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Football Outsiders examines how Jimmy Graham’s arrival, Jordy Nelson’s departure affects Packers

In the second part of Acme Packing Company’s Q&A with Football Outsiders, Scott Kacsmar examines how the arrival of Jimmy Graham and departure of Jordy Nelson will change the Packers offense.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Green Bay Packers Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

In the midst of seismic shifts within the Green Bay Packers’ front office and coaching staff, the team said goodbye to longtime wide receiver Jordy Nelson while welcoming All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham. These related decisions continue to generate debate among fans and media and could play a significant role in how the Packers offense performs this season.

As such, we thought it wise to consult Football Outsiders’ Scott Kacsmar about the Graham-Nelson exchange. For more than a decade, Football Outsiders has provided insight into the NFL using statistics and their proprietary metrics available nowhere else. They recently released their 2018 Almanac, which you can purchase here.

Below, you can find Kacsmar’s thoughts about Nelson, Graham, and the Packers offense.

APC: With Jordy Nelson out and Jimmy Graham in, what changes do you expect to see for the Packers offense?

I think it depends on how they want to use Jimmy Graham. In recent years he has been much more effective when lined up in the slot as opposed to a traditional, in-line tight end position. So in this offense, he could serve as a third receiver in the slot to go along with Randall Cobb and Davante Adams, while someone like Marcedes Lewis or Lance Kendricks plays the in-line role. I think that could work well, because unless a young wideout (J’Mon Moore perhaps?) steps up, this is probably the weakest the wide receiver depth chart has been in the Aaron Rodgers era. So I think they’ll want to look at Graham in the slot a lot, and he has always been a fantastic target in the red zone. That’s an area where Rodgers was so good with Nelson despite the receiver’s physical limitations in recent years, but I think Rodgers and Graham can have a great red-zone chemistry right away in 2018.

From what the Packers have shown thus far in the preseason, Kacsmar’s comments make sense. They have lined up Graham primarily in the slot, including on his scoring connection with Aaron Rodgers last Thursday. Graham, already a monster in the red zone, gives Rodgers with a skyscraping target absent from Green Bay’s roster in recent years. Along with Pro Bowl wideout Davante Adams, the Packers should enjoy plenty of success near the goal line.

Still, Kacsmar’s point about the Packers’ wide-receiver depth provides reason for caution. Adams and Randall Cobb can all do damage, but the team has historically offered Rodgers more firepower at wideout. Graham can mitigate those concerns somewhat given his skill set, but Green Bay needs someone else to step up. Geronimo Allison will give Rodgers a steady target, but the third-year receiver might have already peaked. J’Mon Moore hasn’t shown much to suggest he can become an impact player in 2018. Perhaps Marquez Valdes-Scantling or Equanimeous St. Brown can develop into a playmaker at some point this season, but late-round rookies rarely contribute much so soon.

For those reasons, the Packers could still bring in some veteran assistance at the end of the preseason. While the team probably doesn’t have Dez Bryant on its radar, an experienced pass catcher could make a difference for the offense, especially should one of Green Bay’s starters miss time with an injury.