In 2015, the Packers were missing something in their offense. The glaringly obvious fact was that Aaron Rodgers no longer had Jordy Nelson due to a knee injury. In addition, the Packers were missing a tight end that could run down the field. Richard Rodgers was not fast enough to expose holes in the defense. Receivers were unable to get open, resulting in short drives. They needed someone faster who could run routes.
The Rams cut tight end Jared Cook before their relocation to Los Angeles. The Green Bay organization had been in consideration to trade for Cook, but now that he was a free agent, they set out to sign him.
Cook inked a one-year, 3.6-million-dollar deal, which means the organization was committed, since they usually refrain from signing big name free agents. Green Bay tends to use the draft as a means to build their team. Richard Rodgers did a great job stepping up in 2015. Who could forget that instant-classic catch that was dubbed, “The Miracle in Motown”?
The Packers still needed some depth though. Nelson was expected to lose some speed after his return, so it was necessary that they upgraded their speed elsewhere. The tight end position needed the most speed improvement. Richard Rodgers just was not quick enough to be the full time tight end. Other teams such as the Patriots have made a living by having two good tight ends.
The offense had an extra setback when Eddie Lacy got hurt. They found a running back in Ty Montgomery, but it wasn’t until week 15 that a running back scored a TD for them. The Packers went from passing 56.79 % of the time in 2015, to 62.37 % in 2016. This helped Cook see an increase in targets. This also helped him establish a connection with Aaron Rodgers. The offense will be more balanced next year, but there should be no concern about Cook’s targets.
That increase moved them from 18th to 5th in the league for passing attempts. Due to Nelson and Adams playing well, the ball was distributed evenly. Although Cook isn’t getting points for other receivers making plays, it makes the defense open up for bigger plays to him.
Cook started the first 2 weeks of the season, and saw 79 snaps in which his production was limited. Being new to the offense, and with Eddie Lacy getting hype for his weight loss in the offseason, Cook spent the beginning of the season blocking, or watching his targets go to Jordy Nelson. Jared saw a mere 11 targets through the first four weeks. Week 3 was short lived for Cook, as he suffered a high ankle sprain and he wouldn’t be back back until week 11
Once he was back, he started to find a groove. He caught 6 passes out of 11 targets in his first week back for 105 yards and a TD. This would turn out to be his only TD of the regular season, but the work he did on 3rd downs allowed many of the drives to stay alive, which if he continues to do this, will help raise his ceiling in 2017.
Over the regular season, in which he only played 10 weeks, Cook caught 12 of 16 passes for 200 yards while facing 3rd down. This means that 53% of his yards came on 3rd down. Due to his production, the Packers were 2nd in 3rd down offense, making him valuable to Rodgers and fantasy owners.
For a big tight end, he should have had way more than one TD during the regular season. His total yards were also rather low for his career. He only had 377 yards in 10 games. Other than the injury he sustained this season, the only reason these numbers aren’t better is that Aaron Rodgers has a lot of other targets.
However, he had the 3rd best average yards per catch of his career. His career highs being 15.5 (2011), 13.2 (2013), 12.6 (2016). Cook was tied for 7th among all tight ends in YAC. As stated above, the receivers around Cook helped to expose defenses so that he could exploit them. The Packers are going to have to decide how much money Cook is worth.
Cook will be 30 next season, but he is still quick, and he can still make spectacular catches. I would be careful about drafting Cook too high due to his injury history, however he will be one of the best tight end options of 2017 if he can stay healthy. Assuming he comes back to Green Bay, Cook should have a little more fantasy value next year, due to gaining Rodgers’ confidence.
He has a knack for working back to the quarterback, which is important since Aaron is so good at extending plays with his feet. This ability adds another dimension to his game, giving him a value many others don’t have.
Cook will have a steady season next year by being more of a touchdown threat. In his 3 playoff games this year, he had 229 yards to go along with 2 TD’s. These numbers seem to be a more accurate depiction of what he will do next year, because he was settled in and consistent. Cook should be a lower TE1. It is tough to say if Gronk will be healthy, but there are guys like Kelce, Eifert, Olsen, and Reed who have proven to be successful. It depends on the league as to where Cook falls. I would keep an eye on the draft board and pick him up after those other names begin to be picked. The Packers boasted a 10-3 record in games that Jared played in, and his value will transfer into fantasy points if he stays with the Packers in 2017.
