NFC North Breakdown: Rodgers returns, Bears beef up

August 4, 2021

Welcome to the North! Packer fans can R-E-L-A-X now that Aaron Rodgers will be back again this season, after the three-time MVP heavily considered retirement. The Bears sent their fans on a wild roller coaster ride over the off-season with the Andy Dalton signing and trading up in the draft to get Justin Fields. For once, the Lions were on a winning side of a trade, sending Matt Stafford to the Rams. The Vikings are still riding high off Justin Jefferson’s stellar rookie campaign, and are poised to make some noise in the NFC. That being said, there are some players to watch in this division, as well as players to stay away from, home-run hitters and absolute busts. Let’s dive in!

Green Bay Packers

Must Draft: Aaron Rodgers, QB: A-aron is not to be underestimated, especially when he plays with a chip on his shoulder – which he most certainly will this season. His reputation precedes him, as Rodgers is currently listed as the 7th-best QB available and the No. 67 player overall. With the returning cast that just fell shy of a Super Bowl appearance in 2020, fantasy managers should absolutely capitalize on the Rodgers, as well as the three-headed monster (Rodgers, Adams, and Jones) in cheese-head paradise.

Avoid: AJ Dillon, RB: I definitely thought this would be the year for AJ Dillon to break out, but that will have to be put on the backburner with Aaron Jones returning to the Green Bay backfield this season. The Packers are in win-now mode and Jones will likely retain his role as lead back. Outside of dynasty leagues, Dillon is a risky play and cannot be relied upon for consistent week-to-week performances. He’s a good stash option but keep him there as long as Jones is in green and yellow.

Value: Robert Tonyan, TE: Give me Robert Tonyan all day long. If I am not able to get one of the Top 5 tight ends on the board, Tonyan is a dark horse pick. Why? 52 receptions 586 yards isn’t much to get excited about. No, but his 11 touchdowns are! Averaging 11.3 yards per game on 3.25 receptions with nearly a touchdown every week, Tonyan almost guarantees double-digit points from the tight end spot. Valued as the No. 9 tight end, and the No. 87-overall player, this is a subtle pick that could round out your team.

Bust – Marquez Valdes-Scantling, WR: What Packer player is probably getting more looks from Mr. Rodgers this season than MVS? Umm pick a name! Davante Adams, Allen Lazard, Robert Tonyan, Randall Cobb, Equanimeous St. Brown, quite possibly even Devin Funchess. Even with Green Bay’s pass-first offense, there just isn’t enough volume for Valdes-Scantling to make an impact on any fantasy squad.

Chicago Bears

Must Draft: David Montgomery, RB: Outside of Allen Robinson, Montgomery is the only other must-start on the Chicago offense. Currently listed as the No. 17 running back, and the No. 33 overall player, this is a sneaky pick towards the third round. He may come with a handcuff in Tarik Cohen, but the goal-line touches Montgomery should garner will make up for the shared snaps.

Avoid: Jimmy Graham, TE: There is a shadow looming over Jimmy Graham and it is not retirement. The shadow goes by the name of Cole Kmet. Graham is a special red-zone package option, and opportunities could even be taken away from him there. Kmet may be in the mix for those opportunities, A-Rob is always a good option, they may go with a ground and pound game with Montgomery, or Justin Fields – yes, that’s right, Fields will get the start at some point this season, – can scramble and run the ball in. There just is not enough value for Jimmy to help many fantasy rosters.

Value: Darnell Mooney, WR: Darnell Mooney broke out last season. Absolutely taking the WR2 spot from now Texan, Anthony Miller. Posting 61 receptions for 631 yards and four tuddies, Year 2 could be the birth of a very dangerous wide receiver duo alongside Allen Robinson in Chicago. Listed as the No. 54 ranked wide receiver, and the No. 134 overall player, Mooney is an insane value to not take. Give me all of the Darnell stock because I am going “to the moon-ey!”

