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32 Teams, 32 Questions: The NFC North

Tate

It is training camp time, which means we get to see all 32 teams doing something at least relatively meaningful. It also means there are only a few weeks left until the rosters and depth charts are set for the start of the season. We are going to take a little trip around the league and take a look at all 32 teams and address one of the biggest questions about each team that you need to be thinking about. After all, in terms of dynasty leagues if you aren’t thinking about these things you’re already behind! Our journey begins with the NFC North.

Chicago Bears

Can Marquess Wilson become a solid receiver at the NFL level?

Since the season is drawing near and my chances to point this out are getting fewer and fewer, let me mention once again that the Chicago Bears had the second highest scoring team in the NFL last season. That still blows me away every time I think about it. Marc Trestman’s offense took the league by storm even with Jay Cutler missing five games on the season. Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery all finished in the top ten at their respective positions, accumulating more fantasy points than any other trio of running back and two receivers in the league.

Even if the offense takes a small step back in 2014, there are still a ton of points to go around. With Cutler’s former roommate Earl Bennett no longer on the team, one of the biggest questions is who will be filling out the depth chart behind the high powered tandem of Marshall and Jeffery. This is significant for several reasons, one of which is a potential injury to one of the top two. While Marshall has been healthy for the last three years, he only managed a full 16 games in one of his first five seasons. Jeffery missed a total of six games his rookie season due to multiple injuries. The other reason for significance is the Bears could use an athletic target over the middle of the field. Don’t get me wrong, Martellus Bennett is a good tight end – he just doesn’t scare defenses nor force them to pay any extra attention to him. If the Bears can add a third receiver of significance to the mix defenses will be having fits.

The leader in the clubhouse for the third receiver slot is 2013 seventh round pick Marquess Wilson. The seventh round tag is a bit misleading in this case because he is much more than a seventh round talent. For those who don’t remember, Wilson fell in the draft due in part to his slim frame but mostly due to some issues surrounding his conflicts with college coach Mike Leech. Wilson ended up suspended indefinitely from his college team as a result.

Fortunately for Wilson, that was then and this is now. Reports are he has been a model teammate through his first season and the recent offseason. He has also added nearly 20 pounds to his frame, bringing him up to where he should be for an NFL receiver. From a pure athletic standpoint, he is actually on par or more athletic than fellow 2013 rookies like DeAndre Hopkins, Terrance Williams and Robert Woods. He’s also taller than all of them. The kid definitely has ability – he just needs to put it all together. Unfortunately, he’s now been sidelined with a broken right collarbone. If he can return quickly, there could be value to be had here.

While his ceiling is likely capped by Marshall and Jeffery, neither of whom are going anywhere soon, Wilson has the talent to be the third receiver the Bears have been searching for. Without an injury to the starters, the upside is likely to be 65 catches for 800 yards and six touchdowns if he can return before the season starts. Should one of the big two get hurt, he could easily step in and post numbers just slightly behind what they do. He’s definitely worth a price check in your leagues.

Detroit Lions

Do the Lions finally have their complement to Megatron?

[inlinead]When you step back and take a look at things, it truly is amazing what Calvin Johnson has been able to do given who else has been around him. Teams have actually been able to put one corner on his left shoulder, another on the right shoulder and have a safety over the top to complete the triple team. They have been able to do this because there hasn’t been anyone else running routes for the Lions who needed more than a passing glance. Still, Megatron has still been posting some of the best stats of any wide receiver year in and year out. It isn’t fair to keep asking Johnson to go up against triple teams though, so the Lions made a very conscious effort this off-season to upgrade their pass catchers. The two main additions for the Lions come in the form of free agent signing Golden Tate and first round draft pick Eric Ebron.

Let me start with Tate.

The fifth year receiver comes to Detroit from Seattle coming off his career best season with 64 receptions, 898 yards and five touchdowns. While those aren’t mind blowing numbers, it is important to remember that no wide receiver for the Lions outside of Johnson (though some players at other positions did) topped 40 receptions, 500 yards or two touchdowns. Tate’s stat line would have been almost twice as good as any other Lions receiver last year. Tate’s skill set is actually a very good complement to the running backs coming out of the backfield and Megatron doing what he does. Tate can fill the speedy deep threat role and take a lot of pressure off Johnson by demanding the attention of at least one safety. It is very likely Tate tops his 2013 season at least a little bit with his new team, taking a lot of pressure off of the future Hall of Famer.

