NFL Draft Dynasty Preview – NFC North
This is the next installment in the series of articles examining the teams within a division, including the fantasy opportunity for players and where we expect a team to add talent in the upcoming NFL Draft.
John Fox has rebuilt the Bears into his type of team in just one season. A year ago, Fox brought offensive coordinator Adam Gase with him from Denver. Now, Gase is gone to Miami. Added to the many changes on the coaching staff, Chicago has turned over much of the roster since Fox's arrival.
Jay Cutler has been much-maligned throughout his career, mainly for his ability to implode at any time. However, Gase did a great job with Cutler in 2015. He completed 64% of his passes and possessed an admirable 21-11 TD-INT ratio. Coach Fox likes to run the ball so we expect Cutler to hand the ball off often. David Fales was drafted for Trestman to groom, but is now the backup in Chicago, unless a rookie is selected in the NFL Draft. The 2016 season does mark the last one Cutler has with guaranteed money. Do not be shocked if Chicago takes a Day 2 passer. For this season, the offense will sink or swim with Cutler, as there is no way the team would thrust a rookie into a tough situation with the departures below.
Matt Forte was allowed to leave in free agency. Yes, he is 30 years of age and many see his best days behind him. Even so, Forte's presence will be missed in the Bears backfield and locker room. His absence will allow a couple of youngsters to battle for playing time. Third-year player Ka'Deem Carey will look to take a huge step forward and compete with Jeremy Langford. Many hold Langford in high esteem but he does not carry much pedigree as a third-day draft pick. He was not that impressive as a rookie but flashed enough in college for fantasy owners not to give up hope. Some fantasy owners think Langford will run away and hide with the job, but that is far from certain. Veteran Jacquizz Rodgers will add depth at the position. Given the conservative coach's penchant for running the football, we very much expect the Bears to select at least one back in the NFL Draft. But, if none are added on draft day, we expect a committee approach. Losing Forte's pass-catching ability out of the backfield is a huge loss for the Chicago offense and for Cutler.
Last season, many expected Brandon Marshall to be replaced by first-round pick Kevin White. Expectations were high for the youngster. White is a future star, but he missed the entire season recovering from an injury suffered in college and has yet to suit up on gameday as a pro. White is very talented, but will likely need time to develop before expectations get too out of control. Alshon Jeffery is coming off three consecutive strong seasons as the focal point of opposing defenses and was slapped with the Franchise Tag to keep him in town. Jeffery was awesome as the lone viable receiver a year ago. Eddie Royal was signed last year in free agency and could play a big role in the slot. He will battle Marquess Wilson for playing time in three-receiver sets. The burden of the receiver position will once again be on Jeffery until White gets up to speed. A mid-to-late round selection at the receiver position would not be a surprise given the overall lack of talent for Cutler to target.
Martellus Bennett was traded to New England. He was unhappy about his contract and wore out his welcome in Chicago. When Bennett missed time last season, former Jaguars tight end Zach Miller played very well. Miller is athletic and put up TE1 numbers the last few weeks of the season. Two knocks on the former college quarterback are his age (31 – he is actually older than Bennett) and injury history (which led to his departure from Jacksonville). So, if Chicago adds a tight end in the draft, it will not be a surprise. Only Rob Housler is behind him on the depth chart.
First round: 11th overall selection
Second round: 41st overall selection
Third round: 72nd overall selection
Fourth round: 106th overall selection
Fourth round: 127th overall selection
Fifth round: 150th overall selection
Sixth round: 185th overall selection
Sixth round: 206th overall selection
Seventh round: 230th overall selection
The Lions have been a tease the last few years, seemingly having the talent but never able to put it all together for a deep playoff run. With the changes on the offensive side of the ball and overall lack of talent on defense, it is difficult to pick Detroit as a playoff contender. The Lions may be closer to a four-win team than the 11-win one from 2014.
Matthew Stafford is back to lead the offense. In the past, Stafford threw often as the defense was non-existent (other than 2014) and this created a large number of garbage-time pass attempts. But, last year, Stafford threw fewer passes than the year before. This is the fourth consecutive season this has happened. The good news is that the passer was more accurate and produced better numbers in the offense, throwing 32 touchdowns against only 13 interceptions. We actually think this trend continues. The fewer passes also kept the quarterback in good situations. The still-young passer (Stafford turned 28 earlier this year) is backed up by Dan Orlovsky. He is not good enough to carry the offense if the starter misses time.
