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Post-Draft Fantasy Previews: NFC North
The Chicago Bears are in a bit of a state of flux at the quarterback position heading into 2020. Three years ago, the franchise decided Mitchell Trubisky was their quarterback of the future. Some growing pains were to be expected given Trubisky’s relative lack of collegiate experience. However, the inconsistency he has exhibited has only been exacerbated by some of the success of his contemporaries. Chicago effectively passed over both Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson to select Trubisky. Mahomes already has a league MVP trophy and a Super Bowl title under his belt, and Watson has proven to be a dynamic playmaker and leader. Reluctant to go all-in on Trubisky at this stage, the Bears are caught a bit in between. The team traded for Nick Foles during the offseason and has yet to exercise Trubisky’s fifth-year option before Sunday’s deadline.
General Manager Ryan Pace suggested that Trubisky and Foles will compete in an open competition for the starter’s job. My guess is Trubisky holds Foles off and keeps the job. However, if they decide not to guarantee Trubisky’s fifth-year, all bets are off. This feels like a situation to avoid regardless of who wins out. The winner will be asked to simply manage the game and he would have a pretty short leash. Trubisky has a bit more upside due to his rushing ability, but even that was a part of his game that was severely lacking last year. I would not consider either Trubisky or Foles as top-24 fantasy options heading into 2020. For me, neither one of them is draftable outside of SuperFlex or Draft and Hold leagues.
The raw totals for David Montgomery do not look so bad for a rookie running back in the NFL. Montgomery had 889 yards and six touchdowns on the ground. However, he was not the league’s most explosive or efficient back. Of the 20 ball carries who surpassed 200 carries last year, Montgomery finished 19th in rushing average. Proponents of Montgomery will point out that he had 14 carries inside an opponent’s 5-yard line last year. However, he was not the most efficient rusher inside the five. He was not “Nick Chubb bad” (15 carries for -14 yards and two scores), but his 14-11-5 line left a bit to be desired. On the bright side, Montgomery should get the lion’s share of the workload again in 2020, and that has value. I consider him an RB2 but would rank him on the low end of that tier.
Chicago’s downfall from its borderline-elite production in 2018 to its mediocre 2019 was mirrored in the play of pass-catching back Tarik Cohen. In 2018, Cohen finished 17th among running backs in standard scoring and finished as an RB1 (RB11 overall) in PPR formats. Last year, he finished 44th and 27th, respectively. Cohen finished just 37th in PPR scoring on a per-game basis last year after finishing 15th in that same category in 2018. The good news is that the club did not add a running back of consequence in the offseason, so Cohen has a chance to resurrect his stock. He should maintain the same role in this year’s version of Chicago’s offense. Cohen is currently being drafted as bench depth, often available after round 10. I would certainly be in at that price given the upside.
Franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford is expected back after missing the last eight games of 2019 due to a broken back. Trade winds circled the Motor City in the offseason, but the team decided not to pull the trigger on dealing Stafford. I tend to think Stafford gets a bad rap. Before last year’s injury, he had started 136 consecutive NFL games, throwing for over 38,000 yards in the process. Stafford is still just 32 years old and should have plenty of solid years ahead of him. The question is whether GM Bob Quinn and head coach Matt Patricia can put the pieces around Stafford to maximize what is left of the prime of his career. Stafford showed a lot of upside in his first season in Darrell Bevell’s offensive scheme. He will likely be drafted as a mid-range QB2 but has the potential to put up QB1 numbers.
Detroit made some waves when they selected Georgia running back D’Andre Swift in the second round of the draft. It was an interesting decision when you consider the Lions already have Kerryon Johnson in the fold. Maybe they are getting a bit wary of Johnson, who has not played more than 10 games in either of his two NFL seasons. Or they could just really like Swift. I certainly understand their fondness. In my pre-draft running back preview, I had Swift as my top fantasy running back. Swift is a dynamic playmaker who can get outside and has sure hands in the passing game. Detroit added even more intrigue to their backfield by selecting New Mexico State running back Jason Huntley in the fifth round.
The most likely scenario is that Swift and Johnson combine to form a solid tandem, with Huntley getting the occasional touch on offense, and perhaps earning a role on special teams. Of course, the dreaded RBBC is not the friend of the fantasy football player. But Swift and Johnson are worth drafting if you want to speculate on value or are simply looking for some Zero RB targets. I expect both backs to get between 10-15 touches per game, with Johnson carrying more of the load on the ground. Johnson has averaged roughly 13 carries and two receptions per game in his NFL career, and I do not expect that to change much. I prefer Swift’s upside in the passing game, so I would consider him a volatile RB2, while Johnson figures to be a high-floor, low-ceiling Flex play.
