Faceoff: Greg Jennings
Maurile Tremblay: Fantasy prowess is the result of talent and opportunity; and after Calvin Johnson, there isn't a better wide receiver in a better situation than Greg Jennings.
Jennings' skills should not be in question. He can run the full route tree effectively. He can work the middle of the field or the sideline. He is dangerous on a quick slant, on a back-shoulder fade, or on a fly pattern. He can go up high to catch the ball, scoop it off the ground, or lay out for it. He has good concentration in traffic, will fight to rip the ball away from the defender, and seldom drops the easy ones. He can work his way open against man or zone coverage, and he works fluently with quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Aaron Rodgers and the Packers' high-flying passing offense, of course, provide an ideal environment for a fantasy receiver. Rodgers has averaged 4,259 yards passing over the past four seasons, and has finished as either the No. 1 or the No. 2 fantasy quarterback in each of those seasons. Unsurprisingly, Rodgers' success has paved the way for Jennings' success as well. Over those same four seasons, Jennings finished No. 4 at his position twice; and last year, although he missed three-and-a-half games at the end of the season with a knee injury, he was the No. 5 fantasy receiver as of week 13 after the twelve full games he did play. So when he's been in the lineup, that's three top-five seasons in four years. (His outlying season, 2009, is explained by an uncharacteristically low touchdown output: he caught only four touchdowns despite gaining 1,120 receiving yards.)
Jennings, of course, is not the only Packer receiver to enjoy fantasy success during the Aaron Rodgers era. Just last season, in fact, Jordy Nelson finished with more receptions, more yards, and more touchdowns than Jennings. Don't let that fool you into thinking that Nelson is now the Packers' top receiver, however. Nelson had a career year in 2011; but even so, in the twelve full games that Jennings played, Jennings had the advantage in targets (95 to 62), receptions (65 to 48), and receiving yards (929 to 876). (Touchdowns were a push, at nine each.)
In Jennings, therefore, we have not only stellar talent and choice opportunity, but elite past production as well. The combination makes him a bargain in the second round.
Heath Cummings: When looking over the wide receiver rankings I see Greg Jennings ranked as high as second, with an average ranking of fifth amongst all receivers. I don't see that, and some of the reasons why have nothing to do with Jennings himself.
Let's start with the Packers offense. Aaron Rodgers put together on of the best seasons the NFL has ever seen last year, throwing for over 4600 yards and 45 touchdowns in 15 games. Even so, Jennings finished 18th amongst receivers in fantasy points last season. How? Injury was a part of it, but a bigger part was the fact that Aaron Rodgers has more weapons at his disposal than any quarterback in the league. Jordy Nelson had a breakout year (1200+ yards and 15 touchdowns), Jermichael Finley had the best year of his career (700 yards and 8 touchdowns) and the trio of Randall Cobb, Donald Driver, and James Jones combined for another 1400 yards and 14 touchdowns. The point is that Jennings is still viewed by most as the number one option in Green Bay, meaning defenses focus more attention on him than anyone else. Unlike many QBs in the league, Rodgers never has to try to force the ball into a tight coverage situation because he has three or four other quality options each time he drops back.
Another factor that begins to come to the surface this year (and even more so down the line) is age. Every option I mentioned above, other than Driver, is younger than Jennings. While I certainly wouldn't say that a 29-year-old receiver is done, I do believe that Jennings probably begins that slow descent from his perch as one of the elite receivers in the game. At the same time, Nelson, Finley, and Cobb are all still on the upswing or just entering their prime.
There's another factor in my lower ranking of Jennings that has nothing to do with him, it's the changing of the guard at receiver. It's been well documented how good rookies Julio Jones and A.J. Green were last year, and I expect both of them to get better in 2012. I also think third-year wide outs Victor Cruz and Dez Bryant continue to build on their 2011 results. We've always viewed Jennings as a step below the Andre Johnson / Larry Fitzgerald level, and the influx of new talent at the receiver position has just pushed Jennings a little bit farther down the list.
As I said at the beginning, Jennings is still very good, and I expect him to have another solid (if not spectacular) year. In terms of statistics, I think 70 catches, 1100 yards and seven or eight touchdowns sound about right.