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2023 Green Bay Packers Fantasy Preview

Debating Ohtani vs. Acuna Jr., 2023 NFL futures
Brad Thomas and Vaughn Dalzell look at NFL futures and debate if they'd rather have Shohei Ohtani or Spencer Strider and Ronald Acuna Jr. on their teams in the latest edition of Would You Rather.

2022 Stats (rank)
Points per game: 21.8 (14th)
Total yards per game: 337.9 (17th)
Plays per game: 61.8 (20th)
Pass Attempts + Sacks per game: 35 (19th)
Dropback EPA per play: 0.04 (16th)
Rush attempts per game: 26.8 (16th)
Rush EPA per play: -0.01 (9th)

Coaching Staff
The Packers’ staff was gutted last offseason and most of the casualties were sustained on offense. They lost offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and tight ends coach Justin Outten to promotions in Denver. Passing Game Coordinator Luke Getsy also took a job down the road with the Bears. This offseason was much different. The bulk of their staff is returning for 2023, though it’s no surprise Green Bay’s ranks weren’t poached after a borderline disastrous campaign. In what was ultimately Aaron Rodgers’ final year as a member of the organization, the offense sputtered to a halt and the Lions bounced Green Bay from the playoff hunt in the waning moments of the regular season. Rodgers went out with a whimper as Green Bay scored fewer points per game in 2022 than in any other season with Rodgers under center for a majority of the starts.

Though the loss of Davante Adams and injuries across the line took a toll on Rodgers and the offense, the coaching deserves some of the blame as well. LaFleur had the offense hide in its shell as the passing game declined. Green Bay posted a negative three percent pass rate over expected and ranked 21st in pass rate on early downs. That was despite them being fifth in EPA per dropback on early downs. As expected, the Packers were also a bottom-five team in situation neutral pace. This strategy could have sufficed if Green Bay’s defense was elite, but they ranked 27th in EPA per play and 28th in yards per play allowed. Attempting to win slow, low-scoring games with weak defense was an unending strategic blunder from LaFleur and company.

Though the 2022 season wasn’t up to par, the Packers won exactly 13 games in Matt LaFleur‘s first three seasons with the team. His quarterback also won two MVPs in that span and the team made the NFC Championship twice. Even another losing season won’t see LaFleur’s job at risk. Expect GM Brian Gutekunst to give him a shot with another quarterback if Jordan Love doesn’t pan out.

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Passing Game
QB: Jordan Love, Sean Clifford
WR: Christian Watson, Dontayvion Wicks
WR: Romeo Doubs, Samori Toure
WR: Jayden Reed, Grant DuBose
TE: Luke Musgrave, Tucker Kraft

The Packers are still working with an entirely unknown quantity at quarterback. Love has 83 career pass attempts since being drafted in 2020. His numbers from 20 dropbacks in 2022 look good. He averaged an impressive .176 EPA per play and 9.3 yards per attempt. On the other hand, a 63-yard play that saw Christian Watson generate 53 yards after the catching is doing most of the heavy lifting in both of these stats.

Love was far worse in 2021, averaging -.07 EPA per play with a -5.5 completion percent over expected. This aligns with Love’s college tape that showed a quarterback with a big arm but accuracy and decision-making issues. It also comes on a sample so small it’s nearly meaningless. A larger sample would be all first-round quarterbacks. In that sample, there’s only one success story of a player sitting for three years. That player has been ahead of Love on the depth chart since he entered the league.

All of this is to state the obvious: Love’s range of outcomes is as wide as it gets. The limiting factor for him will likely be the play-calling. If the Packers went conservative with Rodgers in a down year, they are all but guaranteed to be a slow, run-oriented team with Love at the helm. The volume of pass attempts alone could prevent Love from sniffing QB1 numbers, even if he comes out of the gates firing.

The Packers had a four-time MVP at the helm in 2022 and it was Watson who was the star of the show. After a rocky start because of injuries, Watson averaged 3.9 catches for 65 yards and .9 touchdowns over his final eight games. He also scored one rushing touchdown in that span. Watson wasn’t just a big-play threat. He was a true WR1, pacing the team in targets share (22 percent), air yards share (39 percent), and red zone target share (31 percent) during the final two months of the season. His connection with Love will ultimately play a major role in his fantasy output, but Watson has all of the makings of a stud fantasy receiver.