Joique Bell was the primary back the last two years, but he was sent packing this offseason. Theo Riddick emerged a year ago to become a high quality change-of-pace back. He is gifted as a receiver and able to be an asset in various ways. Riddick offers a unique set of skills for the backfield. Even with the presence of Bell and rookie Ameer Abdullah, Riddick was a fantasy starter in PPR leagues. The youngster from Nebraska is the most gifted of the three backs. We expect him to play sparingly to begin the season, but could assume the starting role as the season progresses. Abdullah could be a steal for fantasy owners willing to invest him after the middling rookie campaign. He flashed talent in the first game of the season against the Chargers (94 total yards and a score one eleven touches), but struggled most of the rest of the year. Just a couple of weeks ago, Stevan Ridley was signed to provide depth to the position. Ridley was not healthy last year and has yet to show the form from his days in New England. But, if healthy, he could fill the Bell roll. Zach Zenner showed some potential as a rookie last year but will be battling for a bit part. This group of running backs is talented and will be relied upon to keep Stafford out of obvious passing situations. In addition, it would not be a surprise if a ball carrier was drafted in the middle rounds. With two great receiving backs in Abdullah and Riddick, the need is on early downs … especially if Ridley is not back to his 2012 form.
Calvin Johnson retired this offseason even though he was still one of the top receivers in football. Stafford will miss having Johnson to go up and capture 50-50 balls. This means that Golden Tate, who was signed a couple of years age, will assume the WR1 role. We are leery that he can take that big of step forward. This is not a knock on Tate. We just see him as more of a complementary receiver, able to take advantage of defenses focused on the superstar than one able to create his own matchup. Marvin Jones was signed from Cincinnati to start opposite Tate. Jones is a talented receiver coming off his fourth season as a pro, which includes 2014 where he missed every game due to injury. He caught 65 passes for 816 yards and four scores in 2015. While talented, we struggle to see Jones topping 1,000 yards this coming year. Jeremy Kerley was signed from the New York Jets to be the slot receiver. He is an upgrade to the starting lineup. Battling for playing time will be Corey Fuller, T.J. Jones, and Corey Washington. Even with the additions of Jones and Kerley, the loss of Johnson will be huge and the Detroit brass may need to use the draft picks on the offensive line and across the defense.
Fans and fantasy owners alike are anxiously awaiting Eric Ebron to grow past the mental mistakes and dropped passes. If he fails to put it together, Brandon Pettigrew will be the starting tight end once again. For a team devoid of receiving weapons (outside of the running backs), there is pressure on Ebron to step up.
First round: 16th overall
Second round: 46th overall
Third round: No. 95 overall (compensatory pick)
Fourth round: No. 111 overall
Fifth round: No. 151 overall
Fifth round: No. 169 overall (from Denver)
Sixth round: No. 191
Sixth round: No. 202 (from Seattle)
Sixth round: No. 210 (compensatory pick)
Seventh round: No. 236
Green Bay Packers
The Packers are once again a favorite for the Super Bowl. While Carolina and the NFC West teams have garnered most of the spotlight, Green Bay still has all of the tools to make a strong run for the Lombardi Trophy.
Aaron Rodgers has produced at a high level since Brett Favre left Wisconsin. He is one of the safer fantasy players, with a strong cache of weapons at his disposal. Rodgers even produced quality statistics after Jordy Nelson was injured. Second-year Brett Hundley should hold the clipboard on game days. He is not a fantasy factor at this time, even if Rodgers misses time. The Packers hope that Hundley can develop into Rodgers' eventual replacement. The youngster has plenty of potential to grow into the expectations, but that may be asking too much.
Eddie Lacy is coming off a disappointing 2015 campaign and his standing as one of the game's elite ball carriers is very much in doubt. He had career lows in rushing yards (758) and touchdowns (3) last year. It was his first season with fewer than 1,100 yards and 9 touchdowns. Specifically, the ball carrier's shape and conditioning have been under fire. For this reason, the former Alabama star is using the P90X training regimen to change this perception. If Lacy disappoints again in 2016, this could be his last year in Green Bay. James Starks will play behind Lacy again, especially in the passing game. Even though he has been a reserve for a few years, Starks is a good player and has been a fantasy starter when called upon. There is little behind this pair of backs. John Crockett shined in limited duty last year, but quickly fizzled. While there are rumors that Lacy will be given this season to prove himself, there is a chance the Packers take a back in the first two rounds of the Draft. Imagine Derrick Henry in a committee with Lacy. That would be a powerhouse backfield.
The Packers are loaded at the wide receiver position, even with so many departures in recent years. Green Bay has drafted extremely well at the position which has offset the departures. Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb make up one of the best duos in the NFL. Both are locked into contracts for a few more years, making the Packers offense prolific for seasons to come. What makes the pair special is the ability of each to line up in different spots on the field. Many now question Cobb's abilities after him not able to carry the pass offense after Nelson injured his knee. Nelson is a great player to buy in dynasty leagues. He is a fantasy WR1 who many downgraded due to age and injury. Davante Adams was selected in the 2014 NFL Draft to grow into the WR3. However, Adams flopped when relied upon in 2015. He was not able to easily gain separation against NFL cornerbacks. Adams might be passed by fellow third-year pass catcher Jeff Janis. Janis has flashed great physical tools and looks to grow into the WR3 role. Jared Abbrederis will battle for a roster spot with Ty Montgomery, who was drafted to be a kick returner and possibly contribute as a receiver down the line. Given how much time James Jones played a year ago, we see the wide receiver position as one of need for Green Bay. We expect a pass catcher taken on Day 2 and Day 3 of the NFL Draft. There is a desire among the Packers front office to provide Rodgers with enough weapons to be successful.