Alfred Morris in 2012. Eddie Lacy in 2013. Jeremy Hill in 2014.
What do all three of those running backs have in common? They were all rookies when they rushed for over 1,000 yards and surprised everybody. By doing so, they cemented themselves as some of the best fantasy bargains in their respective rookie seasons. They did this through their talent obviously, but they also had a high volume of carries and good talent around them which likely played an even bigger role in their early success.
Let's start with the volume argument. In 2013, Lacy's 284 carries his rookie season ranked fifth overall. Morris had 335 carries in 2012 which was good for third best that season and Hill's 222 carries ranked 13th this past season. It's through this idea of volume carries that we will use to see if we can figure out who will be the guy to post 1,000-plus rushing yards in 2015.
Among those three rookie seasons, Morris found the most success in the yardage category and also (coincidentally) had the most volume. The sixth-round draft pick by the Redskins thrived under Kyle Shanhan's zone run blocking scheme and finished second in the league in rushing yards with 1,613. He trailed only Adrian Peterson that season, who had a monstrous 2,097 yards and come 14 yards short of breaking Eric Dickerson's long held record of 2,105 set in 1984. Morris also had a pre-injury Robert Griffin III under center. RG3 and the Redskins also ran a read option offense that few defensive coordinators had figured out yet.
Lacy had a similar story to Morris. He might've been slightly more hyped coming out of college, but his draft stock took a bit of a nose dive when an injury forced him to miss several workouts during the combine which led to Giovani Bernard getting selected as the first running back overall in the 2013 draft. Le'Veon Bell and Montee Ball were also taken before Lacy, as Eddie was eventually taken later in the second round by the Green Bay Packers. While Lacy never possessed crazy explosiveness and was even considered 'too fat' to play running back by many, he showed great determination and purpose to go along with his immense strength and eventually finished with 1,178 yards and more importantly, 11 touchdowns. Lacy had Aaron Rodgers under center.
Just this past season, LSU product Jeremy Hill found himself embedded in a run heavy offense in Cincinnati under offensive coordinator Hue Jackson and found his place quickly after former starter Giovani Bernard went down with an injury early in the season. Hill rushed for 1,124 yards and 9 touchdowns. While there was some luck involved since he had to wait for an opportunity before he could see a spike in numbers, Hill's volume of carries increased even after Bernard recovered. If you extrapolate Hill's rushing attempts had he been the full-time starter at the beginning of the season, you would've been looking at numbers similar to Lacy and Morris.
While Hill didn't have a premier quarterback under center like RG3 (2012 RG3, not today's RG3) and Rodgers, he did have an offensive line that hovered around the Top 10 in run blocking. Another running back who probably had the most potential for volume last season was Bishop Sankey of the Tennessee Titans. Sankey found himself on an offense without a true No. 1 running back, but Tennessee's offensive line ranked in the bottom 15 and Sankey also didn't prove to be very explosive in his own right. So this theory isn't full proof, but it's a good start.
Why it's important for fantasy football
Identifying bargains and hitting on them is always key in fantasy football. For example, if you ended up with a pair of running backs like Le'Veon Bell and Jeremy Hill, you would've been set at running back for the majority of the 2014 season.
Bell was the 12th running back taken off on the board on average in standard rules fantasy drafts this year according to FantasyPros. Hill was the 40th RB selected on average. Bell finished as the No. 2 running back in fantasy this past season with 272 fantasy points, trailing only DeMarco Murray. Hill finished as the 10th best running back in fantasy with 171 fantasy points and compiled those numbers in roughly 10 starts, closing out the year with three straight 100-yard efforts.
Chances are, you were probably bummed out if you drafted those guys initially, as they were guys you took simply because they were the last running back left in their tier or whatever. but as the season went along, you were happier and happier.
Who's the potential best bargain in this year's crop of rookie running backs?
Obviously, it's too early to tell. But before you get angry and click the 'x' button, there's a way to reasonably predict which future rookie running back has the best chance to put up good numbers in their first season. That way comes from (you guessed it), identifying which team would have the potential to give the rookie running back the highest volume of carries.
