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Grading the Packers’ position groups based on advanced statistics

It’s time get nerdy on the report card for the 2020 regular season.

Green Bay Packers v Chicago Bears Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Green Bay Packers capped off an enjoyable 13-3 season with a pretty good shellacking of the rival Chicago Bears on Sunday in a game that was never really as close as it felt during parts of the game. With the 1-seed locked up and no one to preview as the roster looks to avoid any COVID scares during the bye week, let’s look back at the team position-by-position.

Quarterbacks: A+

I’ve written a lot about Aaron Rodgers, and there’s just not much left to say. He’s going to win the MVP. Just bask in his statistical glory.

Running backs: A-

Aaron Jones had a bit of a slower start to the season in a lot of the bigger metrics, but he’ll finish the season 5th in rushing DVOA and 6th in RYOE/attempt (rushing yards over expected per attempt). Jones’ receiving took a step back in 2020, but his role was smaller in the passing game as the Packers got an elite season out of Davante Adams and solid support from the rest of the receiving options.

Jamaal Williams just keeps on Jamaal Williams-ing. Never a particularly great runner, Williams did actually have a decent year running the ball. He ranked 17th in DVOA and actually finished above 0 in RYOE/attempt. Running isn’t what makes Williams valuable though. His pass blocking remained stellar and his extremely reliable hands and conservative usage led to an 89% catch rate. He isn’t a sexy player, but he gets the job done.

AJ Dillon bulldozed Tennessee into oblivion, which was a very nice end to a rookie season that was disrupted by a bout with COVID. Dillon didn’t do a lot in other games, but it was a lot of fun to watch a big man plow through folks in a snow globe.

John Lovett was on the roster for a while.

Wide Receivers: A-

Davante Adams is doing A LOT of work here. Adams set the Packers single-season mark for catches at 115 and tied the record for touchdowns at 18, all while missing 2.5 games. Despite incredibly high usage, Adams still finished 10th in DVOA while running away with the DYAR title. Despite his high target volume, Adams was still second in the NFL in catch rate. Truly a historic season from Adams on every level.

Now, the rest is more muddled. Allen Lazard got off to a great start as he was lapping the field in DVOA prior to his core injury. Since returning, he just hasn’t been quite the same player in the receiving game. Despite that, Lazard still leads all receivers with fewer than 50 targets in DYAR. Lazard also gets bonus points for being an absolute tank in the running game as a blocker.

Then there is Marquez Valdes-Scantling. There’s nothing really left to say here. He is the ultimate boom or bust player. The game against Chicago on Sunday was peak MVS — catch a bomb for a TD and then drop another one later that game. The raw numbers for MVS look pretty good: He had a 33/690/6 season, led the league in yards-per-reception, and set a new career high in yards-per-target. He also posted a very respectable 18th in DVOA. I just don’t know what to do with him. He’s so incredibly physically gifted, but the drops just keep on piling up. Green Bay will need him to win the Super Bowl, so let’s hope he catches it those times.

Other people existed at the position and did effectively nothing.

Tight Ends: A-

Big F***in Bob was the breakout star of the Packers offense in 2020. Robert Tonyan posted an obnoxious 51.9% DVOA to lead the league by a mile. The difference between him and #2 Darren Fells is similar to the gap from Fells to #7 Irv Smith. Most of Tonyan’s damage came in the red zone as he racked up eleven touchdowns. An absolute vacuum, Tonyan’s catch-percentage of 88% made him a reliable target for Rodgers. An amazing 71% of Tonyan’s targets went for first downs or touchdowns. My favorite stat of all though is that Tonyan was the worst RAC guy in the league for almost the entire season. Unfortunately for my stat though, he is now only the 2nd worst as Austin Hooper was just a little less wiggly than Big Bob.

Marcedes Lewis continued to be a great blocker and reliable target for Rodgers. Jace Sternberger was pretty bad when he played, but has again fallen victim to the injury bug. Josiah Deguara suffered and ACL injury early on. Dominique Dafney has done a good job as an H-back since joining.

Offensive Line: A+

Pour one out for David Bakhtiari. The All-Pro put together one of his best seasons before going down with an ACL injury. The entire Packers line has reasonable arguments to make the All-Pro teams. Every one of the Packers starting five offensive lineman ranked in the top 10 at their positions in pass-block win rate, including two #1s in Billy Turner and Corey Linsley. The unit as a whole has been playing on an easier difficulty setting than the rest of the NFL as they lapped the field in pass-block win rate. They also were the best run blocking unit in the NFL by run-block win rate. It’s pretty hard to imagine a better season for a group than the one they had. Even without their star LT, the unit managed to keep Rodgers fairly clean in those four games, relying on the depth provided by Ricky Wagner and Jon Runyan.

