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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. Scott Tolzien will battle rookie Brett Hundley for the right to hold the clipboard on game days. We expect Hundley to be inactive on game days to begin the season, but should not need all season to pass Tolzien. Neither are fantasy factors at this time, even if Rodgers misses time. The Packers hope that Hundley can develop into Rodgers' eventual replacement.
Eddie Lacy is coming off a strong 2014 campaign and looks to solidify his standing as one of the game's elite ball carriers. Having Lacy play so well only helps the passing game. James Starks will play behind Lacy again in 2015. Even though he has been a reserve for a few years, Starks is a good player and has been a fantasy starter when called upon. There is little behind this pair of backs.
The Packers are loaded at the wide receiver position, even with so many departures in recent years. Green Bay has drafted extremely well at the position which has offset the departures. Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb make up one of the best duos in the NFL. Both are locked into contracts for several years, making the Packers offense prolific for years to come. What makes the pair special is the ability of each to line up in different spots on the field. Davante Adams was selected in the 2014 NFL Draft to grow into the WR3 this season after the departure of Jarrett Boykin. Adams has fantasy viability if one of the two stars misses time. Fellow second-year receivers Jeff Janis and Jared Abbrederis will battle for roster spots along with Myles White. Ty Montgomery was drafted to be a kick returner and possibly contribute as a receiver down the line. Janis looks to be the favorite for the WR4 job, and can lock it up in training camp.
Last year, Green Bay used the trio of Richard Rodgers, Andrew Quarless, and Brandon Bostick at the tight end position a year ago. Bostick is no longer with the team, leaving Rodgers and Quarless to battle for the tight end snaps. Rodgers is the slight favorite at this point after having a better 2014 season. Last year, the Packers rarely threw to the tight ends so it is very possible that neither Rodgers nor Quarless is fantasy viable. Just a note to keep in mind, Quarless was arrested on the July 4th weekend for firing a gun. We do not know how this will impact his playing time, but it is something to monitor. There is a chance that the team releases Quarless in the near future. If so, there are several able unsigned veterans available for Green Bay to choose.
Coach Marc Trestman was jettisoned and replaced by John Fox. Fox brought offensive coordinator Adam Gase with him from Denver. The offense will look different going from Trestman to Gase. We do not like the chances of the Bears to return to glory in 2015. It might take a year for the new regime to right the ship.
Jay Cutler has been much-maligned throughout his career, mainly for his ability to implode at any time. Trestman's offense helped Cutler's decision-making, giving him fewer reads. The quarterback has always had a strong arm but the bad decisions have been an issue. It will be interesting to see how Gase puts Cutler in positions to succeed. Jimmy Clausen has a solid hold on the backup job. David Fales was drafted for Trestman to groom but may not be a favorite of Gase.
Matt Forte is one of the more underrated fantasy tailbacks. He is the unquestioned starter and will get plenty of carries and receptions. We do expect the receptions to decrease with the departure of Trestman. He still has a shot at 1,800 total yards, a number he has topped the past two seasons under Trestman. Veteran Jacquizz Rodgers was brought in to add depth at the position. He will battle a couple of youngsters for playing time behind Forte. Second-year player KaDeem Carey will look to take a huge step forward in year two. He was not that impressive as a rookie but flashed enough in college for fantasy owners not to give up hope. Also, Jeremy Langford was drafted on the third day. Langford is talented and could push for a game day role. While talented, this group – especially Forte – will need improved play from the offensive line in order to be consistently productive on the ground. This is a solid group of ball carriers to keep the pressure off of Cutler.
In the offseason, Brandon Marshall was traded to the New York Jets. His presence will be missed. Marshall was a leader on the team and has matured on and off the field. He will be replaced by first-round pick Kevin White. White is a future star. He is very talented, but will likely need a year to develop before expectations get too high. Alshon Jeffery is coming off consecutive strong seasons as the opposing defenses were focused on stopping Forte and Marshall. Can he step up as the unquestioned WR1? The jury is still out whether Jeffery can be the “go to” receiver. Eddie Royal was signed in free agency and will play a big role early in the year. He will battle Marquess Wilson for playing time in two-receiver sets. We expect Royal and Wilson to play a lot early in the season as White gets his feet wet, but the rookie should emerge later in the year.
Martellus Bennett was signed two years ago and adds a play-making presence at the tight end position. He made a big impact last season, giving Cutler another big target. We are unsure if Gase will use Bennett as a frequent target like his predecessor. Even though he is under contract for a couple more years, Bennett is threatening a hold out. This has not sit well with his new coaching staff. Dante Rosario will play behind Bennett.
