A Fantasy Football Primer

FantasyFootballBelt

You know you want a championship belt. Jordan has you covered.

By Jordan Huenink

With the start of each NFL season comes everyone’s second favorite sport – fantasy football. And with fantasy football comes the need for fantasy football knowledge. So consider me your official “Bringer of All Knowledge.”

But if that seems a little too hyperbolic for your liking, just consider me a veteran fantasy football enthusiast who is itching to share his insight, intelligence and intuition with you, the fantasy footballer. Whether you’re a rookie manager looking to get your toes wet in the wading pool of mock drafts, sleepers and the waiver wire, or a seasoned manager wanting to dive deeper into auction drafts, ADP and FAAB budgets, I’ll do my darndest to get you the information you want and need. I’ve won a few leagues, and I’ve lost a few leagues, but I hope that through my experiences you’ll be able to improve your fantasy football I.Q. so you can make a run at your league championship in 2014.

While the main drive of this series (and the blog as a whole) is to focus on the Packers, I will also occasionally be touching on players from around the league in the form of weekly game previews / recaps and player profiles and comparisons. As we get closer to the start of the season, I’ll be posting positional rankings, and letting you know how to approach and execute your league’s draft.

For starters, let’s take a brief look at the Packers who are going to play a role in this year’s fantasy football landscape.

1. Aaron Rodgers is a no-brainer. He is hands down one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL, and consistently a Top 10 fantasy football quarterback. Before getting hurt in Week 9 of last year, he was on pace to be the third-highest fantasy scoring quarterback in the NFL with an average of 25.8 points per week. He would have finished only behind Peyton Manning (31.0 ppg) and Drew Brees (27.3 ppg). Despite losing James Jones and Jermichael Finley in the passing game, look for Rodgers to keep up those type of fantasy numbers – especially if they end up running 75 plays a game.

2. Jordy Nelson finished the season as the #11 fantasy wide receiver in the league, finishing ahead of players like Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Johnson, Vincent Jackson and Pierre Garcon. As Rodgers’ favorite target, look for Jordy to make the leap into the Top 10 this year. He should be targeted as a fantasy team’s WR1, and will bring you fantastic productivity if you’re fortunate enough to draft him.

3. Randall Cobb is another powerful weapon when it comes to fantasy football – as long as he can stay on the field. His versatility definitely makes him a hot commodity during a fantasy draft. With last year’s injury, he finished out of the Top 50, but look for him to bounce back to his rightful place as a solid WR2.

4. Eddie Lacy burst onto the fantasy football scene last year with a stellar rookie campaign. His 1,100 yards and 11 touchdowns were enough for #7 among all running backs – despite essentially missing two games. Lacy has been a Top 5 pick in mock drafts so far this off-season- and will most like only be available to you if you land a top five pick.

5. Jarrett Boykin filled in nicely last year when Cobb got injured, and his 2013 productivity has made him a popular WR3 – WR4 option going into 2014. His value is also boosted by the fact that the Packers have not named a starting tight end yet. As long as Boykin can fend off the  competition of Davante Adams for the #3 WR on the Packers, look for him to put up the kind of numbers that we were used to seeing from James Jones.

Leading up to the season, watch for weekly posts from me as training camps start and position battles flare up. In the meantime, feel free to participate in mock drafts via Fantasy Football Calculator. I use this great site to get an idea for the flow of a typical, fantasy draft. It also shows me where certain players tend to get drafted, and reveals to me what players I gravitate towards when my pick comes around each round.

Also, visit our Facebook page for information on the official Packer Perspective fantasy football league! We have ten spots available – first come, first serve!

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Big Names and Breakout Stars

Datone Jones is one of several Packers who need to step up this year.

Datone Jones is one of several Packers who need to step up this year.

By Jon Meerdink

The story of every season has its own unique characters, but there are always a couple things in common: to be successful, a team needs to get its money’s worth out of its stars and pick up some new contributions from players who weren’t necessarily the biggest of factors in the past.

