BY DEREK JONES
What Went Right
Brett Favre didn’t get to throw to Randy Moss but Greg Jennings and Donald Driver did the trick in 2007. The Mississippi gunslinger fired 28 touchdown passes, his highest total since 2004. Along the way, Favre set NFL career records for most touchdown passes and most yards (sorry, Dan Marino). In other years, Favre would have received strong MVP consideration. Driver and Jennings were the biggest beneficiaries of Favre’s blast-from-the-past season. Jennings accounted for 12 touchdowns, while Driver led the team in receptions (82) and receiving yards (1,048). The biggest surprise for the Pack was the emergence of running back Ryan Grant, who accumulated 956 yards rushing and eight touchdowns despite not seeing an abundance of playing time until Week Eight.
What Went Wrong
A funny thing happened on the way to Green Bay playing the Patriots in the Super Bowl - Corey Webster. The Giant cornerback’s overtime interception in the NFC title game began what has been a tragic comedy for Packer fans, management and especially Favre. The legendary Packer quarterback announced his retirement in March, and then changed his mind after management set the wheels in motion for Aaron Rodgers to be the starting quarterback. Instead of being focused on football this offseason, the Packer front office is involved in a game of chicken with a first ballot Hall of Fame quarterback — a game which they cannot possibly win in the eyes of the public.
Despite the three ring circus of the last few months, the Packers are coming off a 13-3 season and narrowly missed playing in the Super Bowl. While the change at quarterback (we think) will be an adjustment, the Packers kept the team intact for the most part. Offensive tackle Joe Toledo and linebacker Brandon Chillar posed as the Pack’s only meaningful free agent acquisitions. Meanwhile, they’ll need to address defensive tackle at some point with Johnny Jolly’s legal situation. Jolly could face up to 20 years in prison for possessing at least 200 grams of codeine.
Okay, follow me for a moment. The Packers spent so much time in nurturing Rodgers and are so completely against the idea of Favre coming back that they drafted Brian Brohm in the second round. Matt Flynn was then selected as a seventh round choice. So, the Packers could open the season with three quarterbacks that have never started a game. In brighter news, the team used another second round pick on receiver Jordy Nelson to add depth to a talented group of pass catchers.
State of the Team
Assuming the Packers stick to their alleged party line of keeping Favre in retirement, Rodgers as a fantasy option is an intriguing issue. He has good weapons at receiver and a solid running game to back him. Rodgers looked good when he relieved an injured Favre against Dallas last season (completing 18-of-26 for 201 yards and one TD). However, being the starter is another ballgame. Rodgers watching for a few years may give him an upper hand early as teams don’t have a great reference point for preparing against him. However, consider him a second string fantasy quarterback until he can prove himself. Historically, quarterbacks that follow Hall of Fame quarterbacks often struggle. A 17- to 20-touchdown pass season is not unreasonable, but don’t expect a Joe Montana to Steve Young transition.
On a quick side note, the Packers are better off with Favre as their quarterback for this season, but here’s the truth of the matter for fantasy owners. As days go by and August drafts start soon, the prospect of selecting Favre in a draft under any circumstance is not a good idea until something concrete happens. Remember, the Packers have all the power in this situation, not Favre.
Grant is back, but will have the added pressure of trying to produce with Rodgers under centre. Luckily though, teams still have to worry about Driver and Jennings, so selling out against the run isn’t a real option for defenses unless Rodgers shows Akili Smith -like talent. Former Giant castoff Grant possesses good breakaway speed and the ability to shed tacklers. Handling a season’s load worth of carries is a concern, but he should be ready for the challenge. He is an early- to mid-second round option in fantasy drafts. Brandon Jackson, Vernand Morency and DeShawn Wynn add depth and versatility.
Jennings posed as the long distance threat last season (averaged a team-high 17.6 yards per catch) and ranked amongst the league’s best in catches of 40 yards or more. Only Moss and Joey Galloway caught more passes of at least 40 yards than Jennings’ seven big play receptions. The veteran Driver could act as a security blanket for Rodgers out of the gate. However, since Jennings is younger and a long distance threat, he has better value than the 32-year-old Driver. Nelson and James Jones round out a talented group. If Rogers fails it’ll likely be on his own merit, not because he lacked options.
The team severed ties with Bubba Franks and gave Donald Lee a four-year, $12 million contract extension last November. The new deal solidifies Lee as the starter and, after catching six touchdown passes in ’07, he should be a red zone factor again. He’s not in Gates-Witten-Gonzalez territory, but he’s an up and coming talent. Lee’s backup is slated to be rookie Jermichael Finley out of Texas.
The Jolly situation could affect Green Bay’s run stopping capabilities going forward and the secondary got exposed a bit in the NFC title game. Despite those issues, the Packers play in a division which lacks consistent offenses. Despite the fact that its return games lack explosiveness, it should rank close to a top 10 fantasy unit.
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