Fantasy Football 2014 draft prep: Green Bay Packers
2014 NFL Season Preview:
DE Julius Peppers, DT Letroy Guion.
Early Draft Picks:
S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, WR Davante Adams, DE/DT Khyri Thornton, TE Richard Rodgers, ILB Carl Bradford, C Corey Linsley, WR Jared Abbrederis.
WR James Jones, OT Marshall Newhouse, C Evan Dietrich-Smith, DE/DT C.J. Wilson, S M.D. Jennings.
2014 Green Bay Packers Offense:
If there was any doubt prior to the 2013 season that Aaron Rodgers should be considered to be an MVP candidate every single year, there shouldn’t be anymore. The Packers were rolling along pretty well, holding a 5-2 record after seven games, when Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone in the first quarter of a Monday night affair against the Bears. Things completely fell apart for the Packers after that, as they failed to win again until Week 14, when they barely beat the woeful Falcons at home. However, they somehow hung on and managed to defeat Chicago in a rematch when Rodgers returned. Rodgers wasn’t 100 percent, however, though the Packers still nearly upset the 49ers in the playoffs.
Rodgers just means so much to the Packers that they need to make sure they protect him as best as possible. That’s why it was shocking when general manager Ted Thompson failed to re-sign center Evan Dietrich-Smith this offseason despite Rodgers’ pleas to do so. Dietrich-Smith ventured to Tampa, while Green Bay didn’t find a potential replacement until they spent a fifth-round selection on Corey Linsley. That, perhaps, is an indication that they have faith in J.C. Tretter, who was chosen in the fourth round the previous spring. Tretter has yet to play, so he’s a complete enigma.
The rest of the front line is solid, and it’ll get a boost from Bryan Bulaga’s return. Bulaga tore his ACL last August, but even if he’s not at 100 percent this upcoming season, he’ll still be a big upgrade over Don Barclay, who was the weakest link up front this past season. Bulaga will be stationed at right tackle across from 2013 fourth-rounder David Bakhtiari, who performed admirably as a rookie. He surrendered eight sacks in 2013, but four of them came in the first four weeks of the season. Meanwhile, guards Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang are both studs. Neither has hit 30 yet, so they’ll both continue to thrive.
The Packers also lost James Jones in free agency, but his departure isn’t as big of a deal. Rodgers made Jones, just as he and Brett Favre did with Greg Jennings, who predictably struggled in Minnesota. Besides, Rodgers has plenty of other talented receivers to throw to, including Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson. Second-rounder Davante Adams could contribute soon, while Jarrett Boykin came out of nowhere last year to accumulate 681 receiving yards despite not catching a single pass prior to Week 6. If Boykin improves and Adams emerges quicker than expected, that’ll help mitigate the loss of Jermichael Finley, who was just too injured to keep around. Finley may actually return – he has yet to sign with a team – but he probably won’t do much in 2014.
Rodgers will also be able to heavily lean on the running game. The Packers spent a 2013 second-round choice on Eddie Lacy, who turned out to be well worth the selection. Lacy was dominant at times as a rookie, gaining 1,178 rushing yards, catching 35 passes and scoring 11 touchdowns. Lacy did this despite barely playing the first three weeks and also missing Rodgers for half the year. His numbers should explode if he has Rodgers by his side for a full 16-game slate.
2014 Green Bay Packers Defense:
The Packers seldom make big splashes in free agency. They prefer to draft and grow their own talent. However, they made headlines this spring when they brought in a player who starred for years for their most hated rival. That, of course, is Julius Peppers.
It’ll be interesting to see how the Packers utilize Peppers, who has never been in a 3-4 scheme before. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers told the media that he plans to use Peppers in a variety of spots. He began by putting him at outside linebacker in OTAs. Peppers in his prime would have formed a tremendous tandem with Clay Matthews, who mustered 13 sacks back in 2012. The problem, however, is that Peppers, now 34, struggled with the Bears this past season. He was a mere shadow of his former self, collecting just 7.5 sacks and playing the run poorly. Perhaps he’ll be extra motivated after being released, but it’s more likely that he just doesn’t have much left in the tank.
Peppers could also be used on the defensive line. The Packers are trying to get quicker as a whole defensively, so he would make sense there instead of the 330-pound mammoths that Green Bay used to start up front. Without Peppers, the starting front appears to be B.J. Raji, Datone Jones and Mike Daniels. Raji is a big name, but he has been a huge disappointment since the Packers’ Super Bowl campaign. His performance has inexplicably dropped off at such an alarming rate that he was offered just a 1-year, $4 million contract to return to the team. The plan is to use him at nose tackle again, where he’s at his best, but it may not matter. Meanwhile, Jones was a 2013 first-rounder, but didn’t do much last year, so he could be challenged by third-round rookie Khyri Thornton. Daniels was Green Bay’s top defensive lineman this past season in every regard.
Having Raji and Jones play better would give some protection to the inside linebackers, who were pretty pedestrian this past season. A.J. Hawk was particularly bad, as he was eaten alive in run support. Brad Jones wasn’t much better, prompting the front office to spend a fourth-round choice on Arizona State’s Carl Bradford, who could challenge for a starting job sometime in the near future.
The Packers actually addressed their secondary with their initial selection, acquiring Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix at No. 21 overall. Clinton-Dix was viewed by most as the top safety in the class, though some were pessimistic, thinking he could fall toward the end of Round 1. Despite this, Clinton-Dix will be a clear upgrade over the anemic M.D. Jennings, who signed with Chicago this offseason. Clinton-Dix will start next to Morgan Burnett, a talented safety who had a down year because of a troublesome hamstring.
Burnett wasn’t the only injured Green Bay defensive back in 2013. Casey Hayward missed some time, and his absence really hurt the team. Hayward had a dynamic rookie campaign, but was limited to just three games because of a hamstring problem of his own. Hayward will be stationed at the important slot position, with Tramon Williams and Sam Shields starting outside. Both were solid this past season, and should continue to be in 2014.
2014 Green Bay Packers Schedule and Intangibles:
Green Bay is 119-42-1 at home since 1992 – the year Brett Favre first became a Green Bay Packer. Aaron Rodgers is continuing the tradition; he’s 31-6 as a host the past five years, though he did lose to San Francisco in the postseason.
Mason Crosby was once considered extremely unreliable – he went 21-of-33 in 2012 – but he improved this past season, hitting 33-of-37 tries, including 5-of-7 from 50-plus.
Punter Tim Masthay was just 21st in net average for the second-straight season. He also failed to get many kicks inside the 20.
Micah Hyde was great on returns this past season, but the team was woeful when it came to covering punts and kickoffs. Green Bay desperately needs to improve in this area.
The Packers have a mixed schedule. On one hand, they have to deal with the Patriots, Saints, Seahawks, Eagles, Bears twice and Lions twice. On the other hand, they get to beat up on the Jets, Bills, Dolphins, Buccaneers, Panthers and Vikings twice.
2014 Green Bay Packers Analysis: The Packers won the NFC North in 2013 despite not having Aaron Rodgers around for half the year. It’s difficult to see them squandering the division title if Rodgers manages to play the whole slate. Green Bay is easily one of the favorites to win the Super Bowl.