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Wednesday, 20 August 2014 18:02

Fantasy Football 2014 Forecast: NFC North

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This division is home to three of my top-10 Running Backs and five of my top-10 Wide Receivers. You’re going to find quite a lot of offense between these four teams.

Chicago Bears

The Chicago Bears, in my opinion, have the best offense in the NFC North. A team that has built its history on its prolific defense finally has an offense to be proud of. Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey are both top-10 Fantasy Football WRs, and I think you’d be crazy not to have Matt Forte in your top-5 RB list. None of the three aforementioned players need description; they are some of the best talents in the league today.

Someone that I may need to convince you to draft is the Quarterback: Jay Cutler. Cutler isn’t in my top-10, and he just barely made my top-15, so some of you may wonder why I’d tell you to draft him in 10-12 team leagues. Cutler can be one of the best back up QBs you could have on your fantasy team. He’ll put up starting caliber numbers any given week, and you can get him very late/cheap in your drafts. Sure Cutler playing a full 16 games is unlikely, but Cutler was having a very good season last year and I think that continues. Again, he has two of the best WRs in the game as well as an elite pass catching RB to throw to. He’s going to put up points. Draft Cutler as a bye-week fill in and see how he plays through the season, he might end up good enough to be your starter for a few games.

Another player on this offense to look out for is my 9th ranked TE: Martellus Bennett. 759 receiving yards and 5 TDs may not sound great to you, but for a TE that’s very solid. I think Bennett can replicate that this year, with maybe even 800 receiving yards instead. He isn’t the flashiest guy, but TE is a weak position in fantasy this year and Bennett would be a good player to fill that spot for your team.

As weird as this is to say, this defense just isn’t worth a look this year. They were the worst in the league against the run and were nothing to be afraid of versus the pass. Adding Jared Allen, plus the returns of Charles Tillman and Lance Briggs should do them wonders, but going into your drafts I wouldn’t suggest drafting this team. We’ll have to see how they play during the season.

Green Bay Packers

It’s going to be interesting to see just how great this offense is. Aaron Rodgers will be back (hopefully for a full season) and he’ll have Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb on either side to throw the ball to. Both of these WRs round out my top-10 at 9 and 10 respectively, and let’s not forget about the sophomore RB Eddie Lacy. Lacy is right outside of my top-5 RBs at #6, and the only reason he isn’t placed higher is because the others are just too good for me to not have in a top-5. As a rookie Lacy gained 1,178 yards and 11 TDs. What you also need to keep in mind are his 35 receptions for 257 yards. Lacy will be involved in the passing game, and with a full season with Rodger you can expect those numbers to be higher. I’ll be shocked if Lacy doesn’t have at least 1,000 yards and double digit TDs for a second year in a row.

You won’t be drafting either of these players unless you’re in a 16 team league, but keep an eye out for Andrew Quarless and Richard Rodgers. The Packers are going to utilize a TE in their offense; we just don’t know which one it will be yet. The Packers are currently using Richard Rodgers with their 1st team offense, but Quarless has been with the team for a few years and knows the offense. I’d say after your draft put them both on your Watch List and see who pops first.

My preview for this team will remain short simply because there isn’t much to say. You know who the top guys are, and outside of TE there aren’t many questions of who to draft. The defense will greatly appreciate the addition of Julius Peppers and Haha Cinton-Dix, but like the Bears I can’t recommend drafting them.

Detroit Lions

Calvin “Megatron” Johnson is the best WR in the NFL and will be the first WR off of your draft boards. He’s a 1st round pick, and I’d be shocked if he was still there in the 2nd round unless you’re in an 8 team league. Not that we’ve got that out of the way I can get to telling you things you may not already know. As I said in my QB Preview, Stafford threw the ball 93 less times last year, yet threw for 9 more TDs. The issue for fantasy owners is that Stafford has had poor games late in the season, which is during the fantasy playoffs. You expect a top-5 fantasy QB to perform well in the playoffs, and unfortunately Stafford hasn’t done that. I can understand the hesitance to draft him, but it’s hard to ignore the volume at which he throws and the stats he puts up. This is a guy that threw 41 TDs three seasons ago, and with Megatron on his team he can always go off for a huge game. Again, I understand the fear due to his performances in the last few games, but Stafford is a fantasy stud.

