Team Previews: 2018 Green Bay Packers
Team Previews: 2018 Green Bay Packers

This article is part of our Team Previews series.

THE SKINNY
The 2017 season was the latest example of Aaron Rodgers' import, as the Packers barely got anything going in his absence and saw an eight-year playoff streak come to an end. If Rodgers stays healthy in 2018, the Packers have as good a chance as any team of reaching the postseason – and the Super Bowl.

THREE THINGS TO KNOW

PASSING THE TORCH
Jordy Nelson was long the chief option in the Packers' passing attack but he had trouble getting open in 2017 regardless of who started at quarterback, and management decided it was time to part ways this offseason. The team swapped one veteran for another with the signing of tight end Jimmy Graham, but he won't take Nelson's place as the No. 1 option. That spot will be occupied by Davante Adams, a touchdown machine who seems poised to take his production to the next level. Either Graham or Randall Cobb figure to be next among Aaron Rodgers' progressions, and whoever isn't second will be third. Beyond that trio, things get interesting, as every other slot on the wideout depth chart will be open heading into training camp. Geronimo Allison's experience makes him the favorite to win the No. 3 gig over 2018 draftees J'Mon Moore, Equanimeous St. Brown and Marquez Valdes-Scantling. The Packers could use their running backs like they did last year, but the development may have been a product of Brett Hundley's inability to get the ball downfield. While there's plenty of uncertainty, it's a good bet at least one player behind Adams, Graham and Cobb emerges as a factor in an attack that only once since 2008 finished outside the top 10 in passing yards when Rodgers played the most games under center for Green Bay.

NOT RUNNING OUT OF OPTIONS
Questions about the Packers' running game abounded heading into 2017, but the position may be among the deepest on the roster this time around. Entering last year as the starting back, Ty Montgomery's season ended in November due to rib and wrist injuries. Along the way, rookies Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams held their own and then some. All three will have an argument for playing time in 2018, and the Packers figure to create game plans to use all three. Montgomery possesses the best all-around package of the bunch, but he's had trouble staying on the field in three pro seasons, missing 19 total games. Jones has the most game-breaking ability of the trio, as evidenced by 5.5 yards per carry and six runs of greater than 20 yards last season. That said, he'll begin the year with a two-game suspension after violating the league's substance abuse policy. Rounding out the group is Williams, who lacks burst but excels in both passing game aspects and showed grinder ability down the stretch. The latter point can be seen in his workload (20.4 touches per game) and production (93.3 yards from scrimmage per game) over the final eight outings of the campaign. Coach Mike McCarthy may be swayed by Williams' impressive finish, especially if he backs it up in the preseason. A competition figures to parse out the pecking order and Week 1 starter between Williams and Montgomery.

DEFENSE GETS A FACELIFT
The Packers defense has been maligned in Green Bay for years, and the team finally decided to make a change at the top, removing Dom Capers after nine seasons as coordinator in favor of Mike Pettine. On the field, the unit will be led by the line, which boasts one of the better starting trios in the league in Pro Bowler Mike Daniels, the up-and-coming Kenny Clark and newcomer Muhammad Wilkerson, who played for Jets coordinator Pettine in 2011 and 2012. The Packers also added – or brought back – another player with ties to Pettine. Tramon Williams, who spent the first eight years of his career in Green Bay, worked under Cleveland coach Pettine in 2015. The team is counting on Williams and Pettine to groom a young secondary, with four members entering either their first or second pro campaigns. The 2017 draft yielded cornerback Kevin King and Josh Jones, the latter of whom will replace Morgan Burnett at strong safety. In this year's version, the Packers used first- and second-round picks on corners Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson, respectively. Between the trenches and back end, Clay Matthews and Nick Perry are the main edge rushers yet again, while elite IDP option Blake Martinez anchors the inside. The offense will be the driving force in 2018, but defense may determine the length of the Packers' season.

PIVOTAL PLAYER: Davante Adams
Adams has shown glimpses of being a No. 1 wideout, but this year he'll finally get the chance to fill that role officially. He's scored 22 touchdowns over his last 30 games, and assuming Aaron Rodgers is healthy for all of 2018, that pace figures to remain steady. Adams will anchor the wide receiver spot for many fantasy teams.

