To help prepare for the upcoming season for all you fantasy footballers, we will examine every team in the league before the start of the season. 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. The division that we at WCG are most familiar with but it’s always worth refreshing your memory before your draft. Personally, I’m not a fan of drafting Packers players because you might be put in a position to actually cheer for someone in green and mustard. I have lobbied fantasy game makers to allow for the removal of individual players from the draft pool in leagues I run but have been unsuccessful at this point. Anyway, we’ll cover the division as a show of completeness, even if you’re not likely to draft some of these rival players to your fake team.
13th Passing DVOA, 25th Rushing DVOA
QB: Matthew Stafford
RB: Ameer Abdullah, Theo Riddick, Zach Zenner
WR: Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, Jared Abbrederis, Kenny Golladay
TE: Eric Ebron
The Lions haven’t been able to run the ball for a number of years now. Abdullah hasn’t been able to stay on the field and consistently perform but still projects to lead the backfield. Riddick has been the more productive back and can find value in PPR leagues. Zenner is more of “just a guy” but he’ll occasionally step into the role if Abdullah’s injury history continues. The Lions were smart in identifying the obvious needs along the offensive line and did what they could to add talent for competition. Ricky Wagner is a good Right Tackle, TJ Lang an excellent Right Guard, and maybe a change of scenery will allow Greg Robinson to fulfill his immense promise. Add it all up and Abdullah / Riddick could provide value.
Matthew Stafford is in his 9th year. No, seriously, I double checked. The former Georgia Bulldog and #1 overall pick is a high variance quarterback with a penchant for the dramatic. Stafford reverted back to the mean of his career TD numbers last year but threw a career low 10 INTs (not counting his injury shortened sophomore campaign). All in all, we know what Stafford is at this point in his career – a good bet for ~4,200 yards and ~25 scores. He’ll add a few points with his legs and is a solid fantasy starter. His best weapon is Golden Tate, particularly in PPR leagues, but Marvin Jones proved to be a good fit, topping 100 targets and 900 yards. He’s a good bench player to have to pick your spots against poor pass defenses. Tight End Eric Ebron enters his 4th year and it’s now or never for the former first rounder. While injuries have stunted his growth in the league, Ebron has been a massive disappointment in an offense that wants to get him the ball. I think he’s worth avoiding.
18th Passing DVOA, 31st Rushing DVOA
QB: Sam Bradford (Teddy Bridgewater)
RB: Dalvin Cook, Latavius Murray, Jerick McKinnon
WR: Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, Laquon Treadwell, Jarius Wright
TE: Kyle Rudolph
Did you know that the Vikings line was atrocious last year? They were so bad that Teddy Bridgewater self-inflicted a devastating knee injury to avoid all the hits (I kid, I kid). But seriously, the line play was awful and even all-world superstar Adrian Peterson couldn’t do anything. Minnesota went out and drafted Dalvin Cook to replace Peterson and signed Latavius Murray. Murray, you’ll recall, was the nominal starter in Oakland, but was not an efficient back during his tenure there. Cook is uber talented but comes with some serious off the field issues. If Cook picks up pass protection schemes early, he’s the guy to own in this offense, not Murray. This is not a DeMarco Murray / Derek Henry situation from Tennessee last year.
I have a number of friends that cheer for the Vikings and I’m amazed at the love for Bradford the fan base holds. All the blame for their offensive woes go to the offensive line and praise is heaped on the 2-yard out accuracy of Bradford. Argue the real football implications all you want but fake football teams should avoid Bradford. Diggs is a fun player to own as he has some quick strike ability. Thielen is a fan favorite and Treadwell is a talented guy coming into his sophomore campaign. I tend to like to take chances on pedigree players so a late round flier on Treadwell interests me. Kyle Rudolph is a low end starting tight end – worth the spot to fill but could just as easily be found on waivers at some point in the season.