Kenny Golladay took the next step in his development last season and is now a legitimate fantasy WR1. Even missing Stafford for half a season could not slow down “Babytron”. Golladay finished last season with 1,190 receiving yards and 11 touchdown grabs. He should be a second-round fantasy pick in all formats. Marvin Jones had an underrated 2019, averaging 60 receiving yards per game and scoring nine times in just 13 games. Jones will likely be a solid WR3 again in 2020. Detroit has depth behind their main two wideouts in slot receiver Danny Amendola and former Green Bay Packer Geronimo Allison. Amendola was the ultimate hit-or-miss player last year. He had at least 95 receiving yards four times and failed to reach 50 yards in his other 11 games, averaging less than 25 yards per game in those contests.
Despite having plenty of solid receiving options, the Lions selected Wisconsin wide receiver, Quintez Cephus, in the fifth round of this year’s draft. Cephus is not expected to break through the team’s depth chart enough to make an impact in 2020, but he is an intriguing dynasty prospect. Jones and Amendola are on the wrong side of 30 and are pending free agents following the upcoming season. Okudah bestowed high praise on his new teammate when he declared Cephus the best receiver he faced in college. Cephus could be a name to watch in 2021 and beyond. For 2020, however, I would not invest in any Lions receiver beyond Golladay and Jones.
Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers caused quite the stir when they traded up to draft Jordan Love in the first round of this year’s draft. Green Bay is not exactly in need at the quarterback position. Aaron Rodgers is one of the greatest of all-time. He is 36 years of age, which may have seemed old a decade or two ago. Brett Favre was 35 when the Packers famously selected Rodgers in the first round of the 2005 Draft. However, quarterbacks such as Tom Brady and Drew Brees have proven that signal-callers can have several quality years ahead of them, even at Rodgers’ current age.
For all the interest that this selection has created, the Packers drafting Love will not change the fantasy landscape at all in 2020. In terms of strictly redraft value, Love arguably could not have landed in a worse spot. Barring an injury to Rodgers, Love will spend the entirety of 2020 holding a clipboard. Even in dynasty leagues, investing much in Love will require extreme patience. Rodgers did not become Green Bay’s starter until his fourth year in the league. He is signed through 2021 and appears to have plenty left in the tank. In a best-case scenario, it appears Love will have to wait at least two years before he sees significant game action. Rodgers will still be a low-end QB1, who may be playing with a chip on his shoulder after the draft.
Lost in the surprise of the Love pick was Green Bay drafting a running back in Round 2 – A.J. Dillon out of Boston College. In my opinion, this pick was infinitely more justifiable than drafting a quarterback. Yes, Jones had an incredible season last year. He proved what he can do when given the keys to the car. However, the list of running backs who put up great numbers for a season or two and then begin to trend downward is longer than the list of guys who can sustain that success throughout a prolonged career. The mantra, “Running Backs Don’t Matter” is in place for a reason. Besides, Jones is a free agent after the year. An extension is likely, but nothing is guaranteed in the NFL, especially for running backs. Just ask Todd Gurley.
The good news is that I do not expect any of this to hinder Jones in 2020. There is even a scenario where the addition of Dillon and Jones’ impending free-agency is good for the fourth-year pro. Green Bay could decide to run Jones into the ground this year and then decide whether they want to extend him. I suspect that Dillon’s presence may scare some owners off Jones as an RB1 this year, but it should not. Dynasty owners should proceed with caution, but I have no reservations in redraft leagues. I feel the exact opposite about Dillon. He functions primarily as an early-down back, so I see little reason to invest in the rookie for this season. Dillon may spell Jones on occasion, but it will not be enough for him to maintain significant value. In dynasty, however, he is worth a flier.
The 2020 NFL Draft featured perhaps the best class of wide receivers of all-time. Rodgers publicly stated he wanted the team to add another wideout in the draft to complement All-Pro Davante Adams. Instead, the Packers opted not to. Maybe they really are going to run Jones into the ground. Adams has finished as a WR1 in PPR points per game for four years running. In that span, he has posted a monster 343-4,265-40 line in 57 games. He is consistent as they come, and there is every reason to believe he will continue to be a WR1 in 2020. Green Bay did sign Devin Funchess to a one-year deal last month. Funchess has been largely inconsistent throughout his career, but there are worse landing spots. I would not want to rely on Funchess as an every-week starter, but he could have some Best Ball appeal.