The biggest and most obvious factor when predicting a bargain fantasy rookie running back is playing time. If the team doesn't need that running back because they already have a firm starter in his place, then he won't be in the backfield accruing stats for your fantasy team. A good example of this is Christine Michael in Seattle, a guy who drew some hype before the 2014 began only to be kept on the bench due to Marshawn Lynch's continued success. Carlos Hyde and Frank Gore are two other examples. So let's take a look at some of the team's that actually need a running back and assess whether or not that team has enough talent to help a rookie become a bargain fantasy running back in 2015.
Side note: This assessment of team's picking is just for the first round of the 2015 draft only and based on team needs only. It doesn't take into account the teams who don't have a significant need for a new running back (for sake of the 'demand' argument earlier). This argument doesn't take talent into account as much either. It assumes all this year's top running backs are equally talented (we know that's not exactly the case, but for arguments sake lets say it is).
Jacksonville Jaguars (pick No. 3) — The Toby Gerhart experiment failed for the Jaguars in 2014, and now it's looking like they may need a true workhorse to complement scat back Denard Robinson. The point of this article isn't to try and predict if Jacksonville would take a running back, it's to see how well that running back could do if he got drafted there.
Jacksonville's offensive line struggled mightily last season. They ranked dead last in pass protection and 29th in run blocking according to Football Outsiders. Drafting a rookie running back to your fantasy team in a redraft league who plays on Jacksonville in 2015 would be risky if they don't make some big changes to their offensive line in the offseason.
Good volume probability: High Talent on team: Low Overall bargain probability: Low
Atlanta Falcons (pick No. 8) — A big factor that could help a rookie running backs cause on this team is Kyle Shanahan's zone run blocking scheme. We mentioned early how Morris had immense success in this offense as a rookie despite not being the most highly touted running back coming out of the draft.
The Atlanta Falcons ranked in the middle of the pack when it came to run blocking last season, and that was with some key injuries along the offensive line. Plus, they already have one of the best receivers in the league in Julio Jones, a guy who can stretch the field and take corners and safeties deep which will clear out space for the running back. We saw how DeSean Jackson's speed in Philadelphia helped LeSean McCoy win the rushing title in 2013.
The running back situation is currently cloudy but the potential for volume exists. Veteran Steven Jackson will likely be cut and Jacquizz Rodgers is a free agent. That leaves Devonta Freeman left. Freeman didn't play much as a rookie and struggled when he did.
The Falcons also play in the NFC South, a division currently known for some of the worst defenses in the league. The Falcons put up nearly 60 points on a Thursday night game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers early this season. If the Falcons end up taking a good rookie running back sometime this draft, fantasy numbers could be very good.
Good volume probability: Medium Talent on team: High Overall bargain probability: High
St. Louis Rams (pick No 10) — The Rams were a team that slowly got better as the season went along, especially on the defensive side. They drafted a rookie running back last year in Tre Mason and Mason ended up having one monster game against Oakland to go along with several good ones.
Despite Mason's solid 765 yard, four touchdown rookie season, there's still some doubt as to whether or not he can be an every-down back for St. Louis. The Rams (like Atlanta) ranked in the middle of the road when it came to run blocking in 2014. But unlike Atlanta, they have quarterback and receiver issues which make them much more susceptible to team stacking the box.
Good volume probability: Medium Talent on team: Medium Overall bargain probability: Average
Baltimore Ravens (pick No. 26) — The Ravens struggled on the offensive line but added tackle Eugene Monroe from Jacksonville at a great price and also got great production out of their rookie linemen. That, combined with Gary Kubiak's wizardry in the run game led to former castaway Justin Forsett having a career season in 2014. Joe Flacco also played some of the best ball of his career and the Ravens made the playoffs after failing to the previous season.
Good volume probability: Medium Talent on team: High Overall bargain probability: High
New England Patriots (pick No. 32) — I'm sure you're cringing as you read this based on Bill Belichick's unpredictable offensive game planing that has screwed your fantasy team over countless times but the Patriots are in need of a running back if they don't resign Stevan Ridley. Their offensive line ranked in the Top 5 in run blocking this season and helped Jonas Gray have a monster game against Indianapolis on Sunday night. They also helped LaGarrette Blount reclaim fantasy relevance in the playoffs as well.
