NFC North Fantasy Player Watch

August 27, 2020
By Andrew McKay

The NFC North has always been a tough division to win. Whether it is because the teams in the division are playoff contenders or they are poised as playoff spoilers. Regardless, one team has to win the division. Team performance is what gets the teams in their respective divisions to the top, gearing up for the playoffs or sliding to the bottom of the barrel. We are going to look at the players within the NFC North who are must drafts, should be avoided, sleepers, and of course, the busts.

Chicago Bears

Player to Draft: The Entire Chicago Bears Defense

The pass rush for the Chicago defense is absolutely insane. Last season, opposing quarterbacks were under enough duress with Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks wreaking havoc from either side of the defense. Now, the Bears have introduced Robert Quinn into the mix. Quinn, who spent the last season playing for the Cowboys, accumulated 11.5 sacks and forced two fumbles. Both Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan are also back to full health. In 2018, the duo combined for 223 tackles, 16 of them for a loss. Not to mention, ballhawks Kyle Fuller and Eddie Jackson lead the secondary into the season, being no strangers to intercepting passes. Look for the Monsters of the Midway to resurface once again.

Player to Avoid: Jimmy Graham

All the Bears did by signing Graham was give Cole Kmet an expensive tight end tutor. Graham is on very few fantasy owners’ draft boards. And for good reason. Graham was signed to improve the Bears passing attack from the tight end perspective. The once top-rated tight end will now be splitting time with the rookie Kmet and that only steals from the potential the 10-year vet had going into this season. Everything about the tight end situation in Chicago leaves an uneasy feeling in the stomach.

Sleeper: Javon Wims

Wims is an exceptional receiver for the Chicago Bears and needs only the chance to show what he can do. Wims currently sits as the candidate for the receiver in the slot for the Bears offense, after being behind Taylor Gabriel and Cordarelle Patterson the last two seasons. With Gabriel being a free agent and Patterson working out with the running backs, it seems the door is open for Wims to walk through. Last season, Wims hauled in 18 catches for 186 yards and one touchdown through six games. Not bad for a guy who is trying to climb the ranks in a struggling offense. The third-year veteran will be looking to make giant waves in a passing attack desperately trying to prove itself, and Wims is set to flourish. Sitting as the 150th best receiver on the board, and the 479th player, Wims is a late-round steal with tremendous upside, not to mention a nice stash for dynasty leagues.

Bust: Tarik Cohen

On the flip side of things, the player to avoid for the Bears is Tarik Cohen. Cohen is on the last year of his rookie deal, and it is tough to say whether his fifth-year option will be picked up. Cohen will go into the season being the pass catching back, and his receptions out of the backfield look to be diminished with the possibility of Cordarrelle Patterson receiving some designed plays at the running back role, much like when he was with the Patriots. Cohen’s role in the offense is being reduced and it is only a matter of time before he is not a relevant fantasy factor. His ADP is not the greatest for a running back with such low upside (86th best player on the board, 33rd best running back). Consider Tarik only in PPR formats and as a bench filler. Even with Montgomery’s recent injury, be very weary of Cohen.

Detroit Lions

Player to Draft: D’Andre Swift

D’Andre Swift has all the potential in the world and is sure to grab the lead back responsibilities for the Detroit Lions. Kerryon Johnson’s role in the offense is diminishing, which has been evident since the day Swift was drafted. Swift sits as the 24th best running back on the board. He is a good early to mid-round steal who will show production throughout the season. Especially since Swift seems to getting better as a pass-catcher, even furthering his case as the lead back.

Player to Avoid: Kerryon Johnson

Kerryon Johnson flat out cannot be trusted, not because he lacks the skills or the supporting cast, but he has not been able to stay healthy. This is also part of the reason Detroit selected D’Andre Swift in the draft this past spring. Swift will take over lead back role, or at least will split carries. The only plus side Johnson has over Swift is that he can be a pass-catching back. However, with the Detroit offensive passing attack (Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones Jr., T.J. Hockenson), the running backs aren’t getting many catches out of the backfield to make a difference. In other words, he’s no James White. Johnson is also falling on the player board (96th best player, 36th best running back). Regardless, his stock is falling, and there is no telling where it will stop. Stay away. Very far away.

