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2020 Team Report: Green Bay Packers

Last updated: Sat, Aug 15

Offensive Philosophy

From 2008 to 2018, Green Bay entered every season with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback and Mike McCarthy at head coach. The relationship finally soured with Rodgers reportedly blaming McCarthy's lack of creativity for recent declines in his effectiveness, so Green Bay's management brought in new coach Matt LaFleur to design an offense more to Rodgers' liking in 2019. LaFleur had links to Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan, and many wondered if he would import concepts from those two highly-regarded offensive minds. Instead he proved himself not particularly wedded to any specific scheme, calling an offense that largely resembled the one Green Bay had run the year before, but with less play action and a greater emphasis on the run. Rodgers' production didn't rebound as he'd hoped, and his touchdown rate (once one of his biggest strengths) remained below 5% for the second straight year after never previously falling below that mark. Instead those touchdowns were scored on the ground by Aaron Jones, who was among the league leaders in carries inside the 5-yard line and led the league in total touchdowns. Jones' standout performance might be short-lived as the team also likes running back Jamaal Williams and just drafted rookie AJ Dillon in the third round, leaving a backfield that has all the makings of a committee.

Quarterbacks

Starter: Aaron Rodgers
Backup(s): Jordan Love [R], Tim Boyle

Starting QB: Aaron Rodgers enters his 16th season as the Packers quarterback, coming off an appearance in the NFC Championship where Green Bay lost to the 49ers. Rodgers led the Packers to a 13-3 record, although the record was a bit misleading as Green Bay beat only two teams that made the playoffs. He was more of a caretaker of the offense than the explosive play-maker we remember from years past, throwing for 4,002 yards with 26 touchdowns and only four interceptions. In the past two seasons Rodgers has put on a masterclass in turnover avoidance, combining to throw just six interceptions on 1,166 attempts. As Rodgers interceptions dropped, so did his yards per attempt, which was the second lowest of his career at 7.0 y/a. Some of this can be explained with Rodgers entering the last stage of his career, as well as playing his first year in Matt LaFleur's offense. He had played under Mike McCarthy for his entire career before 2019, so some growing pains were to be expected. Rodgers managed the offense admirably, which allowed Aaron Jones to have his breakout season while giving his quarterback a legitimate game-breaker out of the backfield. The Packers had serious depth issues at the wide receiver position behind Davante Adams. Marquez Valdes-Scantling failed to live up to the expectations set after a solid rookie season in 2018, while Equanimeous St. Brown and Geranimo Allison struggled to make an impact while on the field. Jimmy Graham looked like he was playing in cement shoes for most of the season, and just couldn't make the plays down the field that we had seen earlier in his career. The one bright spot was second year wide receiver Allan Lazard, who finished with 35 receptions for 477 yards and three touchdowns in 11 games. That should tell you something about the lack of play-makers behind Adams, as Lazard started out as the Packers #6 receiver before out-playing Allison, Valdes-Scantling and St.Brown. Rodgers is still playing at an elite level, but he is at the mercy of the players around him. Conventional wisdom would think that the Packers would be in win-now mode and upgrade the wide receiver position through the draft, especially with an incredibly deep wide receiver class. One would be wrong though, as the Packers drafted their potential Rodgers successor in Jordan Love. The value in the Love pick was great, and the Packers desperately needed some depth behind Rodgers. With that said, the Packers made the NFC Championship game last season and their lone addition to the offense in free agency was Devin Funchess (and he opted out of the season). Furthermore, the Packers drafted AJ Dillon in the Rodgers can only do so much, and unless the Packers get a breakout season from someone other than Adams, it looks as though this team will again depend heavily on the Jones and Adams duo, which limits the impact that Rodgers can have in the passing game. His statistics will most likely never reach the highs of the late aughts, but Rodgers is a winner and understands how to manage an offense and move the ball. He projects to be in the middle of the second tier of fantasy quarterbacks.

Backup QB: The Packers traded the #30 pick to the Dolphins for the #26 pick and a fourth rounder for the rights to draft Utah State quarterback Jordan Love. Love was a polarizing prospect, with some experts projecting him to go in the top 15 picks, while others pointed to his disappointing 2019 season where he threw 20 touchdowns to 17 interceptions, making him more of a day two prospect. Standing at 6'4, Love has the prototypical size to go along with incredible arm talent. He is very good on the move and can easily throw down the field while moving outside the pocket. He struggles with accuracy though, which mirrors another recent Mountain West quarterback in Josh Allen. A popular comparison has been Patrick Mahomes, but it is clear to me that Mahomes was much more polished and pro-ready coming out of college than Love. The value on Love was very, very good, but the fit might not match the value. If Rodgers could not get his receivers to make plays down the field, it will be difficult for Love to take advantage of his biggest strength. His lack of elite accuracy also makes you wonder whether Love could make much of an impact if Rodgers were to get injured. That in itself is a big problem, as the Packers have Super Bowl hopes and could have used an injection of talent at the wide receiver position. Love will battle undrafted free agent Tim Boyle for the #2 spot behind Rodgers. Boyle spent his rookie season on the Packers active roster, but was only active for three games in 2019, where he completed three of four passes for 15 yards. Looking at his collegiate production, Boyle also struggled with accuracy problems which does not bode well for the Packers offense if they were to play without Rodgers. This offense could really use another veteran quarterback.

