New faces in new places: Aaron Rodgers welcomes back old friend

Aaron Rodgers welcomes back old offensive coordinator Joe Philbin to Green Bay. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone)

There are seven new head coaches in place this offseason, and six of them are bringing new offensive coordinators with them. That means new concepts and playbooks and, most importantly in the fantasy world, opportunities for offensive skill position players. New coaches provide plenty of food for thought as the season approaches, and how their players fit in their systems goes a long way toward making a successful team. In this series, we’ll take a look at some of the most intriguing players/new coach tandems who hope to take advantage of new roles in 2018.

It’s early 2012 and Joe Philbin is a hot commodity on the head coach market. As offensive coordinator, he helped guide the Packers to a Super Bowl championship in 2011, and Green Bay is fresh off a 15-1 regular season. The Dolphins tab Philbin as their newest head coach, and over the next three-and-a-quarter seasons, Miami improves vastly on offense. But the defense falls off, the Dolphins never make the playoffs, and by 2016 he’s an offensive line coach in Indianapolis, a coaching role he hasn’t held since a decade before. It was a far cry from leading one of the best offenses in the NFL.

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Regardless, Philbin is back in Green Bay after two years with the Colts. And offensively, much is the same — Aaron Rodgers and Mike McCarthy are running the show. As Philbin put it in his introductory press conference, he aims to make McCarthy “look like the smartest play-caller in the National Football League.”

1. It’s Jimmy Graham time in Green Bay

Like his first tenure in Green Bay, Philbin will not be calling the plays. That responsibility falls on McCarthy. But that doesn’t mean Philbin won’t have major influence on the offense as a whole, and that means a greater focus on tight ends than we’ve seen in years past, especially with Pro Bowler Jimmy Graham in the fold. Graham is one of the most impactful free agent movers this offseason.

Rodgers, who is the epitome of consistent excellence, has been the league’s best when targeting slot and outside wide receivers but fifth when targeting tight ends, per Pro Football Focus. Graham is a big, athletic player who won’t be asked to block as much as he was with the Seahawks. Expect a big year for Graham, perhaps the best tight end Rodgers has had.

Since Philbin’s departure, only one Packers tight end — Richard Rodgers in 2015 — has finished in the top 10 in targets. Coincidentally, he’s the last Green Bay tight end to finish in the top 10 in fantasy points. Philbin has had Jermichael Finley in Green Bay and Charles Clay and Anthony Fasano in Miami, so Graham will benefit most from Philbin’s return.

2. Who steps up behind Davante Adams?

Davante Adams broke out last season, and with Jordy Nelson in Oakland, Adams is absolutely in for a massive year. Who steps up behind him, though remains a question. Geronimo Allison had some nice moments last year, and Randall Cobb has terrific chemistry with Rodgers, even though he’s not quite what he was early in his career. Behind those two, the team has Trevor Davis and then six wideouts who are either rookies or second-year players.

Cobb should be a name to keep in mind, mostly because he’ll turn 28 just before the start of the season, so his decline isn’t as imminent as some make it seem. He broke out in 2012 — his second year in the league and Philbin’s last in Green Bay — with an 80/954/8 season. Cobb was then injured in 2013 before an outstanding 2014. Philbin knows how to get slot men involved — Jarvis Landry broke out under him in Miami — and Cobb averaged 5.5 catches per game with a healthy Rodgers last year, compared to just 3.7 without him.

3. Ty Montgomery should move around a lot

Two years ago, with the Packers’ backfield devastated by injuries, Montgomery broke out as a running back wearing the unusual number of 88. He collected 805 yards from scrimmage and averaged 5.9 yards per carry. He was a prime candidate to be a fantasy stud last year. Instead, he struggled to stay healthy with an increased workload in the backfield and played only eight games.

With Aaron Jones (suspended the first two games of the season) and Jamaal Williams in the backfield this year, Montgomery should have a more reasonable workload for his slight frame. Under Philbin, Rodgers had considerable success throwing the ball to James Starks and Ryan Grant, and Montgomery is terrific in space: He posted the third-best juke rate in 2016, per Player Profiler. And given the Packers’ lack of proven receivers, he could move all around the formation.

Other New faces in new places:
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