Everyone knows thst when the rubber meets the road, Aaron Rodgers has to be Aaron Rodgers for the Packers to succeed, but there are at least three other big names who the Packers have to get big contributions from to have a successful year.

The first is Clay Matthews. Although he’s undeniably one of the great pass rushers in the league when he’s healthy, that “when healthy” qualification is starting to pop up more and more frequently when Matthews’ name is mentioned. He missed significant time last year with a broken thumb that’s shown threats of becoming a recurring injury. For the Packers’ patchwork defense to become something more than it’s been in the past few seasons, Matthews has to stay healthy and he has to be the Pro Bowl player we know he can be.

Secondly, Julius Peppers has to be something resembling the player that terrorized the Packers as a member of the Bears. It’s worth wondering how much he has left in the tank at age 34. If he can be something even remotely close to that player, the Packers will be all the richer for it. If not, he’ll just be the latest in what’s becoming an increasingly long string of failed sidekicks for Clay Matthews.

Finally, Randall Cobb needs to overcome last season’s injury woes and complete his ascension to becoming one of the best slot receivers in the league. Cobb should have made that jump last year, but his leg problems (thanks Matt Elam!) ended his season just as it seemed he was getting started. A fully functional Cobb could be an enormous difference maker on the Packers’ offense.

The Packers will also need to secure solid contributions from a few up and coming stars to make the leap from good team to great, and that process will start in the defensive backfield. The Packers’ struggles in the secondary are nauseatingly well documented, but they’ve devoted significant resources to overcoming the problem. Between Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Micah Hyde, someone has to grab the starting safety job by the horns and make it theirs. Don’t count out Sean Richardson either.

The offensive backfield could benefit from a boost on the back end, too. Eddie Lacy is the unquestioned lead dog, but depth could be an issue unless someone other than James Starks steps up. DuJuan Harris is a logical choice in that role. If he can be something resembling the player he was at the end of 2012, depth will not remotely be a concern at running back.

Finally, a pair of underachieving first round picks could be a huge boon to the defense if they tap some of their enormous potential. I’m speaking, of course, about Nick Perry and Datone Jones. Each has immense physical gifts and has shown flashes of the potential that got them drafted in the first place, but neither has had the kind of sustained success that would have warranted a high draft pick. For the Packers to close the gap in the NFC, their first round picks have to play like they belong.

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Mason Crosby Will Be Less Accurate in 2014

crosby1By Jon Meerdink

Mason Crosby‘s rebound from moribund to magnificent is well documented, as it should be. Crosby bounced back from what easily was his worst season as a professional to have his best yet. Crosby’s 89.2% conversion rate bested his previous high by 3.5% and relieved the hurt feelings of legions of Packers fans who’d called for his head during his terrific slump of 2012. All is well in Mason Crosby’s universe.

It’s too bad his 2014 season will almost assuredly be worse.

Kicking is notoriously difficult to quantify, due almost entirely to its ridiculously small sample size. 2013 saw Crosby attempt the second most field goals in his career, but he still only kicked 37. Nevertheless, he was still determined to once again be a “good” kicker by his ability to perform well in 33 of those 37 tries.

Compare that to Aaron Rodgers, who threw a whopping 552 passes in 2012, his last full season and his second most accurate season. It’s far more reasonable to call Rodgers accurate when he repeats an action more than 550 times, but it’s a lot harder to confidently say the same about Crosby, since his sample size is so much smaller.

History shows that even though Crosby was great last year, he will almost assuredly regress next year. I did a quick search for kickers who had similar seasons, and found 22 instances in the ten year span between 2003 and 2012.

In comparing the seasons, I searched for kickers who had attempted at least 30 field goals and had made at least 89%. Here’s what I found

On average, kickers were 8.8% less accurate the year after they’d had a big season. They also kicked about five fewer field goals than they did in their big years.

According to Pro Football Reference, the entire NFL converted just over 86% of its field goals last year. Compared to the stats we already know this tells us a few things.

