History doesn't usually really repeat itself, but it does have a tendency to rhyme, and there are two pretty stark examples of that going on in the NFL right now. And both songs are, in this case, about Aaron Rodgers, who announced Wednesday he intends to join the Jets this offseason.
First, we have Aaron Rodgers following in Brett Favre's footsteps, leaving the Packers on shaky terms to join the Jets entering his age-39 season – literally the same age Favre was when he joined the Jets back in 2008. I mean, what are the odds?
And then we have a legendary, Super Bowl winning quarterback joining forces with a well-regarded, up-and-coming offensive mind for a QB-needy franchise with a bevy of intriguing young weapons at his disposal. That would be Rodgers and new Jets offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. Hackett, of course, was the Broncos head coach for one season when he joined Russell Wilson in Denver a year ago.
Again: What are the odds? Neither of those previous circumstances worked out for either the Jets or Broncos, but … "it might work for us."
Am I being too cynical? Perhaps, but I've just been burned by too many instances of the football world collectively saying, "Well, it can't get any worse," only for the narrator – who sounds strikingly similar to Ron Howard – to chime in that it did, in fact, get worse. Wilson with the Broncos, Baker Mayfield with the Panthers, Carson Wentz with the Commanders … and that's just from last season!
Rodgers' decision was the big headline from the NFL Wednesday, but it was hardly the only one, and today's newsletter is all about catching you up on everything you need to know -- and you should check out Wednesday's episode of Fantasy Football Today to get the crews' thoughts on all the big news as well.
Starting, naturally, with the fallout from Rodgers decision from both the Jets and Packers perspectives:
Aaron Rodgers picks the Jets
We're operating under the assumption here that, at some point, the Jets and Packers will come to an agreement on a trade and Rodgers will end up as the Jets' starting quarterback. And it's worth pointing out that Rodgers just wasn't all that good last season:
Rodgers in 2022
- TD%: 4.8% (third-lowest of his career)
- Y/A: 6.8 (second-lowest of his career
- Passer rating: 91.1 (career low)
- QBR: 39.3 (career low)
There are extenuating circumstances with Rodgers' play, of course – most notably, he was playing through a broken thumb for much of the season. He also lost Davante Adams and was playing with rookies who he may not have entirely trusted, especially early on.
And, even a cynic has to concede that it's unlikely Rodgers will be worse than the Zach Wilson/Mike White/Joe Flacco/Chris Streveler combo was for the Jets last season. Rodgers doesn't have to return to peak form to be an upgrade for the Jets, and it's unlikely he will return to his peak with his 40th birthday looming.
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Garrett Wilson just put up 83 catches for 1,103 yards and four touchdowns as a rookie with that QB play, and it's easy to move him up with this likely QB upgrade. He's a fringe WR1. The interesting thing here is, I'm not sure I'm moving anyone else up. Elijah Moore looked like a sure bet at this time last season, but it's hard to have much confidence in him after a tough season where he struggled to even get on the field at times. And the expected addition of Allen Lazard on a four-year contract gives Moore competition from a veteran with experience playing with Rodgers who also excels at the kind of things (notably blocking) that a defensive-minded coach like Robert Saleh is likely to love.
I'll be ranking Rodgers as a high-end QB2 with a chance of breaking back into the must-start ranks, and Breece Hall will be an RB1 if he's healthy come training camp. Beyond that, Moore and Lazard are more like WR4s, with Moore the higher upside pick while Lazard has a safer floor.
Packers' outlook without Rodgers
The Packers offense seems likely to take a step back with Jordan Love stepping in for Rodgers, though that is, admittedly, a total guess. The truth is, we haven't really seen much of Jordan Love since before the Packers made him the No. 26 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. He's a mystery box.
Dave Richard wrote about Love's strengths and weaknesses as a prospect way back when, and it's worth revisiting that here to get a sense of the baseline level the Packers are building from. Dave also went through and watched Love's limited reps since, and here are some of his thoughts – though you should read the whole piece here:
"From what I've seen, his ball placement remains inconsistent. He's on the money more often than not (especially in 2022), but he still threw behind or too high for receivers."
