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Bold Fantasy Football Predictions: NFC North

The bold predictions keep on coming. As far as the NFC North goes, many boldly predicted Aaron Rodgers would be traded this off-season only to see him back in Green Bay with a massive contract extension. Now that the crazy off-season dust is settled and the 2022 season quickly approaches, it’s time to make a few bold predictions surrounding production for these NFC North teams.

Over the next few weeks,  Michael Govier (@mjgovier) and I (@Colin_McT) will highlight one bold prediction from each team, division by division. They hopefully will get the gears in your head turning. Some are positive while others may be negative. The likeliness that every single one of these predictions hits is certainly not 100%.  However, they should generate some buzz or cause you to think twice about each player. Just be confident in your feelings when you’re on the clock.

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A Fantasy Football Bold Prediction for Each NFC North Team

Chicago Bears

McTamany’s Bold Prediction: Justin Fields fails to break the Bears’ single-season passing yards record

The current single-season passing yards record in Chicago is 3,838 yards set by Erik Kramer in 1995. Add that to your back pocket for some football trivia. It’s easily the best season of Kramer’s career and the only one in which he played a full 16-game slate. So, with an extra game in today’s NFL, to go another year of keeping the record in tact makes this an obvious bold prediction.

As a result, this becomes a bit of an indictment on Justin Fields’ fantasy value. When I consider his range of outcomes, the ceiling is 2021 Jalen Hurts. That’s just over 200 passing yards per game, but a mouthwatering average of around 10 rushing attempts, as well. With just those very basic, rough numbers, you’re mostly hoping Fields gets into the end zone with his legs. Hurts himself scored 10 rushing touchdowns. As far as passing production goes, 210 yards per game falls short, even with 17 games, of that single-season passing yards record and fulfills my bold prediction.

The Bears have one of the worst groups of wide receivers in the league. Almost every second-year quarterback has upgraded pass-catchers, however slight, except Fields with the Bears. We also just haven’t seen enough of Fields yet. Additionally, he now has a new head coach, which is probably for the better, but it’s a complete reboot in just his second season. The lack of continuity and weapons in Chicago has me feeling more pessimistic than I’d like to be about Fields’ 2022 fantasy football outlook.

Govier’s Bold Prediction: Justin Fields leads the Bears in rushing touchdowns with 10 or more

Last year Panthers quarterback, Sam Darnold, outscored Justin Fields in the same amount of games (12). Now, that’s not completely shocking since Fields was a rookie. However, I think it’s fair to say that Fields underwhelmed in his rookie year. This isn’t my Wolverine bias against a Buckeye here. In today’s NFL, a rookie QB is no longer expected to throw more picks than touchdowns. The standard is changing due to increased similarities in offensive schemes between college and pro. That along with NFL rules becoming much more favorable for QB play over the last decade or so.

Now, I’m not heartless. I’m aware that Matt Nagy was a walking dead man who was hung out to dry by his General Manager. It was a messy situation to come into as a rookie. The hope now is new leader, Matt Eberflus, and his offensive coordinator (who he snagged from Green Bay), Jake Getsy, can establish the path for Fields as a future leader of the Bears.

Fields boasts five touchdowns with zero picks in the red zone in 2021. As a runner last year he only added a single rushing touchdown in the red zone. That is a number that should be very easy for Field to improve upon. Coach Eberflus comes from Indianapolis where they had an elite run game led by Jonathan Taylor. It will be interesting to see how much of his time in Indy rubs off on him as a defensive coach taking the head job.

The Bears have David Montgomery in his fourth season who has a career 3.9 yards per rush and is no stranger to injuries. Fields is going to become the leader in rushing the ball across the goal plane. Hall of Famer Steve Young was a running QB who improved as a pocket passer and he thinks Justin Fields can do the same. Young went from one to five rushing touchdowns from his first to second year in the NFL.

