Eyes of the Guru (NFC North)
By John Norton
August 23rd, 2011

Approaching the end of the series.

Chicago Bears

Defensive line

Nothing seemed to change with Julius Peppers last season but the uniform. The 43 tackles were his best since 2006, the 8 sacks were his second lowest total since 2003 and the nine passes defended were a career best. The Bears would have liked to see a little more from him in the pass rush and fantasy owners would like a little more consistency but all in all Peppers remains among the rare elite linemen... Prior to last season, eight year veteran Israel Idonije had a career best of 3.5 sacks. Starting opposite Peppers helped him to record eight. The question is, can he repeat or was it a one year fluke? Only time will answer this question for certain. My guess is that Idonije could have another decent season but he is clearly not a long term answer. It would be a mistake to expect better than DL3 production at best... It will be very interesting to see if the Bears can revive the career of Vernon Gholston. He was a complete flop at both OLB and DE in the Jets 3-4, but that is nothing unusual for guys who were 4-3 ends in college. He could prove to be a completely different player in the Bears scheme.

Linebacker

Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs have been mainstays for both Bears fans and fantasy owners for a long time. After missing nearly all of 2009 with an injury Urlacher returned to form in 2010 when he exceeded 90 solo tackles for the sixth time in nine years. In fact, at 96-29-4, with 4 takeaways and 10 passes defended, 2010 was the third best season of his illustrious career. Urlacher may be getting a bit long in the tooth but if he can stay healthy he is still one of the elite. 2010 saw Briggs miss a couple of games and fall short of 80 solo tackles for the first time since 2003. A healthy Briggs should put up 85+ tackles and enough big plays to land in the top twenty. Take advantage of those who let him slide based on last year's overall production.

Defensive Back

Over the past few years the Bears safety positions have actually been pretty productive. The problem being that they have shuffled too many players in and out of the lineup. That could change now that Danieal Manning has moved on. Chris Harris has moved back to his natural SS position with second year man Major Wright taking over at FS. Neither of these guys is sure to post quality numbers but Harris in particular could be a decent late round snag for us... The Bears play a lot of cover two in the secondary which means their corners play up often and have a good number of opportunities to tackle. Charles Tillman takes advantage of those opportunities. In fact he has put up at least 65 solo stops and finished among the top twelve corners every year of his career except 2004 when he missed several games with injury. At 72-11 with 12 takeaways and 14 passes defended, Tillman was quietly the #2 corner in the fantasy game last season and an excellent DB3 in nearly any league.

Detroit Lions

Defensive line

The Lions have assembled a very talented front four, headlined by Ndamukong Sue who may well be the best interior lineman in the fantasy game since the hey days of Warren Sapp and La'Roi Glover. His monster numbers as a rookie were far and away the best among tackles and were good enough to land him in the top ten among all linemen. There is little doubt that he will only be better in his second season... Defensive ends Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch have both battled injuries over the past couple of seasons but both are capable of quality production if they can stay healthy. Vanden Bosch was on pace for 54 tackles and 6.5 sacks before missing the final six games last season. He is not a great pass rusher but has reached 12 sacks twice in the past six seasons. The Lions have been waiting for Avril to put it all together since taking him in the third round in 2008. He has played better each season but has yet to remain healthy for sixteen games. Even when healthy the coaching staff has been reluctant to make him an every down player. Officially Avril only missed two games last year but he was less than 100% in several others. Despite being banged up and sharing time with Lawrence Jackson for much of the season, Avril manage to finish second on the team with 7.5 sacks. The coaching staff seems to be ready to try him in an every down role, so Avril could be in for a breakout season. Regardless if you take a shot on Avril or Vanden Bosch, be ready to move on Jackson if one of them goes down. In six games at the end of last season Jackson went 18-12-5.

Linebacker

The linebacker position has been a weakness in Detroit for the past several years. The club used free agency to address that issue this offseason. They signed former Titans starter Stephen Tulloch to play MLB and former Jaguars starter Justin Durant to play right outside linebacker. As a result of the additions, last year's starting MLB and the focus of many IDP owners, DeAndre Levy has moved to left OLB. The all important fact to know here is that so far in the preseason Tulloch and Durant have been the linebackers in nickel packages. Tulloch had a huge 2010 season and is in line to put up solid numbers in Detroit. However, expecting a repeat of last year's stellar production would be a mistake. I consider him a good LB2 candidate. As the right OLB, Durant will be on the strong side most of the time. Adding the nickel snaps could be enough to make him worthy as depth with LB3 upside. Unfortunately for those dynasty owners who have been hanging onto Levy, it looks as if he will be the odd man out. This turn of events points to his being no better than LB5 depth at this point.

