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King of the North: Team Breakdown of the NFC North

Kicking off the NFC North is last year’s division champ and NFC title game runner-up. Matt Lafleur came in and immediately turned a stale franchise into a 13-3 home-field-advantage playoff team. However, with an improved and efficient defense, the typically offense-centric Packers failed to top 350 yards per game for the season. Outside of a monster year for Aaron Jones, the rest of the offense was mainly pedestrian outside of a few big games

By Jared Clifton

Green Bay Packers

Green Bay Packers

Kicking off the NFC North is last year’s division champ and NFC title game runner-up. Matt Lafleur came in and immediately turned a stale franchise into a 13-3 home-field-advantage playoff team. However, with an improved and efficient defense, the typically offense-centric Packers failed to top 350 yards per game for the season. Outside of a monster year for Aaron Jones, the rest of the offense was mainly pedestrian outside of a few big games.

Must Start: Davante Adams (WR2), Aaron Jones (RB12)

It seems impossible that over Davante Adams‘ six-year career, he only has a single season of over 1,000 yards (2018). He is the lone constant in the Packer’s WR corp and, when on the field, is a target monster, averaging just north of 8 targets per game in his career. He’s known to miss a few games a year, and last year missed six games with two separate injuries. If he’s healthy, he’s in your lineup. Just sit back and wait for all those Lambeau leaps. There may not be a better TD scoring WR in the NFL today.

Matchup Based Start: Aaron Rodgers (QB12)

In all likelihood, if you’re in a redraft league with normal benches or a 2QB or SuperFlex league, then you’re probably rolling with Aaron Rodgers every week, save his bye week. In deeper leagues where you may have another QB or 2, then he moves into a weekly decision based on what the game script looks to be. Too many games last year, the passing game just wasn’t the focus, and ball control and solid defense won the day. Better yet, won the game. Although Rodgers does remain ultra-efficient and averse to turning the ball over, there could be weeks where matchups may push this fringey QB1 to your bench.

Flexually Active: Allen Lazard (WR62), Jamaal Williams (RB55)

To say Jamaal Williams isn’t good at football is a bridge too far, but it’s difficult to get excited about the former BYU back. His primary fantasy life has been as a thorn in Aaron Jones managers’ sides, and it was a breath of fresh air to see the McCarthy era RBBC tilt in Jones’ favor finally. AJ Dillon will cut into Williams’ work, especially in goal to go situations, but he still has low-end flex appeal and could be a potential league winner if Jones were to miss time.

Sleepers: AJ Dillon (RB54)

You’d have to go back to 2002 to find the last Boston College RB drafted in the first two rounds. One William Green (16th overall-Cleveland), who had a pretty quiet four-year career. AJ Dillon was a surprise second-round pick and profiles best as a bruising goalline back. 2020 may not be the year he gets significant work, but there is a high TD to carry ratio in Lafleur’s scheme. Dillon is a less talented version of a previous Lefleur back, Derrick Henry. However, that could change if he becomes a steady TD vulture, and one of the two backs ahead of him get loose with the football or miss time to injury.

Waivers/Streamers: Devin Funchess (WR81), Marquez Valdes-Scantling (WR 99), Jace Sternberger (TE29)

Very few WR’s have teased and tantalized us the way Devin Funchess has. He could aptly play Demi Moore’s character (hopefully not shot for shot) in a reboot of Andrew Bergmen’s “classic” 1996 Striptease. He’s built to catch every ball thrown his way, and although he’s shown glimpses of his ability to go over the top and pull down TD’s, he’s always fallen short of being a consistently valuable fantasy asset. Keep him on the waivers, but keep an eye on this top-heavy Packer’s offense and don’t be afraid to deploy him or his waiver fodder partner, MVS, when the time looks right.

Stashes: Jordan Love (QB46)

The even more surprising early pick for the Packers may have an awkward few years scrounging for whatever scraps of wisdom Rodgers may throw his way, but Jordan Love is a raw talent that could be a stable signal-caller within the next three years.

