Coach Series: Green Bay Packers Part 2
This is the second of a two-part series looking at Matt Lafleur and the new coaching staff of the Green Bay Packers. You can find the first article here, which examined passing and play action usage. This article will dive into personnel packages and an overview of fantasy implications. Read this article for a summary on how personnel usage can inform fantasy.
History of personnel usage
Lafleur’s 2018 Titans, McVay’s 2017 Rams, and Shanahan’s 2016 Falcons personnel package usage have been wildly different. Lafleur led a unit with one of the lowest 1-1 (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WRs) percentages in the league (30th, behind 49ers and Ravens). This is suggestive of a more run-heavy approach, which is further supported by the high 1-2 (1 RB, 2 TE, 2 WR) and 1-3 (1 RB, 3 TE, 1 WR) personnel package percentages. This could be because of personnel and not a coaching philosophy. It is possible that Lafleur felt Tennessee did not have a 3rd reliable receiver and they wanted to run more with Dion Lewis and Derrick Henry.
Personnel Package Usage (%)
Note: 1-1 = 1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR
1-2 = 1 RB, 2 TE, 2 WR
2-1 = 2 RB, 1 TE, 2 WR
1-3 = 1 RB, 3 TE, 2 WR
2019 Packers personnel considerations
Projecting to the 2019 Packers, I expect that Lafleur is closer to McVay’s 1-1 usage than either his own Titans scheme or Shanahan’s. It is unlikely that he mimics Shanahan’s unique 2-1 (2 RBs, 1 TE, 2 WR) approach. Lafleur does not currently have the players with skill sets that can replicate how Shanahan utilizes his backs. Free agency and the draft may be informative of this if they bring a notable running back addition. But maybe not. Many speculated Lafleur would incorporate more of these concepts in Tennessee when they brought in Dion Lewis to compliment Derrick Henry. This did not happen. Lafleur used 2-1 packages on 1% of plays in 2018 despite having personnel consistent with this approach. Lewis and Henry had clearly delineated roles that were more situation specific (down/distance, pass/rush, winning/losing) until the staff committed to Henry in the latter half of the season. Based on this, it is difficult to imagine that Lafleur intends to replicate Shanahan’s unique scheme.
One indicator of his tendencies will be how they handle the tight end position. If Delanie Walker had not been injured so early in the season, we would have more data of his approach with a high-quality pass catcher in that role. For the Packers, Lance Kendricks is an unrestricted free agent and Jimmy Graham is owed nearly $12MM but has “only” $7.3MM towards the dead cap. If they keep Graham, which early reports suggest they will, this may indicate an uptick in 1-2 package deployment (1 RB, 2 TE, 2 WR). This is consistent with teams that utilize a tight end in a receiving role more frequently (e.g. Eagles, Chiefs).
Lafleur will most likely increase his 1-1 usage and may approach the number used in Mike McCarthy’s system (77% in 2018). While this number won’t touch McVay’s 89% in 2018, it will remain a significant departure from the Titans’ scheme this past season. If Lafleur does decide to use 1-1 more frequently, this has significant implications for the receivers. Davante Adams is locked into his 25% target share, but Randall Cobb will be departing and there is uncertainty in the young receiving corp for the Z and slot positions (my apologies to Geronimo Allison, Equanimeous St. Brown, Marquez Valdez-Scantling, and Jake Kumerow truthers). Using 1-1 personnel 75% of the time will provide a significant opportunity for the 2nd and 3rd receivers on the team compared with 56% on the 2018 Titans.
The biggest boost will be for the slot receiver, who is typically the one to come off the field when a 2 receiver set is used. We do not yet know who will have this role given Cobb’s departure, but this can be an incredibly valuable fantasy piece in the offense. An addition such as Golden Tate would be a versatile, underneath receiver who excels at finding soft spots in the defense and gaining extra yards after the catch (YAC). Tate ranked 18th in target separation in 2017 with 1.86 yards from nearest defender upon reception and was 1st in YAC with 5.3 per target (636 total). He could return to these numbers as the 2nd option in an offense led by Rodgers.