Defensive Back

In round two of the 2009 draft Detroit added Louis Delmas with the expectation that he would provide a serious big play impact. He has contributed in that area but has yet to show the ball hawking ability the team thought they were getting. Delmas had a pair of picks as a rookie but failed to record an interception last season. Working at FS in a scheme that employs a great deal of cover two, often keeps Delmas out of the action when it comes to run support. As a result he has recorded a modest 64 and 62 tackles in his first two seasons respectively. Consider Delmas as depth in twelve team leagues that start three DBs... When the club signed former Falcons SS Eric Coleman I thought there might finally be some value in the Lions secondary. Apparently Amari Spievey has other ideas. He has played well enough to hold off Coleman and seems to have secured the starting job. Spievey had a couple of good games as the starter late last season but was not impressive for the most part. Simply being the starter here is reason to consider him in the late rounds of some deeper leagues but there seems no reason to have grand expectations.

Green Bay Packers

Defensive Line

B.J. Raji was second on the team with 6.5 sacks last season. Unfortunately he could only muster 29 tackles. Those numbers are good enough to make him a decent backup in tackle required leagues. As is common with 3-4 teams, the rest of the defensive line is pretty much a collection of space eating big men with very little box score potential.

Linebacker

The injury to Nick Barnett last season opened the door for Desmond Bishop who capitalized on the opportunity and claimed the starting job. In just twelve starts Bishop totaled 75 solo tackles with three sacks, three takeaways and eight passes defended. He will be there from the start this year and could push for triple digit tackles. With another respectable contribution in the big play columns, Bishop is very likely to be a top twenty if not top twelve LB in 2011... At one time it was anticipated that Bishop would replace A.J. Hawk as a starter. Hawk however, played very well last season and changed everyone's mind. Hawk finished 2010 with his best production (72-39-.5) since 2006 when he was a rookie, but was still no better than depth in most leagues. He should post similar numbers this season and is worthy of consideration as your LB4 in a pinch or LB5... Clay Matthews is a sack machine who will be a stud in big play heavy scoring leagues. Like most 3-4 OLBs, his lacking tackle totals will severely limit his value in balanced scoring systems.

Defensive Back

With respectable tackle numbers, a lot of big plays and plenty of passes defended, Charles Woodson is perennially a top five corner and a quality starter in any league. At age 34 he posted the best tackle total of his career (76) in 2010 and has shown no sign of slowing down. Tramon Williams is not yet at Woodson's level but his big play numbers and high totals of passes defended have made him a quality CB1 or excellent CB2 over the past three seasons. This is a trend that seems sure to continue... One of my favorite DB sleepers this year is SS Morgan Burnett. He spent much of his rookie season on IR but Burnett has impressed thus far in the preseason. He is a physical run defender and a big play threat who gives the coaching staff a lot of options. I look for Morgan to put up 70+ tackles and make several game changing plays along the way.

Minnesota Vikings

Defensive line

In Jared Allen the Vikings have one of the best defensive ends in both the NFL and fantasy football. For six straight seasons he has exceeded 40 tackles and in five of those six seasons Allen has reached double digit sacks. He is among the elite at the position and should be one of the top two defensive linemen off the board. Last season Minnesota gave us a second quality option at DE. Ray Edwards is now in Atlanta and the Vikings are counting on Brian Robison to step up. In four seasons as a pro Robison has just 48 tackles but has recorded 13.5 sacks in very limited action. The potential is there for him to put up strong numbers, so we can't overlook him as a quality sleeper at a thin position. That said, we also need to keep an eye on last year's fourth round pick Everson Griffen who could also get a shot if Robison stumbles in the every down role... There was a time when Kevin Williams was one of the most productive interior linemen in the game. That time has long passed.

Linebacker

Chad Greenway is hands down the most productive SLB in the game today. This is because he doesn't play a traditional SLB role. He is an every down player that the coaches like to move him around. They design calls to put Greenway in playmaking situations. As a result he was one of just seven linebackers to reach the 100 tackle mark in 2010. Be careful not to hold too much expectation for Greenway this season though. Between 2007 and 2009 he averaged a solid but unspectacular 81 solo tackles but contributed enough in the big play columns to be a quality LB2. His numbers could fall back to earth this season but it remains safe to expect 85-90 solos and a good number of big plays... E.J. Henderson didn't have a great 2010 but the fact that he was on the field from week one was amazing in its own right. Henderson suffered an ugly broken femur late in the 2009 season and many questioned if he would ever play again. Being two years removed from that injury, he should be at 100% for 2011. The last time Henderson was completely healthy for a full season he totaled 95-24-5.5. I look for him to rebound with 85+ stops this season, taking a bite out of Greenway's opportunities.

Defensive Back

The Vikings are another cover two team and it shows in the production of their corners. Antonio Winfield is only about 180 pounds but is one of the toughest corners ever to play the game. He has reached 70+ tackles in six of the past eight seasons, falling short only because of injury in the other two. Winfield is 34 year old and may be slowing down a bit but is still a worthy CB1 or excellent CB2. Cedric Griffin averaged better than 75 tackles and was also a top twelve corner between 2007 and 2009. He suffered a nasty knee injury early in 2010 and is not yet all the way back. The Vikings hope he can be on the field for the opener but even if he is, I would not expect his usual production at this point... The Vikings have not given us a highly productive safety in nearly a decade. There is no reason to believe that will change now.

Best of luck in all your drafts this week!

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