Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Vincent Verhei on The Packers and the 2016 Football Outsiders Almanac

Vincent Verhei (@FO_VVerhei) wrote the chapters on the NFC North for the always excellent 2016 Football Outsiders Almanac. The chapter on the Green Bay Packers focused on two interesting points. The Packer defense has been coordinated by Dom Capers since 2009 using a similar scheme and concepts in each of those years, but the Packers' defense has been widely variable in those years, from really good (2009, 2010) to really bad (2011, 2013) and places in between (2012, 2014-2015). Also, the wide receivers last season, as a group, for the Packers were really bad to mediocre without Jordy Nelson. I asked him a couple questions about how the Packers compare to the rest of the NFC North and whether there's any hope for Davante Adams.
"You wrote the chapters on all the NFC North teams so what would you say is the one advantage and one disadvantage the Packers have compared to the rest of the conference?"
Well, the first question is easy: the Packers have one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL and for sure the best in the division. Chicago's Jay Cutler and Detroit's Matt Stafford are both pretty average starters, though Stafford has more upside considering he's still only 28. The consensus Football Outsiders opinion on Minnesota's Teddy Bridgewater is that he has a very bright long-term future, but we're still skeptical about his targets in the passing game in 2015.

And the second question is just as easy: inside linebacker. While the Bears have added Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman in free agency, Detroit is getting back a healthy DeAndre Levy, and Minnesota has
up-and-comer Eric Kendricks, the Packers are trying to keep their heads above water with a collection of low-round draft picks and undrafted players who nobody else wanted. I know the Packers are high on fourth-rounder Blake Martinez, but if he were likely to step in and make a big impact he wouldn't have lasted to the 131st pick.

"You wrote about the high year-to-year variance from Dom Capers's defenses and the pass defense was pretty good last season (-6.8%, ranked 6th best) so is there something (or some player) to watch for as a sign that they've regressed this season? Or am I being too pessimistic and should be looking for a player to emerge this season that could turn their defense into one of the best?"
I guess the single biggest concern going into 2016 would be the pass rush. Julius Peppers is 37 this year, while Clay Matthews is 31 and might wind up playing inside a lot again. Nobody else on the team had more than four sacks last year. Capers blitzes a lot, so they should be able to generate some pressure regardless, but without a dominant one-on-one edge rusher those blitzes will be much easier to pick up.

"Is there any hope for Davante Adams this season? The player analysis in the Wide Receivers section was absolutely brutal. And it was absolutely right; he was terrible and I've never seen a wide receiver play so badly with Aaron Rodgers, at least one with so many targets. Thinking historically, is there a wide receiver you could compare to him to that played as badly as Adams played last season who went on to have at least a good career?"
I checked our Similarity Scores for wide receivers who put up similar numbers to Adams in the first two years of their careers and found a surprising number of guys who turned out OK. Bobby Engram topped 900 yards in his third and fourth seasons, and finally went over 1,000 at age 34 in Seattle. Pittsburgh's Charles Johnson went over a thousand yards in his third year. Cincinnati's Carl Pickens topped a thousand yards four times in five seasons starting in Year 3.

Of course, all of those players started their careers in the 1990s, when numbers were very different. More recent wideouts similar to Adams include long list of first-round busts: Bryant Johnson, Josh Reed, Troy Williamson, Greg Little, Mohamed Massaquoi, Cordarrelle Patterson.

So two seasons in, the best-case scenario for Adams appears to be "productive complementary wideout," and the worst-case scenario is …well, more seasons like 2015.

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