Over the last few years, the NFC North has been under the control of one team. Thanks to their potent offense, the Packers have taken home the division title four straight years and enter the season as the favorites once again, but they’ll face stiff competition from the rest of the division in 2015.
Although the NFC North is full of fantasy superstars, each team still has questions that need answered. We continue our 32 Teams, 32 Questions series with a look at the NFC North.
Green Bay Packers
Can Davante Adams emerge from the shadows of Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb to become a useful WR3 for fantasy owners?
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Davante Adams’ name has been a hot button issue throughout fantasy football circles this off-season. Some think he’ll remain a clear third wheel in Green Bay due to the two stud receivers ahead of him on the depth chart as well as what many consider to be just average speed and inconsistent route running. Meanwhile others see Adams as high upside pick who should fit in perfectly with the other Packers’ receivers and become a regular target of the best quarterback in football.
Me, I’m one of the believers.
Last year, Adams’ numbers were inconsistent. He caught just 38 passes for 446 yards and three touchdowns on 62 targets but flashed playmaking ability on several occasions. What may be most noteworthy however is his most impressive game of the season isn’t even reflected in those stats – it came in the playoffs when he caught seven passes for 117 yards and a touchdown on 11 targets against the Cowboys in the divisional round game at Lambeau Field.
Even if fantasy owners aren’t completely enamored with Adams as a player, it’s difficult to deny the prime position he sees himself in. There’s no better way to see exactly what kind of situation he’s in than to look at the opportunities given to the player he was drafted to replace a year ago, James Jones.
In his four seasons between 2010 and 2013, Jones, who entered each of those seasons as at least the third receiver in Green Bay, averaged 53 catches for 680 yards and more than six touchdowns. While those numbers may not blow anybody away, fantasy owners should also keep in mind Jones was fighting Jermichael Finley for targets for much of that time and split time as the third receiver with quality wide outs such as Donald Driver late in his career and a young Jordy Nelson. Meanwhile, Adams will compete with unproven players such as 2014 seventh round pick Jeff Janis and third round rookie Ty Montgomery for reps as Aaron Rodgers’ third option. The lack of talent at tight end in Green Bay should also send more opportunities Adams’ way.
Personally, Adams is far more talented than Jones ever was. He should streak past Jones’ averages and easily end 2015 as a WR3. And in the event of an injury to either Nelson or Randall Cobb, Adams has massive upside and could find himself among the top-20 receivers in fantasy football.
Can the Lions’ offensive line improve enough to keep Matthew Stafford upright and give their running backs room to run?
Rarely do fantasy owners ever get excited about offensive line talk but the biggest question mark in Detroit easily lies in the trenches.
With the loss of Ndamukong Suh, the Lions defense will take a step backwards, so the offense will need to pick up the slack in order to stay competitive in the division – that starts up front where the 2014 version of the Detroit offensive line gave up 45 sacks (which ranked among the bottom third in the league) and failed to open up running lanes for tailbacks as the team averaged just 3.6 yards per carry (which ranked 28th in the NFL.)
The Lions made an effort during the off-season to address the biggest weakness on their offense. Longtime starters Dominic Raiola and Rob Sims were both shown the door in favor of younger talent. Second-year center Travis Swanson (picked in the third round a year ago) has been a star throughout training camp and is primed to take over for Raiola at the center position. Meanwhile, rookie first round pick Laken Tomlinson, who didn’t allow a sack or quarterback hit in his final season at Duke, is penciled in to start at left guard for the Lions.
Overall, Detroit has made it a priority to improve its offensive line. Through a youth movement, it looks like they’ve done just that. While there may be some bumps along the way, the upgrade will no doubt help the fantasy upside of Matthew Stafford his top receivers Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate. More than anything else, however, the improvement up front should drastically help the Lions’ running game.
Joique Bell and Ameer Abdullah should actually have some rushing lanes to run through this year. That should put a smile on fantasy owners’ faces everywhere.
Can Teddy Bridgewater build on a positive rookie season and take the next step as a fantasy quarterback?
After a rookie season that saw Teddy Bridgewater improve regularly and throw for 2,919 yards and 14 touchdowns while completing 64% of his passes, the hype train has been rolling that a breakout is coming for the former Louisville standout.
Consider me on board that locomotive.
Although a sub 3,000 yard season with just 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions isn’t going to drop the jaw of any fantasy owners, there’s reason to be very excited about Bridgewater’s upside going into the 2015 season.
First, Bridgewater posted those numbers with a receiving corps which featured the aging Greg Jennings and the flop that was Cordarrelle Patterson. He also played most of his season without starting tight end Kyle Rudolph. It’s safe to say that the best receiver Bridgewater threw to as a rookie was Charles Johnson, who didn’t even really emerge to start playing regularly until mid-season. On top of all that, Bridgewater played every snap of his rookie season without the Vikings’ best player, Adrian Peterson.
Fast forward to the present and Bridgewater is poised to take the next step for the Vikings and his fantasy owners. All reports out of Minneapolis say he’s much more comfortable in Norv Turner’s system in his second year and has a much better grasp on the playbook. While it’s no surprise to hear a glowing report out of training camp, it’s certainly worth noting.
Even more noteworthy for Bridgewater’s pending breakout however is the improvement around him.
The Vikings replaced Jennings with deep threat Mike Wallace, who is a far better compliment to the possession receiver, Johnson. They also return Patterson, Rudolph and Jarius Wright along with addition Stefon Diggs (who I’ve been a fan of since before he was drafted.) All this creates a very intriguing group of pass catchers. The return of Peterson to go along with high upside backup, Jerick McKinnon, will also take pressure off Bridgewater.
The stars seem to be aligned for Bridgewater to make the leap to becoming a weekly QB1 as a sophomore. After that, the sky’s the limit.
Will Matt Forte continue to dominate or will his fantasy output taper off as he reaches age 30?
After another impressive season that saw him gain 1,846 yards from scrimmage and find the end zone ten times, most would consider Matt Forte to be a lock to once again be among the top ten fantasy running backs in 2015. I’m not so sure, however.
It’s widely understood running backs regularly break down at two points in their careers. First, when they’re overused. And second, when they reach 30 years old. Unfortunately, Forte qualifies for both. Over the last couple seasons, he has averaged 365 touches which is more than any other running back in the league over that timeframe. While it certainly isn’t impossible Forte posts another 350-plus touch season, it’s probably unlikely – especially considering he turns 30 in December.
Another reason a dip in production is likely for Forte is that although he was a fantasy monster in 2014, much of his success came as a pass catcher. He hauled in 102 passes for 808 yards and four touchdowns in Marc Trestman’s system. Now that Trestman is out, those numbers are sure to slip despite new offensive coordinator Adam Gase (who hails from pass happy Denver) taking over calling plays in the Windy City.
The bottom line is that when it comes to fantasy football, especially with high priced assets, I like to limit risk and Forte carries far too much risk for me. Although he has the talent to extend his productivity another year or perhaps even two, the inevitable is bound to happen. When it does, I don’t want him to be on my roster.
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