Bust: Andy Dalton, QB: Don’t do it. Do not even think about it. Do not draft Andy Dalton. Repeat after me, “I will not draft Andy Dalton.” He may get the start in Week 1, but he will most definitely not be the starter by mid-season. This entire scenario is reminiscent of Mike Glennon starting for the Bears so that Mitch Trubisky was not thrown into the fire the first game. That is all this is, the Bears are buying time to make sure Justin Fields is ready.

Detroit Lions

Must Draft: D’Andre Swift: No Adrian Peterson. No Kerryon Johnson. Swift is the number one back in Detroit. Similarly ranked to David Montgomery, this is a third-round steal. Swift has the ability to run between the tackles, as well as catch passes out of the backfield – which Jared Goff is very good at doing. Look for Swift to now be Goff’s new Todd Gurley in 2021. Almost eclipsing 1,000 scrimmage yards last season with handcuff Adrian Peterson, this pick is an absolute no-brainer.

Avoid: Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR: St. Brown joins a receiving corps consisting of respectable, but not many big names. Quintez Cephus & Tyrell Williams being the primary options behind TJ Hockenson. Breshad Perriman could even make some waves as a burner option. There are too many question marks for any of the receivers (outside of Hockenson) to really expect consistent performances out of. I think St. Brown is another AJ Dillon option. His time will come, but I don’t think it’s now.

Value: Jared Goff, QB: This is the type of team Jared Goff can find success with once again. Getting the ball in the hands of a few different playmakers while reaping the benefits. Coming off a playoff season with the Rams, Goff threw for 3,952 yards, 20 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions. Currently ranked as the No. 29 QB and the No. 204 player on the board, this is a good late-round pick to add some dependable depth on your team if you are in a pinch for QB, Go to Jared.

Bust: Darren Fells, WR: At one time, Fells would have been a decent fantasy option – or maybe that’s just me. However, he is definitely not the fantasy option here. He’s a red-zone threat, but that’s about it. Competing against TJ Hockenson, D’Andre Swift, and quite possibly 6-foot-4 in wideout Tyrell Williams for end zone looks.

Minnesota Vikings

Draft – Irv Smith Jr.: Kyle Rudolph, out. Irv Smith Jr in. Coming off a 2020 campaign posting 30 receptions for 365 yards and five touchdowns, Smith is in the best position possible. With arguably the best wide receiver duo in the NFL drawing attention away, Irv should find a lot of opportunities to make an impact on the field. This is a mid to late-round pick that has a lot of potential. The stage is set, the pieces are in place, all Irv Smith Jr needs to do is be there.

Avoid: Ihmir Smith-Marsette, WR: At some point, Smith-Marsette could make waves in the NFL. That point is not now. The 2018 Big Ten Return Specialist of the Year will most likely be doing just that for the Vikes in 2021. The former Iowa Hawkeye may get in as a slot receiver here or there, but how much volume he could see is probably minimal. He is a good dynasty option but stay away in redraft leagues.

Value: Kirk Cousins, QB: If Kirk Cousins plays well, this team will dominate. However, Cousins has a tendency to not be as accurate as he needs to be. On paper, this is a no-brainer, but watching him play makes one think otherwise. You can’t argue with the value (No. 16 ranked quarterback, No. 121 overall player), this is a respectable quarterback to grab in the mid to late rounds. Especially if you missed out on any of the top-tier quarterbacks. Cousins will be benefitting from the Adam Thielen/Justin Jefferson duo. Is this going to be as potent of an offense in 2021 as it was in 2020? Could be. This pick is worth finding out. Just throw the ball, Kirk.

Bust: Dede Westbrook, WR: Westbrook joins the Minnesota Vikings from the Jacksonville Jaguars. He also brings with him a history of being injury-prone. Westbrook, when healthy, can be a good player on the field. Doing all the things a solid wide receiver would do, but that’s the problem. He needs to stay healthy. I do not trust for one second that Westbrook stays healthy enough to see the field for more than half the season. And if he does, he needs to beat out Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Chad Beebe for the slot receiver spot, on top of garnering for looks behind Jefferson, Thielen, and Smith Jr.