Jace Sternberger: Steal or Sham?

Intro

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Situation

WR’s

Davante Adams, 27, Contested Catcher+, Reached a new level last season w/ no realistic number 2 pass-catcher on that offense after the Geronimo Allison injury. 15 games in 2018 w/ 169 TAR, 11.3 /g, 111 REC, 1386 Y, 13 TD’s. This led to 13 Y/R, 8 Y/TAR, 13 Y/TCHand a 66% catch rate. His 3-year average is 136 TAR at 9.0/g, 87 REC, 1089 Y, 12 TD’s w/ 64% catch rate. Has only played 16 games once in his 5 years but has only missed 3 games in the past 3 years. He will continue to be a touchdown magnet in 2019.

Geronimo Allison, 25, Deep Threat w/ ability to run multiple routes. Has never played 16 and was the clear #2 for the Packers during the first 5 games last season. 30 targets for 6/g, 20 rec, 303 y, 2 TD w/ 15 Y/R, 10 Y/TAR, 15 Y/TCH, and 67% catch rate. His 16-game pace would’ve resulted in 96 TAR, 64 REC, 970 Y, 6 TD’S. He’s a solid yet unspectacular player that I believe will remain the #2 target in this offense until one of the rookies from last year or a TE proves to earn Rodgers’ trust. At only 25, there is plenty of upside in this cheap dynasty player to produce this season and for a few years. He’s almost exclusively an outside receiver, but there has been rumors of him seeing more slot-work with the departure of oft-injured Randall Cobb.

Marquez Valdez-Scantling, 25, deep threat that does have the agility to play in the slot. Had a decent 5 game run when Allison got injured but lost the trust of Rodgers and only caught more than 2 passes twice in the final 7 games. He did top 100 yards twice but didn’t see any more playing time until Green Bay was knocked out of the playoff picture. Last year, he played 16 games, starting 10, accruing 73 targets for 4.6/g, 38 rec, 581 y, 2 TD. He averaged 15 Y/R, 8 Y/TAR, 15 Y/TCH and a 52% catch rate in his rookie season. I could easily see his snap share going up as he’s a natural fit for the slot, but his efficiency and rapport with Rodgers must improve if he’s to hold off

Equanimeous St. Brown, 23, who saw action in 12 games last year and started 7. In that time, he received 36 TAR for 3/g, 21 REC, 328 Y, 0 TD’S and averaged 16 Y/R, 9 Y/TAR, 15 Y/TCH and a 58% catch rate. I had him much higher ranked than MVS coming out of college, as many did, and could easily usurp him and Allison with improved hands and route running. He’s got all the physical tools you could ask for as a wide receiver, with great speed and agility in a 6’5” frame, but his slip in the draft pointed to some character issues. If you’re looking for a high-upside stash play in this receiver group, ESB is the receiver to target.

J’Mon Moore, 24, the highest drafted of the Packers now 4 2nd-year wideouts did almost nothing in his rookie year, seeing just 3 targets for 2 receptions and 15 yards. While it’s a possibility that he could develop, my money is on Drew Lock making him look better than he really is on his college film.

Rest of the receivers are JAG’s and unlikely to see much time this year, but Allen Lazard, Trevor Davis, and Jake Kumerow have all received hype at some point in the past 2 seasons.

TE’s

Jimmy Graham, 33, is entering his 10th season overall and 2nd as a Packer. In 2018 The Original Jimmy G received 89 targets or 5.6/g for just 55 receptions, 636 yards, and 2 TD’s. This led to 12 Y/R, 7 Y/TAR, 12 Y/TCH w/ 62% catch rate. No longer the matchup nightmare he was with the Saints, injuries have sapped his playmaking ability, namely a torn patellar tendon in 2015. He also fractured his thumb last year towards the end of the season, sprained his AC joint in 2014, suffered a grade 1 tear of his plantar fascia in 2013, and the year before he dislocated a finger, suffered a grade 2 low-ankle sprain, and sprained his wrist. Rodgers has never been correlated with TE fantasy stardom, and Graham probably won’t buck the trend as he ages. Graham is signed through 2020 by the Packers but will likely be released following this season as his dead cap number decreases 73% to $3.7 Million.

Robert Tonyan, 25, is entering his 3rd year in the NFL as an UFA. He was originally signed out of college by the Lions, and later picked up by the packers in late 2017. While he only started one game last season, he played in all 16 in a special teams capacity, and I liked what I saw out of him in the preseason last year. He received only 6 TAR last season, catching 4 of them for 77 yards, 1 TD, and a 67% catch rate. With Jimmy Graham still in town, and the drafting of Jace Sternberger, he looks to remain a special teams player, but he’s a good pass-catcher who I think challenges Sternberger more than people are currently thinking. If he can improve his blocking this year, and continue to produce in the preseason, this could be a name that ends up as a thorn in the side of Sternberger owners.

