We’re well into August and nearing the mid-point of training camp.  If you haven’t started prepping for your fantasy draft, time is running out.  No need to worry though, as Win Column Sports has you covered.  In this article, we continue our tour through the pros with the NFC North.

  • Green Bay Packers are in a class of their own
  • Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions will fight for mediocrity in the Midwest
  • Chicago Bears are in for a long, cold winter
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Green Bay Packers (Over/Under 10.5 Wins)

Led by MVP candidate QB Aaron Rodgers, the Green Bay Packers are the class of the NFC North. Barring injuries they are easily winning their sixth NFC North championship in the past seven years. The Packers are tied with the Seahawks as favorites to make it to Super Bowl LII.

Field General Aaron Rodgers will turn 34 during this, his 13th NFL season.  Rodgers is hungry for a second Super Bowl and has the arsenal to do just that.  Rodgers may regress in 2017 as he now has a committee of running backs that will bear their share of the load.  Even with the regression, Rodgers is the most efficient QB in the history of the NFL making him the King of the NFC North. Certainly worth a third round pick in 12 team PPR leagues.

Jordy Nelson is Rodgers’ favorite target and looked just as dangerous as ever in 2016 – a year removed from the ACL injury that held him out for the entire 2015 season. Even at 32 years old, Nelson should be counted on for double-digit TDs and 1,000+ yards which makes him a solid pick late in the first round.  Fourth-year WR Davante Adams became Rodgers shiny new toy in 2016.  Adams could eventually supplant Nelson as the Packers’ WR1. With Adams anticipated to rack up over 1,000 receiving yards and double digit TDs, Adams is worthy of a fourth-round pick. Randall Cobb is on the outs with the Packers and will struggle for targets.  Cobb is currently being drafted in the seventh round which is far too rich for my taste. The Packers picked up free agent TE Martellus Bennett who should serve as a solid red-zone target for Rodgers worth drafting in the ninth round.

The most significant improvement the Packers made this off-season is in their ground game.  Ty Montgomery was converted from wide receiver and took over running back duties in 2016 after Eddie Lacy went down with an ankle injury. Much speculation has been made regarding Montgomery’s role in 2017, particularly because of Montgomery’s increased rate of fumbling during training camp.  The Packers also drafted three RBs this year that look to steal touches away from Montgomery. Jamaal Williams has performed well through training camp, making him the greatest threat to take over RB1 duties. Montgomery is a risky pick in the third round, but Williams is well worth a late round pick.

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Minnesota Vikings (Over/Under 8.5 Wins)

After winning their first five games of the 2016 season, the Vikings struggled the rest of the way winning only three games thereafter.  The Vikings maintain their strong defense and look to second-year offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur to improve on their win total this season.

QB Sam Bradford will once again lead the Vikings offense, taking over in 2016 after Teddy Bridgewater was lost for the season with a devastating ACL injury during training camp. Even with an exceptional 71.6 percent completion rate, Bradford barely squeaked into the top 24 quarterbacks.  Bradford should not be drafted in standard 12 team leagues.

The Vikings offensive woes begin with one of the NFL’s worst offensive lines, ranked 29th by Pro Football Focus. A week 2 injury to elite RB Adrian Peterson set the offense back even further.  The Vikings ensured their league-worst running game would have better success running the ball in 2017, signing free agent Latavius Murray. Fortune smiled upon the Vikings during the 2017 entry draft as they found Florida State RB Dalvin Cook available in the second round, 41st overall. Cook has not officially locked up the RB1 role, but he has developed strong chemistry with Bradford and should finish training camp on top of the pack. Cook is an excellent pick in the third round.  Murray can be drafted as a handcuff in the 13th round.

Stefon Diggs opened 2016 with a pair of 100+ yard performances before suffering a groin injury from which he never fully recovered. It seems Shurmur is happy playing Diggs out of the slot which also limits his upside.  Diggs is currently being drafted in the fifth round and should produce a 900-yard season, adding a half dozen TDs. Adam Thielen was a third-year breakout in 2016 and is a good pick in the tenth round, producing 1,000+ yards and at least six TDs. The jury is still out on Laquon Treadwell, selected 23rd overall in the 2016 entry draft.  Treadwell only caught one ball in his rookie season but has a decent chance to land the WR3 role. Even if he secures the WR3 role, Treadwell’s production will be limited unless there is an injury to Diggs or Thielen.  Treadwell is not worth drafting at this point, but monitor his progression during the season for a possible waiver wire pickup. TE Kyle Rudolph is a favorite target for Bradford and should produce another 800+ yards with at least six TDs, making Rudolph a solid mid-round pick.