The outside receiver opposite Adams is also unclear. Valdez-Scantling, St. Brown, and Allison (if they re-sign him) could all vie for this role. Valdez-Scantling is appealing given his speed and ability to stretch defenses, but he still needs to develop his precision and route tree. Allison had success and maybe the lead to fill this spot if they sign him as a restricted free agent this offseason. I also think there is a distinct possibility they bring in a free agent receiver or rookie to compete for this position. John Brown would be a strong fit schematically that would compliment Adams well and give Rodgers a worthy deep threat. Brown is a speedster with a 4.34 40 coming out of college. He ranked 8th in distance of route run and 6th in target distance (17.1 yards) on the Ravens in 2018. Given his injury history, sickle cell trait, and sporadic production, Brown would also not command an expensive contract for a short term deal.
My takeaway overall is to invest in this offense. I am skeptical that Lafleur will live up to the lofty expectations set forth by his coaching tree, but that it will be an upgrade over McCarthy’s fairly old school and predictable offense. Given their 7th place offensive DVOA in 2018, this team seems set to be consistently in the top 5-8 of the league with an improved scheme, a solid offensive line, and above average skill position players. And for better or worse, Green Bay is one of the most stable franchises in the league and will give Lafleur every opportunity to succeed.
Quarterback: Rodgers is the cheapest he has been in a long time (49th per Fantasypros dynasty ADP) and may be primed to return to elite status if a more creative offense is installed. If owners are concerned about his 2018 performance and his age, he is someone worth pursuing. He may not be on the TB12 plan and play until he’s 45, but he can return several years of top end fantasy performances. This will be boosted if they bring in another reliable pass catcher to play alongside Adams and the young receivers.
Wide Receiver: As outlined above, it is difficult to project the receivers to target given the uncertainty. I plan to target the player that is projected to line up in the slot, and I am hopeful it is a veteran signed in free agency such as Tate, Jamison Crowder, or Adam Humphries. Valdez-Scantling and St. Brown are cheap targets given their current ADP, but I would be reluctant to give up significant capital because they may drop on the depth chart to obscurity.
Running Back: The Packers seem set with the tandem of Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams, but I anticipate they will bring in a late round (4th or later) or a free agent to add to the backfield. My expectation is that they will add a smaller back who is projected as a 3rd down and receiving specialist. This would add versatility and compliment the skill sets of Jones and Williams. An addition of this nature would be helpful for the team, but add further confusion to the backfield which already is one of the more polarizing headed into 2019.
I am a believer in Jones. On limited opportunities (50% of snaps), he was 23rd in rushing yards, 4th in yards per carry, and 24th in fantasy points per game (14.3) for the season. When his snaps increased after their bye, he averaged 19.97 points per game until he was injured in week 15. This projects to 320 points for the season, good for a 6th place RB finish.
If given an increased role, he is set to move up into an elite tier for fantasy the next several seasons. He comes with risk because of injury history and a suspension to start the 2018 season, but his upside is worth an investment. There are not many running backs that have such a clear path to a majority snap count and a role in the passing game. Running backs accounted for 85 targets in the Titans offense in 2018, so if Jones can secure a 65-70% snap count in Green Bay, he would have a healthy PPR floor assuming this reception usage continues.
Tight End: Given their reported intent to keep Graham, I am shying away from the tight end situation in Green Bay until after the draft. If they draft a notable tight end, either in the top tier (i.e. Fant, Hockenson, Smith) or otherwise, this will be a substantial boost to that player’s value. This player would be worth a rookie pick but will be at a premium given the inevitable hype from the landing spot. Their first-year production may be low with Graham still as the starter, so it may be worth passing in the draft and targeting for a trade after this season when his value will deflate.
Data courtesy of Playerprofiler.com, Footballoutsiders.com, and pro-football-reference.com, and sharpfootballstats.com.
Appreciate you reading. You can find additional content in my DFF archive, and I can be found on Twitter @DFF_Tom. Happy to discuss all things fantasy, dynasty, and football.