By Tzali Nislick
The NFC North is home to some of the game’s brightest stars. Each team has at least one star player who will go in the first few rounds, and a handful in the first round. While I am high on players like Davante Adam and Allen Robinson, there are others who I don’t feel as optimistic about, such as Aaron Rodgers. As we continue previewing each division, the NFC North is one of my personal favorites for fantasy purposes, so let’s jump right into it.
More from this series:
Mitchell Trubisky/Nick Foles: I honestly have no clue who’s going to win the starting job for the Bears. But regardless of who starts Week 1, I’m not drafting any Bears quarterback in fantasy this year. Mitchell Trubisky finished as the QB26 last year and many would agree that he’s one of the worst QBs in the league. Foles is a veteran journeyman who has started 13 games in the last four seasons. No thanks.
David Montgomery: Montgomery certainly didn’t have the breakout rookie season many had hoped for last year, but he was very quietly the RB24 on the season. That’s what he’s being drafted as coming into 2020, and he has the potential to exceed his ADP as I think last year was his floor. He’s reportedly coming into the new season in incredible shape, and with Tarik Cohen being the only other real threat to his touches, I don’t think David Montgomery is being talked about enough. Chicago seemed committed to giving him his carries last season, as he ranked 12th in total touches and had 14 carries inside the five yard line. Remember, he had high expectations last season for a reason. He’s a talented player who should be drafted as a FLEX with upside.
Tarik Cohen: Tarik Cohen won’t give you much on the ground with just 64 carries last season, but he’s one of the most reliable players at his position through the air. He’s recorded 70+ catches in back to back seasons now, and his role as a prominent pass catcher doesn’t seem to be any different heading into 2020 after ranking second on his team in target share percentage and fifth at his position. Over the last two seasons, he has finished as the RB11 and RB27 in 2018 and 2019 respectively, so he’s proven to be a viable option at the very least in PPR leagues. He’ll likely remain in that PPR FLEX territory again in 2020, thanks to him ranking fourth among running backs in receptions since 2018.
Allen Robinson: Allen Robinson put up another great season last year, setting a career high in receptions (98). It really is a travesty that he’s been forced to catch passes from Blake Bortles and Trubisky over the years, but that hasn’t prevented him from truly being one of the best wide receivers in the league. He finished as the WR8 last year after posting 13 double digit games, five of which were for at least 20 points. His whopping 27.62% target share ranked fifth in the NFL and he should be a volume monster again in 2020, with Anthony Miller being the only other receiver of note on the roster. Even with a shaky quarterback, Robinson has proved he’s capable of overcoming that and therefore is a borderline WR1.
Anthony Miller: Miller didn’t breakout like many people thought he would in 2019, but he did see over 30 more targets, recorded 19 more receptions and over 200 more receiving yards, while his YPR remained steady compared to the year before. Entering his third season, the Bears hope that the former second round pick can really burst onto the scene, but in a low volume passing attack with uncertainty at quarterback, I still have my doubts of whether Miller can really become a fixture in fantasy lineups this season.
Jimmy Graham: It’s been a few years now since Jimmy Graham has been a reliable fantasy option. And now at age 33, I don’t see him suddenly having a vintage season, especially with the quarterback situation. The Bears failed to incorporate Trey Burton last season, and with six other tight ends on the roster, including second round selection Cole Kmet, I wouldn’t even be surprised if Graham failed to make the 53 man roster.
Cole Kmet: The talented Notre Dame product was the first tight end off the board in the 2020 NFL draft, and his upside is tremendous. But rookie tight ends usually struggle to make an immediate impact, and I don’t expect that to change with Cole Kmet. He’s a great project in dynasty leagues, but I don’t see him being of much relevance in redraft leagues this year.
Matthew Stafford: Matthew Stafford was amazing before getting hurt last season, ranking as the QB6 through the first eight games of the season. He was on pace for nearly 5,000 yards and 38 touchdowns. He also took great care of the ball, posting his second lowest INT% since 2010, when he played only three games. Although it’s unlikely Stafford repeats his pace from a year ago, I’m still high on him as a back-end QB1 or high QB2 at the very least. His weapons include two great receivers, a former first round pick at tight end and a decent offensive line, so he’s poised for success again in 2020. The Lions have one of the NFL’s worst defenses too, so that may force Stafford to throw to keep Detroit in games and provide some garbage time stats as well. While he had a down year in 2018, Stafford finished as a top-10 QB in each of the three seasons prior, so he has the track record of being a QB1. If I choose to really wait on a quarterback this year, Stafford is the perfect player to target in the 10th or 11th round.
