We at Razzball realize that exporting our views across the country has damaging consequences on the blogosphere.  To help make amends, we are reaching out to leading team blogs and featuring their locally blogged answers to pressing 2009 fantasy football questions regarding their team.  We feel this approach will be fresher, more sustainable, and require less energy consumption (for us anyway).  The 2009 Packers Fantasy Football Preview comes courtesy of Acme Packing Company.

1) How much did the offensive line’s play effect Rodgers, Grant, Jennings, and Drivers’ numbers? Do you see the offensive line improving this year?

The o-line struggled in 2008 so it had to have some negative impact. Three players missed time with injuries, LT Clifton, C Wells, and RT Tauscher. Only Clifton remains a likely starter, although various injuries might be breaking down the 10 year vet. Wells’ back problems might end his starting career, although he is still on the roster. Tauscher blew out his ACL last December and is still a free agent, although he is rehabbing for a return at some point in 2009 (with some team). The only consistency is LG Colledge, who had been benched back in 2007, and RG Spitz who is moving over to center. The rest of the line is a work in progress, but the good news is there are a lot of young options. The Packers have spent the past three seasons loading up on young o-lineman in the latter rounds (2007 – Barbre, 2008 – Sitton & Giacomini, 2009 – Lang & Meredith). The Packers are expecting the o-line will be better, but they do need to sort out where the young guys will start and hope at least two emerge.

2) It seems inevitable that Rodgers will take another step forward.  How big of a step do you think it will be?  Can he be an elite QB?

I have no idea where Aaron Rodgers’ ceiling is. It’s easy to expect him to continue to improve since he’s only 25 years old and entering his 2nd season as a starter. But falling back on my Packers’ history, Brett Favre regressed slightly in his 2nd season (1st full season) as the starter. As a fantasy option, Rodgers should still be a good pick. Mike McCarthy will never call run anywhere near 50% of the time, and Rodgers has shown that he’s very accurate. His interceptions are usually caused by a deflection or the hit-as-he’s-thrown variety. His o-line should be good enough and he’s still got two quality receivers. Plus he might get a boost if last year’s top pick (WR Jordy Nelson) takes a big step forward as a 2nd year receiver.

3) Ryan Grant broke out in 2007 with just under a 1000 yards on 188 attempts.  With a larger sample size there seemed to be a regression last year.  There is a lot of talk that a healthy offseason will really help him this year.  What do you think was the main reason for his 3.9 yards per carry last year?  Will he improve that number this year?  Will Brandon Jackson see more carries?

All the special things Ryan Grant did in 2007 (break arm tackles, great open field vision) were missing in 2008. He didn’t get a lot of help from the o-line, so maybe, plus avoiding the hamstring injury he struggled with last season, will push him back up to his 2007 numbers. Obviously, I’m not counting on it. But I’m not writing him off either; he’s going to be the starter and get over 300 carries. He’s Mike McCarthy’s type of back. Brandon Jackson can play, but he’ll never be the preferred starter. McCarthy loves big backs. The best example was in 2005, when McCarthy was the offensive coordinator for the 49ers, when he inexplicably gave 12 starts to Kevan Barlow and only 1 start to rookie Frank Gore. Grant=Barlow; Jackson=Gore.

4) Donald Driver is tough and will continue to go over the middle, but with his age it seems like a good 3rd receiver might be needed. Who do you see breaking out this year?

I mentioned Jordy Nelson above, I’m a big believer that WRs need at least one NFL season to get adjusted to the offense. So that might assume that 3rd year WR James Jones was a bust after a poor 2008 season. Jones showed a lot of promise as a rookie in 2007, but injuries stole his 2008 season. He says he’s healthy, so I’m willing to give him a mulligan and see how he does in 2009. Both of them are good enough to break out in 2009, and they’re playing in the right offense (pass heavy with a lot of three receiver sets) so one of them should be an impact player in 2009. Unfortunately I don’t know which one it will be. It’s something I’ll be watching closely in the preseason.

5) It was fun watching Rodgers and Jennings last year.  I was really surprised the Packers ended the season at 6-10.  With a full year under Rodgers’ belt they should be able to contend even in an improved NFC North.  What do you see holding them back, if anything?

