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Packers fantasy focus

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Dan Arkush

darkush@pfwmedia.com
Executive editor

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Posted Aug. 02, 2011 @ 2:30 p.m. ET
By Dan Arkush

With QB Aaron Rodgers, WR Greg Jennings and TE Jermichael Finley widely considered among the top fantasy performers at their respective positions, look for the Packers to pack a potentially explosive fantasy punch this coming season. Intriguing sleepers such as WR Jordy Nelson and RB James Starks bolster the Packers' fantasy potential even more. What follows is a player-by-player rundown of the Packers' fantasy prospects for the 2011 season, presented in order of their projected fantasy value.

QB Aaron Rodgers: With apologies to Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Philip Rivers, "A-Rod" shapes up as the top-rated QB on Pro Football Weekly's fantasy draftboard. He knows the Green Bay system like the back of his hand and has produced eye-popping fantasy numbers the past three seasons. In that span, he has registered an 86-31 TD-interception ratio and at least four 300-yard passing games and four rushing TDs in each season. Rodgers was at his best during most fantasy leagues' stretch drives last season, throwing at least three TD passes in four of his last seven regular-season games. It certainly won't hurt that the Packers' high-octane offense should benefit from the return of RB Ryan Grant and TE Jermichael Finley from season-ending injuries.

WR Greg Jennings: Like Rodgers, Jennings saved his best fantasy efforts for last, scoring nine of his 12 touchdowns and registering five 100-yard receiving efforts in the last 11 regular-season games. Jennings has gained more than 1,100 yards in each of past three seasons and couldn't have been more deserving of his first-ever Pro Bowl berth, becoming a major force to be reckoned with after Finley was lost in Week Five. While the return of Finley, who entered last season as the projected centerpiece of the Packers' passing game, could have a direct effect on Jennings' fantasy numbers, the crafty wideout still shapes up as a rock-solid No. 1 fantasy pass catcher.

TE Jermichael Finley: The 6-foot-5 Finley provides consistent matchup problems and is widely considered to have elite ability at his position. But major knee injuries the past two seasons are legitimate cause for concern. Before suffering a season-ending torn meniscus in Week Five against the Redskins on his second snap of the game, the fleet-footed Finley had gained 14.3 yards per catch and had not dropped any of his targeted 25 passes. But it's definitely worth noting that Finley has started only 16 games since being drafted in 2008 — only a third of Green Bay's games in that span.

RB Ryan Grant: Grant had back-to-back rushing seasons of 1,200-plus yards before last year, when he suffered a season-ending ankle injury in Week One. In 2009, he scored a career-high 11 TDs and was the NFC's third-leading rusher with a career-high 1,253 yards. However, the strong possibility of a time-share situation with promising second-year RB James Starks probably makes him a solid No. 2 fantasy back at best. Grant generally gets better as the season wears on in time for fantasy stretch drives (4.7 ypc in December).

WR Jordy Nelson: Nelson's 21 postseason catches last season, including a stirring 9-140-1 effort in the Super Bowl, makes him one of fantasy football's most intriguing sleepers. A legitimate No. 2 receiver in the making behind Jennings with above-average size, strength and toughness, Nelson could benefit from lots of single coverage on the field at the same time with Jennings and Finley. He ruptured his bursa sac in the Super Bowl but says he is fully healed.

WR James Jones: After getting some feelers on the free-agent market, Jones re-signed with the Packers, which was good news for Rodgers, who campaigned hard for the team to re-up with the talented but inconsistent receiver. As Green Bay's No. 3 receiver last season behind Jennings and Donald Driver, Jones posted career highs in catches (50) and yards (679) with five TD catches. He made his share of brilliant catches and did an excellent job picking up yards after his catches, but he also dropped what would have been sure TD passes in five different games, counting the playoffs.

RB James Starks: After sitting out the first 11 games last season with a pulled hamstring, Starks made an impressive pro debut in Week 13, rushing for 73 yards on 18 carries. After landing in the Packers' doghouse due to poor practice habits, Starks rebounded in the playoffs, starting off the postseason with an eye-opening 123-yard rushing effort against the Eagles and finishing it up averaging 78.8 yards per game and just under four yards per carry with one TD. The 6-foot-2 Starks picked up positive yardage most of the time and did not have a single fumble, penalty or dropped pass. Clearly, the arrow is pointing up for this sixth-round draft pick with definite every-down ability. While being in the same backfield with Grant reduces his fantasy value, he could be a great pick in keeper leagues.

PK Mason Crosby: The newly re-signed Crosby has averaged 127.3 points in his four seasons in Green Bay. His 56-yard field goal in Week One against the Eagles ended up being the longest in the NFC last season.

WR Donald Driver: The 36-year-old Driver was a fantasy disappointment last season, as his catch and yardage totals sank to their lowest level since 2001. He was bogged down by assorted injuries and never had more than 89 yards receiving in any one game. But his eye-popping 61-yard TD catch-and run against the Niners in Week 13 — a play on which he broke tackle after tackle — showed that he still possesses some big-play potential as a fourth or fifth fantasy wideout.

RB-FB John Kuhn: Despite his relatively limited ability, the popular Kuhn more than proved his worth last season with six TDs (four rushing, two receiving) and 10 conversions in 13 3rd-and-1 and 4th-and-1 situations. He might possibly be worth picking up off the fantasy waiver wire as the season progresses. 

WR Randall Cobb: The Packers' second-round rookie lined up all over the field at Kentucky and could become a factor in the offense quickly, especially if Jones signs elsewhere and Driver continues to decline. He shapes up as another intriguing pick in keeper leagues.

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