On The Pat McAfee Show, Aaron Rodgers expressed his intent to play for the New York Jets, stating that the Green Bay Packers have been holding up the process.
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What would this mean for Aaron Rodgers and the Jets offense?
The immediate reaction is that this move boosts the Jets offense. With the bar set low last year, Rodgers likely clears that. But the veteran quarterback has shown expected signs of regression, and it’s unclear whether the trend will continue. After back-to-back MVPs in 2020 and 2021, the loss of Davante Adams left a glaring weakness in the Packers’ scheme. Christian Watson showcased his explosive abilities as a big-play threat. Allen Lazard made a handful of impressive contested catches. But no one was there to work as Rodgers’ unconscious safety valve.
His efficiency dropped to end-of-Mike-McCarthy era levels. His 12 interceptions marked the most in a season since 2008, his first year as a starter. Talks of his struggles swirled following a Week 1 loss in Minnesota. Those concerns were capped off by the first sub-.500 finish of his career.
Now he goes from a lackluster supporting cast to a team that’s a competent quarterback away from exploding. So the question is: Can Rodgers be the answer?
Garrett Wilson and Breece Hall were arguably the most dynamic offensive rookies drafted in 2022. Wilson is set to be the biggest beneficiary of Rodgers’ addition. As a rookie, his 147 targets were the sixth-most among all wide receivers. He led the 2022 class with 1,103 receiving yards on his way to winning Offensive Rookie of the Year. Despite throwing to Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Davante Adams, and Christian Watson throughout his career, Wilson is immediately the best prospect to ever play with Rodgers. Rodgers hyper-targets his best weapon and peppers them with valuable looks near the goal line. As Rodgers’ WR1, Adams averaged 166 targets per 17 games. Nelson saw 152. Jennings saw 143. Wilson should see a hefty serving of targets as the clear standout on the team. After putting up WR1 numbers as a rookie with Joe Flacco, Zach Wilson, and Mike White, Wilson should maintain his efficient output with Rodgers.
But there is a strange narrative to monitor.
Rodgers has a history of slowly developing chemistry with his pass-catchers. No receiver to play with Rodgers since 2008 (Rodgers' first year as a starter) has eclipsed 1,000 yards in a single season within their first three years. Rodgers is notorious for demanding perfection from his receivers and taking time to develop trust in them. Much of this can be attributed to the Packers’ front office, who never drafted a first-round ride receiver or brought in a free agent better than 29-year-old Sammy Watkins. The homegrown approach has proven successful for the Packers but sets Rodgers up for the biggest test of his career. He will have just one offseason to build chemistry with almost all of his new pass-catchers
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Luckily, the schematic fit should ease the transition. Nathaniel Hackett was the offensive coordinator for Rodgers when he won his most recent MVPs and now coordinates the Jets offense. The playbook should rely heavily on allowing Rodgers to throw when he’s at his best, on the move. The threat of Breece Hall in the backfield in a wide zone run scheme will keep defenses honest, while Rodgers can find his guys downfield off RPOs and bootlegs. A stout offensive line will give Rodgers more time that he was bestowed last year in Green Bay. This is an offense Rodgers knows well and has shown success in.
On the one hand, we’re seeing Rodgers step into an offense tailor-made for him. On the other hand, it’s the first time in his career that he won’t benefit from years of learning his receivers' nuance and tendencies. This sets up an interesting discussion that we likely won’t have an answer to until it’s all together on a field. While he'll have a familiar friend in Allen Lazard, the veteran receiver proved that he is not an NFL WR1 last year. Rodgers will need someone to step up if he wants to play at an elite level.
The upside is undeniable.
Aaron Rodgers can return to form as an MVP talent. Garrett Wilson can take on the highly-coveted role as Rodgers’ favorite target and finish as an elite WR1. The boost in offensive efficiency can push Breece Hall to challenge every other running back for the RB1 title. Allen Lazard, Elijah Moore, Corey Davis, and Tyler Conklin can be weekly flex options as ancillary pass-catchers on a high-powered offense.