Oh, and Lane Taylor, who began the season as the Packers’ starter at right guard, was lost for the season in the opener.

Defensive Line and EDGE: B-

This was a stars and scrubs unit for most of the year. Kenny Clark continued to be disruptive in the middle of the defense after inking his extension. While a little less disruptive than last year, Za’Darius Smith provided another strong season, finishing 14th in pressure rate according to SIS. Rashan Gary had a breakout season, turning his immense physical gifts into production, as he finished 10th in pressure rate. The problem is that Preston Smith was terrible. He was the worst pass rushing linebacker in the NFL with a pressure rate of only 6.9%.

Overall, the front was a middling pass rush unit, finishing 18th in pass-rush win rate, and below-average run stopping unit, finishing 22nd in run-stop win rate and 23rd in adjusted line yards. The addition of Snacks Harrison should help with those latter two, and the stronger performances from the pass rushing group in the latter part of the season hopefully portends to a strong playoff run.

Linebackers: C

There might actually be some things to work with here. The Packers’ best rookie was Krys Barnes, the undrafted free agent out of UCLA. Barnes finished the year with 80 tackles and a broken/missed tackle rate of only 8.3%. Kamal Martin was a heat seeking missile who exchanged blowing up plays in the backfield for missing his man and letting the player into the second level. Christian Kirksey was largely a disappointment, but played better once Barnes took over the primary Mike responsibilities. The second level is the still a weakness for the team, but Green Bay may have found its pair of linebackers going forward in Barnes and Martin.

Cornerbacks: B

Jaire Alexander now owns an island. He was PFF’s highest graded corner. He also ended up ranking T-14th in pass deflections despite rarely being targeted. He ranked 2nd in the league in yards allowed per coverage snap, per PFF. He completely shut down multiple WR1s and made essentially 13 of the field a complete barren wasteland for opposing offenses.

Kevin King is a problem. Through week 16, his 9.1 yards/target ranked 13th-worst among CBs with at least 40 targets. King’s poor tackling has continued to be a problem. For more on King, you can check out my CB2 discussion here.

Chandon Sullivan hasn’t quite matched the efficiency of 2019 in 2020, but he has been a solid nickel corner. Both his passer rating allowed and his yards/target allowed are starting to flirt with problem territory, but Green Bay’s issues in the slot have not been as impactful as on the offense’s left boundary.

Josh Jackson was okay in limited snaps against pretty bad competition. The same can be said for Ka’Dar Hollman. CB2 will be the biggest need for Green Bay in 2021.

Safeties: A-

After a rough start to the season, Darnell Savage has been awesome to end the year. He and Adrian Amos are PFF’s highest-graded safeties since week 11. Amos finished the season as PFF’s #2 safety and Savage has actually been more impactful in the season’s final stanza. A change in positioning, putting him closer to the line and allowing him to fly around and make plays, appears to have unlocked Savage. A big part of the defense’s improvement in the latter part of the season was Savage and Amos really coming on.

Green Bay didn’t get a lot else out of the safety position this year. The minuscule dime linebacker Raven Greene got hurt yet again, but was largely productive, if not great, when healthy. Rookie Vernon Scott picked up some snaps at the end of the year, but hasn’t done anything too noteworthy.

Specialists: D+

Poor Mason Crosby is doing A LOT of work here. Crosby put together another awesome season, hitting 100% of his field goals and 94% of his extra points. He also posted the second-highest touchback percentage of his career, while Green Bay ranked 5th by DVOA in FG/XP. Without Crosby’s kicking, this unit would get an F.

Now for the rest of the group. JK Scott was pretty poor this year, ranking 20th in yards per punt and was embarrassed multiple times trying to tackle opposing players this year. It’s not entirely Scott’s fault, but his unit was the 4th-worst in the NFL by DVOA.

Green Bay will probably look for a replacement for Hunter Bradley in 2021 as there were snap issues on multiple punts, field goals, and extra points this year.

The return game was basically useless again in 2020. After breathing some life into the return units in 2019, Tyler Ervin was mostly invisible when he wasn’t hurt. His 19.6 yards per kickoff return ranked third worst for kick returners with at least ten returns. Ervin’s four yards per punt return also ranked near the league’s bottom. When Ervin was out, no one else did anything of note. By DVOA, Green Bay’s kick return unit ranked fourth-worst, and its punt return unit was ninth-worst. An absolutely disastrous year for the specialists, non-Crosby division.