(Photo Credit: NBC Sports)
For the second consecutive year, the Packers won the NFC North crown with an identical 13-3 record, and for the tenth straight season, the team failed in their attempt to reach the Super Bowl. Their playoff record during that span is only 7-8, despite having what most consider to be one of the top few QBs in Aaron Rodgers.
In winning the 2020 NFL MVP award, Rodgers had arguably the best season of his illustrious career. For the season, Rodgers completed 372 passes on 526 pass attempts (70.7 percent completion rate) for 4299 yards and 48 TD’s (9.1 percent TD rate). He also threw only five interceptions (1 percent of his total pass attempts) on the season. This combination of TD rate and interception percentage is one of the absolute best in NFL history.
In addition to Rodgers’s historical season, RB Aaron Jones had another outstanding year. Despite touchdown regression (19 total in 2019 to 11 in 2020), Jones wound up having similar yardage totals as he had had the previous season (1558 total yards in 2019 vs 1459 in 2020). Despite missing two games ( calf strain), Jones finished the regular season with 201 carries for 1104 yards (5.49 yards per carry) and nine TD’s, while hauling in 47 catches (on 63 targets) for an additional 353 yards and two TDs.
Jamaal Williams and rookie AJ Dillon both took some of the burdens off of Jones, in terms of carrying the whole load himself. Williams had 119 carries for 505 yards (4.24 yards per carry) and two TDs while chipping in 31 receptions (on 35 targets) for 236 yards and one TD. Meanwhile, Dillon had 46 carries for 242 yards (5.27 YPC) and two TDs.
In terms of the receiving department, WR Devante Adams had a league-high 10.6 targets per game and finished with a total of 149 targets on the season. This resulted in a monstrous 29.7 percent target share. For the season, Adams had 115 catches for 1374 yards and 18 TDs. Jones and WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling (aka MVS) tied for second on the team with 63 targets apiece. MVS wound up with 33 catches for 690 yards (20.9 yards per catch) and six touchdowns. TE Robert Tonyan (52 catches for 586 yards and 11 TD’s), and WR Allen Lazard (33 catches for 451 yards and three TD’s) provided the balance of the receiving production. As one can tell, the route tree was extremely limited and one-sided.
Despite not being a very opportunistic defense (tied for 7th fewest turnovers forced with 18), the Packers were at least top 13 in many other important categories. The defense was 13th in points allowed (369), ninth in yards allowed (5344), and 6th in first downs allowed (184). This competitive defense proved to be a solid complement to the dynamic offense.
For the second consecutive year, the offensive line was a top six-unit (6th in 2019 and 2nd in 2020), per PFF.com. As has become the norm, the line was once again outstanding in pass protection. Despite injuries to Pro Bowl center Corey Linsley, the coaching staff did a remarkable job in moving around and mixing parts.
Although I will not dig into the details, as it has already been hashed and rehashed, the off-season started in a very peculiar way with Rodgers’s post-game interview immediately following the team’s NFC Championship Round loss to the Bucs. When asked about his future with the team, Rodgers responded by saying, “A lot of guys’ futures, they’re uncertain, including myself”. As we would find out later, Rodgers was primarily upset about the team’s personnel decisions and his lack of involvement in making any of them. Possible trade and retirement rumors filled the internet throughout the spring and early summer, but Rodgers returned to the Packers training camp on July 27th. Although he will reportedly not play during the preseason, Rodgers is on track to play in week one.
Amidst the distraction, the Packers continued forward with free agency and the draft. The Packers only made two free agency pickups of any consequence. These pickups were: 1) OLB De’ Vondre Campbell (Cardinals), and 2) RT Dennis Kelly (Titans). The Packers also traded for WR Randall Cobb (Texans) after Rodgers returned to camp. In terms of free agency losses, Jamaal Williams (Lions), Linsley (Chargers), and G Lane Taylor (Texans) all signed elsewhere during the free agency period.
During the NFL draft, the Packers selected two skill position players. These two players were: 1) WR Amari Rodgers (Clemson-3rd round), and 2) RB Kylin Hill (Mississippi State-7th round). The Packers traded up to get Rodgers, who is considered to be a slot receiver who can line up pretty much anywhere. At Clemson, 86 percent of Amari’s targets came from the slot, but only 31 percent of Aaron’s passes were thrown to the slot in 2020. Hill was suspended for one game in 2020, before finally opting out for the season. Over his four years with the Bulldogs, Hill had 452 carries for 2535 yards (5.6 yards per carry) and 16 TDs, while adding 67 catches for 631 yards and an additional six TDs.
The balance of the draft picks was used to select three offensive linemen and four defensive players. At the writing of this article, only C Josh Myers (Ohio State-2nd round) is currently listed atop the depth chart. Myers was the second true center taken in the draft. Following Linsley’s departure to the Chargers, Myers will likely receive the first shot to fill his vacated role. Myers has the versatility to be used at both guard positions as well. The remaining six draft picks are currently expected to provide bench depth.
In terms of fantasy production, it will be hard for anyone not named Jones or Adams to repeat last year’s numbers. Jones is currently listed as the RB7 in ADP, while Adams is the WR2 (behind Tyreek Hill). As mentioned earlier in the article, 2020 was a historic year for Rodgers. I would anticipate at least a slight regression in TD passes. With the likely regression and off-field turmoil, it is not outside of the realm of possibilities that Rodgers returns to the QB10 level that he achieved in 2019.
A sneaky sleeper from outside the team's top three is RB AJ Dillon. With the vacated usage of Williams (713 total yards in 2019 and 741 in 2020), Dillon will likely get a substantial opportunity for touches. It would not be surprising for him to have similar yardage totals to Williams, with an upside of more touchdowns.
Lazard, MVS, and Cobb are all currently listed in the area of WR74 to WR78. Although each of them (along with Amari Rodgers) will likely have big games, it will be extremely difficult to trust them on a weekly basis. Tonyan is currently the ADP TE9 but will need to have a higher floor in regards to targets (59) and receptions (52) to maintain last year’s production.
Per VegasInsider.com, the over/under win total for the Packers is 11. Obviously, Vegas has anticipated a net loss of two games from each of the last two seasons. While the Packers made very few (if any) significant improvements to the roster, the impact of Linsley’s departure should not be underestimated. Although it is always difficult to pick against the Packers, I would take the push in this situation.
(Cover Photo Credit: Green Bay Packers)