Dynasty Trade Targets: Jace Sternberger
The Green Bay Packers under 1st-year head coach Matt LaFleur were one of the bigger surprises of the 2019 NFL season. With LaFleur came expectations of a more explosive offense than we had been accustom to seeing at Lambeau Field in the last several years. As part of the Sean McVay coaching tree fantasy players assumed big things for Aaron Rodgers, Devante Adams, and Aaron Jones. The tight end position was nearly an afterthought with an aging Jimmy Graham, a third-round rookie, some other guys that no one has ever heard of. 2020 though is shaping up to be a different story.
State of the Depth Chart
Jimmy Graham had his least productive season since his rookie campaign. He posted career lows or near career lows in targets, catches, yards, and touchdowns. Those numbers combined with an $11.7m cap hit in 2020 point to the Packers cutting the veteran tight end. Cutting Graham will leave them with $3.7m in dead cap money. Assuming Marcedes Lewis is also gone in 2020 the result is 79 vacated targets to tight ends in the Packers offense. That’s a hefty number for a non-WR position group and opens the door for a new fantasy asset.
Enter Jace Sternberger. Sternberger bounced around in college playing for 3 different teams in 3 seasons. He only caught one pass for five yards as a redshirt freshman for Kansas in 2016. In 2017 he transferred to Northeastern Oklahoma A&M where he a focal point in the offense. His expanded role led to a 21 catch season for 336 yards and 6 touchdowns. It’s a stat line that drew the attention of FBS coaches like Jimbo Fisher. Sternberger spent his 2018 Jr season with Fisher at Texas A&M. In his only season as an Aggie Sternberger became a consensus All-American, named first-team All-SEC, and was the Aggies’ Offensive MVP. He paced the Aggies with 48 receptions, 832 yards, and 10 touchdowns in 13 games.
For a 3rd round pick his rookie season was pretty nondescript, he saw zero targets, catches, yards, touchdowns, etc. He did, however, flash (well, maybe sparked?) during the playoffs against the 49ers. His 2/15/1 stat line didn’t light the world on fire but one catch was a touchdown and the other was for a first down. This is not usually the stuff that breakouts are made of but the Packers did have him on the IR and used their “designated to return” spot on him. So it’s safe to say the organization likes him and given the improvements made he’s made as a blocker we can assume the coaches like him too. He had an average PPF blocking grade of 56.37 during weeks 10-15 that improved to 64.86 average over his final three games two of which were playoff games.
As previously touched on the Packers TE group appears to be vacating 79 targets. That number has some room to grow as the WR group appears to be in line for a shake-up also. The following players are all facing expiring contracts and their number of targets in parentheses.
Geronimo Allison (55): Unrestricted Free Agent
Jake Kumerow (21): Exclusive Rights Free Agent
Allen Lazard (52): Exclusive Rights Free Agent
Robert Tonyan(15): Exclusive Rights Free Agent
These players account for 143 potentially vacated targets in 2020. Combine that with the 79 we were coming up with at the TE position it’s completely possible the Packers will have ~222 vacated targets to work with. Assuming only Lazard and Tonyan are back it’s safe to put a range of 65-80 targets on Sternberger for 2020. Certainly not earth-shattering but it’s enough to net him a few touchdowns and make him a viable TE option.
The Bottom Line
I’m not ready to put Sternberger in the Darren Waller category of TE’s (yet) the needle, however, is pointing up. It’s plausible that he could be had for a reasonable price. If you can get him for a 3rd round rookie pick it’ll be a good investment. To be clear you are bringing this player in for a major role increase in 2020 and breakout in 2021.