This series of articles will examine the fantasy impact of the offseason moves, both via free agency and through the NFL Draft.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers are once again a favorite for the Super Bowl. While the NFC West teams have garnered most of the spotlight, Green Bay still has all of the tools to make a strong run for the Lombardi Trophy.
Aaron Rodgers has produced at a high level since Brett Favre left Wisconsin. He is one of the safer fantasy players, with a strong cache of weapons at his disposal. Matt Flynn and Scott Tolzien will battle for the right to hold the clipboard. Neither are fantasy factors, even if Rodgers misses time. Tolzien seems to have a slim lead at the time of this writing.
Green Bay caused heads to turn last year by selecting both Eddie Lacy and Jonathan Franklin in the first four rounds of April's NFL Draft. Lacy went on to have a great rookie campaign. Franklin is already out of football. Having Lacy play so well only helps the passing game. James Starks will play behind Lacy. Even though he has been a reserve for a few years, Starks is a good player and has been a fantasy starter when starting games. DuJuan Harris was injured for most of 2013 but could push Starks for carries when healthy.
The Packers are loaded at the wide receiver position, even with James Jones departing for Oakland in free agency. Greg Jennings left a year ago, and the team is still very strong at the receiver position, even with these two losses. It is a testament to the excellent drafting of receivers for Green Bay. Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb make up one of the best duos in the NFL. What makes the pair special is the ability of each to line up in different spots on the field. Jarrett Boykin played the third receiver role last year and was consistent, yet unspectacular. Of the three, only Nelson is under contract beyond this season. Behind this talented trio is a group of youngsters waiting for an opportunity to emerge. In years past, the Green Bay fourth receiver has emerged to be a fantasy factor after an injury to one of the starters. Davante Adams was selected to grow into one of the starter jobs in 2015. He is best suited for the slot receiver position, currently held by Cobb. Fellow rookies Jeff Janis and injured Jared Abbrederis will be groomed. Myles White is fighting for a roster spot.
Jermichael Finley is currently out of football with a neck injury. His void will be shared by rookie Richard Rodgers, Andrew Quarless, and Brandon Bostick. Rodgers is the slight favorite at this point after a few great catches in training camp. With previous success at the position, the Packers starter could be a fantasy-relevant player. Colt Lyerla went undrafted due to several red flags off the field. He has been hurt and is a longshot to make the team.
Cutler has been much-maligned since the trade from Denver. Trestman's new offense has helped Cutler's decision-making. The quarterback has always had a strong arm. Jordan Palmer and Jimmy Clausen were brought in to compete for the backup job. Trestman has improved Clausen enough that he looks like the favorite at this point. David Fales was drafted for Trestman to groom.
Matt Forte is one of the more underrated fantasy tailbacks. He is the unquestioned starter and will get plenty of carries and receptions. Shaun Draughn was brought in from Kansas City to compete for the backup job and has outplayed the competition so far. Rookie KaDeem Carey and Michael Ford are also in the mix. It is expected that Carey will soon overtake Draughn but that is far from certain. While talented, this group – especially Forte – will need improved play from the offensive line in order to be consistently productive on the ground.
After his trade from Miami, Brandon Marshall instantly upgraded the receiver group, which was toward the bottom of the league previously. Trestman's was able to get Marshall open often and Cutler delivered. Ashlon Jeffery had an awesome season in 2013 as the opposing defenses were focused on stopping Forte and Marshall. Marquess Wilson was slated for the third receiver role, but was injured a couple of weeks ago. He is slated to be back in the lineup early November. Santonio Holmes was signed off the street this past weekend to fill that void. Josh Morgan is also in the mix for playing time until Wilson returns.
Coach Leslie Frazier was sent packing after the season. He was replaced by the Bengals defensive coordinator, Mike Zimmer. Zimmer was also able to get Norv Turner to join him as the offensive coordinator. Once again, the Vikings playoff chances hinge on Adrian Peterson more than the quarterback or the aging defense. For this reason, Minnesota is a long shot to win the division … no matter what happens in Green Bay. The quarterback play and defense are simply not yet at the level to win those types of games.