"Of his 83 throws, 55 traveled 10 or fewer Air Yards and another 14 were good for 11-to-15 Air Yards. That means only 14 of his throws went 16-plus Air Yards. He completed two."
"However, one of Love's best traits remains strong: he can move. There were a number of plays Love kept alive with his legs, often leading to a pass attempt but on occasion leading to a run. On six carries that weren't kneel-downs he had 33 yards, a 5.5 rushing average."
All in all, it sounds like a QB with some work to do to prove himself this offseason. The Packers are taking on a ton of dead cap to move on from Rodgers, which could be viewed as a sign of their faith in Love; it could also be viewed as a sign of their exhausted patience with Rodgers and his whole thing.
Dave expects Love to be drafted around 20th at QB in 2023, and that sounds about right to me. I'm not exactly excited about drafting him, but if you want to stash a second QB on your bench just in case he surprises, it's certainly justifiable.
Running back roundup
We had a bunch of running back news Wednesday. Here's what you need to know:
Ezekiel Elliott released
I wrote about the Cowboys decision to release Elliott for CBSSports.com Wednesday, and my main takeaway was it's not as big a deal as you might think. Sure, with Elliott out of the way, Tony Pollard seems cleared for a huge role, but I think it's safe to assume the Cowboys will add someone to split the backfield with him.
If that someone is, say, Kareem Hunt, I think we'll see Pollard with a similar or even bigger role than he had last season, and I'll probably rank him as a top-10 RB for 2023. However, if the Cowboys do something like invest a first-round pick in Bijan Robinson, Pollard probably returns to being more like a high-end RB2. He should be super efficient with his touches, but the Cowboys may not view Pollard as a true every-down back. And if they bring in someone like Robinson who could be, then 2022 is probably closer to Pollard's ceiling – he finished as RB10, though that was with Elliott missing a couple of games.
Pollard may belong in the top 12 RB discussion when it's all said and done, but this also might be the perfect time to sell him in Dynasty, as Heath Cummings pointed out on FFT in 5 with me today. This period between the Elliott release and the NFL Draft may just go down as the high water mark for Pollard's Fantasy value.
Miles Sanders signs with the Panthers
It's usually pretty hard out there for running backs in free agency, but Sanders did pretty well for himself in getting a four-year deal with a top-line number of $25 million – guarantees are not yet known for this deal, and that's ultimately what really matters. It's a fine landing spot for Sanders, who finally stayed healthy in 2022 and rushed for 1,269 yards and 11 touchdowns. Now he hooks up with new Panthers coach Frank Reich, who gave Jonathan Taylor 332 carries in 2021.
Sanders probably won't get that many carries, obviously, but he should get plenty of work as a primary engine for an offense that will be led by the No. 1 overall pick at QB. That should make Sanders a decent RB2, but whether he'll have more upside than that depends on his passing-game role. Sanders showed some decent chops as a rookie, catching 50 of 63 targets for 509 yards, but he struggled with drops the following season and has been a non-factor in the passing game since – he had 20 catches in 17 games last season. If he can earn a true three-down role, Sanders might have an outside chance at top-12 upside next season, but I'm not betting on it.
David Montgomery signs with the Lions
Heath Cummings wrote about the Montgomery signing for CBSSports.com, and I mostly agree with his take. The Lions seemingly could have signed Jamaal Williams for less than they paid Montgomery, who signed for three years with $11 million guaranteed, while Williams got $8 million on his three-year deal with the Saints – so it's not unreasonable to think they expect more from Montgomery than they would have from Williams. Williams had a fine season in 2022, buoyed by strong rushing volume and a ton of goal-line carries, but Montgomery is probably a more dynamic pass-catcher. Williams had 274 rush attempts-plus-targets last season, and I think it's safe to assume a bunch of those are going to Montgomery.