BAROMETER
RISING: Jamaal Williams
Lacking explosiveness as a rookie, Williams certainly did not want for production by the end of 2017. He averaged more than 20 touches per game from Week 10 onward and looks ready to lead the backfield again.

FALLING: Ty Montgomery
Montgomery was a trendy sleeper after averaging 5.9 YPC in 2016 but didn't get much going last year before his season was cut short. He likely is looking at playing some sort of part-time or hybrid role in 2018.

SLEEPER: Aaron Jones
Although he totaled just 23 touches after Week 7 last season, Jones twice surpassed the 100- yard mark prior to that point. Improvements in other areas of his position could help him land the No. 1 job after logging a two-game ban.

KEY JOB BATTLE – WEEKS 1-2 STARTING RUNNING BACK
It's impossible to win a fantasy championship in the first two weeks of the regular season, but it is important to win as much as possible to stay in the race until the end. It remains to be seen how the Packers' running back situation will play out over the course of the year, but early on, one, or possibly both, of Jamaal Williams and Ty Montgomery could prove to be the key to winning an early-season matchup or two. Aaron Jones will be serving a two-game suspension during that time, which will open up opportunities for his fellow running backs. There's a good chance the Packers take things slowly with Montgomery, who has had trouble staying healthy. That puts the focus squarely on Williams, who has a good chance to see around the 20 touches he averaged over the back half of last year. While Jones is the most explosive runner of the group and will see time on the field in Week 3 and beyond, the extra opportunities afforded Williams could allow him to secure the starter's job long-term. All in all, Williams should see extra work early and will have the chance to earn even more beyond that, so don't be afraid to bump him up a few slots on your cheat sheets.

KEY ACQUISITIONS:
Jimmy Graham – TE (from Seahawks)
Joins third team but will continue catching passes from an elite QB.

Muhammad Wilkerson – DE (from Jets)
Will team up with former DC in effort to get career back on track.

Marcedes Lewis – TE (from Jaguars)
Fortifies tight end position and improves team run blocking.

DeShone Kizer – QB (from Browns)
Possible upgrade at backup QB after little success sans Aaron Rodgers.

Jaire Alexander – CB (Rd. 1, No. 18 – Louisville)
Top draft pick brings speed and attitude to cornerback position.

J'Mon Moore – WR (Rd. 4, No. 133 – Missouri)
Best bet among rookie wideouts to play a role in the passing attack.

KEY LOSSES:
Jordy Nelson – WR (to Raiders)
Fan favorite jettisoned, heads West after 10 years in Green Bay.

Morgan Burnett – S (to Steelers)
Another long-time Packer allowed to leave during the offseason.

THE INJURY FRONT
Aaron Rodgers, QB – The Packers were 4-1 and Rodgers was playing at an MVP level last year heading into Week 6, but everything went downhill when he suffered a broken collarbone in that contest. Rodgers' recovery went as planned and the Packers stayed in the playoff race long enough to allow him to return to action in Week 15, but Green Bay was eliminated from the playoffs with a loss, and Packers brass decided to shut Rodgers down for the final two games of the regular season. That did allow him the chance to get back to 100 percent at the least, and he went into the offseason fully healthy. He didn't encounter any hiccups during OTAs and will head into training camp without any limitations. Coming off mostly a lost season, Rodgers certainly won't lack motivation in 2018.

Davante Adams, WR – Adams had a big year in 2017, but he also picked up two concussions along the way, with the second one knocking him out of action for the final two games of the regular season. He was removed from the concussion protocol in early January, though, so he was able to move past the injuries relatively quickly. He was slowed by a hamstring injury in OTAs, but was able to take the field before the session concluded, so that should not be any worry heading into Week 1. The head injuries are at least mildly concerning, as another one would be Adams' fourth in a three-year span.

Randall Cobb, WR – Cobb sat out the Packers' Week 3 matchup with the Bengals last season due to a chest injury, but he was able to play in every game after that, so all in all, it was a successful season on the injury front for a player who has appeared in all 16 regular-season games just twice in his seven-year career. The chest injury is not any sort of concern, but what is is the foot injury that could slow him early in training camp. The Packers believe he should still be good to go for Week 1, but any sort of setback leading up to that could delay his start to the season.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kevin O'Brien
Kevin mans the Packers and Brewers beats and moonlights as RotoWire's Director of Operations.
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