The Packers won their final four games in 2006 and missed the NFC playoffs on a tiebreaker. General manager Ted Thompson obviously has confidence the team can build on that momentum as he was not an active buyer on the free-agent market. There are some lingering issues on offense, with Brett Favre back for another season, but he's no longer a standout and his receiving crew is thin. The running game is unstable. Young players are expected to step forward and make more significant contributions at key positions.
Key Backups/Position Battles
Aaron Rodgers suffered a broken foot in November, but his recovery has gone well and he is expected to be ready for the 2007 season. Playing behind Favre, he won't be needed. He is still considered the team's quarterback of the future, and needs more time to learn the pro game. Third-stringer Ingle Martin can manage a game respectably if pressed into emergency duty.
Vernand Morency tops the depth chart for now, but he won't be able to handle a full-time load. Morency displays some nifty moves and speed in the open field but lacks the strength and bulk to absorb regular pounding and he is not a reliable inside runner. He is ideally suited to be a backup and is a place-holder. Rookie Brandon Jackson has much more upside and is more suited for the Packers' zone-blocking schemes. He has excellent vision, hits holes quickly and is very elusive. Jackson doesn't have classic speed, but he can use his quickness and smarts to make defenders miss in the open field. However, he doesn't have the look of a running back who can handle a significant workload. Morency and Jackson will battle for playing time in training camp and throughout the preseason. Noah Herron rushed for 106 yards against St. Louis last year and is a good downhill runner who can perform adequately if pressed into action. Expect Jackson to ultimately earn the most carries.
The oft-injured Robert Ferguson is trying to come back from a foot injury that cost him most of the 2006 season. Experience gives him an edge in the early competition for the No. 3 receiving job, but he will be overtaken by more promising players. Ruvell Martin offers the size and strength the Packers need in the red zone. Rookie James Jones is a project, yet he can also become another important possession target. Carlyle Holiday and another rookie, David Clowney, can make some occasional plays downfield. Even if Ferguson can hold off the push from the unpolished group of prospects, he has never been a reliable fantasy option in the past. None of these receivers will be worth drafting, but it will be very interesting for dynasty leaguers to watch who develops for the future.
Bubba Franks will remain the starter because of his blocking skills. Donald Lee has more athleticism, yet has never emerged as a dependable target for Favre.
Dave Rayner scored 109 points in 2006, yet his job security is anything but assured. Green Bay drafted Mason Crosby in the sixth round, a selection many draft experts considered a bargain. Crosby, who has a very strong leg, was originally projected to be a second or third-round pick by some NFL draft prognosticators. When a team spends a draft choice on a kicker, they generally intend to give him a very good chance for the job. Rayner has only made 10-of-16 attempts at Lambeau Field and Crosby has the better accuracy and range from deep. Crosby will win the job in the preseason.
Week 1 Philadelphia Eagles
Week 3 San Diego Chargers
Week 7 BYE
Week 8 @ Denver Broncos
Week 13 @ Dallas Cowboys
Week 14 Oakland Raiders
Week 15 @ St. Louis Rams
Week 16 @ Chicago Bears
Week 17 Detroit Lions
What to Look for in 2007
Favre was able to cut down on his interceptions last season (going from 29 in 2005 to 18 in 2006), but according to ESPN.com Insider KC Joyner, he still led the league in near-interceptions with 44. Although his receivers didn't help him with their regular drops, Favre still tried to take too much onto his own shoulders when the Packers fell behind or were in high-pressure scenarios. Favre is no longer a dependable fantasy starter, but he will still give you some good performances when the matchup is right.
Morency won't be able to hold onto the starting job, as Jackson will simply prove he is the better running back, especially in Green Bay's system. The key for the Packers will be making sure they keep him fresh. Jackson will have some impressive outings and will be a quality No. 2 fantasy running back as a rookie. He will emerge as the new No. 1 running back very quickly, but Jackson won't always get the optimum amount of carries per game, for fantasy purposes. Morency and Herron will get a handful of touches in many games, but not enough to help most fantasy teams. Their job will be to help keep Jackson sharp while challenging defenses with different styles of running.
Donald Driver should have another outstanding year. He and Favre are on the same wavelength. Driver may not have ideal size and strength, but he compensates with a great work ethic, good route running and the ability to regularly find the soft spots in defenses. We project Driver for 1,270 receiving yards and seven touchdown receptions in 2007. Greg Jennings was an early revelation as a rookie last year, but an ankle problem slowed his progress. In his second season, the Packers are expecting big things from Jennings. He gets open regularly downfield and can make defenders miss after the catch. Jennings has already earned the confidence of Favre and you will see the second-year wideout take the next step in 2007.
The offensive line will again be anchored by tackles Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher, and second-year guards Daryn Colledge and Jason Spitz will continue to improve. The blocking won't be outstanding, but the mix of experience and youth will get the job done. The defense is on the rise as a fantasy unit, with defensive ends Cullen Jenkins and Aaron Kampman leading the charge up front. Linebackers Nick Barnett and A.J. Hawk are relentless playmakers, and the cornerback tandem of Al Harris and Charles Woodson is one of the game's best. Second-year man Shaun Bodiford can add another dimension on defense/special teams from the fantasy perspective. After the very best units are off the board, the Packers' defense and special teams unit is a good value pick in fantasy leagues. Kampman and Hawk are elite players in individual-defender leagues.
Green Bay's offense will go as far as Favre takes it, and he won't stop being a gunslinger. He'll be erratic again this year, with some very good outings and others laden with turnovers. Driver will continue to be his dependable, go-to guy. Jennings will make some important plays downfield, but there simply aren't enough weapons overall to warrant high draft picks for this offense. Jackson will be explosive at times, and disappear on other occasions. Inconsistency in the red zone will lead to a healthy amount of field goal opportunities for Crosby.
The Pack will be tougher than expected on defense, and that unit will force a good amount of turnovers. Green Bay will remain in contention for a playoff spot all year long in the wide-open NFC, and their top players will be very useful during the fantasy postseason thanks to three games against weaker teams offsetting a Week 16 showdown with the Bears.
Scott Engel covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can contact Scott here.