Breakout: Allen Lazard

The Lazard of Oz is entering a contract year, albeit it an EFRA contact year, after signing a one year deal. 2020 is his year to move into the next category, as the Robin to Adams’ Batman, and get the exposure to grab a new contract from the Packers or other interested parties. If he can separate himself from a mediocre group of receivers, then his chances of 80-90 targets are well within reach and could translate into a massive leap from FLEX consideration to WR3 with upside. Still Allen Lazard is just 24, this would keep in play for both redraft and dynasty leagues.

Bust: Aaron Jones

This isn’t an indictment against Jones’ talent. He finished last season as the RB2 overall, but the TD regression is coming, and it’s likely going to go pretty hard. Averaging a TD ever 15 touches just isn’t sustainable, with both Williams and Dillon likely to disrupt his game. He’s still a must-start when on the field, but temper your expectations and realize that a finish near the back of the RB1 pack is more believable than a repeat of last year’s performance.

Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings captured the last NFC Wild Card last year, but with their 7th in the NFL point differential indicates a much better team than the 10–6 finish. They limped through their divisional slate to finish a disappointing 2-4 en route to a second-round exit in the playoffs to San Francisco. While they were more balanced offensively than most remember, this is still a unit that operates through their rushing attack. It remains to be seen if the play action-heavy approach will continue under the new coordinator, Gary Kubiak. Still, the running game should continue to be among the most efficient under his zone-based rushing scheme.

Must Start: Dalvin Cook (RB6), Adam Thielen (WR15)

Assuming Dalvin Cook doesn’t sit out to start the season, he’s one of the few backs with a legitimate claim to be the number one RB in fantasy. With just over 30% of the team’s total offensive yards and TD’s scored, he is in an elite class. Coupled with a game script that relies heavily on him, he should be near 350 touches, with a healthy amount of those touches around the goal line. With Kubiak’s success in the run game over his career, the efficiency should only continue to maneuver into elite territory.

Matchup Based Start: Kirk Cousins (QB19), Justin Jefferson (WR59) 

Whether or not Justin Jefferson was just a happy recipient from Joe Burrow’s wonder season, the fact is that he had a 91% catch rate and 18 TD’s as the lynchpin receiver in the LSU powerhouse offense. With Stefon Diggs residing in upstate New York now, there are 115 vacated targets in Minneapolis. Jefferson stands to gain a significant number of these. Tajae Sharpe stands to get some of these targets, but Jefferson is a high-level prospect that should move into both a slot role in 3 WR sets and even play on the outside in Minnesota’s offensive 2 WR set. Patience may be needed early in his rookie season, but he could be a high-value FLEX or even WR2 in deeper leagues as the season progresses.  

Flexually Active: Alexander Mattison (RB51)

See below for analysis.

Sleepers: Irv Smith Jr. (TE23)

See below for analysis. 

Waivers/Streamers: Mike Boone (RB84), Tajae Sharpe (WR123), Olabisi Johnson (WR124), Kyle Rudolph (TE28)

Sharpe has been underutilized, partially due to his shaky hands, but mainly based on the run-first offense he came from in Tennessee. Minnesota is a run-first offense, as well. Still, Sharpe has an opportunity to grab some target share, and if Adam Thielen were to go down to injury or Jefferson takes a while to get going, it’s conceivable to see in the neighborhood of 80 targets for him this year. He’ll have to hold off Olabisi Johnson, but if he doesn’t, this profile will pertain to Johnson. 

Stashes: KJ Osborn (WR170) 

Adele would be proud because this selection rolls a little deep. KJ Osborn’s numbers were not overly impressive in his two college stops, but his special teams’ prowess will likely keep him on the roster, which could lead to his usage in the offense as a weapon. In an offense that is a bit light on playmakers, it takes a little confidence from the coaching staff for a player like Osborn to go from gadget to integral.