Coach Leslie Frazier was sent packing after the 2013 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. The Zimmer/Turner combination should be able to make strides in year two. So much went against them in 2014. But, expectations are mounting for 2015. Zimmer has built the defense into a respectable unit. Getting Adrian Peterson back only enhances the optimism.
Most new coaches want to bring in their own quarterback. Last year, Zimmer drafted Teddy Bridgewater to be “his” guy. After a trying rookie season, Bridgewater looks to lead his team to the playoffs in year two. His accuracy and leadership are strong and Bridgewater will benefit from having Peterson back on the field. Veteran Shaun Hill will back up the youngster.
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 now past last year's legal woes and seems primed for another run at the rushing record. After Toby Gerhart left for Jacksonville a year ago, Minnesota drafted Jerick McKinnon in the NFL Draft. McKinnon flashed big-time potential as a rookie, able to contribute both on the ground and through the air. Matt Asiata is back for depth purposes but little else. Sure, he can score from the one-yard line, but is not worth rostering in fantasy leagues.
The Vikings wide receiver position is vastly improved over the past year, much to the delight of the young passer. Minnesota traded for disgruntled Miami pass catcher Mike Wallace. Wallace will offer a legitimate deep threat for Bridgewater. The offense desperately needed a playmaker a year ago. Also, Charles Johnson followed his offensive coordinator from Cleveland. He is a size/speed phenom just needing time to develop. Well, the time is now for him to emerge as a starter across from Wallace. Greg Jennings was released and signed in Miami. The team has hopes for Jarius Wright to be healthy and contribute as the WR3. Expectations have been high for Cordarrelle Patterson throughout his career, but the youngster has yet to live up to expectations. Right now, he will need to fight for playing time. Johnson passed him on the depth chart late in the 2014 season and played well enough to keep Patterson on the bench. It is now up to Patterson to prove himself. Stefon Diggs was drafted to develop. He is very good with the ball in his hands but needs to work on his route running and being a consistent receiver. Minnesota has improved the receiver position for the young Bridgewater.
Norv Turner's reputation for using the tight end position has led to high expectations for Kyle Rudolph the past two seasons. He is a solid red-zone threat and will be a security blanket for Bridgewater. Rookie MyCole Pruitt has already moved into the TE2 position. He is athletic and is a name to remember.
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 the talent to win 10 games but the sieve-like defense allows too many points for the offense to overcome.
Matthew Stafford is back to lead the offense. In the past, Stafford has thrown often as the defense was non-existent and this created a large number of garbage-time pass attempts. But, last year, Stafford threw the ball only 602 times. This marked the third consecutive season that Stafford threw fewer passes than the year before. We actually think this trend continues. The fewer passes also kept the quarterback in good situations, dropping Stafford's interception ratio to the lowest of any in his five full seasons. The still-young quarterback (Stafford turned 27 earlier this year) is backed up by Kellen Moore and Dan Orlovsky. Neither are good enough to carry the offense if the starter misses time.
Joique Bell was the primary back a year ago. Bell is a strong runner who has seen his share of injuries throughout his young career. He should begin the season as the starter. Theo Riddick emerged a year ago to become the change-of-pace back. He is gifted as a receiver and able to be an asset in various ways. Riddick offers a unique set of skills for the backfield. However, the player to watch is Ameer Abdullah. The rookie from Nebraska is the most gifted of the three backs. We expect him to play sparingly to begin the season, but could assume the starting role if Bell misses time with another injury. Abdullah will play more as the season progresses. This trio of running backs are talented and will be relied upon to keep Stafford out of obvious passing situations.
Calvin Johnson is still one of the top receivers in football. He makes plays other pass catchers only dream about. Johnson will continue to be double-and even triple-teamed, just like he has experienced throughout his career. Golden Tate was signed a year ago to add a big-play receiver in order to keep defenses honest. Tate is coming off a strong 2014 season and looks to build upon those numbers in 2015. Battling for playing time will be Corey Fuller, T.J. Jones, and Ryan Broyles. If none of the three step up, keep an eye on Theo Riddick. He could move from tailback to the WR3 position given his ability as a receiver.
Brandon Pettigrew will be the starting tight end once again. He will be a blocker as Detroit drafted Eric Ebron a year ago to help in the passing game. Ebron struggled with dropped passes as a rookie and is looking to put things together in year two. 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 another team to challenge for the division title. The Vikings have a chance to sneak into the playoffs if Bridgewater and Peterson get the offense rolling. We expect Chicago to have a down year, finishing below .500 along with the Lions.
Feel free to email me (Tefertiller@Footballguys.com) with feedback. Also, I am on Twitter (www.Twitter.com/JeffTefertiller), LinkedIn, and Google+, so you can ask me questions on one of these as well.