The Spotlight Series
A Footballguys Spotlight is an in-depth look at a player. His plusses and minuses are examined, and we give you our bottom-line stance on his 2022 prospects. If a player listed below doesn't yet have a link, don't worry. It's coming soon.
Towards the end of Mike McCarthy’s tenure as the Green Bay Packers head coach, murmurs of Aaron Rodgers’ downfall began to swirl. Over McCarthy’s final two years, Rodgers held a 10-12-1 record and saw a dip in passing productivity. Frustrations with the team and front office became apparent.
Then, Matt LaFleur showed up in 2019, and Rodgers saw a late-career resurgence. His 39 regular-season wins and 111 passing touchdowns are the most among any quarterback since. He’s thrown just 13 interceptions in 1,626 pass attempts. And, of course, he’s coming off back-to-back MVP awards. Rodgers rewound the clock and is playing the most efficient football of his life.
But now, heading into 2022, he’s without his primary weapon. Davante Adams was traded to the Las Vegas Raiders. Marquez Valdes-Scantling, the team’s long-time WR2, was lost in free agency as well. Rodgers heads into this season with a ragtag group of receivers. Despite finishing as the QB3 and QB6 over the last two seasons, he’s being drafted as the QB12 for the 2022 season. Fantasy managers clearly have concerns. While there is certainly reason for trepidation, recent history tells us that Rodgers will be just fine.
- He’s played better without Adams than with him since 2019
- Matt LaFleur is an innovative coach who finds creative ways to get his players open
- The elite duo of Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon will keep defenses honest
- Rodgers has lost his WR1 many times and it’s never hampered his play
How impactful are the offseason losses?
Since the start of 2019, Adams has commanded 445 targets. He turned that into 321 receptions, 3,924 yards, and 34 touchdowns. Those numbers are more than double the second closest on the team in every category. Aaron Jones saw 196 targets and 148 receptions. Valdes-Scantling caught 1,572 receiving yards. Robert Tonyan Jr and Allen Lazard are tied with 14 touchdowns each. Adams has been the engine that powered the Packers' passing game. With Valdes-Scantling also out of the picture, the situation is awfully messy.
In the games Adams started since 2019, he commanded 30.6 percent of the team’s pass attempts. For context, Cooper Kupp led the league last year with a 31.7-percent target share. Adams’ three-year average is almost as high.
Despite combining for 13 missed games in the last three years, Adams and Valdes-Scantling made up 45.2 percent of the team’s receiving yards. They have been first and second in team targets per game for consecutive seasons. Adams played the X-receiver role, serving as Rodgers’ primary read. His chemistry with Rodgers was borderline unconscious as Rodgers usually had the ball zipping in his direction before Adams would even look for it. Valdes-Scantling typically lined up across from Adams, playing the flanker role and stretching the field with his blazing speed. The passing game ran through these two receivers and running back Aaron Jones.
What wide receivers are left in Green Bay?
Allen Lazard has elite size and hands like a bear trap. Most importantly though, he has the trust of Aaron Rodgers, as evidenced by his small sample size without Adams. His odds of stepping into a more prominent role are promising, and his path to a breakout is clear. On the other hand, he’s missed over 35 percent of his career games to injury. He came into the league as an undrafted free agent four years ago and just had his first 500-yard season. And while he’s shown some flashes throughout his career, he’s never commanded more than a 15.3 percent target share. He lacks top-end speed and struggles to get off the line against press coverage.
Since Matt LaFleur took over as the Packers' head coach, we've got a 4-game sample size of what Allen Lazard did in games without Davante Adams.— Dave Kluge (@DaveKluge) June 22, 2022
9.2 fantasy points
14.8 fantasy points
The Packers traded up in this year’s draft to select Christian Watson in the second round of this year's draft. At 6-foot-4 and possessing 4.36 speed, his athleticism pops off the screen. But he was unproductive in college. Additionally, Rodgers has never favored rookie receivers. Watson struggles with the game's intricacies, including but not limited to his route-running and catching. Although his ceiling is sky-high, it will take him some time to develop into an NFL-level talent.
