2015 seems to be holding a grudge against wide receivers – first, the Panthers’ primary wideout Kelvin Benjamin loses his season before it started, and now the Packers are faced with similar catastrophe in the form of WR Jordy Nelson’s newly-diagnosed ACL tear this past Sunday.
Last season, alongside veteran production-machine Randall Cobb, Nelson proved instrumental in the Packers’ ascension atop the NFC North’s ranks – a stalwart 12-4 in 2014 – netting 1,519 receiving yards and 13 receiving TDs off of 98 receptions from 151 targets. With premiere quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the pilot seat of Green Bay’s offense, the pitch-and-catch trio saw abundant success throughout the 2014 season, and, barring a highly-unlikely post-season comeback from Seattle, would’ve been Super Bowl XLIX participants.
Rodgers (who threw for 4,381 yards and 38 TDs – only giving away a total of 5 INTs in the entire 2014 season), like most quarterbacks of his caliber, tends to create exceptional chemistry and understanding between himself and his receiving targets – now with Nelson heading to the Packers’ I/R list, the Packers are tasked with reconfiguring their WR depth-chart in order to acclimate the loss of one of last year’s Top-5 WRs and an undoubtedly integral part of their offense.
We’ve already touched on how effective the trio of Rodgers, Nelson, and Cobb managed to be in 2014; as a wise, animated meerkat once stated: “Our trio’s down to two.” Until it is discovered who will represent Nelson’s position within the trio dynamic, rest assured that in the meanwhile, Randall Cobb at WR1 can be every bit as effective as was Jordy Nelson. Cobb’s 2014 stats were duly promising: 91 receptions from 126 targets (72.2%, as opposed to Nelson’s 64.9%), 1,287 receiving yards, and 12 receiving TDs – these are stats most-definitely worthy of the WR1 slot on any NFL team. Regardless of who aspires to become the other half of the Green Bay receiver tandem, look for Rodgers and Cobb to connect frequently throughout 2015.
As far as replacements go, all eyes are now focused on what sophomore-wideout Davante Adams can provide – playing a minor role in the Packers’ offense during his rookie-season last year – 38 receptions from 66 targets (57.5%). Though used largely as a situational player, Adams still saw close to 450 receiving yards and 3 receiving TDs – at this rate, if the number of looks his way double, Adams could become a serviceable WR2 with a projected 900+ receiving yards and 6-7 receiving TDs – while not necessarily the vertical threat Jordy Nelson is, at 215 lbs., he’s one of the bulkier receivers, and should be able to shed a couple tackles throughout the upcoming season. Depending on how much he grows within practice and preseason games during these next few weeks, Adams could potentially flourish – not necessarily break-out, as he’s yet to exhibit the ability or mental aptitude of a WR1 – in the Packers’ high-passing play scheme.
Who could prove to be a potential sleeper on the roster is none other than WR Jeff Janis – his combine results look like everything a scout would want in a wide receiver from an athletic standpoint: speed, size, strength, agility, leaping ability – the man has it all. Moreover, it seems that Janis is rapidly becoming more and more able to translate that athletic ability into on-the-field productivity; albeit only having participated in three games all of last season, don’t be surprised if the name “Jeff Janis” gets penciled into the WR2 or WR3 depth-chart slot – this could be the break (or tear, in this case) he’s been waiting on in order to burst onto the starter rotation. Did we mention that he also clocks-in for special-teams return duty (he almost broke open on a kick-return, netting 61 yards)?
Speaking of special-teams prospects, third-round draft-pick Ty Montgomery is well within reasonable justification to be considered for WR3 candidacy. While having possessed nothing immediately standout as a physical threat for receiver (his hands are brought into question fairly frequently during scouting reports), Montgomery has plenty of special-teams return experience, having earned such valuable responsibilities during his tenure at Stanford. During the team practices, however, Montgomery seems to have taken his destiny into his own hands (almost literally) and has begun to shine through as a pure-WR contender. He seems to have developed a knack for clutch playmaking, and seems to possess both sufficient on-the-field as well as off-the-field IQ in order to position himself to be in the right place to make a play, whether for blocking, finding a seam in the zone, or to time airborne acrobatics when the ball appears slightly out-of-reach. If Montgomery continues on as he has, he’ll almost certainly earn at least the WR3 position.
Now, with all things considered in regards to potential replacements, the question begs, “Does Jordy Nelson’s injury affect Aaron Rodgers from a statistical/fantasy standpoint?”
Absolutely. Just not nearly as significantly as one might think.
The thing to remember about elite QBs is that they can make their teammates into stars – not only that, but with Mike McCarthy’s offensive philosophy in place, the necessity for exemplary play in the receiving core becomes ever-reduced – the Packers’ offense is such a well-oiled machine that wideouts don’t even need so much to be playmakers; with Aaron Rodgers throwing, the plays almost literally make themselves.