First of all, I think this shows that a great season from a kicker is more likely to be an outlier than an accurate representation of their abilities. It’s possible, in a small sample size, to seem way better than you actually are, and I think that’s what we’re seeing here.

Secondly, a drop of about 8.8%, like we saw in our study, would bring almost every kicker in our study back to within a couple percentage points of the league average. I think it’s likely that most kickers in the NFL are pretty average, and every so often they catch lightning in a bottle and have a huge year, or end up kicking a lot of shorter field goals and boosting their numbers that way.

All this leads me to believe that it will be difficult for Crosby to repeat the excellent year that he had in 2013. Crosby was unusually good from long range (5/7 from beyond 50 yards) and could have a hard time being that good again. If Crosby drops at a similar rate to what we saw in the stats (five fewer attempts, an 8.8% drop in accuracy), he’ll probably take about 32 field goal attempts and make about 25, or 78.1%.

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Hyde Your Kids, Hyde your Wife

Hyde_PuntReturnBy Jordan Huenink

We all remember the play that almost was. The play that probably should have been.

With San Francisco driving to what seemed to be an imminent, game-winning field goal in last year’s frigid Wild Card game, Micah Hyde had an Al Harris-esque chance at single-handedly winning a playoff game for the Packers. But instead, the potential game-clinching interception slipped through his hands, and the Niners went on to win, sending the Packers home once again.

But Hyde isn’t dwelling on the past. Instead, he’s spending his energy battling for a starting position in 2014. With the addition of first round pick Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Hyde is going to have to prove that he can be an every-down defensive back, rather than one who only contributes on special teams, and in nickel or dime situations. If he can’t, he’ll end up playing second fiddle to the rookie. However, Hyde has been playing next to Morgan Burnett with the starting defense in OTAs and minicamp so far.

Hyde was on the field for 428 defensive snaps last year – mostly at slot cornerback in the nickel and dime defenses. In that time, he contributed 55 tackles, one forced fumble and one sack. He also chipped in an impressive punt return touchdown on special teams that garnered some attention from coaches and fans. (He could have made an even larger name for himself if he would have snagged that interception against San Francisco, but I digress.)

Despite being on the field for less than 40% of the team’s defensive snaps last season, head coach Mike McCarthy has big things planned for Hyde in 2014. “Hyde deserves the opportunity to be an every-down player on our defense. As we go into 2014, that’s our responsibility as a coaching staff to create those competitive opportunities for him to get that done. I got to a point in the season where Micah was standing on the sidelines too much.”

If Hyde loses the starting free safety job to Clinton-Dix, look for him to possibly take on a role much like that of the 2012 version of Charles Woodson – a defensive back who floats to different spots on the field depending on the situation. This will allow the rookie to shine at safety, but also showcase Hyde’s talents anywhere on the field.

“I’m a utility player. If a D-lineman goes out, I’m going to take that position. I’ll try to put on a little bit of weight,” Hyde stated, jokingly. “But no, I’m a defensive back. Whatever position is needed, I’m going to help out and do the best I can.”

McCarthy added, “We’re going to give Micah the opportunity to play on all three downs – whether that’s corner, nickel, dime, safety. That’s the versatility I think he brings to our football team.”

hyde return gif

Hyde’s value on special teams was never more visible than on his big punt return against Minnesota.

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If You Can’t Be Good, Be Interesting

goodsonBy Jon Meerdink

It remains to be seen how many of them actually turn out to be good, but if nothing else, the Packers certainly have a lot of cornerbacks. At this very moment, the Packers carry ten cornerbacks on their roster, and all of them carry question marks of their own. Tramon Williams is aging. Sam Shields is expensive. Casey Hayward is coming off an injury-marred season. Davon House is a bit of an underachiever. Micah Hyde may not be a cornerback at all.

Of all the corners, though, the most unusual may be Demetri Goodson. A former college basketball player, Goodson will try to complete his remarkable career change by making the Packers’ roster as a sixth round, 25 year old rookie.