The other guys Stafford will throw to are Golden Tate, and some TE combination of Eric Ebron, Brandon Pettigrew, and Joseph Fauria. Tate is looking for his first 1,000 yard season and I think he’ll get it. The Lions NEED another WR to have great output other than Megatron, especially looking at the other offenses in this division. Stafford cannot continue to solely rely on Megatron, and I think that’s why the Lions brought in Tate. He just came off of an 898 yard, 5 TD season in the 26th passing offense in the league, and now he is on last year’s 3rd best passing offense. Tate will get his opportunities and I expect him to take advantage of them. He isn’t on my top-30 WR list right now, and he’ll most likely make me regret that.

In regard to the TEs I think Eric Ebron will end up being the most fantasy relevant, but just how relevant I don’t know. Ebron is ranked 17th for me because I just can’t predict how much he’ll be used. I don’t think the Lions are done with Pettigrew or Fauria just yet, and that could mean less time on the field for Ebron. One player that I think will have a ton of fantasy relevance is Joique Bell. Bell could possibly outperform Reggie Bush, so not only is he a sleeper, but he’s a guy that you could look to keep for future years if you’re in a keeper league. Don’t get me wrong Bush had a great season last year with 1,512 total yards and 7 total TDs, but Bell had more TDs off of running alone (8), and I think it’s very unlikely that he won’t have any receiving TDs this season. This year could be more of a 50/50 split with carries, and I think that weighs in favor of Bell since he makes more of his opportunities.

Minnesota Vikings

By the end of the year I expect Teddy Bridgewater to be the starter, but as of now I believe Matt Cassel will be the starter and my preview is based on that. The addition of Norv Turner as Offensive Coordinator should definitely make this offense better than last year’s, so try not to cringe too much hearing Cassel as starter. He could very well end up being a solid QB2 this season.

469 receiving yards and 4 TDs aren’t really worth looking at when it comes to a fantasy WR, but if you only look at those numbers then you ignore the dynamic ability of Cordarrelle Patterson. Although his receiving numbers are paltry, he made up for it in the running and return game, which brought him to a total of 9 TDs. Norv Turner will make Patterson a more focal part of the passing game, so I’m throwing last year’s receiving stats out the window and acting like they didn’t even happen. Greg Jennings may be the #1 WR on the depth chart, but I think that role belongs to Patterson. If he doesn’t have a top-25 WR season then that will be truly be one of this season’s biggest surprises.

Norv Turner’s history with Antonio Gates and Jordan Cameron leads people to believe that this year could be a big one for Kyle Rudolph, and I’m slowly becoming one of those people. In only 8 games last year Rudolph gained 63% of his previous year’s receiving total. He can be a top-10 TE if used correctly, and if anyone knows how to bring the best out of that position, it’s Turner. This offense shouldn’t have been as bad as it was last year; this team just didn’t have the right person making the calls.

I’ve saved the best for last with Adrian Peterson. I have him ranked as the top RB, and some may wonder why after looking at what LeSean McCoy and Jamaal Charles were able to do last year. I can’t argue with anyone who has either of them as their top RB, but what truly sets them apart from AP? My answer to that would be the usage in the passing game, and I expect that to change. AP was only targeted 39 times last year and that was a mistake. Am I putting too much faith into Norv Turner, maybe so, but Turner will evaluate this offense and will make the necessary changes to get his passing game working. I think part of that is getting AP more involved, and you can bet AP is asking his new OC to get him more touches, whether it’s on the ground or through the air.

For other rankings, check out the Fantasy Football Draft Central page, and follow me @CLNS_Marc for further coverage.