If they take a running back, of course you'll most definitely not want to take him high due to the risk. But there's also a high probability that the rookie running back has some good outings as long as he doesn't fumble and get in Belichick's doghouse.
Good volume probability: Low Talent on team: High Overall bargain probability: Low
So if you're looking at right now, the Falcons, Ravens and Rams probably have the best chances for high volume carries for a rookie running back. The Falcons and Ravens have the most talent on the offensive side of the ball with their quarterbacks, while Baltimore has the best offensive line and Atlanta has a good receiving core. If any of the most highly-touted rookie running backs gets selected onto the Ravens or Falcons, he likely has the best potential to be a bargain fantasy running back in 2015.
Due to some odd scheduling with the holiday, the usual Monday edition of First Aid was moved to Tuesday. The Helpers discuss the Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots, why LeGarrette Blount is a good fantasy option for the playoffs and why those with Jimmy Graham should be excited rather than fearful after his zero target performance against Pittsburgh. Plus weekly awards and some talk about Johnny Manziel.
New England Patriots at Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers: 24-for-38, 368 yards, two touchdowns, zero interceptions (24 fantasy points)
Rank among fantasy QBs for Week 13: 7th
Quarterbacks who did better: R. Fitzpatrick, A. Luck, D. Brees, P. Rivers, C. McCoy, B. Roethlisberger
Rodgers plays great against bad teams. But more importantly, he plays great against good teams too. Granted, he had the added bonus of a raucous crowd at Lambeau Field, but his talent was on full display here against one of the better secondaries in the league.
Rodgers has been a monster these past five games, with fantasy point totals of 48, 34, 23, and 28. He's as matchup proof as it gets when it comes to fantasy quarterbacks, and will likely be a No. 1 guy heading into a matchup against a bad Atlanta team in Week 14.
Tom Brady: 22-for-35, 245 yards, two touchdowns, zero interceptions (17 fantasy points)
Rank among fantasy QBs for Week 13: 13th
Quarterbacks who did better: R. Fitzpatrick, A. Luck, D. Brees, P. Rivers, C. McCoy, B. Roethlisberger, A. Rodgers, J. Flacco, S. Hill, M. Stafford, M. Ryan, M. Sanchez
Brady continues to be one of the most reliable fantasy options. His last five fantasy point totals have been 44, 35, 18, 23, and 21. He's locked in as a QB1 but the San Diego Chargers have played well against quarterbacks this season.
LeGarrette Blount: 10 carries for 58 yards, zero touchdowns (5 fantasy points)
Rank among RBs: 31st
Blount looks like the guy in New England. His 10 carries led the Patriots and out carried Brandon Bolden, Shane Vereen, and Jonas Gray. The Patriots like him, and he's a steady flex option if you want to add him to your team. He'll likely have a touchdown or two now that he's getting the most carries.
Eddie Lacy: 21 carries for 98 yards, 2 catches for 17 yards (10 fantasy points)
Rank among RBs: 22th
Lacy continues to be among the most reliable RBs and for those who traded for him or stuck with him during his dark weeks early in the season will be rewarded with a great playoff matchup against Atlanta in Week 14.
Davante Adams: 6 receptions for 121 yards, 11 targets (12 fantasy points)
Rank among WRs: 18th
Adams played well, but don't consider adding him or starting him. He benefited from Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb drawing coverage from Brandon Browner and Darrelle Revis. Plus, he dropped a potential touchdown pass.
Rob Gronkowski: 7 catches, 98 yards, zero touchdowns (9 fantasy points)
Rank among TEs: 4th
Gronkowski remains the toughest matchup for any defense at the tight end position. His 12-yard run where he trucked three defenders on his way to a near touchdown is an example.
Our bullet points articles are written to help better highlight our weekly rankings and explain our rationale behind ranking certain guys in certain places.
Week 12 is a gut check week for all fantasy teams. If you plan on advancing to the playoffs, you likely need a win this week. Just remember, running backs are often the most consistent fantasy scorers and will likely make the difference in a win or loss. Here are some running back rankings explained further.
Key start this week
Justin Forsett @ New Orleans — #4 in weekly rankings
Who called a castoff like Forsett putting together the best sleeper season of any fantasy running back in 2014? This g-- just kidding I didn't see it. If 751 rushing yards and five touchdowns weren't already enough value for a guy that didn't even have an ADP this season, Forsett is coming off his best game as a pro where he rushed for 112 yards and two touchdowns against Tennessee. It was the second 100-yard rushing game of the year for Forsett.