It’s certainly been a circuitous route for Goodson, whose collegiate career started at Gonzaga before jumping to Baylor. He struggled with injuries in college, but he’s actually pretty athletically gifted for his position. He’s by no means a burner (topping out at about 4.5 in the 40), but he has decent size at 5-11 and posted a 37 inch vertical at the combine.

Because of his long route to the NFL, Goodson’s age is a bit of a question, but there’s a significant precedent for success. Did you know that 64 other cornerbacks in NFL history have started their career at 25 or later? It’s true. Here’s the list.

Three previous players have had their rookie year at age 25 or later and gone on to start every game in their rookie year: Louis Breeden, Brandon Browner, and Terrance Newman. Browner is a little bit of an exception, since he played in the CFL before coming south, but still. Goodson’s age should not be a huge factor on his future success.

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(Latti)more is Better

JamariLattimoreBy Jordan Huenink

While the Packers successfully addressed their biggest draft day priority in landing safety Ha Ha Clinton Dix, they did not address their other big need at inside linebacker. As a result, the team is going into the 2014 season with the current, starting duo of A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones. But if either of these two get injured or don’t perform as needed, who will step up to the plate?

The next player on the depth chart is Jamari Lattimore, a fourth year player who made the most of the snaps he saw last season and caught the eye of the coaching staff.

In 2013, Lattimore started four games for the injured Jones and was a stud on special teams. He saw a career-high 272 defensive snaps, recorded 38 tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble. While those are impressive numbers for an originally undrafted free agent, he isn’t content with his play thus far.

“I haven’t accomplished, to me, really nothing,” Lattimore said during organized team activity practices this spring. “[My goals are] to make a lot of plays to help the team. There are a lot of different levels [of success]. For me, I have to accomplish a lot more before I take that. I’ve got a lot to do.”

Despite not being satisfied with last year’s play, Lattimore’s efforts caught the eye of defensive coordinator Dom Capers.

“I like his athletic abilities,” Capers said. “He’s a guy, you saw him make plays in space. He has enough athletic ability against some of the skill you play against. When Brad (Jones) went down, he had some very good games for us where he impacted the game with his athletic ability. You can never have enough good athletes out there and Jamari just gives us another athletic option.”

Linebackers coach Winston Moss also had good things to say about Lattimore. “He wants to be a playmaker. He wants to be an impact player. So far, it’s been primarily on special teams, but there could be an opportunity there. If it does show up, you’ve got to be ready to take it and seize the moment.”

Moss went on to say, “This year, we look for him to pick up where he left off and, whatever we ask him to do and how we ask him to do it, he should be ready to go. His attitude is ‘Hey, I’ve gone in the game, I’ve done some good things. If I’m given an opportunity, I should continue to be very productive.’”

After proving his abilities in limited time last year, and head coach Mike McCarthy stating that he wants to use more diverse personnel groupings in 2014, this could very well be the year that Lattimore gets prime opportunities to show what he’s capable of.

Lattimore blocks a punt.

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Outside Linebacker Outsiders

adrian hubbardBy Jon Meerdink

Linebackers are the lifeblood of the 3-4 defense, and outside linebackers are the stars of the system. The Packers have used every available means to find outside linebackers for their defense, from the draft to converting defensive linemen to picking up undrafted free agents. This year’s team features five rookie linebackers who played outside in college, four of which are undrafted rookie free agents. Carl Bradford is all but guaranteed a roster spot thanks to his status as a recent draft pick, the other four will have to scratch and claw to earn themselves a spot.

Here’s a quick look at each of the four and what they could bring to the table.

Shaun Lewis — 5-11, 226 — Oklahoma State

Lewis played outside linebacker in college, but there’s been talk of moving him inside at Green Bay. He’s small regardless of position, but his film (albeit a highlight tape) shows a player willing to attack despite his size. Lewis was a freshman All-American, made three All-Big 12 teams in his career (two second team, one first), and produced eight interceptions, seven forced fumbles, and seven fumble recoveries in his four years as a Cowboy. Lewis is originally from San Diego and majored in sociology in college.