#1 WR #RAS 2022— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) April 13, 2022
Christian Watson is a WR prospect in the 2022 draft class. He scored a 9.96 RAS out of a possible 10.00. This ranked 12 out of 2768 WR from 1987 to 2022. https://t.co/WGDb5WN0lv #RAS pic.twitter.com/7RY1ftRPEk
The Packers signed Sammy Watkins this year. As a former first-round pick, Watkins bounced to his third team in many years. He hasn’t made it through a season without injury since his rookie year.
What about Randall Cobb? Sure, he had his time in Green Bay. But he’s going into his age-32 season. It’s been eight years since he cracked 1,000 receiving yards.
Amari Rodgers saw very little work as a rookie, and a significant step forward in Year 2 isn’t expected. Malik Taylor, Juwann Winfree, and Rico Gafford round out what is arguably the worst receiver corps in the league.
With the additions of Watson and Watkins, this group of receivers is better than what Adams has played with over the last few years when Adams has been inactive. And when Adams missed over the last few seasons, Rodgers didn't miss a beat.
Let’s check Aaron Rodgers’ splits since 2019 with and without Adams.
|Statistic||With Adams (41 games)||Without Adams (7 games)|
|Fantasy Points Per Game||23.0||27.0|
No, your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you. Aaron Rodgers has actually been better without Davante Adams over the last three seasons. And not just marginally better. He has been significantly more efficient and productive. Although his pass volume remains about the same, he passed for more yards and touchdowns while keeping his interceptions down.
To put this sample size into perspective for fantasy football, Lamar Jackson’s 2019 season is the only time in NFL history where a quarterback averaged more than 27 fantasy points per game over an entire season. Jackson's production was buoyed by over 75 rushing yards per game. Rodgers did it with just nine rushing yards per game. Prorated over an entire season, this sample comes out to around 5,000 passing yards, 45 touchdowns, and two interceptions for Rodgers.
Davante Adams averaged 10.6 targets per outing over his 41 games since 2019. In the seven games he missed, there was only one instance of a Packers player having more than eight targets. In Week 8 of the 2021 season, Aaron Jones pulled 11 targets. Not only did Adams miss that game, but Lazard and Valdes-Scantling were also inactive. There's a chance that Rodgers picks a new guy to hyper-target, similar to Adams. It's more likely though that Rodgers spreads the ball out across all of his play-makers.
How is it possible that Rodgers does better without Adams?
Without Adams on the field, Rodgers had to go through his progressions rather than force-feeding the ball to Adams. Having coached under Kyle Shanahan, Sean McVay, and Mike Vrabel, head coach Matt LaFleur has a strong foundation. He’s been innovative since he got his first shot as head coach and adds new wrinkles to the offense every season. His basic philosophy relies on pre-snap motion and run-pass options (RPO) that keep the defenses guessing. Rodgers has mastered his ability to toy with the defenses pre-snap. His throws on the run outshine what most quarterbacks can do in a clean pocket. RPO and bootlegs have been a mainstay of Rodgers’ game since college. He boasts an impressive 32-0 TD-INT ratio on play-action calls over the last two years. He is tailor-made for LaFleur’s offense.
With Adams usually being his first read and getting open immediately off the line of scrimmage, Rodgers would quickly let it fly in his direction. Without Adams, he spreads the ball out more as target shares across pass-catchers flatten. LaFleur calls a lot of plays designed around getting a specific player in space. Rodgers has been top-three in screen attempts every year since LaFleur took over.
LaFleur utilizes a lot of misdirection to get his guys open. In 2020’s Week 3 outing sans Adams, Allen Lazard hauled six of eight receptions for 146 yards and a touchdown. Our own Matt Waldman does a fantastic job of breaking down how LaFleur used some creativity to get him open. In this play, Lazard was dragged behind the offensive line to get him matched up on a defensive end in space, where he could secure an easy catch-and-run for a first down. The Twitter thread shows other plays where LaFleur manufactured plays to get the ball into Lazard’s hands and maximize his strengths.
Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon
The focus of this article so far has been on the receivers. But this team's strength is in their backfield. As far as one-two punches go, Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon are up there with the best of them. And with wildly different strengths, weaknesses, and skill sets, they can be used differently.
Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon are two of my favorite guys to draft in fantasy football this year.— Dave Kluge (@DaveKluge) April 21, 2022
Both guys will have stand-alone value regardless of their counterparts' health. And in the event of an injury, each would instantly become an RB1. pic.twitter.com/hZ3qJKQZ8O
Jones looks tiny compared to Dillon, but don’t let the small stature fool you. His balance and strength make it nearly impossible to bring him down on first contact. He’s got the breakaway speed to score from anywhere on the field. But his best traits are in his abilities as a pass-catcher. Last year, Jones was eighth in targets among running backs and sixth in receptions. Looking at his advanced receiving metrics, he finished top-15 in target share, route participation, yards per reception, and catch rate. This season wasn’t an anomaly either, as he’s picked up at least 350 receiving yards every year since Matt LaFleur became the head coach. On the ground and through the air, Jones amassed 40 total touchdowns over the last three seasons.
AJ Dillon was drafted in the second round of the 2020 draft. Although he didn’t make much of an impact as a rookie, he saw his role slowly grow last year. Aaron Jones was injured in Week 10. Before that game, Dillon averaged 10.2 touches per game. From Week 10 onward, Dillon’s touches jumped to 16.5. He scored six total touchdowns over those final eight weeks as he became the team’s preferred goal-line back. Dillon is tied with Derrick Henry as the league’s heaviest back. But he displays surprisingly soft hands for his brutish size. His 91.9 percent catch rate was second-best among all running backs last year, and he showed his ability to get flexible and catch the ball outside his frame.
Having two unique and versatile running backs is another tool in LaFleur’s bottomless bag of tricks. Jones can line up out wide, in the slot, or in the backfield. He can also smash between the tackles and take sweeps in motion. Dillon will primarily line up in the backfield but can run routes well for a guy his size. With Jones and Dillon being arguably the best offensive weapons on the team, expect to see the team implement more personnel groupings that feature them in 2022. Frustratingly enough, the Packers were in the bottom third of the league in willingness to roll out two-back sets last year. With Adams and Valdes-Scantling gone, expect that number to rise.
We looked at Rodgers’ splits in the LeFleur era earlier, but Aaron Jones’ are equally as impressive.
|Statistic||With Adams (38 games)||Without Adams (7 games)|
|PPR Fantasy Points Per Game||16.5||26.0|
Aaron Jones’ usage in the rushing games is almost identical, but his passing-game numbers balloon when he isn’t sharing the field with Adams.
It’s a dangerous game extrapolating a small sample size, but Jones’ sample has more points per game than Cooper Kupp scored last year. In the last 20 years, only LaDainian Tomlinson, Todd Gurley, and Christian McCaffrey averaged more than 26 fantasy points per game throughout an entire season. That production will be tough to maintain, but it shows how much the team will rely on Jones to be a receiver this year.
PROJECTIONS AND STATS
Aaron Rodgers is going to be just fine.
After back-to-back MVP awards and top-six fantasy finishes, you’d think that Rodgers would be an easy selection in your fantasy draft. But managers have pushed him way down draft boards in the wake of Adams’ departure, almost out of QB1 contention. There’s a slight risk that Rodgers takes a step back without his two top options. But the more likely scenario is that Rodgers maintains his otherworldly efficiency and produces another elite fantasy season. Throughout his career, Rodgers has seen Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, and Randall Cobb all leave Green Bay. It never affected his on-field play as other pass-catchers stepped into bigger roles. Rodgers has a peculiar way of slowly building trust with his receivers until they’re called upon. Expect to see Jones, Lazard, Tonyan, Watson, and others make up for the talent lost.
It doesn’t matter who is catching the passes. You should pencil Rodgers in for 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns as his floor every year. He has always had a chip on his shoulder and made no attempts to hide it. This offseason gave him actual reasons to fuel his fire. No first-round wide receiver was selected, Davante Adams left the team, and Rodgers found himself abruptly in the middle of a public political discussion. Would it surprise anyone if Rodgers goes scorched earth and puts up another record-setting season? At the end of the day, you’ll never regret betting on talent in fantasy football. And Rodgers is objectively one of the most talented quarterbacks in NFL history. Draft him as your QB1, and don’t think twice about it.
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