Running Backs

Starter: Aaron Jones
Backup(s): Jamaal Williams, AJ Dillon [R], Dexter Williams, Tyler Ervin
Fullback(s):

Starting RB: After putting up explosive numbers in limited attempts his first two seasons in the NFL, the Packers committed to Jones as their workhorse running back. All he did was rush was for 1,084 yards on 236 attempts (4.6 ypc) with 16 rushing touchdowns. Jones was also dangerous in the passing game, catching 49 passes for 474 yards and three touchdowns. Jones production correlated directly to his opportunity, as the Packers gave him 15+ carries five times and he ran for 100+ yards in each of those weeks. Jones had five multiple touchdown games, including a four touchdown game against the Cowboys. Jones most impressive game came against the Super Bowl Champion Chiefs though. He rushed 13 times for 67 yards, but destroyed the Chiefs in the passing game, catching seven passes for 159 yards and two touchdowns. This showed off Jones versatility and his savvy as a route runner, and solidified his spot as a top tier fantasy running back. With Jones entering the final year of his contract, the Packers spent an early day two pick on running back AJ Dillon. The Packers would be crazy not to give Jones a full compliment of touches in the rushing and passing game though, he is too explosive and on a team devoid of play-makers, he is a key piece to this offense.

Backup RBs: Jamaal Williams has the inside track on the #2 running back spot after backing up Jones in 2019. Williams had a very productive season, rushing 107 times for 460 yards and a touchdown, while also catching 39 passes for 253 yards and five touchdowns. Williams does not have the play-making ability of Jones, but he is extremely consistent and versatile. Additionally, the Packers trust him to protect Rodgers in passing situations, a key skill-set in whomever wants to win the back up job. Williams is also entering the final year of his rookie contract, so the Packers spent the #62 pick on Boston College running back AJ Dillon. Dillon had an impressive collegiate career, rushing for 1,000+ yards in each of his three seasons while amassing 845 career carries. At 250 lbs, Dillon is a big back, but he's also very athletic, running a 4.5 40 at the NFL Combine to go along with a 41 inch vertical. The one thing missing from Dillon's game is a proven ability to contribute in the passing game, having caught just 21 passes in the past two seasons. He did impress scouts with his route-running at the NFL Combine though, so it will be interesting to see whether that translates when it comes time for Dillon to take the field. Dexter Williams and Tyler Ervin will compete for what will most likely be the last spot on the Packers roster. The Packers have depth issues at wide receiver though, so I don't see them carrying four running backs on the active roster.

Fullback:

Wide Receivers

Starters: Davante Adams, Allen Lazard
Backups: Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Equanimeous St. Brown, Jake Kumerow

Starting WRs: After breaking out in 2018 with a 111 catch, 1,386 yard and 13 touchdown season, Davante Adams took a step back in 2019, catching 83 passes for 997 yards and five touchdowns on 127 targets. His decreased production can be explained by an injury that sidelined him for four games, as well as the growing pains of playing under a first year coach in Matt LaFleur. Adams yards per catch (12.0 ypc), yards per target (7.9 ypt) and catch percentage (65.4%) were all very close to his breakout season in 2018, so it is safe to say that Adams remains a top tier fantasy wide receiver. His consistency and target volume are elite and matched by only a few wide receivers. Going into his second year in LaFleur's offense, Adams will continue to produce big numbers and give fantasy managers a plug and play #1 wide receiver. The Packers lack of quality depth at wide receiver can be directly attributed to Valdes-Scantling, St. Brown and former Packer Geronimo Allison not developing quickly enough to make an impact on game day. This led to an opportunity for Alan Lazard to step into the #2 receiver spot in 2019, which resulted in a 35 catch, 477 yard and three touchdown season for Lazard (11 games). Lazard had his biggest game of the season against the Giants where he caught three passes for 103 yards and a touchdown. At 6'5, 227 lbs, Lazard has the size to make plays down the field despite his average speed, and advanced analytics support this as he was able to catch 82.5% of his passes in the four games where his average target depth was 10+ yards. He has the inside track on the #2 receiver spot and will benefit from the increased attention that defenses will have to pay toward Adams and Jones.

