Can Aaron Rodgers Still Sustain a WR2? (Fantasy Football)
“But he is Aaron Rodgers‘ WR2…”
This phrase, now used to describe Devin Funchess, or Marquez Valdez-Scantling, or Allen Lazard, but definitely not a rookie WR, is thrown around with such confidence that it almost makes you forget that it’s been three years since that role has actually mattered in fantasy football. Between injuries, personnel changes, and a pretty big coaching/philosophy change, the faith being placed on the guy lining up opposite Davante Adams may be sorely misplaced and one of the bigger traps in fantasy football.
Before we get started, this article is not meant to disparage Aaron Rodgers. I still recognize Rodgers as one of the better QBs in the league and his QB9 finish in fantasy football last year backs that up. However, his greatness seems to directly affect his WR1 far more than it does the rest of the depth chart. A few great performances by his WR2 have created this myth about the role’s value in fantasy football and that is what I hope to erase.
Let’s start with raw data. Here is a list of how the #2 WR in Green Bay has finished every season since Rodgers took over the starting job in 2008, noting that Rodgers missed significant time in 2013 and 2017.
Early on, things looked good. Rodgers’ WR2 was a fantasy WR2 in four of his first five seasons. While the fantasy finishes were promising, the production wasn’t quite up to the new league standards. Over those five seasons, the GB WR2 averaged 167 fantasy points, which would’ve been the fantasy WR25 in 2019. While those seasons certainly started the hype, the train really got moving over the next three years. The excitement for Rodgers’ WR2 would likely be far more tempered if not for 2014 and 2016. In 2014, Randall Cobb went off for 91/1287/12 and in 2016, Davante Adams finally broke out with 75/997/12. So clearly, all the WR2 in Rodgers’ offense needs to be significant is 12 TDs…the easiest stat to predict in all of football.
Let’s recap our story up to this point: In six of Rodgers’ first nine seasons, his WR2 was a fantasy WR2 or better, twice finishing as a fantasy WR1. However, in those two seasons, clearly the exception, not the rule, those WR2s scored 12 TDs. Now comes that pesky trend of “regressing to the mean”. Since that electric 2016, Green Bay’s WR2 hasn’t finished better than WR39 and that was in Rodgers’ injury-shortened 2017. Over the last two years, with Rodgers playing all 32 games, it has been downright ugly, the Packers WR2 finishing worse than a fantasy WR5.
The initial argument will be that the Packers lost Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, which is true but also tells another story. Both Jordy and Cobb had better seasons with their new teams than they did the year before in Green Bay. Another counter to that argument is the fact that it goes against the initial argument being presented. “He is Aaron Rodgers’ WR2” ignores the talent of said WR2. That guy is supposed to perform regardless of his own limitations because “he is Aaron Rodgers’ WR2“. The fact of the matter is that Rodgers is a great QB that loves his WR1. When that guy is not open, he spreads the ball around and spreading the ball around does not equal fantasy success.
As we can see, the decline of the Green Bay WR2 started before Matt LaFleur became the head coach but his offense certainly doesn’t help matters. LaFleur was an offensive coordinator for two years before becoming the head coach in Green Bay. In 2017, he was the OC for the Rams and their WR2 was Robert Woods. Woods finished the year with just 85 targets and as the WR32 in fantasy. In 2018, LaFleur was in Tennessee with Taywan Taylor as his WR2. Taylor was targeted just 56 times and finished as the WR84. In both of those seasons, LaFleur’s offenses were in the bottom-10 of the league in passing attempts. Last year, Green Bay did rank 16th in passing attempts but threw the ball 67 fewer times than they did in 2018.
Much has been made of the fact that the Packers did not get Rodgers a single WR in the 2020 NFL Draft. Maybe he didn’t deserve one! Fantasy owners were salivating at the possibility of one of the 2nd tier rookie WRs ending up in Green Bay late in the 1st Round but it likely would’ve ended with disappointment. If healthy, Davante Adams is going to be a great fantasy WR; there is little question there, but playing opposite of him means absolutely nothing for Funchess, MVS, or Lazard. At best you MIGHT get a WR3, at worst you end up with maybe a WR6. While none of their ADPs have them being drafted before the 12th Round, the lack of any real upside destroys the value you think they have at the end of your draft. These are not the lottery tickets you are looking for.