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Team Previews: Green Bay Packers

Kevin O'Brien

Kevin mans the Packers and Brewers beats and moonlights as RotoWire's Director of Operations.

THE SKINNY
The Packers impressed in two playoff wins last season but fell behind early in the NFC championship game and couldn't recover. The roster experienced as much turnover as ever this offseason, and Cheeseheads are hoping the new parts fit and help lead the team to its first Super Bowl berth since 2011.

THREE THINGS TO KNOW

BACKFIELD IN FLUX BEHIND MONTGOMERY
Entering the offseason, it seemed likely the Packers would either re-sign Eddie Lacy or add an established running back to the mix, but neither option materialized. As such, the offense will head into the season with an RB crew that contains plenty of uncertainty. It was only an offseason ago that Ty Montgomery was fighting for snaps as a wide receiver, but one year later, he's the top back in Green Bay's stable. Despite wearing No. 88 -- which he'll do again this season -- Montgomery demonstrated useful running back skills, catching passes out of the backfield and averaging a healthy 5.9 yards per carry. With a full offseason to transition to a new position, look for the Packers to get creative with the third-year pro. After Montgomery, the situation is a bit murkier with Lacy, James Starks and Christine Michael out of town. While Aaron Ripkowski will continue to receive short-yardage chances and pick up snaps as a pass blocker, a combination of rookie backs round out the depth chart. Among them, fourth-round pick Jamaal Williams seems to be the truest "running back" on the roster, capable of handling a significant weekly carry count if called upon. The group also includes Aaron Jones, one of the best receiving backs in the 2017 draft class, and developmental prospect Devante Mays.

MANAGING THE RECEIVING ASSETS
There's little doubt a healthy Jordy Nelson was the final piece of the puzzle that got the Packers offense clicking around the middle of last season, but he isn't a lock to be the team's most productive receiver again in 2017. A member of one of the league's most-talented trio of wideouts, he must contend with Randall Cobb and Davante Adams on game days. Sure, Cobb's output has experienced a downward trend in recent years, but Adams broke out last season as both a downfield and red-zone threat. In particular, Adams could vie with Nelson as Aaron Rodgers' most-trusted wideout. After Adams was targeted 7.2 times per game in a subpar 2015 campaign, he turned slightly more targets (7.6 per outing) last fall into 12 touchdowns, which matched Antonio Brown and Mike Evans for second-most in the NFL behind Nelson. Putting the preceding together, Nelson is the safest of the bunch to continue racking up the best numbers, but Adams now has displayed the makings of a No. 1 wide receiver and has extra motivation with his rookie contract about to expire. As for Cobb, his health likely will determine his place in Rodgers' progression chart, which also will include wideouts Geronimo Allison, DeAngelo Yancey and Trevor Davis, tight end Martellus Bennett and wide receiver turned running back Ty Montgomery.

WILL THE FLOODGATES REMAIN OPEN?
The offense was back to normal by the end of last season, and the run defense finished in the top 10, but the Packers' most glaring weakness was their demise ultimately, as a pass defense ranked 31st in the league during the regular season was shredded by Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and company in an NFC championship game loss. It was easy to place blame on the Packers' inexperienced corners, but the fatal blow actually was delivered in Week 1, when top cornerback Sam Shields suffered another concussion and didn't return at any point thereafter. In an effort to avoid a similar fate in 2017, the front office addressed the unit during the offseason, bringing back veteran corner Davon House and spending their first two draft picks on defensive backs (cornerback Kevin King and safety Josh Jones), both in the second round. Joining a safety tandem that's among the best in the league, Green Bay now has enough quality cornerbacks to foster competition after releasing Shields in February. His replacement will come down to four options -- House, King, 2015 first-round selection Damarious Randall or last year's No. 1 cover corner, Ladarius Gunter. Whether the pass defense gets back on track likely will depend on whether someone emerges to provide the type of blanket Shields used to give the defense.

PIVOTAL PLAYER: Aaron Rodgers
For as long as he's starting games under center for the Packers, Rodgers will be the team's most important piece. He played like an MVP during the second half of last season, and if he's able to carry that performance over to the 2017 campaign, the Packers again will be in position to contend for the NFC crown and beyond.

BAROMETER

RISING: Davante Adams
After disappointing in his second season, Adams got back on track, and then some, in 2016. If the Packers offense looks like it did late last year, he should have no problem recording his first 1,000-yard campaign.

FALLING: Randall Cobb
Injuries were a factor, but for the second straight year Cobb's yardage fell and he finished fifth on the team in yards per catch. He looks like the third-best fantasy option among Packers wide receivers these days.

SLEEPER: Jamaal Williams
While the Packers appear comfortable with Ty Montgomery and Aaron Ripkowski seeing the bulk of the backfield snaps, neither is a natural halfback. If either or both falter, Williams could take over as the top runner.

KEY JOB BATTLE FOURTH AND FIFTH RECEIVERS
With a top trio of wideouts that rivals any in the league and three additional established tight ends, there likely won't be many opportunities for the Packers' fourth and fifth receivers early in the season. However, injuries are always a threat in the NFL, and the players who earn those spots would be one or two steps away from fantasy relevance at any point. The favorite for the fourth wideout spot is Geronimo Allison, who showed plenty of potential late last year. He was an undrafted free agent and will miss the first game of the season due to a violation of the substance abuse policy, so there's at least a chance he could be surpassed. Given that Jeff Janis was passed up by Allison last year, it's unlikely he will pass him back this year. Janis' special teams acumen could still earn him a roster spot, but if someone moves ahead of Allison, it will likely come from DeAngelo Yancey, Trevor Davis and Malachi Dupre. The guess is Allison hangs onto the fourth spot, Yancey slots in at No. 5, Janis makes the cut, Davis does not, and Dupre winds up on the practice squad.

KEY ACQUISITIONS:
Martellus Bennett TE (from Patriots)
Clear-cut top option at his position and still gets a top QB.

Kevin King CB (Rd. 2, No. 33 Washington)
Possesses size and speed to contend for the No. 1 cornerback spot.

Jamaal Williams RB (Rd. 4, No. 134 BYU)
Has a chance to make an impact in both the short- and long-term.

LANCE KENDRICKS TE (from Rams)
Heads home to operate as a reserve tight end.

DeAngelo Yancey WR (Rd. 5, No. 175 Purdue)
May have to earn a roster spot but could challenge for offensive snaps.

Aaron Jones RB (Rd. 5, No. 182 UTEP)
Pass-catching acumen should translate to snaps at some point in 2017.

KEY LOSSES:
Eddie Lacy RB (to Seahawks)
Will face his former team in Week 1 at Green Bay.

JARED COOK TE (to Raiders)
Heads west after management goes different direction at tight end.

THE INJURY FRONT
Randall Cobb, WR Cobb was banged up for nearly the entire regular season in 2016, and his production suffered as a result, but he got healthy late in the year and was a key pass catcher in the postseason. He will look to keep the momentum going and re-establish himself as a regular fantasy contributor.

Davante Adams Adams played a limited role in the NFC championship game after suffering an ankle injury the week before, but he recovered as expected during the offseason and heads into a contract year 100 percent.

Jordy Nelson, WR Nelson did not play in last year's divisional round victory over the Cowboys due to a rib injury, but he did suit up for the NFC championship game the next week and has not had a setback since.