By Adam Benovic
At this point, we pretty much all know what we’re getting from the Green Bay Packers. With an offense led by Aaron Rodgers and “Fat Eddie”/”Feast Mode” Lacy, pretty much all that the team would need to be successful is for the defense not to screw the pooch massively. Well, somehow, the Packers have managed to have some outstanding defensive players in their time, some even IDP-worthy.
Clay Matthews is one of the more intriguing options at the linebacker position. For most of his career, Matthews was a premier pass rusher for Green Bay. And honestly, that hasn’t changed. He’s still going to get you sacks. But last year, Green Bay started an interesting experiment. Instead of only playing Matthews as an edge rusher, they decided to give him snaps in the middle, as well. Despite his penetrating and focused mentality, Matthews excelled with the responsibilities that come with playing in the middle. One particular benefit was that, unlike most edge rushers, Matthews wasn’t as feast or famine. While many edge rushers are sack dependent, Matthews showed in his week 9 game against Chicago that he can control the field with tackling as well (9 tackles, 2 assists).
Matthews also brings a certain degree of reliability in the pass rushing game. In his career he has only had two seasons that were less than double digit sack totals. That said, his high in sack totals is 13.5 on the season all the way back in 2010. While he may not be a premier IDP talent, he should be able to get you a reasonable amount of points.
One good sign for Matthews may just be that the Packers drafted Jake Ryan. The linebacker out of Michigan was a decent enough pass rusher that Matthews may be allowed to move inside more often. Doing so should open up Matthews more as a fantasy option.
Outlook: Unfortunately, Matthews’ fantasy stock is going to be heavily dependent upon how the Packers decide to use him. If Jake Ryan pans out as a pass rushing linebacker, then the Packers may trust Matthews to have more snaps in the middle of the field, limiting the natural risk that comes with playing edge rushing linebackers.
While Damarious Randall was the Packers’ 1st round pick, I believe that it’s Rollins that you should be investing in as your fantasy stash. Rollins is fairly new to football, switching from basketball his senior year. Almost immediately it was apparent that Rollins was a ball hawk. He came out of his first season with 7 interceptions and 9 passes defended. For someone who hadn’t played a snap of college football before this year, those are some great instincts for playing the ball.
That said, interceptions aren’t even necessarily his strong suit. See, I have to admit, I’m a bit of a nut when it comes to the draft. I love scouting rookies and actually talk to people about it a lot online (For those interested, I highly recommend /r/NFL_Draft and Football’s Future). Rollins was one of my pet projects that I wrote on long before my time at IDPdynasty.com. I highly recommend checking that out to get a full view of Rollins as a prospect.
For those that want the cliff notes, here are some of the more interesting points. One of my favorite aspects of Rollins’ game is how he plays backfield passes. He was incredibly aggressive against screens, blowing up a lot of plays that an inexperienced player had no business stopping. There are plenty of well-respected football people that feel Rollins needs to make the switch to safety, but to me, that would eliminate that strength in the screen game. It’s not often that you see a player who can diagnose those plays so quickly and break it up.
While it sounds like Rollins will be completely boom or bust as an IDP corner, I’m not so sure that’s true. Because of his ability to sense screens and aggressiveness in the run game, he finds himself in a place where he isn’t nearly as reliant upon interceptions and passes defended as the next cornerback.
One of the best things about taking Rollins, though, is teams know how raw he is, and he would be on the field across from the strong Sam Shields. Teams will choose to pick on the rookie, giving him far more opportunity to make plays on the ball, receivers and runners.
Outlook: Rollins is going to be a definite risk-reward option for your roster. What you’re getting is a potential ball hawk who relishes in his ability to be physical. His overaggression may hurt the Packers to an extent early on, but it will be an IDP player’s dream situation. If he wins a role out of camp, he’s going to be targeted by quarterbacks and targeted often.
And immediately I’ve lost some of you. You’re saying “Adam, the hell are you thinking? Dude’s older than the invention of the wheel. Why would I ever take him in a dynasty league?” And you’re right. He is. Peppers is 35 years old. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have value, though. See, you can’t draft every player high, so sometimes you need to get a value pick-up.
How is Peppers going to help you, though? Well, honestly, pretty easily. The Packers system basically lets Julius Pepper play to his strengths. Last year he had a career best in terms of passes defended, knocking down passes 11 times. Because of his size and length, he’s always done a great job of getting into passing lanes, and last year in Green Bay was reminiscent and even beyond the level of his days in Carolina.
While he may not be a sack monster anymore, he still puts up a solid number in that category. The last two years have both seen Peppers put up 7 sacks. On top of that, though, Peppers was also solid in the run game. He had 34 tackles and 20 assists. While those numbers aren’t jaw dropping, they’re more than serviceable for a low end starter that you can get on the cheap.
One of the biggest things, though, is that Peppers always seems to be around turnovers. Last year he had an obnoxious 6 forced fumbles and two interceptions, both of which he returned for touchdowns. Through his career, Peppers can generally be depended upon for 3 to 4 forced fumbles per year. Chances are that he won’t repeat his interception performance, but he showed that he can take the ball to the house (both interceptions were in the 50 yard range). As long as Green Bay keeps letting him play to his strengths, look for Peppers to be a decent, albeit unspectacular, fantasy option.
Outlook: Unfortunately, not every pick will be high, and there are rarely superstar studs on the waiver wire. Sometimes that isn’t what you need, though. If you take Peppers, you aren’t getting a superstar, but you’re likely to get some reliable points.
Hasean “Ha-Ha” Clinton-Dix, Micah Hyde, Datone Jones
Ultimately, the Packers are going to be a strong team. Most of the time, you’re going to win your fantasy matches more from their offensive players, but there are definitely some intriguing defensive players in the mix. While none of them may be truly dominant for you, they have the chance to be more than serviceable, and you might even be able to find some great value on older players in the later rounds or on your waiver wire.
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