Breakout: Irv Smith, Jr.

Kyle Rudolph has been the mainstay TE in Minnesota for years, but this looks to be the year where the guard will change. There were moments last year when this occurred, but Irv Smith should make the jump to TE1 in Minnesota full time, based on his ability to line up in the slot and a 20.8% red zone target share. He is poised to flirt with the top 12 in the position and has the athleticism to make the jump in year 2, as many TE’s do. 

Bust: Alexander Mattison

Alexander Mattison is moving up draft boards, as those that believe Cook will go the way of Melvin Gordon this season, began to scramble for a replacement. Going off the metrics, Mattison isn’t replacement level. You would be better suited to look for better options on other teams, rather than expect him to be Cook’s contemporary if Dalvin misses time. With Cook playing, he is no better than a bye week FLEX replacement. If Cook does miss time, he’s got RB2 upside and would be a rock-solid FLEX. Otherwise, don’t overpay on a hypothetical.

Chicago Bears

The Bears finished as one of five teams totaling under 300 yards per game, and without an elite level showing defensively, that was a recipe for mediocrity. Matt Nagy needs to live up to his offensive genius label, or he risks being another Adam Gase. Nick Foles comes in this year to possibly provide some stability, but David Montgomery needs a big year to take the pressure off, and Nagy needs to find a way to get Allen Robinson, Tarik Cohen, and Anthony Miller in space, to take a step forward in 2020.

Must Start: Allen Robinson (WR11), David Montgomery (RB21)

Ok. Hear me out. It wasn’t the rookie campaign that we had expected, but the numbers aren’t as bleak as they originally appeared. At the top, Montgomery’s Yards Created ranked #17 in the NFL. YC is a useful metric showing that his numbers could approach his top-notch numbers at Iowa State with a little breathing room. Foles under center is an improvement, albeit a small one, so with it should come to some increased efficiency with the offense. Come for the heavy workload, stay for a surprise RB1 season.

Matchup Based Start: Tarik Cohen (RB33)

A near 5 yard per catch drop, stifled what would have otherwise been a second consecutive season of his Darren Sproles imitation tour. The carries and red zone opportunities are always going to be below what we’d want from a starting RB, but his work in the passing game keeps him relevant, and in weeks that the Bears should be playing from behind, he is an upside play with some inherent risk baked in.

Flexually Active: Anthony Miller (WR46)

Is this the year we see a glimpse of the star power we saw in Anthony Miller at Memphis? He’s a sexy breakout pick this year, so I sure hope for all our sakes it is. The fundamentals of his game don’t play well with subpar QB play, so here’s hoping that Foles can help Bears fans forget trading up for Trubisky. Until we see that dynamic, Miller should fill your FLEX.

Sleepers: Mitch Trubisky (QB35)

Back against the wall, if Mitch Trubisky somehow gets on the field this year, he’ll more than likely be auditioning for his next team, so the expectation for his danger throws and interceptable passes to at least be limited. A more conservative Trubisky could be a better Trubisky, as it could lead to more rushing yards on tucked balls. Think of a poor man’s Josh Allen. In deep leagues and 2QB/Superflex leagues, keep an eye on the wire in case of poor Fole’s play or an injury.

Waivers/Streamers: Nick Foles (QB30), Ted Ginn (WR114)

If the Bears can’t find a starting QB they want, I’m going to have a hard time trusting what they don’t. That said, Nick Foles can be serviceable as a bye week fill-in or desperation play as a SF or QB2. It’s not 2013, so don’t expect a 27-2 TD to INT ratio. He’s a Bears QB now, and it won’t be pretty.

Must Stash: Cole Kmet (TE40)

Cole Kmet is at least a year away from having an impact at the NFL level, but he’s a fun projectable big target for whoever is throwing the ball in a few years. His breakout year at Notre Dame gives a taste of his use, once he rises to the top of the crowded Bears TE corps.

