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Our fourth divisional fantasy preview takes us to the NFC North, a division that features heated rivalries and is filled with top notch fantasy talent.
Last season, the Vikings earned the top spot in this foursome, coming ever-so-close to a Super Bowl appearance, instead losing in overtime of the NFC title game at the hands of the eventual champs, the Saints. The big question around the division focuses on the QB position in Minnesota, with “Flip Flop” Favre still yet to make a decision on whether or not he’ll be wearing purple this fall. If he doesn’t come back, look for Favre’s former team, the Packers to make a strong case at taking aim at the throne, with fantasy stud Aaron Rodgers emerging as an elite NFL quarterback.
Here now, let’s sink our teeth into this four-pack of gritty Midwest squads, highlighting their stars and their value in fantasyland.
The Bears were a bit of a mystery last season, posting a mediocre 7-9 record amidst high expectations from the Windy City faithful. Prior to the season, they brought in QB Jay Cutler, who was supposed to solidify a quarterback position that has been anything but solid in recent years. Instead, Cutler’s tendency to turn the ball, coupled with a very disappointing sophomore season from RB Matt Forte, helped turn Chicago into one of the bigger disappointments of the ’09 season. However, Cutler and the Bears’ offense comes into the 2010 campaign with new coordinator Mike Martz at the helm, which instantly gives Cutler added value as a fantasy starter. He remains at the bottom end of the top 10 guys at the QB position, with Martz likely to air it out as he always has. The turnovers won’t completely go away, but Cutler should have a better year than last year.
Who he’ll throw to, however, remains a mystery. The Chicago receiving corps features a trio of lackluster receivers: Johnny Knox, Devin Aromashodu, and Devin Hester. All three should end up being drafted in your fantasy leagues, but if you’re starting any of them, you’re probably in trouble. One will emerge as Cutler’s go-to guy, but it’s anyone’s guess as to who it may be. My guess: Aromashodu, who has seemed to catch on with Cutler through the off-season. Greg Olsen, the team’s tight end, should also get some fantasy consideration, even after a somewhat off year last season.
Chicago’s ground game will try to get back on track with Matt Forte looking to regain the form he had in his rookie year. To push Forte, the Bears brought in veteran back Chester Taylor, who comes over from division rival Minnesota. Forte will be given every opportunity to keep his starting role, but if he gets off to a slow start, there’s no doubt that Taylor will be there to run the rock.
Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford is hoping a sophomore slump isn’t in his near future this upcoming season, but with some of the talent that has been brought in to help Stafford in his development, there’s no doubt Stafford’s big size and big arm has the opportunity to climb the ranks of the fantasy quarterbacks. Heading into this season, most draft boards have Stafford as a low-end #2 QB, but by season’s end, I like him to be a reasonable, low-end fantasy starter.
Stafford’s favorite weapon is the speedy Calvin Johnson, has some better help around him, which will keep teams from focusing solely on the stud WR. Nate Burleson was added to the roster in the off-season, after putting up very solid numbers as a part of Seattle’s weak offense last year. Johnson’s going to be drafted in the first three rounds of your draft, with Burleson acting as a great sleeper option in the middle rounds.
Detroit’s running back tandem will feature rookie Jahvid Best and a rehabilitated Kevin Smith. Best is the “best” option of the two (sorry, had to do it), with the youngster likely to get the “lion’s share” of the carries over Smith (sorry, had to do it again). Smith, who led the team in touches last season, will contribute, but his injury history limits his fantasy value greatly. Best is among the top 25-30 players at his position, and has great potential to climb those rankings.
He hasn’t got the Super Bowl rings that Tom Brady has, or the MVP trophies that Peyton Manning has, but look atop most quarterback rankings heading into this year’s fantasy football season, and you’ll see a new top dog…Aaron Rodgers.
Rodgers, who should at least be one of the top two QBs off the draft board, is surrounded by underrated talent on the offensive side of the ball, with the always dependable Greg Jennings and Donald Driver leading the receiving corps, and tight end Jermichael Finley ready for a breakout season in only his third year in the league. Jennings is a guy you’ll probably need to burn a third or fourth round pick on to get, with Driver likely available in the middle rounds.
Running back Ryan Grant is one of a handful of “feature backs” that still remain around the league, as he will again shoulder a good amount of the workload on the ground, with Brandon Jackson and rookie James Starks vying for the few carries that will be left up for grabs. Grant will be off the board by the end of the second round most likely, with Jackson and Starks having only minimal fantasy value.
The defense in Green Bay is also worth some consideration, as their new 3-4 scheme installed last year takes shape and matures.
Fantasy owners have to project the Vikings’ players two ways heading into their drafts; one mentality with Brett Favre coming back to run the offense, and the other with the likes of Tarvaris Jackson under center. Needless to say, if Favre decides to come back again, the value of the players around him holds strong. If however, he decides to finally hang it up and stick solely to shooting Wrangler jeans commercials, you’ll see many Vikings start to slip down the rankings. That being said, if “Flip Flop” decides to suit up before your draft day, treat him as a low-end fantasy starter, in the same class as Matt Ryan, Donovan McNabb, or Eli Manning. Otherwise, if he hasn’t made his decision before you go on the clock, draft him at your own risk.
Whoever the starting QB is for the Vikes, they’ll have a talented batch of receivers to take aim at, led by last year’s breakout star Sidney Rice, second-year speedster Percy Harvin, and underrated veteran Bernard Berrian. All three pass catchers should end up being drafted, with Rice and Harvin going in the early-to-mid rounds, and Berrian acting as a depth pick at WR in the later rounds.
The ground game of course, is in great shape again this year with the return of Adrian Peterson. Peterson, who in most pre-draft rankings, sits behind only Tennessee’s Chris Johnson atop the list, is poised for yet another stat-packing season. Behind A.P. on the depth chart is rookie Toby Gerhart, who really only has good fantasy value as a handcuff pick for teams who draft Peterson, as he’ll likely only see minimal action unless an injury sidelines the All Pro starter.
Minny’s defense is also worth looking at early, ranked among the top 5-10 units in the NFL, and with a rather easy schedule in the second half of the season, loading up on Vikes could bring your fantasy squad the momentum it needs to propel you into the playoffs.
Tags: Aaron Rodgers, Adrian Peterson, Bernard Berrian, Brett Favre, Calvin Johnson, Chester Taylor, Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Devin Hester, Donald Driver, Fantasy Football, Green Bay Packers, Greg Jennings, Greg Olsen, Jahvid Best, Jay Cutler, Jermichael Finley, Johnny Knox, Kevin Smith, Matt Forte, Matthew Stafford, Minnesota Vikings, Nate Burleson, NFC North, NFL, Percy Harvin, Ryan Grant, Sidney Rice, Tarvaris Jackson, Toby Gerhart