargain prices, it seems the fantasy community is finding it difficult to get too excited about his prospects. Touchdowns will be much harder to come by in Minnesota, but the targets he's in line for should make him a consistent, reliable performer on a weekly basis. Greg Jennings projects as a very solid fantasy WR3 this season, and could even pass as a weak WR2 if you ignore the receiver position in your draft to focus your resources elsewhere.
Remember how Alex Smith refused to throw the ball down the field when he was in San Francisco? Well, Smith had a 7.7-yard average depth of target in 2012. Ponder had a 6.8-yard average depth of target, which was far and away the lowest of all starting quarterbacks. Ponder has a small arm, which was exacerbated in 2012 by a lack of real downfield threats outside of Harvin. Harvin, too, found himself at the bottom of the aDOT list at wide receiver despite his home-run speed. Ponder simply didn’t take shots. He threw 36 passes 20 or more yards downfield. That’s 15 fewer than Ryan Fitzpatrick, who threw the second-fewest of the 33 attempts-qualified quarterbacks.
The thing about Jennings, though, is he’s tremendous in the slot. In 2011, his last healthy season, Jennings ran 49.8 percent of his routes in the slot, and out of 45 receivers with 15 or more slot targets, he was one of just 11 receivers to have a catch rate over 70 percent. Despite the contrast in their physical makeup, that production is remarkably similar to Harvin’s in 2012.
Jason Wood breaks down Jennings' skills and situation in the Shark Pool
I agree that Jennings is too quickly dismissed by those who see the Packers plug and play receivers with reckless abandon. He's a gifted receiver with great hands, proven YAC ability, runs precise routes, and can track the ball down in traffic. He profiles as a true #1 and is hardly too old to think he doesn't have productive seasons left in the tank. That being said, I really don't like the landing spot because I struggle with Ponder vs. Rodgers (and Matt Cassel as the backup) and what's sure to be a run heavy offense. Jennings should get plenty of targets, but can Ponder be an effective downfield passer? Remember, before Jennings' last two partial (injury stricken) seasons, he was a 16 yards per catch guy who worked the outside effectively. That's what the Vikings are paying him to be, I'm just not convinced they have the quarterbacks to make that happen.
Poster griff321 discusses the tendencies of Minnesota's coaching staff in the Shark Pool
This coaching staff has a track record of using a variety of ways to get the ball into the hands of playmakers and do it often. They didn't pay Jennings all that money to just line up outside and run deep routes. Make no mistake the Vikings will get him the ball and often, and because of Ponder's inabilities we'll see the vast majority of his attempts be short high percentage completion plays. We'll see Jennings moved all around the formation and used in bubble screens. Jennings certainly has the knowledge to play from any spot, will get open due to precise route running, and the talent to rack up YAC.
GREG JENNINGS PROJECTIONS
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Dynasty, in Theory: Thinking Like a Bayesian - September 9
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Dynasty, in Theory: Musings on Confirmation Bias - September 2
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Dynasty, in Theory: The Components of Player Value - August 14
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