The 2008 run defense was awful. Not Detroit awful, but still one of the bottom 5. They allowed a lot of rushing yards and couldn’t stop anyone when they had to. Enter new defensive coordinator, Dom Capers, and a new defensive scheme, the 3-4. But scheming only does so much, especially on defense where it’s mostly about the players. Luckily, the best DT in the draft, B.J. Raji, was still available at No. 9 overall. He’s shown a lot of athleticism so far because they’ve been lining the 330 lb. tackle up at defensive end at times in minicamp. Then they gave up a 2nd round, and two 3rd round picks, to trade up into the bottom of the 1st round for USC LB Clay Matthews. He’ll be playing outside in the new 3-4. Improving this weak area should make a big difference immediately in 2009. But the win total is going to improve in 2009 even without the better run defense. Instead of playing the tough NFC South and AFC South as in 2008, the Packers went 0-4 against the NFC South and 1-4 vs. AFC South, they’ve got the NFC West and AFC North teams on the schedule. Yes, they play Pittsburgh and Baltimore, but games against Cleveland and Cincinnati look like wins. Plus, the Packers actually outscored their opponents last season, so their pythagorean record was that of an 8-8 team. They should look a lot more like the 13 win team that went to the NFC Championship game in 2007 then the 6-10 team of last season.

  1. Frank Rizzo says:
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    Good write up. Huge Pack fan here.

    -I think the OL will be fine. Their pass blocking was solid last year and they’ll shift guys in and out to improve the run this year also. They have a ton of young talent, Clifton will be solid, Wells should play, and Lang could be the future RT while Meredith is groomed to be the LT for years to come.

    -I believe Rodgers is already elite as far as FF is concerned. He’s going to put up great numbers with the arsenal of weapons at his disposal. “2 quality receivers”? I disagree. You’d be hard pressed to find a better group of receivers in the entire NFL. Jennings is an elite NFL WR now, Driver is still a very solid possession guy, and Jones and Nelson are both big wr’s who will get better. Watch out for a healthy Jones this year. He’s impressive but just needs to stay healthy. And Jermichael Finley has the size and talent to be the next big thing at TE. They love him in GB because he’s like another huge WR on the field. Rodgers is set up for success for years to come.

    -I believe Grant makes a solid #2 RB for teams this year. He’s a bargain buy because of his mediocre season last year but he did not have the explosiveness through the hole he had the year before because of the hammy problem which lingered. I think he can reach top 10 RB numbers but wouldn’t bank on it. That said I think we’ll see him hit holes like he did in 2007 which made him so great and made McCarthy love him. Brandon Jackson is nothing special if you ask me. He’s got good hands so we’ll see him on 3rd downs but I’ve never been real impressed. Jackson is no Gore, that’s for sure.

    -I agree Nelson seems like the logical choice to follow Driver but do not discount Jones. He’s got the size, talent, strength, and attitude to be a possession guy making the tough grabs and fighting for yards over the middle. As I said before, he just needs to stay healthy.

    -Agreed about the defense holding the team back. They were bad. And I’m afraid of growing pains switching to the 3/4, but again, they’ve got a ton of good young talent and their early picks in the 2009 draft should help in the 3/4 transition. Also, Rodgers needs to become the unquestioned leader of the team and he can do that by pulling out some of those last minute wins that escaped him last year.

    All in all, it’s good to be a Pack fan right now. Bright future.

  2. Doc

    Doc says:
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    @Frank Rizzo: Thanks. Good info. I agree that Rodgers is already an elite FF QB for sure. He ended up just behind Brees in fantasy points last season. It looks good for the pack this year.

  3. cleaver596 says:
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    @Frank Rizzo: As a big packer fan, how do you feel about Favre potentially playing for the Vikings? I am a huge Bears fan, and the idea of Minn. having Peterson AND a hall of fame QB kinda scare me.

  4. Frank Rizzo says:
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    @cleaver596: I’m so over Favre, and not scared of him a bit. The only thing good about him anymore was his arm and now he just got surgery on that. He’s held on too long and now is just becoming a punch line in my opinion. For fantasy purposes Favre could make Berrian better and Peterson, since teams will respect what Favre used to be, but as far as the NFL goes, I don’t think Favre makes Minny all that much better.

  5. AP says:
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    Also a huge Packer fan here. I agree with almost everything Frank Rizzo says here except for one thing. I don’t have near the level of confidence in the O-line that he does. Just in that little blurb about that unit, he says, “shift guys in and out”, “young talent”, “should play”, “future RT”, and “groomed.” Those are all words and phrases that give me a warm feeling long term, but not so much if we’re talking 2 months from now. Wells, Tauscher, & Clifton have been the meat on that group for several years, and the arrow is pointing downward on all three of them IMO. I still think Rodgers has a very productive season though, I just think the running game will be inconsistent like it was in ’08.

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