D’Andre Swift: I really wish that D’Andre Swift landed in any other situation, but the Lions just had to snatch him up in the second round. It’s unfortunate, because they already have another former second round pick in Kerryon Johnson on the roster. And while Johnson has struggled to stay on the field in his two years in the NFL, by no means is he an objectively bad player. That’s why I’m a little hesitant on Swift, despite his undeniable talent. Matt Patricia comes from the Bill Belichick tree, and despite Patricia being the defensive coordinator during his time in New England and having no say in offensive play calling, it’s worth noting that the Patriots have historically used multiple running backs in a form of an unpredictable committee. In Lions’ OC Darrell Bevell’s last three seasons as an offensive coordinator between Detroit and Seattle, he has had on average the 23rd ranked rushing attack in terms of yardage and just 25th in rushing touchdowns. I believe in Swift’s talent and upside, but don’t be surprised if he struggles.
Kerryon Johnson: I’m already down on Swift, and I think he’s definitely better than Kerryon Johnson, so by default that means I’m not high on the Auburn product either. He has been limited to 18 games over the last two years and struggled with efficiency last season, averaging just 3.6 YPC. However, at his RB36 ADP, I’m almost more inclined to take Johnson than Swift, whose ADP is RB26, because rookies are at a disadvantage with no preseason and limited training camp.
Kenny Golladay: Golladay crushed it last season, going for nearly 1,200 yards and a league leading 11 touchdowns. He finished as the WR9 on the season, but the WR3 in non-PPR leagues due to his low total of 65 receptions. Nevertheless, it was still a phenomenal season no matter how you spin it for the Northern Illinois product. He wasn’t even phased by the absence of Matthew Stafford, actually doing better without him (16.5 PPG) than with him (14.8 PPG). To me, that shows the signs of a true number one receiver, as he was able to perform at a high level regardless of who was throwing it to him. His 6’4″ 214 lb frame should provide many opportunities to score again in 2020 and he’s a borderline WR1 as a result.
Marvin Jones: Marvin Jones had yet another productive season in 2019, finishing as the WR28 overall and WR20 in PPG, despite missing three games. Over the last three seasons, Jones has averaged 67 receptions, 1,005 yards and 10 touchdowns per 16 games, or 227.5 fantasy points. For reference, that would have ranked as the WR17 last year. And despite all that, Jones’ ADP is WR37. He could prove to be a terrific value and an excellent WR3 this year.
TJ Hockenson: After going off in his NFL debut with six receptions for 131 yards and a touchdown, TJ Hockenson failed to do much else the rest of the season. He only had one other double digit game before his season was ended prematurely after Week 13 due to injury. Now entering his second season, the former 8th overall pick in the 2019 draft has the chance to make a significant second year jump, as many tight ends do. He was drafted as high as he was for a reason, and I expect the Lions to try to get the most out of him in his sophomore campaign. He’s currently going outside of the top 10 tight ends, but he has breakout potential written all over him.
Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers: Aaron Rodgers made my do not draft list. If you look closely at his stats, he’s been in decline for the last several years, or at least as far as fantasy football goes. He’ll somehow already be 37-years old in December, so he doesn’t offer anything with his legs anymore, hasn’t thrown for over 26 touchdowns since 2016 and has seen a drop off in completion percentage every year for the past four seasons. He posted his second lowest passer rating since 2008, his first year as a starter. Last year he scored 20 points just three times, had four games with 10.02 points or fewer and averaged just 14.22 PPG over the second half of the season. And despite all of that, Green Bay still went 13-3 and made it to the NFC Championship Game, so why would they change things up? Not to help his case, the Packers chose not to address the wide receiver position in the draft, and after Devin Funchess opted out of the season, the Packers are left with UDFA Allen Lazard as their number two receiver. Instead, Green Bay selected Jordan Love in the first round and AJ Dillon in the second round, two players who would only take the ball out of Rodgers’ hands. His ADP of QB11 is higher than that of Carson Wentz, Tom Brady and Matthew Stafford, all players I’d prefer to Rodgers in 2020. His best days are behind him.
