2020 Fantasy Football: NFC North Team Previews
Some teams have narrow fantasy values. What I mean when I say that is that there are some teams that have clear-cut fantasy studskis, and then the value drops off to the point where you can ignore the peripheral players for fantasy purposes. Teams with a split backfield or muddled wide receiver corps are frustrating! Fortunately for us, the NFC North is a division that is largely easy to parse out. The Lions backfield could be aggravating, but there is a lot of fantasy stud value in this division.
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NFC North Fantasy Team Previews
Green Bay Packers
Projected Win Total Odds: 9
Aaron Rodgers might be dating Danica Patrick, but the only racing he is doing himself is down the quarterback ADP. Once a stalwart atop the QB landscape, Rodgers has fluttered toward fantasy mediocrity. Now entering his age-36 season, Rodgers is coming off a season in which he finished just 11th in passing yards (4,002). He was tied for 8th with 26 passing touchdowns, wrapping up his 2019 as QB8.
The Packers leaned more on their running game in 2019, and they are expected to lean even more in that direction for 2020. Rather than giving Rodgers help by drafting even *one* single wide-out in a receiver-rich draft, the brass drafted another running back in the second round in A.J. Dillon. Rodgers remains a solid QB1 option thanks to his efficiency and ability to protect the ball. He also chips in a little on the ground but isn’t a difference-maker in that regard. His QB10/ADP89 is fair, although he offers more floor than ceiling.
Aaron Jones was a league-winner in 2019, with 236 carries for 1,084 yards and 16 touchdowns. He also set career-highs receiving, with 49 receptions (68 targets) for 474 yards and another three scores. He was sixth in the league with 17 carries inside the five, turning 10 of those into touchdowns. Locked into the lead role on a run-heavy offense led by Aaron Rodgers is a pretty great spot to be. While extreme regression has to be expected in his touchdown rate, he is a prime candidate for another double-digit touchdown season. Not a bad investment as the RB12/ADP20, right?
Poking holes into his RB1 potential are his backup cast. Jones benefited from Jamaal Williams missing two games, but he’ll be back to snag carries and targets from Jones. Even when Jones was clearly the better runner, Matt LaFleur insisted on using Williams far more than you’d like. To muddy the waters even further, A.J. Dillon is now in the fold. He won’t eat into Williams’ target share on third downs as more of a bruising runner in the Derrick Henry mold. Dillon isn’t going to turn Jones into an afterthought, but he could become a touchdown scavenger inside the five. Neither Williams nor Dillon will have much standalone value without an injury to Jones.
The big man on campus here is Davante Adams. He soaked up 127 targets in just 12 games last year. That 169 target 16-game pace would have landed him second in the league behind only Michael Thomas (185). He commanded 23.7% of the team’s total targets, and with exactly zero WR help coming from the draft, that number could repeat. He’s a total stud in any format, with the only downside being that he tends to miss games (he’s played 16 games just twice in six seasons). He’ll be a first-rounder in most drafts as the WR2 overall behind only Michael Thomas – and some will argue he is the overall WR1.
There is a steep, steep cliff on this depth chart behind Adams. Devin Funchess is perhaps the most intriguing WR option here simply because we haven’t seen him fail in green-and-gold yet. Funchess missed almost the entire 2019 season with a broken collarbone suffered in Week 1. Jake Kumerow, Allen Lazard, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling are nothing more than hail mary Best Ball plays or bye week filler. Funchess has a chance to grab the WR2 position on the team and run with it, which gives him the upside of a weekly FLEX option.
With Jimmy Graham no longer in Cheese Land, the door is wide open for Jace Sternberger at TE. He essentially redshirted his rookie campaign with the Pack in 2019 after they drafted him in the third round. He saw just one target in the regular season on 64 offensive snaps. Veteran Marcedes Lewis is the only other depth option of note here, but Sternberger is the more likely breakout candidate. He should see an expanded offensive role with Graham gone, and could even run routes out of the slot. He’s a shot in the dark at this point, but if he establishes chemistry with Aaron Rodgers, the targets are available for Sternberger to finish as a top-15 TE.
Projected Win Total Odds: 9
Kirk Cousins was a very efficient passer in 2019, with a 69.1% completion rating over 15 games. Unfortunately for his fantasy value, he was an extremely low-volume passer. He chucked it just 444 times, 24th in the league. The Vikings went extremely run-heavy, and there’s no reason to believe that will change in 2020 with Gary Kubiak now running the offense. He offers next to zero rushing ability to help his value, making him a low-upside QB2.