Sleeper: TJ Hockenson

Hockenson showed flashes of the tight end everyone thought he would be before getting hurt last season. The former Iowa Hawkeye, paired along with Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones Jr., can be the Detroit offense Matthew Stafford has dreamed of. Hockenson hauled in 32 catches for 367 yards and 2 touchdowns through 12 games. Averaging 11.5 yards per catch, the young tight end has started his career numbers off well and can continue to build a rapport as a trusted pair of hands for Stafford.

Bust: Danny Amendola

Plain and simple, Amendola has not been a fantasy factor since his days with the Rams. His recent bright spot in New England was a product of playing with the GOAT, Tom Brady. Now coming into his second season with the Lions, Amendola should not be on a single draft board. His fantasy value is toast.

Green Bay Packers

Player to Draft: Aaron Rodgers

A-a-ron is still the Green Bay Packer to draft (outside of the sensible Aaron Jones and Davante Adams). He is still capable of putting up high numbers against opposing defenses and shows it. Throwing for another 4,000 plus yard season, along with 26 touchdowns and only 4 picks, Rodgers led the Packers to an NFC North title, in combination with the best defense Green Bay has seen in a long while. Rodgers is an incredibly frustrating QB to play against. He doesn’t throw interceptions often (.7% pass-to-interception rate); he can escape the pocket and pick up yards with his legs, and of course, is one of the best players of all time during the 4th quarter. As a Bears fan, this is as much praise as he gets.

Player to Avoid: Mercedes Lewis

Not that Lewis was on anyone’s board to begin with, but he is the Green Bay Packer to avoid. Mercedes is a far cry from the tight end Jacksonville saw, however, he is still a safety valve for Rodgers. The problem with that is Rodgers does not use the safety valve option enough to roster a spot for Lewis. Coming off a season where he averaged less than a catch per game is scary, to say the least. Even with the departure of Jimmy Graham, Mercedes will not see enough volume in games to win fantasy matchups on a weekly basis.

Sleeper: Marquez Valdes-Scantling

A speed demon running down the field for Rodgers to do what he does best, chuck the ball downfield to a receiver who has blown past the secondary. ‘M.V.S.’ posted 26 catches for 452 yards and found the end zone twice during his first season under Matt LaFleur’s new offense. Valdes-Scantling sits at the 399th player on the board, and the 128th best receiver available. This is a late-round steal that will give your team more bench depth and can be a spot filler whenever needed.

Bust: Aaron Jones

Not so much a bust as just a downturn in production, Jones had a very successful season in 2019. Jones found the end zone 16 times last season while picking up 1, 084 yards from scrimmage. Knowing what Jones is capable of will place him on the radar for most opposing teams, giving the Packers another weapon to utilize on the offensive side of the ball. Again, this does not mean Jones is a bust, just temper your expectations.

Minnesota Vikings

Player to Draft: Justin Jefferson

This is the 2nd wide receiver on the depth chart for the Minnesota Vikings, and what’s better is that he is listed as the 44th best receiver available and the 113th player on the board. Meaning, you can wait to get a receiver with a lot of upside in the mid to late rounds. Jefferson is a great option who will see the volume of a WR2. This is a great pick, especially in dynasty leagues.

Player to Avoid: Kyle Rudolph

Irv Smith Jr. is on the rise for the Vikings and Rudolph is not the fantasy player he once was. Seeing his targets drop from 82 to 48 is not good. As the receptions fell from 64 to 39, Rudolph split time with Irv Smith Jr. Not to mention, Rudolph started all 16 games, whereas Irv Smith Jr. posted similar numbers in just seven games started. Rudolph is out.

Sleeper: Irv Smith, Jr.

Smith Jr. is in. Starting in just seven games, Irv Smith Jr. put up numbers very comparable to the guy he will be replacing at the tight end spot. 36 catches with 311 yards and two touchdowns. With a more involved role in the offense, look for those numbers to explode and for Rudolph to fade away.

Bust: Kirk Cousins

Kirk has a lot riding on his shoulders with the fully guaranteed contract the Vikings signed him to a couple seasons ago. He has not really proven to be the QB they thought he could be, imagine that. He showed shades of what he could be last season with 3,603 passing yards, 26 touchdowns, and he kept interceptions below 10 for the first time since 2014. However, Cousins is now without Steffon Diggs and has a young, unproven receiving core, except for Adam Thielen, who will also be tested on how he handles being the number one receiver on the team. Good thing Cousins has Dalvin Cook to rely on out of the backfield, otherwise this bust may be catastrophic.