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Spotlight: Greg Jennings

posted by Jason Wood on Jul 25th


Jason Wood's thoughts

Once a player reaches a certain level of success, and does so repeatedly, fantasy owners tend to lock them in for similar productivity each and every year until either a) they get hurt or b) they get too old. While we can never project injuries, we can say that Greg Jennings has been relatively healthy throughout his career, appearing in all 16 games in each of the last three seasons. At 27 years old (he'll be 28 in September), he's also in his prime, and we need not worry about Father Time sneaking up on him in the 2011 season. So with neither injury nor age being of particular concern, it's no surprise that most fantasy owners view Jennings as a high end fantasy WR1 this season -- a position he's maintained in two of the last three years.

I could spend a few thousand words extolling Jennings' virtues, but that's not really the relevant fantasy question. Jennings enters his 6th year coming off his best season (76 receptions for 1,265 yards and 12 TDs), his first Pro Bowl nod, and most importantly -- his first Super Bowl ring. With a current ADP of 18th overall, and WR6, Jennings is going to be drafted by SOMEONE by the end of the 2nd round in the vast majority of leagues. The question at hand is whether YOU should be the one considering Jennings at that position?

My general draft strategy is to focus on quality players with high floors in the first few rounds, followed by high upside, higher risk players as the draft progresses. Generally drafts tend to follow what happened last season, and yet we know that there's always considerable turnover among the fantasy elite from year to year. The best way to protect against that (in my view) is to draft guys with proven track records -- players that have been elite more than once, remain in ideal situations, are still in their primes and are healthy. Jennings fits all those criteria:

Proven Track Record
Jennings has started 68 games in five years, and has overtaken Donald Driver as the Packers most productive pass catcher. In the three years Aaron Rodgers has been under center, Jennings has been a picture of consistency:

Year Gms Recs Yds YPR TDs
2008 16 80 1,292 16.2 9
2009 16 68 1,113 16.4 4
2010 16 76 1,265 16.6 12

Two elite fantasy seasons in the last three, and a 2009 season sandwiched in between where he ranked a respectable 21st in spite of being nicked up (he only started 13 games) and scoring just 4 touchdowns. I would consider 2009 to be his floor, and I would submit to you that very few receivers on draft day have a floor that high, as WR21 is effectively an every week starter in any league format.

Remains In An Ideal Situation
A receiver is ultimately only as good as his quarterback, just ask Larry Fitzgerald last year. I shouldn't need to explain that Aaron Rodgers has become one of the NFL's most productive passers, and like Jennings he's in his prime. Rodgers has averaged 4,131 yards and 29 TDs, while completing 64% of his passes in three years as a starter. He's also mobile and able to keep plays alive, which plays right into Jennings' downfield speed. There have been many times over the last three seasons when Rodgers has evaded a pass rusher, only to find Jennings downfield for a big gain. Not only is Jennings benefitting from a great quarterback, the coaching staff remains intact, which establishes not only continuity, but assurances that the team will continue to call his number. As if you needed more convincing, let's remember that Jennings can't be schemed out by opposing defensive coordinators, because the Packers have weapons all over the field -- especially if TE Jermichael Finley returns 100% healthy after missing 3/4ths of last year.

But isn't Jermichael Finley a threat to Jennings' elite status?

In preparing this Spotlight, I was stunned at some of the comments I saw regarding TE Jermichael Finley and his impact on Jennings. Essentially critics argued that Jennings was "exposed" last year when Finley was on the field, and it was only after he got hurt that Jennings became productive again. The fear being that with Finley back and, presumably healthy, for a full season, Jennings could be set up for a major fall off. This "concern" is a great case for why fantasy owners HAVE to look beyond the simple box score. If you simply looked at your fantasy box scores last year, you too might worry that Finley was a thorn in Jennings' side.

To wit:

Weeks Recs Yards YPR TDs
1-4(withFinley) 3.0 40.3 13.42 0.75
5-16(w/oFinley) 5.3 92.0 17.25 0.75

Unfortunately for those who think they've uncovered a perfect reason to avoid Jennings, and fortunately for those of you with a bit more insight, these headline stats paint the wrong picture. In the first month, when Jennings had just 12 receptions, he was targeted 26 times (the same number of targets as Finley). The problem wasn't that Finley stole targets; the problem was that Jennings UNCHARACTERISTICALLY failed to catch the passes thrown his way.

Catch Rate

  • 2008 = 57.1%
  • 2009 = 58.0%
  • 2010 (Weeks 1-4) = 46.2%
  • 2010 (Weeks 5-17) = 66.0%
  • 2010 (Total) = 61.8%

We have to remember that a month may feel like an eternity when your players are not living up to preseason expectations, but it's still a very small sample size. All players have periods where they perform below established baselines, and Jennings ended up with a season right in line (if not slightly better) than is typical of him.

The bottom line is that Finley return should BENEFIT Jennings, not harm him. First of all, while Finley is athletic, he makes his living in another part of the field as a tight end. There will be times when Finley is asked to stretch the defense, particularly when he's mismatched against a linebacker who won't be able to stay with him downfield, but Jennings lines up outside, and Finley will make most of his hay in the middle of the field. A healthy Finley means more space for Jennings, fewer double teams, and more opportunities to get deep against single coverage.

But aren't the other receivers a problem?

