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Sleepers, Busts and Bets: The 2022 Green Bay Packers

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Dan Fornek and Jeremy Popielarz continue with the 2022 Sleepers, Busts and Bets series to preview all 32 NFL teams for the upcoming year. Next up: The Green Bay Packers.

 

Dan and Jeremy will list their picks with confidence in “The Answers,” Then expand upon their picks with more details reason in “The Explanation.”

The Answers

Favorite Sleeper

Fornek: Sammy Watkins
Popielarz: Romeo Doubs

Biggest Bust

Fornek: Christian Watson
Popielarz: Allen Lazard

Boldest Bet

Fornek: Aaron Jones finishes as a top-3 RB
Popielarz: Aaron Jones finishes as a top-5 RB

 

The Explanation

Sleeper

Fornek: Sammy Watkins

The Packers lost Davante Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling in free agency this offseason, opening up a ton of potential targets in their passing attack. While everybody has been focusing on Allen Lazard and Christian Watson as the most likely recipients of those targets, the truth is none of us know how Aaron Rodgers will distribute the ball to his playmakers without his Adams security blanket. The lack of clarity has made all of Green Bay’s wide receivers relatively affordable in fantasy drafts, so the best sleeper might just be the one who is going latest of the group.

Sammy Watkins has struggled to remain fantasy-relevant despite spending the last four seasons with Kansas City and Baltimore. During that stretch, he’s seen his targets, receptions, yards and touchdowns decrease every season. Injuries have also limited him to playing in just 47 of 65 games. This probably seems like a strange way to start a sleeper section, but Watkins does have some intriguing upside heading into the 2022 season. Over the last four seasons, he’s been competing for targets with players like Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, Mark Andrews and Marquise Brown. There are no players in Green Bay who have that kind of talent and ability to command targets. Additionally, the Packers were second in the NFL running 12 personnel last season (one running back, two tight ends and two wide receivers), running 29% of their offensive plays in those formations. Lazard will presumably take up one of those outside receiver positions, so all Watkins must do is beat out a small-school rookie (Christian Watson) and a late-round draft pick (Romeo Doubs) to corner a significant snap share in this offense (Randall Cobb and Amari Rodgers are strictly slot receivers).

Watkins is currently being drafted as the WR84 in fantasy drafts and is routinely available in the last two rounds. That is an exceptionally reasonable price for a wide receiver tied to Rodgers who has very little proven NFL talent to compete with in the receiving game.

Popielarz: Romeo Doubs

There is a growing chance that we see Romeo Doubs trot onto the field as a starter in Week 1 for the Green Bay Packers. This year’s fourth-round pick has already impressed the coaching staff in minicamp and will likely do the same come training camp. It is no surprise that Doubs is impressing the coaches, as last season at Nevada he produced 1,114 yards and 11 touchdowns on 80 receptions. More impressively, he was only credited with four drops on 110 targets while winning 60% of his contested targets – via PFF. These sure hands will come in handy this season, as Aaron Rodgers has always leaned on players who he can rely on, and Doubs can be that guy. Fellow rookie Christian Watson had a career drop percentage of 13.4%, making his road a bit more of an uphill climb while opening the door for Doubs to slide in. And with the Packers’ extremely shallow depth chart, it’s truly a wide-open competition for the top spots. 

Now, the Packers will likely lean on both AJ Dillon and Aaron Jones a significant amount of the time, but there will still be opportunities available for the taking. Last season, the Packers threw the ball 593 times with a significant portion going to now Raider Davante Adams. It is likely Doubs sees enough of these “vacated targets” to be flex viable at times throughout the season.

Bust

Fornek: Christian Watson

There was plenty of buzz around Christian Watson after he posted one of the more impressive combine performances of any wide receiver in the class.

The lack of wide receivers with size and speed measurables sent Watson’s draft stock soaring, culminating with him being taken with the second pick in the second round of the draft after a trade-up by the Green Bay Packers. While the measurables, draft capital and team situation all are extremely promising for Watson, there are reasons to hesitate at his current ADP of WR57.

For one, Watson is a small-school prospect (FCS North Dakota State) who didn’t particularly dominate that level of competition. In 52 career games with the Bison, Watson totaled just 105 receptions, 2,140 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns in a run-first offense. The lack of production and lack of high-end competition makes it very likely that Watson needs time to develop as a wide receiver at the NFL level. The Packers could easily utilize him in the Marquez Valdes-Scantling role as a situational deep threat with an inconsistent target share in his first season, making it difficult for him to provide consistent fantasy value throughout the year.