Backup WRs: As the primary downfield target for the Packers, Marquez Valdes-Scantling was supposed to be a breakout candidate in 2019, but his inconsistency led to him getting passed by Lazard midway through the season. Valdes-Scantling caught 26 passes for 452 yards and three touchdowns, with an impressive 17.3 yards per catch average. However, with a catch percentage of just 46.4%, he could not be counted on by Rodgers, which led to him catching just five passes in the Packers final nine games. St. Brown is another big bodied receiver at 6'5, 214 lbs, but after showing glimpses of play-making ability in his rookie season, he missed all of 2019 due to injury. The Packers will most likely carry at least five receivers on game day, but will only play three consistently, so St. Brown will have to have an impressive training camp to put himself into position to play on Sundays. Jake Kumerow is an overachiever and a great story as an undrafted free agent, so it was no surprise the Packers brought him back on a minimum salary for 2020. The most important thing for a young receiver to do is gain Rodgers trust, and Kumerow--despite his lack of pedigree and elite athleticism--has managed to do just that. Rodgers has consistently talked about how Kumerow is always in the right spot and understands how Rodgers wants him to run his routes. That means a lot, especially when you put it into the context of Rodgers highlighting Kumerow while talking about the other young receivers not doing the right things. The battle for the #3 receiver spot in Green Bay will be one of the most important story lines during training camp, but I don't see this offense supporting three fantasy wide receivers. When you factor in Jones role in the passing game, and the potential for the tight end position to have a consistent presence, it is hard to see any of these receivers having a breakout season unless an injury occurs to Adams.

Tight Ends

Starters: Jace Sternberger
Backups: Marcedes Lewis, Robert Tonyan, Josiah Deguara [R]

Jace Sternberger enters his second season as a pro with the inside track on the starting tight end job. Sternberger is unproven, but he comes into the season with some momentum having caught his first NFL touchdown in the Packers NFC Championship loss to the 49ers. Sternberger fits the mold of the modern tight end with the ability to line up all over and the speed to stretch the middle of the field. LaFleur plans to play Sternberger in the slot, which will allow the young tight end to use his speed against linebackers, making him a potential matchup problem for opposing defenses. Sternberger will need to prove himself as a blocker though, as the Packers won't risk playing him consistently unless he can protect Rodgers and be on the field when the Packers are running the ball. Marcedes Lewis is a consummate pro that brings a veteran presence to a tight end group that include second and third year players and a rookie in Josiah Deguara. Lewis won't have a big role on this team, but he is still dangerous in the red zone and could be used in specific packages that take advantage of his height (6'7). Robert Tonyan was signed as a minimum salary free agent, and worked hard to get himself on the field in spot duty in 2019. He made plays when Rodgers went his way, but he doesn't have the full compliment of skills to be their #1 tight end. The Packers spent the 92nd pick of the 2020 draft on Cincinnati tight end Josiah Deguara. Deguara is an interesting prospect, as he has the ability and versatility to line up either at tight end or as an h-back in the backfield. LaFleur comes from the Sean McVay/Kyle Shanahan coaching tree, and both coaches place an emphasis on creating matchup problems in the form of tight ends and h-backs. Deguara fits that mold well, and with the Packers lacking a true fullback, Deguara has a real chance to contribute in his rookie season. The Packers need playmakers, and it is telling that they spent a third round pick on Deguara.

Place Kicker

Mason Crosby: Crosby celebrated the offseason with a new three-year, $12.9 million dollar extension that shows he is established as he ever has been despite a few rough spots during his 13-year tenure in Green Bay. He had his best year ever in field goal conversion percentage, making 22 of 24 kicks, including 7 of 8 from 40-49 yards. He also made 40 of 41 extra point attempts. Crosby should be selected in the 8th-10th kicker range and he's a strong option if he's available in the final round of the draft.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Tremon Smith, Tyler Ervin

The Packers return last year's top two returners in Tremon Smith and Tyler Ervin. Both players split duties and have experience returning both types of kicks, so Green Bay may opt to cut one and give all return duties to the other, or they may keep both and use Smith more on kickoffs and Ervin more on punts.

Punt Returners: Tyler Ervin, Tremon Smith

The Packers return last year's top two returners in Tremon Smith and Tyler Ervin. Both players split duties and have experience returning both types of kicks, so Green Bay may opt to cut one and give all return duties to the other, or they may keep both and use Smith more on kickoffs and Ervin more on punts.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: OT David Bakhtiari, OG Elgton Jenkins, C Corey Linsley, OG Billy Turner, OT Rick Wagner
Key Backups: OL Lane Taylor, OL Jon Runyan Jr. [R], OL Lucas Patrick, OL Jake Hanson [R]

Left tackle David Bakhtiari (All Pro second team) leads this zone scheme offensive line. Both guards are effective getting to the second level. There is one new starter as right tackle Rick Wagner replaces long time fixture Bryan Bulaga. The team used two six round picks this spring on tackle Jon Runyan Jr. from Michigan, and center Jake Hanson from Oregon.