This week may be even better. He's dealt a weak New Orleans defense that allows 115 rushing yards per game. They've also surrendered 10 rushing touchdowns, which ranks 26th in the league. The Saints were also unloaded on just a week ago by Jeremy Hill and the Bengals, a team that put up 186 rushing yards on the Saints. The 49ers posted 144 rushing yards against New Orleans a week earlier and even the lowly Panthers rushed for 105 yards and allowed Jonathan Stewart to rattle off over five yards per carry. It's almost impossible to think Forsett could struggle this week.
Ryan Mathews vs. St. Louis — #13 in weekly rankings
Mathews looked fresh when he returned to the San Diego lineup last week after an injury sidelined him for over a month. He rushed for 70 yards on 16 attempts (4.4 yards per carry) against Oakland and while St. Louis has played better defensively, they're still giving up an average of 4.3 yards per carry to running backs.
In his first week back last Sunday, it looked like the Chargers were easing Mathews in a bit. He only played 43 percent of the Chargers' offensive snaps, but that shouldn't be the case this week. Expect Mathews to come closer to 20 carries and hover around the 100-yard mark. He'll also add more catches with more time on the field. He's a dual threat who can get you PPR numbers and cross the 100 total yardage mark. Mathews' one big problem is his history of ineptitude around the goal line, as he has never rushed for more than seven touchdowns in a season. So you'll kind of have to hope he gets points with a lot of yardage instead.
Eddie Lacy @ Minnesota — #7 in weekly rankings
Lacy has really rewarded his fantasy owners who stuck with him after a shaky start. In his last six games, he's posted point totals of 11, 24, 4, 13, 17, 17 and 22. Those were the kind of numbers fantasy owners expected of Lacy, and he's really come through in a big way.
This week, Green Bay travels to Minnesota where they have dominated the Vikings. According to Pro Football Reference, Rodgers' average numbers against the Vikings look like this...
21/29, 252 yards, 2.2 touchdowns, 0.3 interceptions
Rodgers hasn't thrown a pick against the Vikings since 2012, and Eddie Lacy should benefit once again from the Packers' high-powered passing offense. 17 of Lacy's 27 catches have come on the last four games, and he's also added two receiving touchdowns in that span. He's one of the most potent backs in fantasy right now.
Minnesota is giving up 115 rushing yards per game, which ranks 21st. They've surrendered eight rushing touchdowns on the season.
Giovani Bernard @ Houston — #21 in weekly rankings
Bernard is coming off a hip injury that derailed what looked like a promising sophomore campaign and his opponent likely won't make it any easier on him in Week 12. The Houston defense has been playing the run much better with the addition of rookie Jadeveon Clowney on the outside. Last week against the Browns, Houston held Cleveland to just 58 yards rushing, with Clowney's explosiveness allowing him to get into the backfield to stifle running backs. Clowney recorded one tackle for loss in that game.
With the way Jeremy Hill has been excelling in Bernard's absence (two 150-plus yard games in his last three) expect Bernard to be eased into the fold. There's no denying Bernard is talented and he's still a flex guy in deep leagues, but there's not a lot of hope for him to put up good fantasy numbers in his first week back due to the matchup and Hill's success as the starter. Hip injuries are also stingy, and we've seen other players like Percy Harvin aggravate them in the past. Bernard should be benched in 10-to-12 team leagues this week.
On Monday's weekly First Aid podcast, the Helpers discuss the St. Louis Rams and their emerging defense, the white hot Aaron Rodgers and the rest of the Green Bay Packers and whether or not Mark Sanchez is an every week QB1 going forward. Plus weekly awards and a preview for tonight's game with the Pittsburgh Steelers/Tennessee Titans.
In this episode, the Helpers talk about the fantasy implications of two games including the Packers/Dolphins and Bengals/Panthers, hand out their weekly awards and give a brief preview of tonight's game and its possible fantasy outcome.
George and Scott break down two games and give fantasy value out on both sides of the ball for each one. First, Eagles vs. Redskins. Second, Packers vs. Lions. They also hand out their weekly awards and preview tonight's game between the Chicago Bears and New York Jets.