Dalvin Cook is a top-five pick for a reason. Assuming either the Vikings pay him what he wants or he ends his holdout, Cook is an elite fantasy back. He averaged 21.6 touches per game in 2019, totaling 1,654 yards and 13 scores. He hauled in a career-high 53 balls on 63 targets as he evolved into a more well-rounded three-down asset. Cook also led the league with 21 carries inside the five-yard line, converting nine of those into touchdowns. He’s a locked-and-loaded stud when he’s on the field, but he has also dealt with a lot of injuries as a smaller back. It’s wise to factor in a couple of missed games because of his injury history and large workload.
Between Cook’s injury woes and his potential holdout, Alexander Mattison has turned into one of the game’s highest regarded handcuffs. The 2019 third-round pick won’t have a lot of standalone value. However, if Cook misses entire games for any of the aforementioned reasons, Mattison becomes a plug-and-play RB1. If we edge closer to the season and still have no resolution on the Cook holdout situation, handcuffing Cook with Mattison is of paramount importance.
The clear-cut number one receiver here is Adam Thielen, although his 2019 line doesn’t show it. Thielen battled through a hamstring injury last year, which limited him to just 30 receptions for 418 yards over 10 games. At least he scored six times, right? It was his first season with fewer than 16 games played, although heading into his age-30 season, he is only more likely to encounter more soft tissue injuries. He was still on pace for over 100 targets, which he should easily see in 2020 following the departure of Stefon Diggs. He has also been a target in the end zone for Kirk Cousins, helping raise his touchdown floor.
Diggs leaves 94 targets on the table for the Vikings in 2020. A tidy sum of those targets could get soaked up by rookie Justin Jefferson. The Vikings spent a first-round pick on Jefferson, and he should get plenty of run right out of the gate. Scouts are a bit torn on him particularly as an outside receiver. He and Thielen are expected to move around between the outside and the slot, but the lack of depth in this group should lead to plenty of opportunities for Jefferson to contribute on a weekly basis. He won’t cost you much as the 110th player off the board but could be a steady WR4/FLEX option even in this low-ceiling passing offense.
This is a very interesting position for the Vikes. Kyle Rudolph is the incumbent TE1, having spent nine years as their primary tight end. His snap count and fantasy production took a big hit in 2019 though as he hurdled towards the wrong side of 30. The Vikings also invested a second-round pick in Irv Smith. Smith was impressive as a rookie, seeing 38.3 snaps per game on an offense that utilized two-TE sets 55% of the time. Smith is the upside play here and could wind up pushing for a top-15 TE finish. He will have to overcome the low-volume passing attack and run more routes than Rudolph, but there is a chance he becomes the second option in this passing game behind Thielen.
Projected Win Total Odds: 8
Woof. That’s about all you can say if you watched some or all of Mitchell Trubisky’s 2019 season. You just had to bury your emotions in a deep-dish pizza and move on. He managed just 17 TD’s with 10 picks over 15 games under center for the Bears, prompting the team to add Nick Foles to the depth chart. Trubisky’s passing game regressed in a big way from 2018, and he didn’t help himself on the ground either. His 193 rushing yards were less than half of his 2018 total, making his floor even scarier.
Meanwhile, Nick Foles reunites with a whole host of former coaches and coordinators in Chicago, including head coach Matt Nagy and OC Bill Lazor. Foles has neither the mobility nor youth of Trubisky but has experience on his side. As technically the incumbent, the Bears have a bit more invested in Trubisky. It’ll be an open competition in training camp that Trubisky might have the edge on, but for fantasy, it is probably a lose/lose scenario. Neither is likely to have a QB1 season with their bad offensive line and mediocre receiving corps.
David Montgomery was all set to be a fantasy stud from day one as the primary back for the Bears in his rookie campaign. He ran into a bunch of issues, however, leading to a disappointing 242/889/6 line. He didn’t add much through the air, with just 25 catches on 35 targets for 185 yards and one score. The volume was at least there consistently on the ground, and he averaged 16.7 touches per game. Unfortunately for Montgomery, his offensive line and QB play still loom as large issues for him in 2020. He averaged just 1.9 yards after contact as the defense swarmed him consistently. His sheer volume makes him an RB2 (RB23/ADP56) and he does have touchdown upside, with just five scores in 18 carries inside the five.
Tarik Cohen remains the passing- and third-down back behind Montgomery. Whereas Cohen is essentially a non-factor on the ground, he is a PPR FLEX machine. He nabbed 79 balls on 104 targets in 2019, although that only netted him 456 yards and three touchdowns. His aDOT tumbled as Trubisky regressed, but he was also less efficient with his touches. Cohen is apparently doing yoga to improve his body this offseason, opting for more downward dog and less Chicago dog. That could help him return to form, but even at his best, he is a PPR fill-in who doesn’t have the body for a full workload.