When it comes to Ebron, patience is going to be the key. The transition from college tight end to NFL tight end is massive and second only to the quarterback position in my eyes. It is going to take some time for him to learn everything he needs to learn. Once he does, you better watch out for the Lions passing game. With Johnson and Tate outside, running backs coming out into the flat and Ebron running deep over the middle of the field, Matthew Stafford is going to be in heaven. Ebron has the athleticism the Lions have been missing at the tight end position. His speed and agility fall just short of guys like Vernon Davis. I don’t expect much from him in 2014, but if any of his owners get frustrated, I’ll be happy to take him off their hands and reap the rewards in 2015.

Green Bay Packers

Who will be catching passes from Aaron Rodgers a year or two from now?

There is no arguing Aaron Rodgers is one of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL right now and as long as he can stay concussion free, there isn’t any reason he can’t continue to be elite for several more years. Of course, the biggest question is who will he be throwing the ball to in a year or two? Whoever it is, they are going to have some nice fantasy value, so it is important to figure out. Over the last few years, losses of top targets like Greg Jennings, James Jones and Jermichael Finley have changed the landscape of the Packers’ pass catchers, but the results continue to be the same. When Rodgers is dropping back, someone is scoring points.

When it comes to the receivers, at first glance it seems some of the questions were answers when Jordy Nelson was signed to an extension through the 2018 season. However, if you take a closer look at the contract, the vast majority of the guaranteed money is paid over the first two years. After that, very few guarantees are in place for a player who will be 31 at the time. Randall Cobb is currently scheduled to be a free agent after this season, but I have a feeling he’ll be signed to a big contract. My guess is Nelson will play out the two guaranteed years and then be gone, but Cobb will still be there.

Behind the two stars you have third year player Jarrett Boykin and a trio of rookies in Davante Adams, Jeff Janis and Jared Abbrederis (who is now lost for the season with a torn ACL). Boykin has the leg up on the rookies due to his experience for the 2014 season, but I think it is only a matter of time before the rookies close the gap. The big question is how long will it take? Personally, I expect almost all rookies to struggle, so if you’re needing 2014 production, Boykin is your man and can likely be had for fairly cheap in a lot of leagues. After 2014, you need to give the nod to Adams. While I’m not as high on him as some others, Adams does have superior skills to Boykin and the other rookies. In the long run, he could turn into the complement to Cobb.

The other position in flux is at tight end. With the career of perennial tease Jermichael Finley possibly over, someone needs to fill the void. There is always the possibility Finley returns to the Packers, but it is more likely to be someone else. It is a four horse race in my mind between Andrew Quarless, Brandon Bostick, Richard Rodgers and Colt Lyerla. Of the four, Quarless is the least talented of the bunch and him missing OTAs was a big blow to his chances. Bostick also missed OTAs with an injury, but could be the most athletic of the bunch. His experience is also a mark in his favor. Lyerla is a true long shot with a ton of talent but major headcase factor. He is also a year removed from playing football, and is now down with a knee injury, so there is going to be some rust when and if he returns. That leaves Rodgers, the star of OTAs. He’s also the biggest of the bunch. He isn’t as athletic as Bostick which makes me wonder if he’ll really be the player who wins out. If I had to put money down right now, it would be on Bostick for the 2014 season with Rodgers a touch behind him. Long term, unless Lyerla gets his head on straight, the tight end to own might be a player to be named later. No matter how you slice it, the tight end position is a mess.

Minnesota Vikings

Is Norv Turner the wizard to turn things around or just another guy?

Norv Turner has taken over as the Vikings offensive coordinator and all of Minnesota rejoiced. He is one of those coaches who has the reputation of being able to get the most out of his players, especially the quarterback and tight end positions. He has been credited with turning very average players into good ones and good ones into great players. Let me do a quick little illustration to show what he has been able to do with his teams:

32qschart

If you take a look at his last five stops, there are some mixed results. In Miami and San Francisco, his passing attacks were pretty bad. The Miami teams can be excused a little bit due to the mess they had at quarterback, but the 2006 49ers don’t have any glaring reason to have been quite as bad as they were. Norv’s first and last year with the Chargers also so significant drops in production in the passing game from previous seasons. Altogether, that gives us four seasons with a drop off compared to seven seasons with a significant increase. Just looking at the numbers, it appears more likely the Vikings passing game will see an improvement over the 2013 version.