Though the Packers did not bolster their wide receiver group through the draft, they did select tight end Josiah Deguara in the third round. The team lost Jimmy Graham to rival Chicago in free agency, so the move makes sense on paper. However, Deguara is not your prototypical tight end. He projects as more of an H-back or fullback at the NFL level. Deguara may vulture a touchdown here or there, but he will not be involved in the passing offense regularly. As such, he can be left alone in fantasy leagues. Jace Sternberger, last year’s third-round pick, is projected to be the team’s starter and Graham’s true replacement. The upside is there for Sternberger in an offense without a ton of threats in the receiving game, but I would advise a wait-and-see approach.
The Vikings used a seventh-round pick on quarterback Nate Stanley out of Iowa. Stanley has a big arm but was woefully inaccurate and inconsistent throughout his collegiate career. He will pose no threat to incumbent Kirk Cousins anytime soon. Cousins is a solid and efficient quarterback, but it is difficult to get excited about him in fantasy. Minnesota wants to rely on their defense and running game, as was evidenced last season. Cousins averaged fewer than 30 pass attempts per game last season, a number that is almost unheard of in today’s NFL. His touchdown percentage and yards per attempt were excellent, but volume is king in fantasy. (See Winston, Jameis). Because of the lack of expected volume, Cousins should be treated as a mid-level QB2 in 2020 redraft leagues. Stanley can be ignored in all formats.
Minnesota finally got a (mostly) healthy season from Dalvin Cook, and he did not disappoint. Cook averaged nearly 120 yards from scrimmage per game and scored 13 times in 14 games. He proved to be a threat in the passing game as well as on the ground, finishing second on the team in both receptions and receiving yards. Cook should once again be the focal point of the Vikings offense in 2020. The Vikings did not use a single one of their 15 draft picks to select a running back but did draft three offensive linemen. Both are great signs for Cook’s 2020 outlook. Cook will be a solid first-round selection in all fantasy formats this upcoming season. I would not mind reaching to grab Alexander Mattison, who could be one of the more valuable handcuffs in the league.
The Vikings used the first of their two first-round picks to select a wide receiver, Justin Jefferson. Jefferson was chosen to replace the production of the departed Stefon Diggs, who was traded to Buffalo last month. Jefferson will have to reacclimate himself to playing on the outside. In his breakout 2019 season for the National Champion LSU Tigers, Jefferson did almost all his damage out of the slot. Of 937 total snaps, Jefferson lined up out wide five times. Yes, five. To be fair, he played out wide a lot the year before and acquitted himself quite nicely. But the transition back out wide may be difficult at times. Jefferson will need to add a bit of strength and prove he can get off the line of scrimmage and withstand the rigors of consistent man-to-man and press coverages in the NFL.
Jefferson should start immediately across from Adam Thielen. Thielen is coming off an injury-riddled 2019 but averaged nearly 1,200 receiving yards over the previous three seasons. He will garner plenty of attention from opposing defenses, so Jefferson will have chances to make plays. Jefferson should be a relatively safe pick in redraft leagues considering his rookie status. I expect him to be drafted initially as a Flex in 12-team leagues, but he can easily slide up into the WR3 range as we get closer to the regular season. Thielen should still be considered the top dog in Minnesota’s passing game, but his days in that role are probably numbered. I have him as a WR2 in 2020. Minnesota also drafted Miami wide receiver, K.J. Osborn, in the fifth round of this year’s draft, but I do not project him to play a role in the offense.
The Vikings will bring back the tandem of veteran Kyle Rudolph and second-year pro Irv Smith. The duo posted similar receiving totals to one another in 2019. Rudolph was a much bigger presence in the red zone, outpacing the rookie by a 6-2 margin in touchdown receptions. They are likely to cancel each other out to a degree again in 2020, with Smith potentially earning a bigger portion of the pie. Regardless of which Vikings tight end paces the position group in fantasy production, I do not expect either to be worth starting every week. Both Rudolph and Smith are best served as streaming options. Even if one were to go down, I would not consider the other a must-start.
Also check out Taylor Lambert’s take on the AFC Previews!
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