But the downside shouldn’t be ignored.
Rodgers is 39 years old and didn’t look like himself last year. After never building immediate connections with receivers throughout his career, he may struggle in a new ecosystem. The worst-case scenario is that Rodgers maintains (or dips) his efficiency numbers from last year, making Wilson a boom-or-bust WR2. Lazard, Moore, and Davis would serve as nothing more than desperation flex plays. A struggling Rodgers could allow defenses to stack the box and limit Hall’s ceiling.
The immediate takeaway from this trade is that Rodgers has a chance to revive his career, but not without absorbing a ton of risk. As fun as it is to plant a flag immediately upon trade news, the range of outcomes from this move is vast for every player involved. The Jets are pushing all in for a Super Bowl this year. That outcome will likely make or break at the fate of Aaron Rodgers.
The Fantasy Football Impact
Rodgers and every Jets skill player will see a boost in draft position. Rodgers gets better weapons. The Jets skill players get a perceived quarterback upgrade.
Rodgers is currently getting drafted as the QB18, and this transaction probably pushes him closer to the top-12. Finishing as 2020’s QB3, 2021’s QB6, and 2022’s QB23 demonstrate a downward trend and a wide range of possible outcomes.
Wilson is currently the WR10, but drafters could push him ahead of Amon-Ra St. Brown or CeeDee Lamb due to this news. Quarterback concerns may push Cooper Kupp and Davante Adams down, meaning Wilson could creep into the second round by this summer. Second-year receivers coming off great rookie seasons have proved to be solid investments over the last few seasons. Because of that, Wilson will be drafted dangerously close to his ceiling.
Much of Hall’s ADP will be reliant on news about his injury recovery. One camp highlight of him cutting on the field will likely push him to the back of the first round. But news of a setback could cause panic.
As for Lazard, Moore, Davis, and Conklin? They'll likely creep up from their current draft positions while staying in the mid-rounds. Moore's athleticism gives the highest ceiling of the bunch. And while Lazard doesn't have too high of a ceiling, his role as a red-zone target should allow for some useable weeks. He makes for a safe-but-boring mid-round target. Davis and Conklin likely only find fantasy relevance if Rodgers returns to MVP form.
The Fantasy Fallout
After three years of riding pine, all signs indicate Jordan Love being the Packers’ 2023 starter. Love, a former first-round pick, has a huge arm and threw for nearly 7,000 yards in his final two seasons at Utah State. Like Rodgers before him, and Brett Favre before Rodgers, the hope is that a few developmental years on the bench can help Love seize his opportunity as a starter. While Love has some intriguing upside (even in single-quarterback leagues), it’s hard to speculate what the Packers’ offense will look like in 2023.
With Allen Lazard also in New York, the stage is set for Christian Watson to run away with the WR1 job. In moments during his rookie season, Watson looked incredible, scoring eight touchdowns between Week 10 and 13. His combination of size and speed combined with Love’s big arm could set the stage for an electric connection.
If the offense sputters, that would obviously be bad for Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon. The Packers have a few high-end talents in Watson, Jones, and Dillon but are bereft of depth. The team still has about $24M in cap space and will likely add to their pass-catching room soon.
Much like the Jets’ fate lies in the hands of Aaron Rodgers, the Packers will hope that Love can keep their offense churning.
So what does this all mean for Aaron Rodgers and the Jets?
With the acquisition of Rodgers (and Lazard), the Jets have stated that they are looking to win now. Because they spent their remaining salary cap on Rodgers, they won't do much else in free agency. But they hold the 13th and 44th picks in this year's Draft. Don't be surprised if they spend those picks on another receiver or an offensive lineman to beef up what they hope to be an explosive offense. A rookie receiver with first- or second-round draft capital would immediately be relevant in fantasy.
Aaron Rodgers and Jets players should be drafted with cautious optimism. While daydreaming about Peyton Manning in Denver, Tom Brady in Tampa Bay, and Matthew Stafford in Los Angeles, don’t forget about Russell Wilson in Denver.