Fellow second-year receiver Romeo Doubs didn’t have the same, explosive debut as his counterpart in Green Bay. Doubs ranked 60th in yards per route run and Pro Football Focus ranked him as WR84 in receiving grade. Like Watson, Doubs also dealt with injuries as a rookie. He missed four games on injured reserve in the middle of the season. Unlike Watson, Doubs was unable to claim a full-time role upon returning. He topped a 50 percent snap share once over the final four weeks.

Doubs’ up-and-down 2022 leaves the door open for Jayden Reed to see significant playing time as a rookie. Reed broke out as a true freshman with a 56-797-8 receiving line at Western Michigan. He then transferred to Michigan State and again broke out in his third college season with 1,026 yards and 10 scores. Reed came back to earth in his senior season because of injuries and a lack of usage. His target share took a hit and he reached just 636 yards. The disappointment of his final year caused some concerns heading into the draft, but the Packers looked past them and took Reed with the No. 50 pick. Reed should start in three-receiver sets as a rookie, making him a strong bet to gain dynasty value early in his career.

More young players are needed to step up at tight end. Incumbent and former second-round pick Josiah Deguara is an H-back who doesn’t figure to see much work as a true tight end. That leaves rookies Luke Musgrave and Tucker Kraft vying for the starting gig. Musgrave, taken in the second round, enters the league with almost no production to his name. His best season came in 2021 when he went for 304 yards and a lone touchdown. However, Musgrave opened the 2022 season on fire with 11 catches for 169 yards in his first two games. A knee injury then ended his would-be breakout campaign. He went on to post a 9.71 RAS at the combine, showing that his brief time as a productive pass-catcher wasn’t a fluke. Musgrave reportedly ran with the ones in OTAs, making him the clubhouse favorite to earn the starting gig in the fall.

Kraft was also an interesting prospect. Drafted in the third round, he broke out as a junior with a 65-780-6 line. An ankle injury prevented him from following that up as a senior. Kraft nearly matched Musgrave at the combine with a 9.59 RAS. He’s also a competent blocker in the run game

Running Game
RB: Aaron Jones, AJ Dillon, Patrick Taylor, Lew Nichols
OL (L-R): David Bakhtiari, Elgton Jenkins, Josh Myers, Jon Runyan, Zach Tom

AJ Dillon and Aaron Jones have settled into their roles as members of a dreaded backfield-by-committee. Jones is an elite runner and will continue to see more carries than Dillon, but the margin is surprisingly small. Over the past two years, Jones has averaged 12 carries weekly while Dillon is at 11 when looking at games when both players were active. Last year, it was clear Jones was the more effective runner. Per PFF, he doubled up Dillon in missed tackles forced on roughly 30 extra carries. He also lapped Dillon in carries that went for 15 or more yards. Unsurprisingly, Jones was also the better pass-catcher, averaging 1.25 yards per route run compared to Dillon’s .82.

While Dillon lacks the dynamism of Jones, he is better in one way that is crucial for fantasy production. Dillon out-carried Jones 10-3 inside the five-yard line. He scored four touchdowns and Jones did not find paydirt on any of his three tries. Neither back faced stacked fronts consistently, but Dillons saw eight or more defenders in the box on 16.1 percent of his carries while Jones was at 10.8 percent. Jones averaged 2.08 yards before contact and Dillon was at 1.51. Dillon will never be as efficient as his backfield counterpart and some of that is by design. He’s the hammer who handles dirty work while also plunging into the end zone on occasion. Jones is the flashy runner who racks up long gains between the 20s.

Patrick Taylor and Lew Nichols will compete for the RB3 gig in Green Bay, but that mostly entails special teams work. Taylor entered the league in 2020 and has 31 carries to his name. Nichols peaked as a junior at Central Michigan with an astounding, 341-1,848-16 rushing line. He also added 40 catches for 338 yards and two scores through the air. He only rushed for 616 yards as a senior, partially because of a toe injury. Nichols is an interesting dynasty stash but isn’t on the radar in most other formats

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Win Total
PointsBet Over/Under: 7.5
Pick: Over
The Packers shockingly have the lowest win total of any NFC North team. Chicago also sitting at 7.5 wins, but the juice has them at slightly above that number. Gutekunst has one toe in the rebuilding pool. Just looking at skill positions, they are going to have first or second-year players starting at all three receiver spots and tight end. Love is entering his first season as a starter as well. However, the Packers have been one of the best-coached teams under LaFleur and the front office has made a considerable effort to add pass-catching weapons in the previous two drafts. If forced to take a side, I’d go over 7.5 wins. Some books also have Green Bay at +500 to win the NFC North. I like them more relative to their division than the league as a whole, so the long odds for them to reclaim their division also look appealing.