Aaron Jones: Aaron Jones was in a word, outstanding in 2019. He finished as the RB2 after leading the league in rushing touchdowns. He was also effective through the air, hauling in 49 passes for 474 yards and three more scores. He had two weeks with over 40 points, and was just flat out dominant last season. But anytime a player is that efficient in the touchdown department, I get nervous about potential regression. That’s what his 10.8 OTD would indicate, at least. Even if he did have his expected touchdown total according to his OTD though, he would have finished as the RB7. Still pretty good if you ask me. AJ Dillon certainly makes the backfield murkier, and you can’t ignore Jamaal Williams, but I can’t imagine Matt LaFleur takes the ball out of Jones’ hands a whole lot given his production last season. There’s certainly some risk involved, but that’s part of the reason his ADP is at RB11.
Davante Adams: Here’s the list of players who have 4,000 yards and 40 touchdowns over the last four seasons: Davante Adams. That’s it. That’s the list. Yet people will try and convince you that Tyreek Hill or Mike Evans or Chris Godwin is better. Well, they’re wrong. Davante Adams is my number two receiver this year behind only Michael Thomas. He should be ready to feast once again.
Allen Lazard: As previously mentioned, Allen Lazard is a UDFA. But then again, he’s the number two receiver in an Aaron Rodgers offense. But unfortunately, that doesn’t mean as much as it used to, but I don’t want to be too disrespectful to Rodgers, who truly is one of the all-time greats. So I’ll say Lazard has sleeper potential, but don’t get too head over heels for him.
Jace Sternberger: Sternberger did next to nothing in his rookie year last year, but again, rookie tight ends rarely make an immediate impact. The Packers spent a third round selection on him, so that must mean they see something in him, and for good reason. Sternberger was great in his junior season at Texas A&M. And while being a pass catcher in the Packers’ offense doesn’t mean as much as it did a few years ago, he’s still worth keeping on your radar if Rodgers does have a resurgence.
Kirk Cousins: I wrote about Cousins as a late round QB who could provide QB1 value. Say what you want about him, but he consistently puts up decent numbers. He posted a terrific 26:6 touchdown to interception ratio, and although he threw for his lowest yardage total as a full time starter, it’s important to remember that Adam Thielen was hampered by a hamstring injury all season long. Cousins is only one year removed from a nearly 4,300 yard and 30 touchdown campaign, when he finished as the QB12. Minnesota traded Stefon Diggs, but they drafted LSU star Justin Jefferson to replace him. Jefferson was by far the best slot receiver in the nation last year, and Cousins has had great success with Thielen out of the slot. Thielen’s versatility allows him to line up on the outside more often in 2020, and if Jefferson plays a good amount in the slot I don’t think the Vikings will miss a beat without Diggs. Cousins’ ADP is QB22 and he could easily finish higher than that.
Dalvin Cook: Dalvin Cook was one of the best stories in the NFL last season, as he dominated despite two injury riddled seasons to begin his pro career. He did still miss the last two games of the year, but he made his mark on the league well before that. Cook scored at a high rate last season, finding the end zone in all but three games. Even if his regresses slightly in that department, I’d expect him to score in the air at least a couple times after not doing so at all in 2019. Cook is a solid pass catching back as well, catching four or more passes in seven games last year. His holdout situation is still a little unclear so that’s something to monitor, but in a year with so much uncertainty I don’t think it would be wise for a player to hold out due to his contract, especially at the running back position. Cook’s talent is undeniable, but with him still not completing a full 16 game season yet in his career, I’d make sure I snag Alexander Mattison as a handcuff if I spend a first round pick on Cook.
Adam Thielen: It was a tough year for Adam Thielen last season, as a mid season hamstring injury essentially cost him the rest of 2019. Up until then though, Thielen was averaging 16.5 PPG and was well on his way to another good season. As long as he’s healthy in 2020, I expect more of the same with Thielen, especially now as the undisputed number one receiver with the departure of Stefon Diggs. He’ll be a target hog and that should be enough to produce as a mid-tier WR2 at the very least.
Justin Jefferson: Justin Jefferson was a monster at LSU last season and was a terrific use of a first round pick for the Vikings at the draft. I believe he’s in the best position to succeed among rookie wide receivers since he’ll immediately step in as the number two wide receiver with a proven quarterback on a legitimate offense. As I said above, Jefferson ate in the slot last year, so if Minnesota decides to split Thielen out wide and replace him in the middle with Jefferson, he could very well have a shot at offensive rookie of the year honors. We already know that Minnesota can support two fantasy relevant wide receivers.
Kyle Rudolph/Irv Smith: Both are just matchup dependent streamers, with Rudolph declining last year and Irv Smith just simply being stuck behind Rudolph. If given the opportunity, Smith has some upside.