And that’s taking nothing away from Jordy Nelson – he’s the type of player that would thrive within any offensive scheme that would provide him a major or primary-target role. The remainder of Green Bay’s receivers will collectively fill Nelson’s shoes because they have to – the football will go elsewhere, and it will find its way there, more often than not. There are just too many factors in the Packers’ favor for their offense to simply fall apart due to the absence of one albeit outstanding wide receiver: RB Eddie Lacy established himself as an every-down threat towards the latter end of 2014, which will keep defenses honest for the upcoming 2015 season; Aaron Rodgers is way too smart of a QB to balk an entire season (remember: 38 TDs, 5 INTs last year – excellence, people); there are plenty of receivers waiting for their chance to become cornerstones in the offensive scheme; the Packers’ offense is talented enough both on the ground and in the air to ensure that they can win games either way. There should be no major worries about Rodgers losing either his elite true-to-life or elite fantasy status; he will perform as if he was, in fact, Aaron Rodgers.
That being stated, expect a slight drop-off from Rodgers’ stats; Jordy Nelson’s absence does indeed make a difference – instead of a 4,300-yard passing year, look for a more reasonable 4,000+ passing yards from Rodgers; it is quite safe to expect 30-33 passing TDs from him as well – his INTs should raise a tad bit, but shouldn’t exceed 12 for the year. Until the Packers re-discover their dual-threat, expect a lot more red-zone work to be delegated to the RBs and TEs – otherwise, Aaron Rodgers is still a top-5, if not top-6 QB1, and should be treated as such for all fantasy intents and purposes.
It’s easy to overlook the utility of Eddie Lacy, what with all of Aaron Rodgers’ brilliance last year. Here are some stats to consider from the 2014 season: 1,139 rushing yards, 8 rushing TDs, 42 receptions from 55 targets (76.3%), 427 receiving yards, 4 receiving TDs. If you think that somehow Eddie Lacy does not deserve RB1 honors or that he will be less important to Green Bay’s offense in 2015 with the injury of one of their premiere WRs – especially after the year he had in 2014 – maybe you should take some time to re-think. Eddie Lacy’s number is almost sure to be called more than last year, especially around the red-zone, and almost undoubtedly, Lacy stands to gain more receptions than from last year due to the Nelson-injury fallout; expect 1,200+ rushing yards and 10+ rushing touchdowns from the RB1 this year, along with an additional 50+ receptions, 550+ receiving yards and 5 or 6 receiving TDs for the oncoming season.
Randall Cobb at WR1 may now very well be a first-round fantasy draft pick – despite having 91 receptions last year, he may very well improve upon that number in 2015 – don’t be surprised if Rodgers hooks him up with enough looks to eclipse the 100-reception mark next year. To complement that accolade, expect around 1,300 receiving yards and 10 receiving TDs from the 4-year veteran – he will surely be primed for incredible success as a receiver next year – he almost has to be.
For the time being, Davante Adams will be the safer fantasy pick this year – if all follows as planned on the Packers’ depth-chart, Adams will fit snugly into the WR2 position and reap all the benefits of being part of such a high-octane passing attack; so long as he remains fairly adept, Adams should be able to accumulate somewhere near 65-70 receptions and 850 yards receiving, and may pull in as many as 5 receiving TDs in 2015. Treat Adams, however, as either a low-priority WR2 or a high-end WR3 for fantasy football considerations.
With a proverbial full head of steam, Ty Montgomery shows all the signs of a player who is begging for an opportunity to perform and kick-start a successful career as early as he can. It’s likely he’ll make the cut for starter – he’s not a deep threat, mind you – expect Montgomery, therefore, to be open on a lot of short to mid-range passing routes. It’s very possible Montgomery could steal the WR2 slot from Adams at this pace – if not, he’ll most-definitely see action in the slot or in four-receiver and five-receiver packages. If he makes WR2 by the start of the season, it is pretty safe to state that Montgomery will be good for 70-80 receptions and anywhere from 850-1,000 receiving yards, with 4-7 receiving TDs; if they start him in the WR3 slot, look for slightly less: maybe 65-70 receptions and 800+ receiving yards – the amount of receiving TDs he comes down with should relatively remain the same.
If, however, Jeff Janis cracks up to be everything his off-season and post-season has suggested he should be, then he might be one of those rare-gem steals in both real-life and fantasy settings that one shouldn’t lightly scoff at as a selection in the waning rounds. If the man turns out to be a superstar-caliber WR, he may very well be capable of reaching 1,000+ receiving yards and close to 10 receiving TDs from around 80 grabs, and if he plays his special-teams cards right, has the speed and agility to maybe make 1 or 2 special-teams returns in addition to the 500+ return yards he may be slated to accrue. Keep your eyes on this one – his value could range anywhere from a WR1 to a WR4 come the inception of the 2015 regular season.