The Bears are also short on playmakers outside the hash marks. Their best receiver is Darnell Mooney who is entering his third season. He has had four touchdowns in each of his first two seasons. Consistency! Other than Mooney, Fields’ wide receiver corps consists of free agent, Byron Pringle, and former first-round New England cast-off, N’Keal Harry. Sure, the Bears have stalwart TE Cole Kmet to rely on, but the shape of the offensive roster along with the new defensive-focused head coach screams running opportunities for Fields. A conservative, 12 personnel grouping approach may be common for Fields all season long. That bolds well for rushing scores. Even if the Bears offense isn’t very good, Fields will have chances to score garbage time points in blowout losses.

Detroit Lions

McTamany’s Bold Prediction: Amon-Ra St. Brown finishes outside the top 36 wide receivers

This isn’t the first or last time you are going to hear that Amon-Ra St. Brown’s success late last season is a direct result of D’Andre Swift and T.J. Hockenson’s combined absences. Sure, but playmakers make plays. I’m not here to take anything about from St. Brown’s 25.2 PPR points per game from Weeks 13-18. However, from Weeks 1-12, he averaged 7.6 points per game. That’s a season average of 13.4 points per game.

The Lions are entering the 2022 season with the addition of D.J. Chark in free agency, but also Jameson Williams after trading up in the NFL Draft to select him 12th overall. That’s on top of an offense with the aforementioned Swift, Hockenson, and even Jamaal Williams and Josh Reynolds here and there.

St. Brown’s success streak saw averages of over 11 targets and one carry per game. With the multitude of playmakers in Detroit (something I never thought I’d write), I just don’t see Amon-Ra St. Brown solidifying himself at the top of the pecking order on a consistent week-to-week basis. It will take an injury to Swift or another pass catcher to receive a worthwhile return on draft investment.

He’s currently coming off of draft boards as a top-25 wide receiver. At cost, I am probably avoiding him in redraft leagues at this point. As much as I am a fan of St. Brown, it’s hard for me to view him as any more than a flex for fantasy football. My bold prediction is that he finishes as just that this season.

Govier’s Bold Prediction: D.J. Chark sets career-highs in receptions, yards, and touchdowns

My bozo Lions were trailing often in games last year as they tried to stay in the hunt. Yet, they were 17th in pass plays in 2021. There is very little left that surprises me when it comes to this sports albatross. After seeing the god among men, Barry Sanders, held to negative one yard rushing, local Spartan, Paul Edinger, kicking a 54-yard field goal as time expired to eliminate the Lions from the playoffs on the last day of the season; to hiring a broadcaster to run their team for an entire decade, bottoming out with an 0-16 record, and of course, wasting Matthew Stafford for 12 years only to see him win a Super Bowl in his first season elsewhere. Yep, there is little left to the imagination for those of us who have observed a franchise with a single playoff victory since 1957.

So yeah, D.J. Chark. He lost most of his 2021 to a season-ending ankle fracture in Week 4 which may have been a gift since that was in the gulch of the Urban Meyer chaos in Jacksonville. Chark was a second round pick from LSU in 2018. He exploded in 2019 with 73 grabs for 1,008 yards and eight touchdowns. I’m calling for him to top all of those numbers in 2022 with the tiny hands of Jared Goff throwing him the football.

Wait, can I change my prediction? Psych!

Just playing around. Goff is not a Super Bowl winner. He is a serviceable professional quarterback who can rack up the fantasy stats for others. Goff has 22, 20, and 19 touchdowns through the air in his last three seasons. He is going to have to connect on more than that if we hope to top Chark’s career touchdown mark of eight in 2019. Goff is good inside the money area, though. He had 11 touchdowns and one interception inside the 20 last season. Chark stands at 6’4″ offering a catch radius that is going to be a major focus for Goff in the fun zone.

Part of Chark’s success in 2022 will depend on Jameson Williams missing time. He is likely heading to the Physically Unable to Perform list, which would keep the highly touted first-round pick out of the lineup for the first four games. That seems like a very likely scenario as things stand today. Chark needs targets to top 73 catches. With Amon-Ra St. Brown, T.J. Hockenson, and D’Andre Swift in the starting lineup, Chark will have room to operate without any major defensive attention coming his way.