Team Defense

Left tackle David Bakhtiari (All Pro second team) leads this zone scheme offensive line. Both guards are effective getting to the second level. There is one new starter as right tackle Rick Wagner replaces long time fixture Bryan Bulaga. The team used two six round picks this spring on tackle Jon Runyan Jr. from Michigan, and center Jake Hanson from Oregon.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Dean Lowry, NT Kenny Clark, DE Tyler Lancaster
Backups: DE Jonathan Garvin [R], DE Kingsley Keke, NT Montravius Adams

Starting DL: Dean Lowry was extended a few days before Mike Daniels was released last year, but Lowry's inconsistent play since signing the multiyear deal has made the team second guess whether or not that was the correct move. The Packers completed a four-year extension with Kenny Clark. Clark has developed into a stellar option on the interior of the line. Tyler Lancaster will return to his prior position on the defensive line. Lancaster recently told PackersNews that he has been challenged by not having access to the football facility due to COVID-19 and is working with his personal trainer to find ways he can maintain his strength and conditioning at home.

Backup DL: The team will need to start getting contributions from some of their picks from recent drafts. Green Bay needs Kingsley Keke to be better, but that will be difficult with the lack of an offseason program. Keke saw limited time in his first year, but did show some reasons for optimism when he got snaps late in the year. Montravius Adams has not developed as the team hoped and remains a backup option at this point. If he does not graduate into the run-stuffer that they hoped he would be, we may see them move on after this year. Late-round rookie selection Jonathan Garvin is a speed rusher who may also have the versatility to play rush linebacker.

Linebackers

Starters: ILB Christian Kirksey, ILB Oren Burks, OLB Za'Darius Smith, OLB Preston Smith
Backups: ILB Curtis Bolton, ILB Ty Summers, ILB Kamal Martin [R], OLB Rashan Gary

Starting LBs: The starting group has only one major change, which is that Blake Martinez left in free agency and the team signed former Brown Christian Kirksey to take his place. Considering that the Packers' front three remains a weakness, Kirksey will be expected to tally tackles at a high rate. Oren Burks has had trouble staying healthy and missed the early portion of 2019 with a pectoral injury. So far, he also has not been the dynamic coverage linebacker that the team would like him to be. Za'Darius Smith and Preston Smith were both big hits after signing in free agency last year and remain the strength of this unit. The pair combined for a whopping 29.5 sacks.

Backup LBs: This group remains unsettled and we can expect competition when football activity resumes. Curtis Bolton was in line to start last year to fill in for the injured Oren Burks, but tore his ACL. He will look toward another shot at playing time if Burks once again gets unlucky with injuries. Ty Summers had strong productivity on special teams last year, which may lead to a greater opportunity if one of the starters falters. Green Bay drafted Kamal Martin in the fifth round of the Draft this year. Martin does not excel as a coverage linebacker, but may be used on early downs to plug up gaps and stop runs, similar to what Benardrick McKinney does in Houston. With Za'darius Smith and Preston Smith playing so well, the Packers have the luxury of letting Rashan Gary continue to develop. Packers GM Brian Gutekunst said of Gary in a recent interview, "I disagree with [the claim that he didn't contribute much]. I thought he contributed quite a bit. He was behind two really good players so he didn't see probably the normal snap time that you would see from a first-round draft pick. But when he was in there, I thought he affected the game."

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Jaire Alexander, CB Kevin King, SS Adrian Amos, FS Darnell Savage
Backups: CB Josh Jackson, CB Ka'dar Hollman, SS Scott Vernon [R], FS Will Redmond

Starting DBs: There are no changes to the starting group and it appears that Green Bay has finally found some continuity with the secondary after years of struggling. Alexander led the team with 23 passes defensed and King led his squad with five interceptions. Darnell Savage missed two games in his rookie year, but was otherwise everything the Packers hoped for out of their rookie free safety. 2019 free agent acquisition Adrian Amos was also a pillar on the defense, both as a tackler and in coverage responsibilities.

Backup DBs: Josh Jackson, a second-round pick in 2018 from Iowa, hurt his foot last offseason, which was a setback to his development. He played well on special teams, but will have much to prove headed into his third year. Ka'dar Hollman, a sixth-rounder last year out of Toledo, also made special teams contributions in the four games in which he was active last season. Texas Christian University's Scott Vernon was the Packers' seventh-rounder and Gutekunst sang his praises after selecting him. "We really like his versatility," said Gutekunst. "He's got a little bit of that ability to play safety but he can cover in the slot a little bit. He's a little of a late bloomer, some struggles to get through the early part of his college career but once he took off this year, we just really liked his upside." Will Redmond was certainly re-signed for depth purposes and is one of the Packers' top special-teams players.