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NFC North Training Camp Preview

Sigmund Bloom runs down injuries, position battles, and offensive changes to watch for the NFC North and gives his view on the direction the team is headed.

Training camp openings are coming, so it's time to focus our attention on the changes, injury recoveries, and position battles that will inform our last tweaks to our draft boards before we draft. It's also good to record our thoughts on the direction of the offense as it affects fantasy bottom lines before camp and preseason twists and turns make us doubt what we have spent months mulling over waiting for football to come back. I'll try to give insight into where I think the puck is going with these teams, because like Wayne Gretzky said, we should skate there instead of where the puck has been, i.e. last year's results.

Chicago

Offensive Change(s) to Watch: Offensive coordinator Adam Gase is gone to Miami to be their head coach, so Jay Cutler favorite Dowell Loggains will take the reins of the offense. 2015 #7 overall pick WR Kevin White is back after a stress fracture in his leg cost him all of his rookie year. 2016 fifth-round pick Jordan Howard has been added to the running back mix, as Matt Forte went to the Jets in free agency. Martellus Bennett was traded for New England and Zach Miller has taken over as the team’s #1 tight end.

Injury Situation(s) to Watch: Miller and slot receiver Eddie Royal already have concussions to recover from in the first week of camp. It’s not the first concussion for either player, and Miller was released from the Bucs in 2013 after a concussion and wasn’t signed again until late in the season, when the Bears signed him to a futures contract. Alshon Jeffery has some “muscle tightness” already. The team did not sign the franchise tagged receiver to a long-term deal this offseason in part because of his recent injury history, so staying healthy in camp will be key.

Position Battle(s) to Watch: Jeremy Langford, Ka’Deem Carey, and Howard will vie for touches in a backfield that will probably use a lot of all three and go with a “hot hand” approach. Langford has the speed, Howard the power and Carey the motor. Chances are none will emerge and leave this as unclear as it was entering camp. While Miller is out, UDFA and combine star Ben Braunecker will get a chance for extra work and a potential job as the #2 tight end. Seventh-round pick and slot receiver Daniel Braverman will get a chance to help fill in for Royal, and Josh Bellamy and Cameron Meredith can benefit from Marquess Wilson’s foot injury and likely stay on the PUP list to open the season.

Skate to Where the Puck is Going to Be: This offense will remain run-heavy under Fox, especially with the addition of a no-nonsense power back like Howard. Cutler played some of the best ball of his career last year, and if his supremely talented wide receiver duo and adequate tight end can stay healthy, he could have some streamable weeks. Because of the lack of depth at receiver and talent at running back, this offense could get mired in the mud if the key targets miss significant time.

Detroit

Offensive Change(s) to Watch: Offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter breathed life into this offense last year after Joe Lombardi was fired and he has had a whole offseason to install his scheme. Calvin Johnson retired, but the team signed Marvin Jones and Anquan Boldin to help fill the void. First-round pick Taylor Decker is being installed at left tackle right away, and former first-rounder Riley Reiff could be a lot better on the right than he was on the left. Stevan Ridley was signed to compete with Zach Zenner to be the “big back” in a three-headed backfield.

Injury Situation(s) to Watch: Abdullah is coming back from offseason shoulder surgery, but appears to be full go early in camp. Ridley missed most of the offseason after taking part of 2015 to recover from a 2014 ACL tear, but has been healthy early in training camp.

Position Battle(s) to Watch: Boldin was paid 750,000 guaranteed, so he’s making the team and getting a lot of snaps in the slot. His targets have to come from somewhere, with tight end Eric Ebron possibly taking the biggest hit. Golden Tate moving from the slot to an outside receiver alters his fantasy profile, too. Abdullah is set to be the “lead” back, but the quality of Zenner/Ridley as an inside runner and overall offensive game plan will give us an indication to Abdullah’s weekly and season-long ceiling.

Skate to Where the Puck is Going to Be: Even though the former Saints offensive coordinator was canned last year, this is going to look like the Saints offense in terms of a pass-heavy tilt and volume to make three or even four targets viable fantasy options. Unless Abdullah becomes an explosive player that demands more touches in the backfield, the running backs will be a frustrating puzzle week-to-week, but at least two of Tate, Jones, Ebron, and Boldin should be reliable weekly options. Stafford is the play here, as he was a top 10 quarterback with Cooter last year and the offense will continue to run through him.