Breakout: Riley Ridley (WR159)

Although not overly productive at Georgia, Riley Ridley’s workout metrics are too phenomenal for him not to get an opportunity to produce at the pro level. There is a steep drop off in talent after ARob, Miller, and even Ted Ginn, so if he can get on the field, Calvin may not be the only Ridley that leaps forward in 2020.

Bust: Jimmy Graham (TE31)

Father time is undefeated. While Jimmy Graham’s deep targets are still among the tops in the league, the rest of his game is on a perpetual nosedive, and a significant downgrade in the offense will not be kind to a dwindling skillset. He’s not exactly a must draft player anyway, but don’t get sucked into the name when you’re deep diving. There are plenty of better options for going in this range. 

Detroit Lions

This season has the makings of the end of Matt Patricia’s lease, and that too often leads to on the field performance to be erratic. There are some talented pieces to be had for fantasy purposes, but this isn’t likely to be any better than a middling offense. A full season with Stafford and the new addition of D’Andre Swift does lead to some intrigue. Still, if Patricia gets the ax mid-season and Darrell Bevell takes over as interim, it’s difficult to project some of the pieces outside Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, and Matthew Stafford.


Must Start: Matthew Stafford (QB13), D’Andre Swift (RB27), Kenny Golladay (WR7)

Kerryon Johnson was a darling just last year, but his heavy workload at Auburn looks to have limited his potential to stay on the field. Luckily, Swift has had the luxury of splitting his collegiate workload while remaining ultra-efficient. That should make for an enjoyable to watch all-around back for Lions fans. He has true three-down potential and could quickly become a riser in draft boards. Plug him in at RB2 with confidence.

Matchup Based Start: Marvin Jones (WR34), TJ Hockensen (TE17)

Jones quietly has become one of the more consistent TD catching receivers. In fact, in just 13 games, he tied for fourth in TD’s with top tier WR’s Michael Thomas and Chris Godwin. His fantasy points per target ranked #15 in 2019, so a full season should have him in the mid-WR2 territory. Consider him as a high-level FLEX, but if you’re drafting heavy RB early, he’s not a bad option in one of your starting WR spots.

Flexually Active: Kerryon Johnson (RB38) 

See analysis below.

Waivers/Streamers: Danny Amendola (WR83), Bo Scarbrough (RB96), Geronimo Allison (WR117)

Sleepers: Quintez Cephus (WR154)

Wisconsin grad, Quintez Cephus has above average YAC ability but did struggle with drops in college. The WR room in Detroit is top-heavy, so there is an opportunity to be had. Big play potential should be on Matt Patricia’s mind, and Cephus brings that potential.

Stash: Hunter Bryant (TE66)

Hunter Bryant may never stick at TE for Detroit, but he’s too good a pass-catcher not to earn a chance to make the team. Even if he lands at H-Back, it could be a role similar to what Theo Riddick vacated a few years back.

Breakout: TJ Hockensen 

Fantasy players were salivating after TJ Hockensen’s Week 1 monster game against Arizona. Their appetite was never satisfied, as he went to finish no better than TE14 the remainder of the season. Still, it gives us a benchmark for his capability and hopes that with a full Stafford season, we see the typical second-year TE jump. He’ll need more red-zone looks and to be much better in contested catch scenarios to enter into the next tier of TE, but he profiles as the athletic type TE to be able to do, with a season under his belt.

Bust: Kerryon Johnson

Kerryon was a fantasy pre-season darling in both the 2018 and 2019 seasons. Had it not been for injuries, he may have delivered on the hype. Now entering year three, with new speedster D’Andre Swift drafted early to eat into the workload, it feels as though the momentum has shifted away from ever seeing Johnson as a true All-Purpose back. 10-12 touches a game would be a good guestimate on his load this year, and with his lack of boom potential, he’s nothing more than a fill bench player or occasional FLEX dart throw.

Jared Clifton – Redraft/Dynasty
Ride or Dynasty
Twitter: @unstuckintime82

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