The Vikings were 23rd in the league in passing offense in 2013. If we follow the most recent example of Cleveland, that means we could likely expect the Vikings to improve to somewhere in the mid-teens for passing ranking or somewhere just shy of 4,000 yards. The problem with this projection is Norv Turner hasn’t had a rookie quarterback in any of his last five stops. Every quarterback he dealt with had at least one year in the league prior to Turner’s arrival. That’s going to be a problem with Teddy Bridgewater expected to be at the helm for the 2014 Vikings. Unless you think Bridgewater is another Andrew Luck, the Vikings aren’t going to approach those numbers this season.

Personally, I think the Norv Turner talk is a little overstated by many. Yes, he is a good coordinator and gets the best out of his players most of the time, but he isn’t magic. The Vikings have a rookie quarterback which means the passing game will struggle. This throws a bit of cold water on those expecting top five numbers from anyone in the passing game (I’m looking at those of you with Cordarrelle Patterson in your top five) this year, but don’t send hate mail just yet. If Norv sticks around (which might be a big if given his recent past), you can expect a much improved Vikings offense in 2015 as long as Bridgewater turns out to be worthy of the first round pick.

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Jacob Feldman
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Jim
7 years ago

I obviously understand what you’re getting at but comparing Ebron to Vernon Davis is not accurate (Cameron is closer but still more athletic). Vernon Davis is a freak. Athletically he’s a bigger freak than even Megatron. Men his size should not be able to run a 4.38s 40 with a 42″ (!) vertical. If he were in a pass first offense I think we’d be talking about him in the Graham/Gronk/Thomas tier of TEs.

What’s your take on Rudolph this year? Obviously they have faith in him with the extension but it will be interesting to see what role he carves out. He definitely looks slimmer and faster in preseason. Personally, I think 60-70 receptions, 700+ yards and double digit TDs is within striking distance especially with a rookie QB that excels in the short/intermediate game.

Jacob Feldman
Reply to  Jim
7 years ago

The Vikings QB situation is shaping up to be a little bit of a mess if the early indications are to be believed. Bridgewater has been very hot and cold while Cassel is very average. Unless one of them takes charge, expectations for the passing game need to be reeled in a little bit. Multiple QBs in a season typically means bottom 10 passing game.

At this point, if Rudolph can stay healthy (which is a concern), I would put the over/under at 50 receptions, 600 yards, and 8 TDs. If someone takes command of the QB role, I would bump all of those up 10-20%

Jim
Reply to  Jacob Feldman
7 years ago

Definitely agree with your first statement but going to throw you a curveball on the over/under.

Rudolph 2012: 53/493/9

100 less yards, 3 more receptions, 1 more TD. Call it a wash? That was with Christian Ponder at the helm. So the real question is – do you think Bridgewater, Cassell or a combination of the two is better than Christian Ponder? Toss in Norv and an extension suggesting confidence/usage and I just don’t see how he falls short of line that barring injury.

demystifier
Reply to  Jim
7 years ago

He could fall short of that line on TDs, given how variable they are. If he did, a line of 50/500/5 is deep in the ‘just another TE’ range.

I know he is a redzone threat….I’m just saying I’m not shocked if he falls short of that line…

demystifier
7 years ago

Cleveland finishing 11th last season was the result of *volume* and nothing more, imo, after they lead the league in passes.

Assuming AP is mostly healthy, if Norv is dumb enough to throw at even a Top 5 volume rate with a rookie QB (or Cassel LOL), mediocre at best receivers, and AP….then he should be on to yet another destination, this time in a lesser role.

demystifier
Reply to  demystifier
7 years ago

Well, ok, Josh Gordon and Cameron helped….but you get the idea. They weren’t an efficient passing team at all, they just threw a ton.

Evan
Reply to  demystifier
7 years ago

Go look at Cleveland’s RB depth chart after Richardson was traded and then you will realize why they lead the league in pass attempts.

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