32 Questions: Green Bay Packers
Thirty-two teams, 32 burning fantasy questions. Throughout the preseason, we put one of these questions to an ESPN.com analyst for an in-depth look at the most interesting, perplexing or dumbfounding fantasy facet of each NFL team. Be sure to check out all 32 questions.
Who will run the ball for the Green Bay Packers?
I don't have the perfect answer for this question in terms of Week 1, but I think I know who'll wind up having the most carries for Green Bay in 2007: Brandon Jackson. The rookie out of the University of Nebraska wasn't really a force in college until the second half of his junior year (after which he left school for the draft), when he took over for erstwhile team star Marlon Lucky and racked up 835 yards in nine games with a 5.2 yards-per-carry average and eight touchdowns. Jackson injured his hand in the Big 12 championship game against Oklahoma and wound up getting only seven carries in Nebraska's Cotton Bowl loss to Auburn, indeed proving how important he'd become to the Cornhusker attack.
The fact that Jackson played in Beau Bridges', er, I mean, in Bill Callahan's pro-style system in Lincoln will help him in Green Bay. The Packers will employ a zone-blocking scheme with which Jackson is familiar, and that should let him get the kind of cutback runs that served him well last year. Jackson suffered a minor knee injury in early-June organized team acitivities, but that's not expected to affect him going into training camp. More pressing were the shoulder woes that sometimes limited him at Nebraska; that's something to watch as he makes the transition to the NFL.
Perhaps the best news for Jackson's 2007 fantasy potential is his competition up Lambeau way. The only guy who seems like a legitimate threat to Jackson is Vernand Morency, who's never carried the ball more than 96 times in a season. Morency is thought of by some as a fumbler, but that's really based on one game last season. In Week 5, Morency lost a fumble early in the game and then coughed the ball up a second time. Despite being ruled down on that play, he was benched for Noah Herron, who went on to gash the St. Louis defense. Morency actually has just one lost fumble in his NFL career, so his "reputation" is far from deserved. In his career, Morency has rushed for 618 yards and four touchdowns on 4.3 yards per carry. Truthfully, these two guys are pretty similar, which is reason to suspect that they'll split carries to begin the year, rendering each relatively worthless early in the season. The Packers are expected to keep only three rushers going into the season, which means the third man in will either be Herron, a third-down type, or DeShawn Wynn, a seventh-round pick out of the University of Florida. Neither should have much fantasy relevance.
The Packers' interior offensive line is still young, which doesn't bode well for the offense. The tackles, Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher, are veterans who had a hard time staying healthy in 2006. If they're on the field, they're adequate. The guards are Daryn Colledge and Jason Spitz, each of whom struggled during his rookie year, and the center is Scott Wells, whom the Packers signed to a relatively-big contract extension in November. And of course, any Green Bay rusher is going to take a back seat to Brett Favre for as long as his multi-year farewell tour endures. Favre led the NFL in pass attempts last year, and, in terms of throwing the ball downfield, continues to party like it's 1995.
As the season wears on, Jackson should assert himself into perhaps a 70-30 arrangement with Morency. He was a kid I liked a lot on draft day, and the Packers got him pretty low at No. 63 overall. Don't get me wrong: he's not a true bruiser and he's not a true burner, but he's gritty, and he'll bounce off defenders who don't completely wrap him up. He's not a starting fantasy back right away -- no one on Green Bay is -- but as of this exact moment, well in advance of training camp, I'd still probably take him ahead of Ahman Green, Jamal Lewis and Tatum Bell, because I believe by season's end he'll be outperforming those guys. Putting him around the 28th or 29th spot among fantasy rushers sounds about right. Since ESPN's official ranking right now is No. 43, Jackson should be an excellent value on draft day.
Christopher Harris is a fantasy baseball, football and racing analyst for ESPN.com.
You can e-mail him here.