Jayrone Elliot — 6-3, 255 — Toledo

Elliot has near prototypical size for an outside linebacker, but isn’t terribly fast and doesn’t project anything approaching eye-catching athleticism. At least one scouting report described him as a “one-speed” defender, which matches up well to his tape. Elliot was productive (9 sacks as a senior) in a small conference, and even blew past 2013 #1 overall pick Eric Fisher for a sack when Toledo squared off with Central Michigan. To the naked eye, he looks kind of average.

Joe Thomas — 6-1, 227 — South Carolina State

Thomas has very similar speed and strength measurements to Elliot, but he could be moved to inside linebacker due to his size. If you watch his highlights, Thomas actually lines up inside quite a bit to begin with, which makes me wonder why so many sites listed him as an outside linebacker, but I digress. On film, he looks a little bit like former Packers’ draft pick Terrell Manning, which isn’t saying a whole lot. Thomas will likely have a lot of work to do to find a roster spot in Green Bay.

Adrian Hubbard — 6-6, 255 — Alabama

At the very least, Hubbard is big. He also is supposedly blessed with talent that could have landed him as high as the second round, according to some scouts, but he dropped completely out of the draft. His precipitous fall may have been due in part to concerns about a heart condition, but those have been all but alleviated.

Hubbard’s length is interesting, but he never dominated in college and scouts are almost universally concerned about his work ethic. On the one hand, it may have been hard for him to stand out on a talented Alabama defense, but on the other he may have had more incentive to coast because the rest of the team’s talent could make up for him.

At Alabama, Hubbard worked as both a traditional defensive end and a stand-up rusher from the linebacker position, which could translate to the Packers’ new use of the “elephant” position.

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Daniels Set for Huge 2014

daniels sackBy Jordan Huenink

One of the NFL’s breakout players of 2013 was Packers’ defensive tackle Mike Daniels. Despite only playing 48% of the defensive snaps last year, the second year lineman broke onto the scene with 6.5 sacks and 23 tackles and served as a silver lining to an otherwise up-and-down season for the Green Bay defense.

Following the 2012 NFL Draft, Ted Thompson and the Packer brass took some criticism for drafting Daniels in the fourth round with the 132nd overall pick. Scouts regarded him as undersized for his position (6’0″, 291 pounds), and predicted struggles against bigger blockers and double teams. Since his draft day, Daniels has bulked up to over 300 pounds and used his quickness and non-stop energy and tenacity to prove the experts wrong over his first, two years in the league.

The 24-year old Daniels has also started assuming more of a leadership role heading into his third season, despite his relative youth on the defensive side of the ball. During the off-season he said, “I’m not afraid to step up as a leader now. I’m in my third year. Ive made some plays. I’ve earned some respect in the locker room. I feel as though it’s time for me to fully let my personality go. Just be myself. There’s nothing holding me back now. I’m a young guy, but I’m considered a vet and vets can speak.”

Daniels went on to talk about how the Packers’ defense needs to get meaner. “I think that’s been our biggest problem on defense,” Daniels said. “So I’m personally going to really get the best out of everybody. I don’t care if I have to hit somebody before we get on the field.” An attitude like this, if it flows down to the rest of the defense, could mean big things for Dom Capers’ squad in 2014.

After a solid sophomore season, it’s a no-brainer that Daniels should get increased playing time – especially with the Packers not resigning Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly. If he can be viewed as an every-down lineman rather than one who only fits into the nickel or dime packages, it’s safe to assume that we can expect a nice jump in statistics as well. If he can improve on last year’s numbers, Daniels could find himself in the Pro Bowl come January – unless the Packers make their way back to the Super Bowl, of course.

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Motor Men

boyd and thorntonBy Jon Meerdink

“Ever churning legs.”

“Flashes speed and short area burst.”

“Has quickness to attack gaps.”

“Fluid lower body and easy movement skills.”

If you didn’t know better, you’d think scouts were describing running backs with phrases like that. Instead, they’re talking about two players that could be key cogs in the Packers’ defensive line rotation this year: Josh Boyd and Khyri Thornton.