St. Brown led the Lions in targets in 2021 with 119. The second highest receiver in targets was Khalif Raymond with 71. Don’t rely on these numbers though, as new offensive coordinator, Ben Johnson, plans to pick up the pace offensively. The Lions were 20th in wide receiver targets in 2021. D.J. Chark was brought in on a one-year deal to showcase his ability, which will implicitly raise the overall targets in the passing game. Chark’s career high in targets was 119 in 2019 with Gardner Minshew II at the helm. On the fast track of Ford Field, Chark will fly high for this bold prediction racking up career-high totals, and then promptly sign a big multi-year deal elsewhere.

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Green Bay Packers

McTamany’s Bold Prediction: Aaron Jones leads the entire team in receptions

If you are following along with my mock draft series, you will notice Aaron Jones is a top target of mine. I even have him the highest amongst Fantrax staff consensus running back rankings. My reasoning is mostly based on my bold prediction and expectations of his role in Green Bay’s passing game.

The departure of wide receivers, Davante Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling, alone leaves behind nearly 40% of team-wide vacated targets from the 2021 season. To fill the void, Green Bay added Sammy Watkins via free agency as well as Chrisitian Watson and Romeo Doubs in the NFL Draft. Aaron Rodgers is already on record saying he likes “production over potential” which gives him every reason to lean on Aaron Jones in the passing game.

The emergence of A.J. Dillon will continue to cut into Jones’ touches out of the backfield. That’s fine given Jones’ ascendance as a receiving back the last few seasons. From 2019 to 2021, he ranks 14th, 12th, and 7th respectively in receptions amongst running backs. He also caught the second-most receiving touchdowns amongst the position last season. Looking at Green Bay alone, Jones (65) nearly doubled Dillon’s targets (37) last season, as well.

I boldly predict Jones to touch the ball 250-275 times, per usual, but with about a third of those in form of receptions. That’s a firm “Alvin Kamara-like” role in this offense. Production over potential.

Govier’s Bold Prediction: None of the Packers wide receivers will surpass 50 receptions

There are 169 targets currently up for grabs in the Packers offense for 2022. This is by far one of the leading fantasy football storylines heading into this year. How does the Packers offense look after the trade of Davante Adams? It’s a massive hole to fill. Do they run the ball more? Will Rodgers throw less and defer to the two running backs, Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon, for 17 games? Right now we really have no idea. That’s partly why you’re still reading this. Do I have the answer? Well…

Aaron Rodgers is the reigning back-to-back NFL MVP, joining an elite list of legends. With Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, and Tom Brady still around, Rodgers continues to dominate. However, he’s lost his finest knight in his court with Adams gone to Las Vegas. Rodgers can turn to old pal Randall Cobb still, who had five touchdowns in a surprise return to Lambeau last season. There is veteran newcomer, Sammy Watkins, who is just shy of 30 years old, but never seems to deliver.

Allen Lazard, the leading returning receiver, was targeted 60 times last year racking up eight scores on 40 grabs. Amari Rodgers was a lost cause in his rookie season being used mostly as a return specialist in 2021. He even stated that he was exhausted after 2021 as a rookie and hopes to be refreshed this year.

Finally, there’s second-round rookie selection, Christian Watson, from North Dakota State. He’ll be in familiar surroundings come December at Lambeau Field. By that time, we will know what Watson is capable of as a rookie wide receiver. He has blazing speed that he showed off at the combine to go with his 6’4″ stature. He’s a trendy pick to fill a chunk of the void left by Adams.

One of the reasons the Packers will not have a WR with 50 or more grabs has to do with their special talents in the backfield. Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon are going to become the focal point of this offense in 2022. For the Packers to win it all, they might consider honing their offensive philosophy in preparation for the playoffs. A powerful running game featuring both running backs may be the method that head coach, Matt LaFleur, thinks will unlock the key to victories in January.

