The Green Bay Packers are a team that’s long been known for their offensive stars. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, tailback Eddie Lacy and wide receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb dominate headlines about the team. All are early-round picks in fantasy football drafts.
Yet, there’s two sides to every coin. And the Packers aren’t a team without defensive talent. Over the past few years it’s been a squad that has at times struggled and allowed yardage and points in bunches, but under defensive coordinator Dom Capers it’s also a defense that has a knack for big plays and takeaways.
There’s talent to be had here for IDP owners as well. Granted, most of that talent’s at the back end, but there’s also some fruit on the tree up front — if you know where to look.
Number in parentheses denotes 2015 positional finish in Fantasy Sharks Default IDP Scoring.
Unfortunately for IDP owners, where the defensive line in concerned Capers is something of an old-school coordinator. The players on the defensive line are generally charged with two-gap responsibilities — occupying blockers so that the players behind them can clean up. It works fine for the Packers, but it strips those players of much of their fantasy upside.
The leader of that line is end Mike Daniels (DL36), who logged 49 tackles and four sacks for the team in 2015. Daniels told Mike Garafolo of NFL.com that the team is chomping at the bit to avenge last year’s playoff loss in Arizona.
“This is an All-Star roster,” Daniels said. “That motivates you, but that also can really upset you when things don’t go right because it’s like, ‘Man, we have some of the best players in the league. We have a bunch of All-Pros, a bunch of Pro Bowlers, bunch of fringe All-Pro, fringe Pro Bowl guys year in and year out.’ The scouting they do here is amazing and then the development they do is amazing as well.”
The Packers are indeed a loaded team, especially on offense. But as good as the team is, and as solid an NFL player as Daniels might be, his low-end DL3 finish in 2015 was a career best. In deeper IDP leagues Daniels is a serviceable bye-week fill-in or depth pick, but in the majority of formats the 27-year-old is waiver wire material.
If the Packers have had one glaring defensive deficiency the past couple of years, it’s been at inside linebacker — so much so that they were forced to slide pass-rusher Clay Matthews (LB36) inside. Sam Barrington (LB243) hasn’t been able to stay healthy. Jake Ryan (LB134) has played well against the run, but looked lost in coverage.
Well, the Packers are hopeful that they’ve found the answer to that problem in rookie Blake Martinez (DNP), a fourth-round pick that met with the approval of Mark Dulgerian of NFL.com. “This is one of the better picks of the 4th round,” he said. “Martinez addresses a need at inside linebacker as an instinctive, thumping tackler with a motor that rivals his running mate in Clay Matthews Jr.”
As Wes Hodkiewicz of the team’s website reports, Capers thinks enough of the youngster’s play to assign him the “green dot” helmet communicator (and the every-down role that goes with it). “I think he’s an attention-to-detail guy,” Capers said. “If he doesn’t know, he’s going to ask. There’s going to be errors because it’s the first time he’s seen a lot of things, but he normally doesn’t make the same error twice.”
Now, Martinez’s three-down role, football smarts and tenacity would appear to make him an appealing upside target as a fantasy LB4 of draft day. But bear in mind that Capers has fiddled with his ILB incessantly in recent seasons. If Martinez starts to struggle (a real possibility for a Day 3 rookie), the hook is going to come.
As to Matthews, it’s good news for the Packers that the team can shift him back outside where he can resume doing what he does best — harassing quarterbacks. It doesn’t do his fantasy upside any favors though. Unless your league awards a lot of points for sacks relative to tackles, Matthews high-variance production in 2016 will likely do more harm to your squad than good. Let someone else draft the name, the hair and the Fathead ads.
The Packers are trying something different at the other linebacker spot in the nickel — a set the Packers spend more time in than any other. As Ryan Wood of USA Today wrote, Capers has been shifting strong safety Morgan Burnett (DB98) into that role — a role he believes Burnett can thrive in.
“He’s got good size,” Capers said. “He can run. He’s a tough guy. With all the speed that people are putting on the field, you have to be able to match that speed up on defense. Because that’s what everybody is looking for, one-on-one matchups. If you fall short in an area, you can get exposed pretty quick.”
Burnett was a top-five defensive back in 2014 and has topped 120 tackles twice in the past four seasons. Injuries were responsible for last year’s fantasy faceplant, but if this new “hybrid” role sticks Burnett could be on the fast track right back to IDP DB1 status.
If that’s the case, there will be a pair of Packers among the best IDP options at their position, as free safety Hasean Clinton-Dix (DB10) is safely ensconced there after tallying 100 tackles and three sacks in a breakout 2015 campaign. Green Bay safeties coach Darren Perry told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that at only 23 years of age Clinton-Dix still has plenty of room to improve.
“I think he’s learning how to play the pro game,” Packers safety coach Darren Perry said of Clinton-Dix. “I think he’d be the first to tell you he still has a ways to go. Really understanding what offenses are trying to do to us and putting us in better matchups and leaning to where we think the ball is going to go and putting ourselves, almost like the quarterback in our offense and getting us in favorable matchups as much as we can.”
IDP owners can only hope.