Fantasy owners are a fickle bunch. When a #1 receiver has no supporting cast, they'll complain that defenses can key on them. Yet when a player like Jennings has other weapons in the lineup, they complain that he'll lose targets. Let's be clear, the Packers have plenty of other weapons. That's why the team was able to not skip a beat after losing Finley last year. Donald Driver is getting old, but is productive when healthy. Jordy Nelson emerged last year, particularly in the playoffs, as a starting caliber contributor. James Jones has his moments, and the Packers used a high pick on rookie Randall Cobb. But all that means is, again, Jennings cannot be easily schemed against. The real truth is Jones is almost assuredly signing elsewhere once free agency opens, Cobb is a rookie who will eventually be groomed to start alongside Jennings, and Driver is playing on two bum knees. Yes, the Packers have bench depth, but Jennings will be in the lineup in all formations; while the rest of the receiving corps will have to split opportunities, and rely mainly on 3WR and 4WR sets.

Positives

  • Jennings has been a top 5 receiver in two of the last three years
  • Aaron Rodgers is one of the league's best passers, and Matt Flynn is considered a high upside backup such that Jennings may not be devastated by a Rodgers injury
  • Jermichael Finley's return will make it next to impossible for defenses to key on Jennings with regularity

Negatives

  • Jennings had a WR21 seasons sandwiched in between his two elite seasons, and it all really came down to how often he found the end zone -- as we know, touchdowns are the hardest to project from year to year
  • You're going to have to invest a 2nd round pick on Jennings in most leagues -- leaving little room for upside
  • Jennings' downfield speed is an asset, but he's not going to be someone that grabs 90-100 receptions; which makes him slightly less enticing in PPR leagues as a truly elite #1 option

Final thoughts

So getting back to the question at hand -- Should you invest an early (likely 2nd round) pick on Greg Jennings? If you're someone who values consistency and lower risk options in the first few rounds, Jennings fits the bill. He's healthy, in his prime, has multiple elite seasons under his belt, has a great supporting cast, and a clear role. What's not to like? Sure, he could have another 4-5 TD season like he did in 2009, but so could ANY top tier player. Jennings wouldn't be my pick to top the fantasy standings, but as long as he stays healthy I would be shocked if he's not among the top 10 at the position in all scoring formats.


Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

smackdaddies said:

As a Packer fan, I, of course, love Greg Jennings. I also have to recognize the fact that the only "fantasy uber stud" on the Packers is Mr. Rodgers. All things revolve around aRod, and if your going to drop a first round pick on a Packer, he is the only one worthy (unless you score 1.5pts or more for TE recpt, then feel free to draft JFin).

Having said that, Jennings will clearly be a top performer on your team, with consistent scoring. He may be one of the few "sure things" when it comes to ending up a top 10 WR. Great QB? Check. Plays in a passing oriented offense? Check. #1 WR on the team? Check. Proven NFL performer? Check. Good Speed? Check. Good Hands? Check. He will not likely be the best fantasy WR, but certainly someone that will come through consistently without worry, and certainly end up top 10 scoring WR at the worst, perhaps #4/5 at best.

Not a fan of him in the first round of a 12 team or smaller league, but would be happy with him in the second.

MrTwo94 said:

Jennings has had 3 years with Aaron Rodgers and has averaged 74.7 rec, 1223.3 yds, 16.4 ypr, and 8.3 TD. I'm not one of the people who thinks Finley is due for 15 TD, but I will be surprised if Jennings ends up with double digit touchdowns with a healthy Finley and an emerging Jordy Nelson. I think those averages are a pretty good indicator of what to expect. They might be a bit optimistic if anything. Rodgers is too good of a QB to focus on one player when he has four great targets. I like Jennings as a player, but he'll never see 90 rec on that team (providing the other targets stay healthy, and even then I can't really see it).

LHUCKS said:

One of the most overrated WRs in the NFL from an overall talent perspective. Jennings and his mediocre talent have benefitted from Rodgers' passing prowess. Because he's the best WR on the team he's put up some decent stats over the years...except of course when Finley, the real talent, was on the field last year where Jennings was nearly forgotten for a four game stretch.

rzrback77 said:

I like Greg Jennings quite a lot and Aaron Rodgers even more. I understand the logic that one of the reasons Rodgers is so awesome is that he has an uncanny ability to locate the open man and is very willing to spread it around, but to me the primary targets will be Jennings and Finley. I think that those two will likely see their same amount of targets and with Rodgers, you know most targets are catchable passes.

Another season similar to recent ones is what I forecast for Greg Jennings. I agree with above posters that expecting a WR to achieve double digit TDs is a high goal and reflects well on Jennings. I believe that my projection is a safe one and that if injuries occur again to either Finley or Jordy Nelson, then I would expect more than I have projected.

Alex P. Keaton said:

Jennings isn't a perennial redzone threat. That said, did you watch the Pack in 2009? There is a very clear reason Jennings only had 4 TDs -- because the O-line was terrible, thus Jennings had minimal chances for his typical long passes. Additionally, McCarthy foolishly went to a vertical passing game early with a poor O-line, and took too long to adjust.

IMO the big factor to question this season is whether or not McCarthy learned his lesson last year. His offense was far more effective and dangerous AFTER Finley got injured, because MM had Rodgers spread the ball more to the open guy (often Jennings) instead of foolishly forcing the ball to Finley repeatedly. Don't get me wrong, Finley is incredibly talented, but the offense bogged down when Rodgers kept forcing him the ball.


Greg Jennings projections

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Jason Wood791285800
Message board consensus771209900