Aaron Jones is a stellar back in the passing game hitting a career-high six touchdowns in the air last year. He was targeted 65 times last year and should expect a 20-plus target increase in 2022. Dillon has a reputation as a big back, but he has hands made of love that helped him haul in 34 catches on 37 targets! He has earned the trust of Rodgers and should also see a nice bump in the passing game, as well. With Rodgers still being an elite QB, opposing defenses might be afraid to load up the box for the running game. However, opposing defensive coordinators might realize that they can and this will cause difficulties for the Packers as the season wears on.

Minnesota Vikings

McTamany’s Bold Prediction: Kirk Cousins finishes as a top-five fantasy quarterback

Kirk Cousins usually isn’t one of the first quarterbacks you think of when considering a starter for your fantasy football team. He is more often than not a weekly streamer to plug and play week-to-week. He’s just inside the top-12 on a points-per-game basis from last year, barely shy of cracking the 20.0 average mark. This bold prediction is one I’ve been excited for as it centers mostly around head coach, Kevin O’Connell, the Vikings’ new head coach.

O’Connell is fresh off of a Super Bowl run as the Los Angeles Rams’ offensive coordinator. In said role, O’Connell helped Matthew Stafford set career-highs in wins (12), completion percentage (67.2%), and passing touchdowns (41). Since Stafford also played all 17 games, he finished as the QB5 in total points. He averaged 20.4 points per game and finished as QB11 on a per-game basis just ahead of, you guessed it, Kirk Cousins.

There are a ton of similarities between 2021 Stafford and 2022 Cousins. Stafford was throwing to Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, and, eventually, Odell Beckham Jr. Meanwhile, Cousins has Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, and K.J. Osborn. Both are a strong group of core pass-catchers. Secondly, both quarterbacks can run, and throw on the run, but aren’t elite rushing quarterbacks. Lastly, both are iron men and it’s rare to see them ever miss a game.

O’Connell is also Cousins’ former quarterbacks coach from their days in Washington. There is an already established rapport. Given the confidence in one another, the weapons around him, and a pass-heavier offense, there’s no reason Cousins doesn’t eclipse 40 touchdowns himself. He is a fantastic late-round option at quarterback for fantasy football that will far outperform his draft stock.

That’s my bold prediction. You like that?! You like that!?

Govier’s Bold Prediction: Dalvin Cook finishes as the overall RB1 in all formats

The Vikings have a new regime ready to unleash the fury of this sleeping fantasy power. Last year’s output in Minnesota now means nothing. That’s because new big man on campus, Kevin O’Connell, is ready to show the fantasy realm why Dalvin Cook is lined up to have the best year of his career! Now I know a lot of you are reading this thinking he’s never played a single full season thus far. That’s fair. This bold prediction is based on everything breaking right for him health-wise. Just imagine what Cook can do with 17 games! This is a running back who racked up 1557 yards in just 14 games in 2020.

Cook plays in a system where the run sets up the pass. In 2021, as the offensive coordinator under Sean McVay, O’Connell’s Rams had a 60/40 split between passing and running calls. Play-action is a crucial part of what this offense will do now that Mike Zimmer’s cold hands have been pried away from this offense. Dalvin Cook is in a position to thrive! The Vikings’ passing attack is actually a big reason Cook can have the finest year of his career. The fantasy forces on the outside, like Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen, can make all kinds of room for Cook to roll up big-time chunk yardage plays. This offense is going to be so stupidly awesome in 2022!

The key to being the RB1 in all formats is his ability to catch out of the backfield. Last year’s 34 grabs is Cook’s lowest snag total since 40 in 2018. That goes along with his 69.4% catch rate as the lowest since his rookie year. He’s usually at 80% or better with about 50 targets at least from Kirk Cousins. Najee Harris and Austin Ekeler were the most targeted backs in 2021 at 94. We know Harris got so many because Big Ben was toast, but Ekeler has photon-powered quarterback, Justin Herbert.

I see similarities between the Vikings and Chargers offensively. They both have solid QBs, multiple outside weapons and top-five fantasy assets at running back. Now, I’m not saying that Cook will crack 90 targets like Ekeler, but his value in the passing game will be more prominent in 2022. When you factor in his elite skills as a RB who can take any carry the distance, the only thing stopping him from RB1 status at the end of 2022 is health.

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