This series of articles will examine the fantasy impact of the offseason moves, both via free agency and through the NFL Draft.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers are once again a favorite for the Super Bowl. While 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.
Quarterback: 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 to utilize. Graham Harrell has held the clipboard on Sundays, but there is a chance that B.J. Coleman overtakes him for the privilege of being Rodgers' backup. Coleman has some upside while Harrell is a steady, heady, quarterback lacking arm strength.
Running Back: Green Bay caused heads to turn by selecting both Eddie Lacy and Jonathan Franklin in the first four rounds of April's NFL Draft. This addressed a huge need for the team as DuJuan Harris led a weak running back corps which included James Starks and Alex Green. Last year, Cedric Benson was brought in to solidify the running game, but he was unable to make plays. Expect the two rookies to make a great one-two punch. Lacy is a hard-running ball carrier while Franklin is a strong receiver who is able to break off long gains. Both will make plays in the running game unseen in Green Bay over the last decade.
Wide Receiver: Even with Greg Jennings leaving in free agency to sign with Minnesota, the Packers are loaded at the wide receiver position. Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb make up one of the best duos in the NFL. What makes the pair special is the ability of each to line up in different spots on the field. James Jones is back to play the third receiver role. Behind this talented trio is a group of youngsters waiting for an opportunity to emerge. The Packers fourth receiver has been on the fantasy radar in past years so this is a situation to watch. Jarrett Boykin made plays last season and has the best chance for playing time. Charles Johnson is an older rookie who will need at least one year of seasoning. Kevin Dorsey and Jeremy Ross are two other youngsters to watch in the preseason.
Tight End: Jermichael Finley is back as the team's starting tight end, even though many were wondering if Green Bay would pay his large salary and bonus this year. Finley needs to have a solid campaign in order to earn a big contract in the 2014 offseason. Behind him on the depth chart is D.J. Williams, a very athletic player who is a better receiver than blocker. Ryan Taylor and Andrew Quarless are also in the mix.
Marc Trestman brings his prolific offense to Chicago, and hopes are high for the Bears. But, as in the recent past, the outcome for the season will be determined by the quarterback play.
Quarterback: Jay Cutler has been somewhat of a disappointment since the trade from Denver. He provides stretches where fans and coaches think he could be an elite player, then has times that leave all onlookers scratching their collective heads. There is hope that Trestman's new offense will help Cutler's decision-making. Josh McCown was brought in to back up Cutler. He is a solid, yet unspectacular reserve player. Matt Blanchard could also see some preseason action at the position.
Running Back: Matt Forte is one of the more underrated fantasy tailbacks. He is the unquestioned starter and will get plenty of carries and receptions. Michael Bush was brought in from Oakland to complement Forte but could not pick up yardage behind the poor offensive line play. Armando Allen, Lorenzo Booker, and Harvey Unga provide depth. Allen, a shifty scatback is the lone player to monitor of the group.
Wide Receiver: Chicago traded for Brandon Marshall last offseason. Marshall instantly upgraded the receiver group, which was toward the bottom of the league previously. He has a solid chance, especially if Trestman's new offense clicks, to be an elite fantasy player once again. Ashlon Jeffrey is poised for a breakout campaign as the opposing defenses will be focused on stopping Forte and Marshall. Cutler's college teammate, Earl Bennett, will play often … just not well. A rookie to watch is Marquess Wilson. He could overtake Bennett by next season. Devin Hester and Devin Aromashodu return to provide depth.
Tight End: Martellus Bennett was signed to add a play-making presence at the tight end position. Kellen Davis and Adrien Robinson have each been sent packing. Bennett signed a one-year deal. His blocking prowess will help the running game more than he will be a fantasy factor. Kyle Adams and Steve Maneri will be reserves behind Bennett.
Coach Leslie Frazier seems to get the most out of his players. Once again, the Vikings playoff chances hinge on Adrian Peterson more than Christian Ponder or the aging defense. For this reason, Minnesota is a long shot to win the division … no matter what happens in Green Bay. The quarterback play is simply not at the level to win those types of games.