RB’s

Aaron Jones, 25, took a step forward last season and emerged as a clear difference maker for the Packer’s offense. McCarthy’s refusal to give him touches in what should’ve been an easy blowout against the Cardinals directly led to his firing, but McCarthy had underutilized the run-game infamously throughout his tenure. Jones has great vision, acceleration, agility, contact balance, and tenacity to get the tough yards. He reportedly has improved his body composition in a bid to stay healthy, as he’s only completed 12 games each in his 2 seasons to date. He’s also capable in the passing game, and the easy favorite to lead the team in touches in 2019. Last year, he rushed 133 times for 728 yards and a 5.5 YPC, reaching the endzone 8 times. In the receiving game, he saw only 35 TAR (2.9/g) catching 26 passes for 206 y, 1 TD, and 74% catch rate. I fully expect Jones to see heavier usage this season, especially with a coach known for the run, and am excited by the reports that he is treating his body better and in good shape following an ACL tear in Week 14 last season (that knocked me out of my redraft league playoffs, in part).

Jamaal Williams, 24, has been the sleeper pick of that backfield that past two seasons. He is a technically sound but unathletic back who is the definition of competent backup. He will do nothing amazing, but nothing horrible. He received 121 underwhelming carries for 464 yards, 3 touchdowns, and a 3.8 YPC average. He also can contribute in the passing game, seeing 41 TAR (2.6/g) with 27 REC, 210 Y, and no TD’s for a 66% catch rate. He will likely see a reduced role if Jones stays healthy finally, but he also has Dexter Williams nipping at his heels if history is trying to tell us that Jones can’t handle the workload.

Dexter Williams, 22, was a Tier 3 RB for me and 19th overall back before the draft. The Packers took him with the 22nd pick of the 6th round, clearly towards the tail end of the draft. Williams is 5’11”, 212 lbs, with 9.625” hands and a 76.875” wingspan. He’s an explosive player, as shown by his 36” vert, 130” broad, 7 s 3-cone, and 4.16 s 20 shuttle. His 40 was slower than I would’ve guessed at 4.57 s, but he shows the ability to breakaway on tape. Dexter has spotty vision, is poor in pass protection, wastes way too much movement in the backfield, struggles to move side to side when he’s not up to speed, doesn’t protect the ball well, doesn’t show many moves, displays lazy tendencies on film, and has below-average contact balance. The Packers drafted him as a project/change-of-pace player in the event of another Jones injury, as he does show much better long speed on film than the combine, can catch, and has adequate power, and does show nice athletic traits at times. He’s someone I don’t see taking over Jamaal Williams anytime soon, and I won’t be owning him on any of my teams due to a predicted long-time to pay off and a lack of football IQ/moves/vision.  

Aaron Rodgers and the Passing Offense

Rodgers is entering his 15th season and will be 36 years old at season’s end and was the 24th selection of the 2005 draft. He threw for 4442 y and 25 TD’s last year w/ a 98 passer rating and just 2 INT. Rodgers is always a risk for injury, he played through a Grade 2 MCL Sprain and bone bruise just last season, but also has a collar bone fracture in 17, another in 13, 3 concussions, and a 2006 foot fracture while still a backup. Over the 11 years he’s started, Rodgers averages 4294 Y, 34 TDs, and 103 passer rating after adjusting for injuries. He’s always preferred timing throws, especially back-shoulder balls, and only has a few years with an above-average fantasy tight end. That being said, he really hasn’t had much talent at the TE position either, as the Packers have typically gambled on aging veterans with injury risk, like Jimmy Graham. One of the best QB’s to ever play from a skills standpoint, he’s now entering a new offense but is virtually guaranteed to throw for 30 or more TD’s without an injury stopping him. If the 2nd year receivers previously mentioned can step up at all, another 4K passing and 35+ TD campaign is in the cards for Rodgers.

Last year, the Packers were 9th in Pass Y/g but 14th in Pts/g, while also being 3rd in the league in pass attempts/g.

Offensive Line

21st in pass pro, 7th in creating yards for RB’s, 21st in power success rate, top half in two of the other run metrics and bottom half in the last run metric I examine. They added a 2nd round Center in Elgton Jenkins and a replacement-level guard in Billy Turner, formerly of the Broncos. They added only 1 UFA to the group. I don’t see any reason for this unit to improve or degrade significantly this upcoming season.

Overall Offense

12th in Yd/drive, 16th in Pts/drive, 18th in TOP/drive, and were the 2nd most pass-happy team w/ only 34.2% of their plays being a run. With a new head coach that reportedly plans to emphasize the run, and did so in Tennessee last year, the run call percentage is almost guaranteed to increase.