Last year, Green Bay allowed Richard Rodgers to assume the starting role. He provided only a modicum of success and was not able to provide a spark to the passing game … and is far from elite as a run blocker. For this reason, the team signed uber-athletic Jared Cook. Cook has floundered in Jeff Fisher's offenses throughout his career and will look to make an impact in Green Bay. He is solid as a blocker and receiver. Having two tight ends will also allow the Packers to vary formations and not be as predictable.
First round: 27th overall selection
Second round: 55th overall selection
Third round: 88th overall selection
Fourth round: 125th overall selection
Fourth round: 131st overall selection (compensatory pick)
Fourth round: 137th overall selection (compensatory pick)
Fifth round: 163rd overall selection
Sixth round: 200th overall selection
Seventh round: 248th overall selection
Former Bengals defensive coordinator, Mike Zimmer, has done a great job transforming the Vikings into a hard-nosed, tough football team. Zimmer was also able to get Norv Turner to join him as the offensive coordinator in Minnesota. This has been a huge move. The Zimmer/Turner combination has been able to make strides in transforming the Vikings to tough defense/running team. Expectations are mounting for 2016.
Most new coaches want to bring in their own quarterback. Two years ago, Zimmer drafted Teddy Bridgewater to be “his” guy. After a trying rookie season, Bridgewater was able to lead his team to the playoffs in year two. Minnesota lost a close 10-9 game to Seattle. His accuracy and leadership are strong. Shaun Hill will back up Bridgewater.
Adrian Peterson is so good that we sometimes take him for granted. He will go down in NFL history as one of the best ever to play the game. At age 30, Peterson topped 1,700 total yards. That is a tremendous feat. Age is just a number to the gifted ball carrier. We can not predict him declining after the 2015 performance. Jerick McKinnon will return to be the backup and occasional change-of-pace back. McKinnon flashed big-time potential in limited duty, able to contribute both on the ground and through the air. Matt Asiata is back for depth purposes but little else. Sure, he can score from the one-yard line, but is not worth rostering in fantasy leagues. It would not be a surprise to see a running back added given Peterson's age and Zimmer's desire to run the ball.
The Vikings wide receiver position is a mess and source of chagrin for the young passer. Minnesota parted ways with the always-disgruntled Mike Wallace. Wallace failed to make a difference and was a negative force in the locker room. Stefon Diggs was drafted last season to develop but he was thrust into a large role early on. And, he flourished. Diggs is very good with the ball in his hands but needs to work on his route running and being a consistent receiver in order to reach expectations. Charles Johnson followed his offensive coordinator (Turner) from Cleveland. He is a size/speed phenom just needing time to develop. But, time is running out. He has yet to make an impact as a professional pass catcher. The team has hopes for Jarius Wright to be healthy and contribute as the WR3. Expectations have been high for Cordarrelle Patterson throughout his career, but the youngster has yet to live up to expectations. Right now, he will need to fight for playing time. Johnson passed him on the depth chart late in the 2014 season and played well enough since to keep Patterson on the bench for 2015. Minnesota needs to vastly improve the receiver position for the young Bridgewater. Expect a receiver to be drafted in either the first or second round for Minnesota, and possibly another pass catcher later in the draft.
Norv Turner's reputation for using the tight end position has led to high expectations for Kyle Rudolph the past three seasons, all to no avail. In a full complement of games in 2015, Rudolph caught a meager 49 passes for 495 yards, and five scores. He is a solid red-zone threat and will be a security blanket for Bridgewater, but little else. Second-year player, MyCole Pruitt, is athletic and is a name to remember in case Rudolph ever misses time.
First round: 23rd overall selection
Second round: 54th overall selection
Third round: 86th overall selection
Fourth round: 121st overall selection
Fifth round: 160th overall selection
Sixth round: 180th overall selection
Seventh round: 240th and 244th overall selections
This division is the Packers to lose once again. Only injuries to key players would allow another team to challenge for the division title. The Vikings have a chance to sneak into the playoffs if Bridgewater and Peterson get the offense rolling. We expect Chicago to have a down year, finishing at or below .500 along with the Lions.
Feel free to email me (Tefertiller@Footballguys.com) with feedback. Also, I am on Twitter (www.Twitter.com/JeffTefertiller), LinkedIn, and Google+, so you can ask me questions on one of these as well.