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Fantasy football: Aaron Rodgers no longer a QB1 without Davante Adams

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Aaron Rodgers has had a long, storied, Hall of Fame-worthy NFL career. Though 17 seasons, he has the fifth-most passing touchdowns (449), second-best passer rating (104.5, which is actually tops among quarterbacks with more than five seasons played), sixth-most PPR fantasy points (4,335.50) and most 300-point fantasy seasons (10).

Last season, he finished as fantasy football's No. 5 QB and No. 10 player overall (333.30 points), and he did it as a 37-year-old. And yet, despite everything Rodgers has accomplished, this column is here to provide the contrarian's take to building your 2022 fantasy team around the Green Bay Packers star.


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What has changed in Green Bay?

Fantasy football has everything to do with today, tomorrow and everything beyond it, and as the 2022 season dawns, significant Packers roster changes have altered Rodgers' outlook. Most notably, Davante Adams, Rodgers' most trusted target in the passing game, was traded to the Las Vegas Raiders, while Nathaniel Hackett, the offensive coordinator under whom Rodgers finished ninth, second and fifth among quarterbacks in fantasy points from 2019 to 2021, took the Denver Broncos' head-coaching job.

Former offensive line coach Adam Stenavich will take over as offensive coordinator, a potentially incidental change, but one that makes it worth pointing out that Rodgers' per-game fantasy production slipped beneath 20 points in each of the past three seasons in which the team picked a new offensive coordinator (2015, 2018 and 2019). More than likely that's an anomaly, but the change and Rodgers' history warrants a mention.

How much did Rodgers lean on Adams?

Adams' departure demands Rodgers' greatest adjustment. A surface glance at the circumstances might tell you that Rodgers won all seven games Adams missed during the past three seasons, averaging a plenty good 24.05 fantasy points in those contests. The small-sample caveat applies to that, however, and a quick dig into those seven games shows that three resulted in 9.42 (2019 Week 5), 18.32 (2019 Week 6) and 15.66 (2021 Week 8) points, which are hardly matchup-winning totals. Those who believe in small samples should accept that Rodgers had more statistical peaks and valleys when Adams was absent.

The greater point is that Rodgers' statistical prowess in recent years has been tied to his reliance upon Adams in the receiving game. Adams' 27.6% target share from 2019 to 2021 was second highest in the league, just behind Justin Jefferson's 27.8%. The two were nearly a full 2% ahead of the next-best receivers, and that total includes targets Adams missed out on while he sat those seven games during that time span. Count only Adams' healthy games and he would have had a target share greater than 32%. Rodgers must make a major adjustment this season, going from an Adams-reliant approach to one that uses a thinner, less accomplished group of receivers.

Additionally, consider that in the past three seasons, Rodgers has averaged 0.362 fantasy points per offensive snap played when Adams has been on the field, compared to 0.279 when Adams has not. Digging deeper, the most significant statistical difference between Rodgers' splits is that his average depth of target was more than a yard further downfield when Adams was out there. That underscores the crux of the problem: that he'll now lack that proven, elite field-stretcher whom a quarterback wants to maximize his passing yards and touchdown potential. For fantasy, the upshot is that his upside has taken a direct hit.

Who will Rodgers turn to now?

Returning to Rodgers' receivers, that the Packers primarily compensated for Adams' departure by signing Sammy Watkins and drafting Christian Watson, the former a so-so free agent and the latter not a right-at-the-top draft prospect, shows the stark contrast in targets. The only current receiver (wide receiver or tight end) on the roster to score 150-plus PPR fantasy points in any of the past five seasons is Robert Tonyan. He hasn't exceeded 50.4 points in any other season in his career.

Historically speaking, a quarterback has scored at least 300 fantasy points without there being either a 240-point wide receiver or 160-point tight end on the roster on nine occasions. Seven of them (Randall Cunningham in 1990, Rodgers in 2009, Michael Vick in 2010, Robert Griffin III in 2012, Deshaun Watson in 2020 and Russell Wilson in 2014 and 2019) were turned in by QBs who contributed a healthy amount of their production with their legs (Rodgers ran for 316 yards and a career-high five scores in 2009). Those who believe in Rodgers, therefore, probably need to see a path for someone on the roster to reach those thresholds. Do you see one?

Expect more of an emphasis on running backs Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon in the passing game, after Packers backs totaled the league's fifth-most PPR fantasy points receiving, but that still amounts to a more short-range, lower-ceiling strategy. It means Rodgers might struggle to deliver the 30-point fantasy performances he has in the past, and with the rise in mobile quarterbacks, that puts him at greater disadvantage compared to his positional brethren.

The new reality

Speaking of mobility, Rodgers, now 38, has experienced a predictable decline in that department. After averaging at least 3.3 rushing attempts per game in nine of his first 10 seasons as a starter from 2008 to 2017, he has been below that mark in each of the past four seasons, including just 2.4 and 2.1 carries per game the past two seasons, his two lowest averages in his career. Just 8% of his fantasy production the past three years has come while rushing, another facet of the game that has eroded his upside. Incidentally, Doug Flutie is the only quarterback in history to attempt 40-plus rushing attempts in a season at the age of 38 or older, and only he (2003) and Ryan Fitzpatrick (2020) have had seasons of at least 30 attempts, 150 yards and multiple touchdowns rushing at that age or older.

This isn't to say that Rodgers is a must-avoid in fantasy drafts, not in the slightest! Rodgers will surely have his five-or-so games of potentially week-winning totals. The problem is that his ceiling probably won't exceed the final totals from any of the top eight quarterbacks our ESPN crew has ranked there, and in this rushing-friendly quarterback era, he leans more matchups-type than centerpiece-type.

Regard Rodgers as the quarterback you'd love to get as your QB2, matchups-play partner, to pair with one of QBs at the back end of the positional top 10.