Most new coaches want to bring in their own quarterback. Zimmer drafted Teddy Bridgewater to be “his” guy. Expect Minnesota to bring Bridgewater along slowly. Matt Cassel could start the season under center with Bridgewater taking the reins a few games into the season. Christian Ponder is the third quarterback. This will soon be Bridgewater's team. He is accurate and efficient.
Adrian Peterson is so good that we sometimes take him for granted. Peterson will go down in NFL history as one of the best ever to play the game. He is healthy and primed for another run at the rushing record. After Toby Gerhart left for Jacksonville, Minnesota drafted Jerick McKinnon in the NFL Draft. McKinnon will develop into a solid back, able to contribute both on the ground and through the air. Matt Asiata is back for depth purposes but little else.
Last year, Minnesota signed Greg Jennings from the Packers to serve as the Vikings top receiver. He produced much better numbers with Cassel under center a year ago than Ponder. Expect second-year Cordarrelle Patterson to have a growing role in the offense. Patterson is a big playmaker who is still raw and needs much polish. The coaching staff will look to take advantage of his penchant for big plays. Patterson is a physically gifted player and a threat with the ball in his hands. Jarius Wright and Jerome Simpson will vie to make the final roster. Jennings and Patterson could each be fantasy starters most weeks.
Norv Turner's reputation for using the tight end position has led to high expectations for Kyle Rudolph. He is a solid red-zone threat and will be a security blanket for either quarterback. Rudolph's role will be increased over the 2013 season, yet likely fall short of expectations. Rhett Ellison looks to be his backup.
The Lions have been a tease the last few years, having the talent but never able to put it all together for a playoff run. Detroit has added talent on both sides of the ball and could improve enough to make the playoffs this season. Veteran coordinator Jim Caldwell is the new head coach, but the jury is still out if the coaching change will produce more wins.
Matthew Stafford is back to lead the offense. The past few years, Stafford has thrown often as the defense was non-existent and this created a large number of garbage-time pass attempts. It is difficult to see the former Georgia star having another season like the one in 2011 (5,038 passing yards and a 41/16 touchdown/interception ratio). The improved weapons give hope that Stafford will not be forced into targeting his superstar receiver so often that the throws are low percentage passes. The young quarterback is backed up by Kellen Moore and Dan Orlovsky. Neither are as good as Shaun Hill, who signed with the Rams in free agency.
Reggie Bush was misused by the previous regime. It remains to be seen whether Caldwell and company will find ways to get Bush the ball in space. Bush still has plenty of burst to make big plays. Joique Bell is working his way into a larger role. Keep an eye on Bell if Bush goes down to injury. He could be an every-down back. Mikel Leshoure is a pounding back buried on the roster and hoping to find a role and keep his job. Theo Riddick could play before Leshoure. He offers a unique set of skills for the backfield. This is a strong group of running backs.
Calvin Johnson is the top receiver in football. He makes plays other pass catchers only dream about. Johnson will continue to be double-and even triple-teamed. Golden Tate was signed to add a big-play receiver in order to keep defenses honest. Tate could have a productive season with defenses focused on stopping (or slowing down) Johnson. Nate Burleson was allowed to leave in free agency and he signed in Cleveland. Ryan Broyles finally looks healthy. Adding Broyles to the mix in the slot can only help Johnson's ability to get open. Battling for playing time will be Corey Fuller, T.J. Jones, Kris Durham, and Kevin Ogletree.
Brandon Pettigrew will be the starting tight end once again. He will be a blocker this season as Detroit drafted Eric Ebron in the first round of the NFL Draft to help in the passing game. He will start when ready, but blocking is a weakness. Joseph Fauria returns and adds another good red-zone target for Stafford.
This division is the Packers to lose. Only injuries to key players would allow the Bears a chance to sneak in for the division title. The other two are tightly grouped and each has a solid chance to make the postseason. The defensive play in Minnesota and Detroit will determine those teams' win totals.
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