Quarterback: This is the make-or-break year for Christian Ponder. Ponder struggles with pocket presence and taking chances throwing the ball down the field. He has other issues, but these two have stunt his growth as a passer. For this reason, the Vikings brought in Matt Cassel to back him up. There is a growing community of football people who think Cassel will start several games this season. Kansas City Chiefs fans will quickly attest that – if Cassel is your best option – it is time to upgrade the position. McLeod Bethel-Thompson will see the field in preseason as Joe Webb was moved to wide receiver.
Running Back: Even after the knee injury, Adrian Peterson made a strong run at the rushing title, but fell just short. He will try to capture the record this season. He is an amazing player to watch, with a great combination of size, speed, and determination. Toby Gerhart will back up Peterson.
Wide Receiver: Percy Harvin was traded to the Seattle Seahawks. It was a good trade for the Vikings as the team needs to get younger on defense and the offensive line. Minnesota signed Jennings from the Packers to serve as the Vikings top receiver. Injuries have been the only negative of Jennings career. So, if healthy, he should be considered a fantasy starter in most leagues, even with Ponder or Cassel under center. Although he is coming off a lackluster season, Jerome Simpson is expected to begin the season in the starting lineup. But, expect him to be pushed by rookie Cordarrelle Patterson who will overtake Simpson by midseason. He is a physically gifted player and a threat with the ball in his hands. Former Arkansas teammates, Jarius Wright and Greg Childs,will vie for playing time with Joe Webb and Stephen Burton. Given the void created by the departure of Harvin, expect Jennings to get ample pass targets. Patterson should be next in line.
Tight End: Kyle Rudolph is slated for improvement coming off a strong rookie campaign. He is a solid red-zone threat and will be a security blanket for Ponder. Rudolph's role increased as the 2012 season progressed. John Carlson will play in two-tight end sets. The play at the quarterback position will determine whether Rudolph has a Top 15 season … or crack the Top 6.
The Lions have been a tease the last few years, having the talent but never able to put it all together. Detroit has added talent on both sides of the ball and could improve enough to make a playoff run this season.
Quarterback: Matthew Stafford is back to lead the offense. He is coming off a disappointing season, even with 727 pass attempts, a 10% bump off his big 2011 production. Stafford was able to throw often as the defense and running game were non-existent and created a large number of garbage-time pass attempts. It is difficult to see the former Georgia star having another season like the one in 2011 (5,038 passing yards and a 41/16 touchdown/interception ratio). For reference, last year, Stafford threw for 4,965 yards and 20 touchdowns, with 17 interceptions. The young quarterback is backed up by veteran Shaun Hill. Hill is a strong veteran, able to move the offense when called upon. Kellen Moore and Thaddeus Lewis will battle for the third quarterback job.
Running Back: In Detroit, the big news of the offseason was the signing of Reggie Bush. Bush will add a dynamic presence to the Lions running game. He is slated for the role the team hoped Jahvid Best would play. Bush still has plenty of burst. Mikel Leshoure and Joique Bell will play reserve roles. Keep an eye on Bell if Bush goes down to injury. Leshoure is a pounding back while Bell offers upside as a receiver and runner. As far as Best, we do not expect him back on the football field any time soon. It is very difficult to come back from a large number of concussions.
Wide Receiver: Calvin Johnson is the top receiver in football. He makes plays other pass catchers only dream about. Johnson will continue to be double-and even triple-teamed. Also expected to play a lot is the injured pair of receivers, Nate Burleson and Ryan Broyles. Both should be back on the field for preseason games. Adding Broyles to the mix will only help Johnson's ability to get open. Battling for playing time will be rookie Corey Fuller, second-year pro Patrick Edwards, and Mike Thomas. If given the opportunity, Fuller and Edwards could make an impact.
Tight End: Brandon Pettigrew will be the starting tight end once again. He offers little upside but should be a low-end fantasy starter in 2013. Tony Scheffler and rookie Joseph Fauria will compete for the second tight end spot. Detroit utilizes two-tight end formations so Fauria is a player to watch if he can beat out the veteran.
This division is the Packers to lose. Only injuries to key players would allow the Bears or Lions a chance to sneak in for the division title. The other three are tightly grouped and each has a solid chance to make the postseason.