That's bad news for D'Andre Swift, who has seemingly frustrated the Lions with his inability to stay healthy since he was the No. 35 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. He was still a useful Fantasy option last season, but his usage was inconsistent, and he was heavily reliant on big plays in the passing game to create much value. If Montgomery is a good bet to best Williams' 16 targets from last season (and he almost certainly is), that could limit Swift's value even more.
This could be a pretty excellent pairing, one where both backs complement each other well – a sort of thunder-and-lightning combo behind one of the league's best lines. But unless it's an elite offense, it could prove frustrating for Fantasy. Heath's bottom line? "For now, view the Lions both as low-end No. 2 running backs with top-12 upside."
There's also the Bears side of this, with Khalil Herbert currently standing as the clear lead back in Chicago. But there's a lot of offseason left, and the Bears seem likely to bring in at least some competition here. If they don't invest an early-round pick or a multi-year contract on someone notable, however, Herbert could end up in the RB2 conversation. Stay tuned.
Jamaal Williams signs with the Saints
There's your Mark Ingram replacement, and that could actually be a pretty valuable role this season, given the uncertainty around Alvin Kamara's availability. Kamara seems likely to face suspension stemming from off field legal troubles, and that could push Williams into a sizable role with the Saints. It's not a great offense, but with Derek Carr there, it should be OK, and there will be opportunities to catch the ball out of the backfield. They may bring in another running back to handle passing downs work for when Kamara is out, but if not, Williams could be a top-24 guy for whatever time Kamara misses. It's not a high-upside pick, but Williams will be worth snagging for your bench.
James Robinson signs with the Patriots
This might surprise you, but I think this means the arrow is pointing up for Rhamondre Stevenson. James Robinson looked like a much-diminished version of himself coming back from a torn Achilles last season, and while it's not unreasonable to think he could do better a full year further removed from the injury, I think it's pretty unlikely. Remember, the Jets traded for Robinson after losing Breece Hall and then had him as a healthy scratch down the stretch. Robinson was dead last among all qualifying runners in the rate of his carries that went for more yards than expected, based on blocking and defensive positioning last season, per NFL Next Gen Stats, and if he's the most notable competition the team brings into the RB room, I think Stevenson's path to top-12 upside is pretty clear.
Baker Mayfield signs with the Buccaneers
Mayfield figures to compete with Kyle Trask to be the Buccaneers starting QB, and I'd bet on the former No. 1 overall pick here over the former second-rounder. Of course, the draft capital the Browns paid for Mayfield does matter much at this point, and Mayfield was pretty awful last season – 60% completion percentage, 3.0% touchdown rate, and a measly 6.5 Y/A across 12 games with the Panthers and Rams. The best any WR has ever done with Mayfield as his QB was when Jarvis Landry finished as WR22 in points per game in 2019, though I'd argue Chris Godwin and Mike Evans are both better than any wide receiver Mayfield has played with. Still, I don't think either QB should get you excited about Godwin or Evans. I'm ranking both as low-end WR2s right now, and given how the Mayfield experiment went for D.J. Moore, even that might be generous.
JuJu Smith-Schuster signs with the Patriots
And there's your Jakobi Meyers replacement, seeing as he signed for the same terms (three years, $33 million) as Meyers did in Las Vegas. Smith-Schuster isn't a perfect comp for Meyers, who is a more dynamic route runner, but he figures to step into the Meyers-shaped hole in the Patriots offense. That probably means more opportunities from the slot for Smith-Schuster than he got in Kansas City, and probably a bigger target share. Meyers averaged 6.9 targets per game in New England compared to 6.3 for Smith-Schuster in Kansas City, so the arrow might be pointing up slightly for Smith-Schuster, who figures to be more of a focal point with his new club. However, his production probably won't be that much different: he had 78 catches for 933 yards and three touchdowns last season, while Meyers had 67 for 804 and six. That's WR3-type production in PPR, and that's where I suspect we'll see Smith-Schuster drafted in 2023 leagues.