Green Bay

Offensive Change(s) to Watch: Jordy Nelson coming back from ACL surgery will be the biggest change, assuming he gets over tendonitis in his “good” knee. Jared Cook has been added to provide speed and playmaking ability at tight end, assuming he comes all the way back from offseason foot surgery.

Injury Situation(s) to Watch: Nelson is the huge one here, as he has to get re-seasoned after his ACL tear. He hasn’t intimated whether his “good” left knee had a procedure this offseason, and Aaron Rodgers made it sound like he’s open to the possibility of not having Nelson on the field during the preseason. This isn’t just about Nelson’s stock, as the whole Packers offense collapsed without Nelson last year. Cook’s foot is slowing his transition to his new team, which should ensure that he and Richard Rodgers share the tight end role and targets and keep each other from being a consistent fantasy force. Ty Montgomery revealed that he had microfracture surgery in his ankle, and his return date is still unknown.

Position Battle(s) to Watch: The third wide receiver battles is down to Davante Adams, Jeff Janis, and Jared Abbrederis. Abbrederis is the precise route runner and probably Rodgers’ preference, but he needs to stay healthy. Janis can’t develop trust with Rodgers and the team it seems, but he is easily the best physical talent, and Adams just can’t build momentum. Cook and Rodgers have a theoretical battle for snaps and targets, if Cook can get back on the field. Eddie Lacy is slimmed down, but James Starks isn’t going away. Lacy will surely be the starter and get the majority of touches in the backfield, but the split could follow their performances in training camp.

Skate to Where the Puck is Going to Be: *IF* Nelson is healthy and his old self, Nelson, Cobb and Rodgers should provide their ADP value, although they are going closer to their ceilings than their floors. Lacy should be better than 2015 in any event, but Starks can still play and it will be hard to project Lacy as an RB1 in any given week as long as Starks is healthy. If Nelson isn’t himself or misses time, this is going to be rocky ride, and his early knee issue could be a reason to break ties again Packers players in your drafts.

Minnesota

Offensive Change(s) to Watch: Andre Smith was added to the offensive line to shore up the right tackle position, which was weakened when Phil Loadholt announced his retirement this offseason. Center John Sullivan is also returning from back surgery to help shore up the line. If the line is stronger this year, Kyle Rudolph could be freed up to run more routes from his tight end position. First-round pick Laquon Treadwell gives Teddy Bridgewater the best “big” target he has had so far in his NFL career, and someone comparable to DeVante Parker, who flourished with Bridgewater at Louisville. Treadwell could change the playcalling in the red zone to include more passes. Jerick McKinnon was explosive in the backfield at the end of the season, and he could get more work, cutting into Adrian Peterson’s sizable workload, if the team uses more shotgun or otherwise makes the third-year back a priority.

Injury Situation(s) to Watch: Sullivan getting back to full strength could be a big upgrade for the line from 2015, or at least an upgrade to their depth if Joe Berger beats him out to start. Adrian Peterson came into camp with a hamstring injury and has since returned to practice, but if he has a recurrence of the injury, it could be a “check engine” light. Treadwell had a gnarly dislocated ankle and broken tibia in 2014, and he said he is finally back to 100%, so we’ll see whether he looks even sharper in the preseason than he did in 2015 at Ole Miss.

Position Battle(s) to Watch: Cordarrelle Patterson is trying to stay relevant in this offense after a reportedly good offseason in terms of work and route-running, while Charles Johnson is trying to recapture the magic from his stellar 2015 offseason. Stefon Diggs should start on the outside over both of them, but they can stake a claim to a bigger role in the offense with a good summer. McKinnon will be trying to wrest snaps and touches away from Peterson, although he won’t overtake him on the depth chart in any scenario. Treadwell should be an entrenched starter, but his camp and preseason will go a long way towards determining the size and nature of his role in the offense to open the season.

Skate to Where the Puck is Going to Be: The Vikings were positively anemic in the passing game last year, but they didn’t have Treadwell, and Diggs was just a rookie, not to mention the offensive line was letting Bridgewater down. With a move to a dome and an overall improvement across the pass offense, look for something closer to balance, including more involvement for McKinnon, who could signal a “loosening up” of Norv Turner’s offense.