To help prepare for the upcoming season for all you fantasy footballers, we will examine every team in the league in the month of July. This effort will be organized through divisions and we will go roughly in order of overall strength of offenses from worst to best. Since teams in the same division play roughly to same schedule, it can be helpful to consider the defenses each division will face. I use team stats from Football Outsiders (DVOA), Average Draft Position (ADP) from Fantasy Football Calculator, and standard fantasy scoring on Yahoo. As always, comments, disagreements, and questions are welcome.
Today we cover the NFC North. Overall, this division posted average passing games with good running games…except for Detroit who couldn’t run on anyone. Obviously, Windy City Gridiron readers will know this division better than any other but it’s worth running through the names on your cheat sheet just the same.
15th Passing DVOA, 27th Rushing DVOA
QB: Matthew Stafford
RB: Ameer Abdullah, Theo Riddick
WR: Golden Tate, Marvin Jones
TE: Eric Ebron
The retirement of superstar wide receiver Calvin Johnson leaves a hole in this offense 10 Marvin Jones couldn’t fill. One of the all-time greats, Johnson could make Matt Stafford a relevant passer some weeks and pulled coverage away from the scrappy Golden Tate. Neither Tate nor Jones projects as a true #1 in this passing game and Eric Ebron hasn’t shown much to justify his 1st round selection. It’s a risky proposition to invest in this passing game this season. It would seem Tate and Jones will both get overdrafted as they’re both drafted in the range of starters (WR2/3).
The running game was atrocious last year. Some of that had to be the end of the Joique Bell story – a world beater turned into the second coming of Trent Richardson. Some of that had to do with some inconsistencies in the offensive line. This year, it is Ameer Abdullah in the catbird seat and as the 29th RB off the board this draft season, he offers a reasonable gamble in an offense that will likely see significant changes. The only real competition on the depth chart is Theo Riddick, a real spark plug catching passes out of the backfield last season. Riddick does not project as a between the tackles runner, which limits his value to PPR based leagues.
19th Passing DVOA, 8th Rushing DVOA
QB: Teddy Bridgewater
RB: Adrian Peterson, Jerick McKinnon
WR: Stefon Diggs, Laquon Treadwell, Jarius Wright
TE: Kyle Rudolph
Do you trust Teddy Bridgewater? He finished 24th last year among all QBs in total fantasy points, sliding in between such luminaries as Sam Bradford and current Chicago Bears backup QB Brian Hoyer. Bridgewater is even lower in points per game, where he ranked ahead of only Nick Foles…yikes. Okay, so if you don’t trust the QB, how much can you rely on his weapons? Stefon Diggs had a great run last year, emerging as a reliable weapon…until he wasn’t. Laquon Treadwell might be the most talented receiver in this year’s class…or a complete bust. Rudolph is waiver wire fodder. Jarius Wright? Meh. If you’re taking Diggs or Treadwell, it should be as a WR4 as this offense simply isn’t going to be a fantasy juggernaut.
As long as Mike Zimmer is coaching that defense up, this team will run the ball. Luckily, they’ve got that once-a-generation talent guy, Adrian Peterson, showing no signs of slowing down. Jerick McKinnon isn’t much of a threat to cut into the typical Peterson workload. We’ll get into rankings in August, but you can rearrange the deckchairs in the Top 5 at running back any way you like. Peterson is no worse than the #5 RB off the board and he’s not going to slip out of the first round this year. If you want him, you need to build your team around him as your top choice.
16th Passing DVOA, 10th Rushing DVOA
QB: Aaron Rodgers
RB: Eddie Lacy, James Starks
WR: Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Devante Adams, Jeff Janis
TE: Jared Cook
What happened to Mr. Wonderful last season? Rodgers finished behind Blake Bortles, Eli Manning, and Kirk Cousins last season in total points and failed to put up those daggers that you need from a QB drafted in the first two rounds. He gets Jordy Nelson back this year after tearing his ACL in the preseason. Is Nelson all the difference between God-mode and mere-mortal? It’s Cam and Rodgers for first QB off the board so if you’re betting your season on it, that’s what you’re banking on. Nelson is a full year recovered from the ACL and there’s no reason to think that he can’t recapture what he was before the injury. Randall Cobb benefits the most from Jordy’s return as he struggled against better corners last season. There’s always someone else on the periphery for this wide receiving corps and this time it’s Jeff Janis getting the most buzz. If the perennial tease Jaren Cook can’t put up numbers with AR12 throwing the ball, it’s time to hang up the boots.
The same characters remain in the backfield with
fat skinny Eddie Lacy leading the charge and James Starks in the backup role. Lacy sunk a lot of teams last year with his best Trent Richardson impression but recommitted himself in the offseason to getting into shape and losing weight. A svelte Lacy won’t get you much of a discount at the draft table as his name brand is pulling him off the board as a top 10 back. Starks is one of those handcuffs worth a roster spot as he gives you 80% production in an injury situation.
13th Passing DVOA, 5th Rushing DVOA
QB: Jay Cutler
RB: Jeremy Langford, Jordan Howard
WR: Alshon Jeffery, Kevin White, Eddie Royal
TE: Zach Miller
The main event! The biggest question I have about this squad is who will emerge as the running back of consequence in this offense. Both Langford and Howard were drafted by the Fox / Pace administration. Langford had a good amount of success last year as the second fiddle to Matt Forte, but the anti-Langford backlash was strong from some of the stat-nerds out there. Howard had high grades coming out of Indiana and he projects a bell-cow type image. My advice with these guys is draft both or none unless something definitive shakes out in camp. Langford currently comes with an affordable 4th round price tag while Howard can be had near the end of the draft like a good handcuff. Whoever is the primary back will be a usable asset as the o-line projects to be very good on the ground.
The mercurial Jay Cutler is coming off of one of his better seasons in the new John Fox-style offense. Much of the year, Cutler was throwing to marginal NFL talent so a healthy trio of Alshon Jeffery, Kevin White, and Eddie Royal could be downright scary. Zach Miller emerged as a legit option for Cutler last year but it remains to be seen how the targets shake out with a full healthy crew. Alshon is an established fantasy stud and drafted as such with a second round pick. The playmaking ability of Kevin White has him earning 7th round consideration as a WR3 – I like that price and expectations. Royal and Miller can be had at the end of the draft or will be found on the wire. That leaves Cutty. In most leagues, he’ll be selected late or join the free agent pool. His value will show up during the bye week stretch, but you could do worse than Cutty as your QB Caddy. As I’ve said before, there are fewer things in fantasy football better than beating your opponent with Jay Cutler as your QB.
NFC North Review
The NFC North provides familiar names with the notable subtractions of Calvin Johnson and Matt Forte. Laquon Treadwell is an interesting big receiver in the division but with Teddy Bridgewater throwing the ball… The NFC North gets the AFC South and NFC East so the star power gets an added boost as only the Texans offer a top flight defense.
All NFC North Fantasy Team – The ideal roster as chosen from only NFC North squads:
QB: Aaron Rodgers
RB: Adrian Peterson
RB: Jeremy Langford
WR: Alshon Jeffery
WR: Jordy Nelson
WR: Golden Tate
TE: Zach Miller