Similar to the Packers, the Bears wide receiver corps is headlined by a stud and followed by question marks. Allen Robinson was a stud last year, finally putting together another full 16 game season. Even with some of the worst quarterback play in the league, Robinson was a target hog. He commanded 154 targets, catching 98 of those balls for 1,147 yards and seven scores. He was third in the entire league in targets and fifth in air yards with 1,680. Robinson also had a 27.1% target share, third highest in the league (Michael Thomas, DeAndre Hopkins). As long as he can stay healthy, he is a surefire WR1 and a PPR monster.
Ascending behind A-Rob is third-year wideout, Anthony Miller. He has dealt with recurring shoulder injuries throughout his career but it is expected to be good to go for training camp following another surgery. With Taylor Gabriel gone, Miller’s 14.8% target share could rise. There’s a chance he sees enough targets to push into WR2 territory, but he more likely hangs out in FLEX territory. There is some upside from his 108 ADP.
What can only be considered the dried out husk of Jimmy Graham has been dumped off in Chicago for 2020. Now 33 years old, Graham is still set to be the primary receiving tight end in Matt Nagy’s offense. Even though the Bears just spend a second-round pick on Cole Kmet, they immediately declared that he will be blocking, primarily. That leaves plenty of snaps for Graham, which is the good news.
The bad news (Bears) is that he has always played with a Hall Of Fame caliber QB, and neither Nick Foles nor Mitchell Trubisky is even in that same universe. He’s far from the physical dynamo he was in his prime, with just five scores over his past two seasons combined. He still has borderline TE1 upside, but if Aaron Rodgers can only get him a 38/447/3 line in 2019, it’s hard to envision a better one in 2020.
Projected Win Total Odds: 6.5
Matthew Stafford was enjoying a renaissance season in 2019 before back and hip injuries ended his season after only eight games. He was absolutely slinging the ball down the field, with an 11.3-yard average target depth that put even the likes of Dak Prescott and Patrick Mahomes to shame. His eight-game pace would have seen him eclipse 5,000 yards over a full season. What’s not to like?
Well, for one, Stafford adds nothing on the ground. The elite QB’s all pad their stats with their rushing ability. It’s also plausible that the Lions take it easy on the veteran Stafford and lean more towards the running game, as they did in 2018. The Lions defense might not allow for that, however, so we could see some vintage garbage time Stafford anyway. QB13/ADP104 isn’t a bad price to pay for his high passing upside. Just remember that he hasn’t eclipsed 25 touchdowns in three of his last four seasons, so the floor might be lower than his 2019 first-half would indicate.
Here we go. Incumbent back Kerryon Johnson has flashed greatness at times but has played just 18 out of a possible 32 games since he was drafted. It’s not too surprising then, that coach Matt Patricia opted to bolster his backfield by adding D’Andre Swift at 35 overall in the 2020 draft. Swift immediately has just as much pedigree as the still-not-even-23-year old Johnson, and both backs have strong receiving skills.
Fantrax drafters prefer Swift to Johnson to this point, with Swift clocking in at RB25 and Johnson at RB36. It’s hard for me to disagree. To this point, Johnson’s running style has consistently dinged him up. Even with a full-blown committee to open the season, Swift would immediately be in the RB1 mix should Johnson miss extended time yet again. The same could be said of Johnson, of course, but the likelihood Johnson misses time has to be considered more likely. Short of an injury scenario, however, this is set to be a frustrating backfield.
Kenny Golladay had his coming out party in 2019. Even without Matthew Stafford for the second half of the season, Golladay finished with 65 receptions on 116 targets for 1,190 yards and 11 touchdowns. He was an incredible deep target, racking up 1,745 air yards, which was good for third in the league (Julio Jones, Mike Evans). He also led the league in inside-the-ten targets with 13. Nothing about his 2019 season was fluky, which is why he is pricy as the WR7/ADP20.
Marvin Jones had himself a strong 2019 in his own right. In just 13 games he hauled in 62 balls on 91 targets for 779 yards and nine scores. His 16.8% target share should repeat, 88 air yards per game is encouraging, and his touchdown efficiency cannot be understated. Even if the offense slants a little more run-heavy for 2020, there will be plenty of targets to go around for Jones. He is a bit more floor than ceiling than some of the other wide receivers going around his WR38 ADP.
One of the potential breakout stars at the tight end position in the NFC North is T.J. Hockenson. The 2019 first-round pick flashed his athleticism and YAC-ability but was sidelined by multiple injuries. He wound up playing just 12 games and is now coming off ankle surgery, hence his cheap TE14 sticker price. With 59 targets on 288 routes run, it’s clear that the fantasy potential is on the table with Hockenson. Whether he can stay on the field and steal targets from Marvin Jones and Danny Amendola is the question.
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