Defense

18th in Y/g, 10th to last in Pts/g, 10th to last in RY/g, 12th in PY/g w/ 6-9-1 record. The Packers invested heavily in defense during the offseason, adding DE Za’Darius Smith from Baltimore, Edge Rusher/OLB Preston Smith from Washington, and Safety Adrian Amos from Chicago. The Pack also hammered the draft, selecting Rashan Gary, DE from Michigan at 12th overall and Strong Safety Darnell Savage at 21st overall. Additionally, 3 5th round and later defenders were added, along with 5 UFA’s. Losing only Clay Matthews, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, and Nick Perry to Free Agency, I expect this unit to improve in 2019, if healthy. A more run-heavy approach will also increase the offensive Time of Possession, resting the defense and limiting the opponents’ chances to score.

Coaching

Matt LaFleur, 39, is the former Offensive Coordinator of the Rams in 2017 and then Titans in 2018. Both seasons, his teams ranked in the top ten in both Rushing Attempts and Rushing Yards. While this may decrease some with the presence of Aaron Rodgers, LaFleur clearly believes in the run as a key component of the offense. With a career completely based on the offensive side of the ball, with 8 years as a Quarterbacks coach, this hire is a good sign for Rodgers as well, don’t let the run-first philosophy scare you off of one of the most talented QB’s of all time. Growing pains could rear their heads with this being LaFleur’s 1st time as a head coach but retaining Defensive Coordinator Mike Pettine could help with continuity in scheme on defense.

Jace Sternberger the Player

Measurables

My Predraft TE5 and highest ranked Tier 2 TE is 6’4, 251 lbs, with 9.75 hands, and a 77.25 wingspan. Older for this class at 22.93 years old, w/ above average wt/ht, below average span/ht, and average hand/ht.

Ran a slightly below average 4.75 40 at combine, 31.5” vert was also below average, as was his 113” broad jump and 7.19 s 3-cone. He did have an average 4.31 s 20-yard shuttle and 17 bench reps, but overall was a disappointing combine compared to the rest of the class.

Good Traits on Film

Hands catcher w/ a nice burst after the catch, great head fakes on his routes when he decides to use them, much better off the ball as a receiver than a TE stance (could be good or bad), decent speed, adjusts to jump balls well, pretty good shoulder angle on his seal blocks, no false step as a wide receiver, can make a contested catch when about to receive the hit, decent contact balance and balance in general, decent agility, does effectively block his man at times, will use stiff arm effectively, decent vision as a ball carrier

Bad Traits on Film

Slow out of his stance as a TE, pushes defenders instead of blocking them, fails to adjust quickly to off-target throws, poor in pass protection due to side to side agility issues, overruns blocks on the 2nd level, doesn’t deliver the blow but absorbs contact instead, has strength issues, poor at avoiding rerouting defenders, issues with route running, poor awareness as a blocker both in the run game and pass pro, doesn’t block for his teammates after the catch, doesn’t use physicality to get separation at his route breaks, consistently fails to get separation at his route breaks using any method (physicality, athleticism, route running), consistently gets driven back by defensive linemen, poor technique and inconsistent effort as a blocker, will completely avoid hitting defenders he’s supposed to block out of fear of contact, I worry about his ball security after the catch, overall seems scared/hesitant of physicality, poor knowledge of route concepts, no special athletic traits, does drop the ball.

The Verdict

Sternberger is consistently being taken as the 4th TE in rookie drafts, with an ADP of 25. I would much rather have Kahale Warring later, which all should know by now. I don’t see special athletic traits, I don’t see blocking ability that will keep him on the field, I don’t see technical skill as a receiver or overall good football IQ. He’s also behind Jimmy Graham for at least a year, wasting a roster spot on your team for that time frame, and then has to compete with a TE that may be a better pass-catcher and blocker in Robert Tonyan. Tonyan also has superior athletic ability, running a 4.63 40 out of college, a 38” vertical, and likely better numbers in general. Tonyan was undrafted, so I’m not predicting he dominates Sternberger and completely takes over the job next year, but I think it’s a very strong possibility that they at least split time, especially if Sternberger doesn’t vastly improve as a blocker. Rodgers also has never historically over-utilized the Tight End, this isn’t to say that he couldn’t if he had an adequate talent, but Sternberger simply isn’t ready right now, either as a blocker or receiver, to contribute this season. He was selected 75th overall in the 3rd round, which is positive draft capital, but due to the opportunity cost of that bench spot and the TE’s currently ahead of him in Green Bay, I’d much rather use my draft pick on Warring, Knox, or Oliver just for immediate opportunity’s sake. I don’t hate the player, but he’s my pick for most overrated tight end outside of Hockenson.

Future Works

On Tuesday, June 4th, a deep dive into Darrell Henderson, RB for the Rams will be released.

Every day on the podcast, I give my Happy Song Of The Day and Football Song Of The Day, so feel free to check those out at well.

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