Additionally, it is well-documented that Aaron Rodgers struggles to connect with rookie wide receivers in their first season. Even if Watson does get on the field, he will be working against players who have had time to establish rapport with Rodgers like Allen Lazard, Aaron Jones, Randall CobbAJ Dillon and Robert Tonyan. The Packers could also utilize a veteran like Sammy Watkins or hope a year of development makes Amari Rodgers a part of the offense.

It is enticing to buy into players who have the athletic profile that Watson has, especially after a team trades up in the second round of the NFL draft to acquire him. However, there are plenty of reasons to be wary of his price tag, since he’s going just 20 picks after the team’s likely WR1 (Lazard).

Popielarz: Allen Lazard

As one of the two returning wide receivers who have seen over 50 targets in a season, Lazard seems likely to be in line for the lead role in this offense. Not so fast, as Lazard’s best season came last year when he produced only 513 yards and eight touchdowns on 40 receptions en route to a WR47 finish in PPR scoring. He also saw a career-high 60 targets, and this is not a target share that makes me overly confident in him. So saying that he is a lock for the lead role in this offense seems a bit far-fetched, especially considering his career numbers. Currently, his ADP of WR50 possesses a low-risk, high-reward situation, but there is little reward in my mind. 

With rookies Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs in the picture, it’s likely they see enough work in the passing game to cap Lazard’s ceiling. Not to mention that AJ Dillon and Aaron Jones will likely see a significant amount of offensive touches, as they are two of the best playmakers on the offense — reducing the touches that will go around. It is also likely that he will see his red-zone work get reduced with the return of Robert Tonyan, who scored 11 touchdowns in 2020. With all of this, it makes it more likely that  Lazard finishes with a season very similar to last season –  just inside the top 50 in positional PPR scoring. 

 

Bet

Fornek: Aaron Jones finishes as a top-3 RB

From 2019-2021, Davante Adams was the unquestioned lead receiver for the Green Bay Packers. During that same stretch of games, Aaron Jones, not any of Green Bay’s other receivers, was second on the team in targets. Since 2018, Jones has averaged 65.3 targets, 49.3 receptions, 406.7 receiving yards and 3.7 receiving touchdowns per season. All of that is in addition to his 202.7 carries, 995.7 rushing yards and 9.7 rushing touchdowns per season. Jones has been especially effective when Adams misses time, averaging nearly 10 more fantasy points per game with Adams on the sideline than he does in the starting lineup.A screenshot of a computer

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AJ Dillon will continue to take carries away from Jones in 2022 and could very well poach some touchdowns in the red zone as well. But in fantasy (especially PPR leagues), receptions are far more valuable than carries, meaning Jones will continue to be fed the highest value touches in the Packers offense next season. There is a chance the running back leads the team in targets as Rodgers’ most trusted receiver. If he can continue to get a good share of the rushing attempts (160+), he will be poised for his best fantasy season yet.

Popielarz: Aaron Jones finishes as a top-5 RB

This season, Aaron Jones is in line for a significant workload. It would not be surprising to see him eclipse 250 touches. With the departure of Davante Adams, the Packers are left with few playmakers on offense, and Jones is possibly the best of them. Jones has finished the last three seasons inside the top 12 running backs in PPR scoring – finishing as high as RB2 (2019) and as low as RB11 (2021). Over this time, he has produced 4,207 scrimmage yards and 40 scrimmage touchdowns on 756 touches. On the flip side, last season we saw his rushing role decrease to the lowest it has been in three years. This was due to the emergence of AJ Dillon.

Aaron Jones RB Green Bay Packers 

With this, Jones saw an increase in receiving work, setting a career high with 52 receptions and six receiving touchdowns. This increased passing work will be his route to the top 5 this season. With a large number of targets up for grabs, a ton will likely go to Jones, especially with all the unproven talent on the roster at the wide receiver position. This creates a path to over 100 targets for Jones this season. With the success he has had over his career in the passing game, it’s easy to see how he could produce high-end production, ultimately leading to his third top-5 finish of his career in PPR scoring.

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