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Detroit Lions (Over/Under 7.5 Wins)

The Detroit Lions held relatively steady on the offensive front this off-season hoping their core group would be sufficient to capture another Wild Card spot. To make a repeat trip to the playoffs, the Lions will need lady luck on their side again as they toughed out six of their nine 2016 wins by a margin of four or less. Three of those tough wins were versus NFC North opponents Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears.

A big part of the Lions struggles is their highly inconsistent offense led by QB Matthew Stafford. Despite a top ten finish in 2016, Stafford only scored two or more TDs in half his games and passed for 300+ yards on only four occasions. Without elite receivers to catch the ball in Detroit, Stafford will struggle again this season and the best play is to leave him on the waiver wire.

With Calvin Johnson retired, Golden Tate had a huge opportunity to shine in 2016.  You wouldn’t know anything was different, however, as Tate struggled to pass the 1,000-yard mark and only reeled in four TDs.  Don’t expect anything different this year. After tearing out of the gate the first three games, Marvin Jones was an epic failure the remainder of 2016. The Lions need more from a WR2.  While Tate is being drafted in the fourth round, and Jones in the late rounds, rookie and sleeper candidate Kenny Golladay has been lighting up training camp is currently not being drafted. Many expect TE Eric Ebron to break out in 2017, but Ebron continues to struggle with injuries.  Ebron is a popular late round pick for those willing to take the risk.

Detroit’s ground game didn’t help their 2016 campaign much, finishing the season with the third fewest rushing yards gained, ahead of only the Rams and Vikings. The Lions are counting on Ameer Abdullah to have a strong 2017 campaign after he was lost after Week 2 with a foot injury.  Abdullah is currently being drafted in the sixth round, but his value is limited by the presence of the NFC North’s best pass-catching back, Theo Riddick, who averages five catches per game and is being drafted in the fifth round – a full round ahead of Abdullah.

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Chicago Bears (Over/Under 5.5 Wins)

Long gone are the days of the Monsters of the Midway.  The Chicago Bears have struggled in the NFC North for the past 25 years, making the playoffs only five times in that span, the most recent being 2010 when they clinched the NFC North championship. John Fox has only served as head coach of the franchise since 2015 but Fox finds himself in the hot seat after leading the Bears to a three-win season in 2016 – the worst since the NFL adopted a 16-game season in 1978.

A large part of Chicago’s woes is due to mismanagement such as their handling of the quarterback position this year.  After parting ways with veteran quarterbacks Jay Cutler and Brian Hoyer, the Bears signed free agent quarterback Mike Glennon to a three-year $45 Million contract and then proceeded to mortgage their future by trading their number three pick, as well as their third-round pick, one of their fourths, and a 2018 third all to move up one spot in the draft and select QB Mitch Trubisky. Now the burning question is how to manage these two quarterbacks in 2017.  Trubisky is the future of the franchise, but $45 million is a lot of money to spend on a clipboard holder.  The Bears have insisted that Glennon will start throughout the 2017 season, but with the way Trubisky has excelled in training camp one has to wonder how long it will actually take for the Tar Heels product to take the helm.  Due to this uncertainty, and the Bears’ heavy reliance on the ground game, neither quarterback has enough upside to warrant spending a fantasy draft pick.

Regardless of which quarterback is at the helm, the Bears will need to improve their passing game if they want to climb out of the NFC North cellar.  With the loss of Alshon Jeffery to free agency, the Bears will look to Cameron Meredith and Kevin White to break out this season. White possesses the better raw talent of the two, but he has only played four games in his first two seasons and has been labelled as ‘injury prone.’ Meredith has been a true diamond in the rough for the Bears who signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2015.  Meredith is entering the season as Glennon’s favorite target.  Meredith racked up 888 yards and 4 TDs in 2016, but struggled in weeks when he was the WR1. Currently being drafted in the ninth round, Meredith is being overvalued – you would be better off to take the risk on White as a late round flier. The Bears signed tight end Dion Sims to a shiny new contract, but Sims doesn’t possess any game-breaking skills. The Bears also drafted Adam Shaheen (6’6” 277 lbs) who could easily end up being the NFL’s next Gronk.  Neither tight end is worth drafting in redraft format, but Shaheen is a must-own in dynasty leagues.

The Bears will rely heavily on the run game out of necessity, due to the absence of any elite receivers. Jordan Howard became a true sleeper when he broke out in his rookie year after being selected in the fifth round of the entry draft. Howard will be a popular pick early in the second round of your fantasy draft.  Buyer beware, however, as Howard has bricks for hands making him a one-dimensional back.  If Chicago’s pass attack stumbles, opposing defenses will also be quick to stack the box on Howard, leading to a long, cold winter for the NFC North cellar dwellers.


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NFL Fantasy Focus – NFC North

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