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.