Green Bay Packers
7th Passing DVOA, 5th Rushing DVOA
QB: Aaron Rodgers
RB: Ty Montgomery (Jamaal Williams, Aaron Jones, Devante Mays)
WR: Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Davante Adams
TE: Martellus Bennett
Aaron Rodgers is a phenomenal football player and he’s fantastic for a fake football team. He puts up crazy good numbers, limits turnovers, and has the ability to put up games that will carry your team a few weeks a year. I just can’t put him on my team. If you feel good about using a Packer, more power to you. He throws to a revolving door of talented pass catchers. Chief among them is Jordy Nelson, now fully recovered from the ACL tear. He’s a good player and scores lots of TDs – not a bad combination for fake football. Davante Adams dropped more TDs than Nelson scored last year and Randall Cobb has been disappointing expectant fantasty managers for the last couple of years. Other names that may pop up during the year because they seem to have a million of them include Geronimo Allison, Jeff Janis, Trevor Davis, Malachi Dupree, and DeAngelo Yancey. I have absolutely zero insight into who will even make that squad but just know that there will be a moment this year when one of those names becomes relevant.
The Packers basically didn’t have any healthy running backs on the roster so they turned to Ty Montgomery, a wide receiver, to fill the role. He then turned out to be a revelation and it led to a ridiculous advantage for those playing him in the WR slot. All signs point to Montgomery returning as the starter but the other names are listed for completeness sake. The Packers have lost TJ Lang and Josh Sitton to division rivals the last two seasons so we’ll find out if they can maintain the level of consistent play that allows for such high efficiency ratings.
20th Passing DVOA, 18th Rushing DVOA
QB: Mike Glennon, Mitch Trubisky
RB: Jordan Howard
WR: Cameron Meredith, Kevin White
TE: Zach Miller, Adam Shaheen
The Bears offense took a big step back from the Adam Gase year but there are some positive signs. The offensive line made a small adjustment, flipping Kyle Long and Josh Sitton, but otherwise returns the same starting 5 from last year. With Long returning to good health and year 2 of Cody Whitehair, expectations are high for this offensive line as they boast potentially the best interior offensive line in the league. That’s good because expectations are astronomical for Jordan Howard. It’s nice to see a Bears player back in the first round of drafts and I would take Howard as high as 3rd, because I’m a homer. David Johnson, Le’Veon Bell, Jordan Howard. I’m not saying he’ll finish 3rd, I’m saying that’s as high as I’m comfortable taking him. Fantasy football is more fun when you have guys you like.
That offensive line should also help the 2017 signal caller, whether that’s Mike Glennon or Mitchell Trubisky. Generally speaking, in a basic redraft league of 10 or 12 teams, only the most optimistic Bears fans are going to take one of the two. If you’re in a keeper league of some sort, there’s nothing wrong with taking a chance on Trubisky, but QB development usually takes some time for fantasy relevance. I’m only listing 2 receivers – Cam Meredith is the darling of the corps right now and is a solid WR2/3 choice. If you play in a league of diverse fans, you might be able to get him at a discount. Kevin White…we’re all hoping for it to happen but he’s more of a post-hype sleeper at this point. You could do worse than Zach Miller at Tight End but don’t sleep on 2nd rounder Adam Shaheen. If this kid gets rolling, he’ll be Glennon or Trubisky’s best friend. Rookie TEs normally don’t make an impact but it’d be fun to call the kid’s name at the end of the draft.
NFC North Review
The NFC North gets the AFC North and NFC South. There are plenty of bad to mediocre defenses to pick on in those divisions. A lot of fantasy advice will tell you to not be a homer. And while that’s good advice to some extent (don’t pick Mike Glennon in the 1st round is sound reasoning), this game should be fun. So, find out where your favorite player is typically drafted. Look around at your league and see if there are other Bears fans, for example. Calculate just how early you’ll have to fight for that player and still feel okay about the premium you paid. Then, pull the trigger and embrace the homer jeers. Cam Meredith currently has an ADP of 105 or the 9th round of a 12 teamer. You want to take Meredith in the 6th or 7th? Do it! Pull the trigger. You want to take him in the 2nd or 3rd…well, you’re on your own there.
All NFC North Fantasy Team – The ideal roster as chosen from only NFC North squads:
QB: Aaron Rodgers
RB: Jordan Howard
RB: Dalvin Cook
WR: Jordy Nelson
WR: Golden Tate
WR: Cameron Meredith (Homer pick!)
TE: Martellus Bennett
D: Bears (Double homer pick!!)