On Twitter, Facebook, Sleeperbot, and various other sources for fantasy football talk, I see one question a lot: ‘Who’s the back to own in Green Bay? The Packers arguably have the most difficult backfield to assess in fantasy football, and it irks owners because of the potential to be seen in one of the league’s perennial powerhouses. So just who is the back to own in Green Bay? Let’s break this down.
These are the current Packers RBs sorted by average yearly salary. Although they don’t quite answer depth chart questions, they’re not far off. There are a few things we can see right from the start. 1) Montgomery is the most expensive 2018 RB at only $880,137. The Packers will have the capital to retain any RB they desire. 2) Of the players who have seen any playing time, only Montgomery is on a contract year. The rest are sophomores on their rookie contracts. 3) Montgomery is the closest to his AARP card at 25 years old.
Although the Packers are giving fantasy fans headaches, the current backfield makeup is damn close to a coach’s dream come true. The backfield is only composed of young, cheap players, all of whom have so far made their own mark in various, yet distinct ways. Williams, Montgomery, and Jones have each presented a clear reason why they should make the roster, without there being any reason to cut them. Given the looks of their current contracts, I suspect Green Bay will retain its exact 2017 makeup, with only Joel Bouganon getting the boot come cut deadline.
With all of the confusing talk in the forums, it should come as no surprise that fantasy drafters are fairly equally divided, yet also conservative with how they’re treating the Green Bay backfield. According to ADP data between May 17 and June 17 via Fantasy Football Calculator, Jones is the first drafted with an ADP toward the end of the 7th round as the 35th back off the board. Montgomery and Williams follow as the 42nd and 44th respectively, with Williams coming in at the top of the 10th round.
The first thing we should gather from this ADP data is that Green Bay backs are now cheap. For comparison, it has not been possible to get the top Packer RB after the 3rd round since 2013. Without evaluating any specific projections, this is theoretically the most discounted one of these players will ever be. But we still haven’t answered the question: Who is the Green Bay running back to own?
Currently the cheapest in terms of ADP, and the most expensive in terms of contract, Jamaal Williams will probably start the season listed as the starter. I say that he will be listed as the starter because it might honestly be a meaningless term. Just as Isaiah Crowell was the 2017 starter for the Browns and Melvin Gordon was the 2015 starter for the Chargers, Williams will get the early work and likely the bulk of the carries, but he won’t necessarily earn the most points. Of all the backs, Williams is the most balanced rusher as well as the team’s best pass-blocker, giving the coaching staff an added reason to keep him on the field.
Drafted as a wide receiver, Montgomery earned carries as a running back in 2016 largely due to necessity, as the Packers’ running corps was decimated by injury. During that time, Montgomery achieved a largely unachievable feat of 5.9 yards per carry on 77 attempts. His 2017 outlook was strong, as he demonstrated that he was one of the most elusive backs in the league and now he was getting the opportunity to lead the backfield after Eddie Lacy’s departure. But then reality happened. Negative regression happened. Two stunning rookies and another round of injuries occurred and Montgomery played only half a season with a pedestrian 3.8 yards per carry. Although his rushing came down to earth, he should be regarded as the best pass-catching back the Packers have. That’s not going to change.
Jones, currently the most expensive Packer RB to own in fantasy, was third on the depth chart. Fighting among three rookies for his position on the depth chart. he demonstrated several explosive runs, including a 46-yarder with four TDs in only 12 games and 81 carries. Similar to Montgomery in his debut, Jones proved difficult to tackle and shocked defenses with an average of 5.5 yards per carry. In many fantasy circles, Jones is regarded as Green Bay’s best rusher. There isn’t much more important to a running back than rushing ability, so the hype has been readily seen. Although he carries the most expensive draft capital at a 7th-round cost, drafters are choosing him more for upside than expected production.
I’m not going to side with fantasy drafters and say that Aaron Jones is the Packers RB to own. Even if I did, it’s not that big of an investment anyway. What I’m going to do is listen to the coaches and the training staff, because as much as we all think we know about our favorite players and teams the coaches know more. If the Packers start Ty Montgomery or Jamaal Williams over Aaron Jones, it’s not because they’re stupid and don’t know anything about football. It’s because they’re trying to win games. They don’t care about Williams’ snap count. They don’t care if Montgomery gets one point per reception, and they don’t care if Jones gets 6 points per touchdown or extra points for 20-yard runs. They just want to win games.
But to give you a tangible outlook of how the Packers might be utilized in the future, let’s look at how they operated as a trio in the past.
Before digging too deeply into this graphic, we need to understand one critical thing first: Ty Montgomery only played one game in the second half of the season (all of the above stats reflect only games players were eligible). I feel like dividing the numbers up into one half of each season was the appropriate move, as that’s when Green Bay and the fantasy community started to get the full picture of this offense. Though the position battle was fought throughout the season, it was more fully realized through games 9-16.
Looking at this chart, the first thing that strikes me is how awful Jones’ numbers are in the latter half of the season compared to the first. I feel intuitively that this is the opposite of how players typically react to fantasy performance. It’s surprising to me that Jones has a higher draft position than the other Packers’ RBs, especially considering he performed so much worse than Jamaal Williams. Jones owners who started him in their fantasy playoffs were sorely disappointed.
Although I’m not going to bet on history repeating itself with another Montgomery injury, it is clear to me that over the course of the season, the Packers trusted Montgomery more than anybody, and Williams second. Without injury, the Packers resembled the most dreaded thing in fantasy football: an RBBC. With an injured starter, the Packers relied heavily on Jamaal Williams. Jones, while inconsistent, churned out some touchdowns.
Most points: Jamaal Williams
Highest ceiling: Ty Montgomery
Highest floor: Ty Montgomery
Lowest ceiling: Jamaal Williams
Lowest floor: Jamaal Williams
Assuming no injury in the Green Bay backfield, this is going to be a full-blown RBBC. No player will ever be worth starting. Jones has an explosive appeal, but we should assume TD regression and stray away from the Packers’ least utilized player. Even if Jones can begin to match Williams’ pass-blocking efficiency, Williams performed so admirably as a pass-catcher that he even outperformed Montgomery in terms of efficiency.
Jamaal Williams just scrapes by Montgomery in my PPR projections, but as the WR position as a whole outscores running backs, I feel Montgomery has the higher ceiling if Green Bay moves away from using him strictly as a running back. I also give Williams both my lowest ceiling and floor because of his Weeks 1-8 usage and the fact that Jones is more explosive and Montgomery should return as the better pass-catcher.
All-in-all, I think Jones’ ADP is mostly unjustified (mostly, because he’s only a 7th-round cost) and I think that Jamaal Williams demonstrated much more game-winning talent than Jones. As I said, the coaches don’t care about your fantasy success; they just want to win games. Utilizing each player in his respect gives them the best chance at those odds, while reducing the chance of injury due to overuse.
RBBC. That’s all you need to know. Who’s the Green Bay back to own? Probably none of them, but if I’m going to pick one, it’s going to be whoever has the lowest ADP on draft day. But honestly, I’d probably just skip them altogether. Here are some players going around these low-floor, low-ceiling players: Drew Brees, Delanie Walker, Marshawn Lynch, Randall Cobb, Trey Burton, Jordy Nelson, DeVante Parker, and Jordan Reed. Those are just some but I would rather have every single one than any of the Packers RBs.
***Contract info from sportrac, ADP from Fantasy Football Calculator, other data from Pro-football-reference.
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