Boyd and Thornton stand in pretty stark contrast to the two men they’ll be replacing: Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly. Pickett and Jolly made their money by being immovable objects along the defensive front, relying on their tremendous girth (Pickett weighed 340 lbs. while Jolly was generously listed at 325) to plug up gaps up front. Boyd and Thornton, meanwhile, will rely on muscle and motor to make plays in a defense that will rely on attacking up front.

Drafted in the fifth round last year, Boyd arguably made a bigger impact on the Packers’ defense down the stretch than first round pick Datone Jones, and it’s pretty easy to see why. While Jones struggled (partially because of a bum ankle, although I think that excuse is overblown), Boyd filled in along the front admirably.

Coming out of Mississippi State, Boyd’s calling card was his effort, possessing the proverbial “high motor” scouts crave. Watch his highlight reel and look how many times he slides into the backfield to snag a running back or smack the quarterback on his second effort.

Boyd also flashed his motor at the Senior Bowl, playing against the top competition in the country. Several plays are noteworthy in this highlight reel, but the screen pass at the 40 second mark jumped out the most to me. Boyd doesn’t give up once the play is past him, instead chasing the ball carrier down and laying a lick on him.

Much the same is this year’s third round pick Khyri Thornton. While not blessed with the size of Pickett or Jolly, Thornton brings the Packers athleticism and intense effort. Watch how smooth he is navigating around blocks in his draft day highlight video.

Thornton, now playing for his childhood favorite team, is very strong for his size. San Diego Chargers blog Bolts From the Blue broke down Thornton’s game pretty extensively in a pre-draft post, noting (in GIF form) how frequently Thornton seems to knock opposing linemen back on his initial strike:

KYpunch_medium

Image credit to boltsfromtheblue.com

The Chargers bloggers also noticed Thornton’s quickness off the ball and his ability to slide around blocks.

KTquick_medium

Image credit to boltsfromtheblue.com

All this, of course, is great against college-level opponents. The reason guys with less than ideal size slide in the draft is because at the NFL level, the “try hard” guys tend to be less successful against their physically gifted opponents. It’s easy to succeed when you just try harder than guys with the same athleticism than you. The real test for Boyd and Thornton will be doing it on Sundays (wrote the cliched sports blogger), and with Pickett and Jolly out of the picture, they’ll have more than enough chances to do it.

The Return of Bryan Bulaga

bulagaBy Jordan Huenink

One of the Packers’ most devastating injuries in 2013 came before the regular season even kicked off. During last year’s Family Night scrimmage at Lambeau Field, left tackle Bryan Bulaga suffered an ACL tear in his left knee, making him unavailable for the entire 2013 campaign. His injury pushed rookie David Bakhtiari into an unexpected starting role taking care of Aaron Rodgers‘ blind side. Even though he committed some rookie mistakes during the season, Bakhtiari proved to be capable of holding down the most important position on the offensive line.

Fast-forward to today. After almost a full year of recovery time, Bulaga is ready to hit the field again. But after a successful 2013, Bakhtiari caught the eye of head coach Mike McCarthy and offensive line coach James Campen, and will be keeping his spot on the left end, while Bulaga will move over to the right side. The transition should be a smooth one, since Bulaga has played 37 games at that position for Green Bay over his first three seasons.

Campen has had positive words about Bulaga’s recovery, saying, “Bryan is one that can move on quickly from things that happened. He handles adversity very well, As soon as that kid is ready to go, he’s Bryan Bulaga, and he’ll be better than he was.”

Coming off his second, consecutive, season-ending injury, Bulaga must have a solid (and obviously healthy) season – not only for the team, but for himself. Following the 2014 season, Bulaga will be an unrestricted free agent, and could draw some hefty suitors if can prove himself worthy of a big payday. The former first round pick was listed as the fourth best tackle in 2011, and if he can summon his former self, it will mean good things for the Packers’ offense and the health of his quarterback.

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