You had the pleasure of my fellow www.thefantasyashes.com degenerate Matt breaking down the AFC North for you (link here), now I’m super excited that Rowan and Arch have given me my 15mins on The TFL Podcast platform to share my takes on the NFC North. To give you some background I’m the English side of our dynamic duo. A born and bred Geordie from Newcastle upon Tyne. My love of NFL established after spending some time in the late nineties on the east coast of the US. It naturally progressed to fantasy football and putting my thoughts down stops me joining record numbers of dynasty leagues. I’m a die hard Colts fan, a Chris Godwin, Jonathan Taylor, Michael Pittman Jr truther and an unapologetic proponent of drafting RB early in redraft and WR early in dynasty.
Anyway that’s enough from me, time for the NFC North to take centre stage. There are some pretty significant offseason changes to look at and some exciting rookies so I’ll get to it. I’m passionate about promoting a fantasy football culture that encourages new players to the game and a community spirit where people can get together and debate without some of the Twitter nastiness and edgy play that a small proportion of players can get caught up in. If you want to know more about me or would like to see articles on particular strategies or players, hit me up on Twitter. I love to meet and discuss NFL and fantasy football with new friends. Also let me know what takes you love and who you’re targeting in your 2020 leagues. Finally, continue to support the great work of Rowan and Arch and their amazing podcast.
Much love Kev
The Lowdown: The bears’ offence could not move the chains last season with much of that down to the “too cute” play calling of offensive mind and head coach Matt Nagy and the complete inability of franchise quarterback Mitch Trubisky to do the solid simple things right. Nagy has to take some of the responsibility as during his time as the signal caller, Trubisky has looked at his best when the play has broken down and he has operated on his natural ability and instinct. The bears opting not to pick up his 5yr option feels like a watershed moment and clear Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy will be under pressure to make a good impression otherwise they might find themselves browsing the internet for new work. To get off to a quick start in these crazy times with limited training camp they need an experienced head who knows the system and Nagy can trust.
Quarterbacks: Nick Foles and Mitch Trubisky
Big Nick>Big Numbers?
Enter Nick Foles a player known to Nagy from his time with both the Eagles and as backup to Alex Smith in Kansas City. Foles even used Nagy’s car his first summer in KC and there is much mutual respect between the two men. This is why I’m going the bold step of projecting Foles as the starter out the gate and the man Nagy will task with helping save his future. Foles will be better at moving the chains and more productive than Trubisky but will still only be appealing to those people who punted the QB position in superflex and are scratching around for a late round starter. He’s not the late round QB to win you a fantasy championship and shouldn’t be drafted in single QB leagues unless you’re playing in something deeper than a 12 teamer. Expect about 240 points to be his production vs Trubisky’s 207 points last year. Not a huge improvement for the highest scoring position in fantasy.
Running backs: David Montgomery and Tarik Cohen
The Full Monty!
Where I do think the fantasy value in this offence will be laid bear (Taxi!!) is that Foles will do just enough to get the offence moving and keep defences honest and that will mean room to run for David Montgomery. Montgomery was an elusive back coming out of college and forced over 100 missed tackles at Iowa state leading many to be high on him in his rookie season. The bears gave him 242 carries and 35 targets which is a good workload for a player you can currently get in the 4th round of a 12 team startup and there is no one in the backfield to challenge him. Monty was also second in the league at pass blocking so it stands to reason that Nagy and Foles will trust him on the field on all 3 downs and if Foles does a better job of keeping the offence on the field, he’s a good chance to see more touches. Not facing stacked boxes will help him improve on his 3.7 yards per carry and having a season under his belt will do him the world of good. In short if you’re in a position where the value is at the receiver positions in the early rounds, Monty is a player you can target in the early 4th round who stands a good chance of outperforming his current average draft position. If you’re in a dynasty league the person who drafted Monty feels burned by him last season go and buy him and be confident he’ll provide you with a good floor for your investment.
Where does that leave Cohen? The human joystick is known for his pass catching work and explosive juke ability. Even he was affected by the bears offensive woes last year. People think Cohens targets were down last season because of the disappointment around his finish compared with the previous season. Cohens targets were actually up to 104 from 91 but he wasn’t efficient because no one in the bears offence was efficient outside of Allen Robinson. With Nick Foles at signal caller last season Leonard Fournette had career high pass catching numbers which gives me confidence Cohen’s catches out of the backfield will remain this season and the improvements in the offence should mean opposition defences can’t stack the box against him or Monty. This should improve his efficiency and give him a floor of RB 25-30 and the upside of RB 15-20. This is also a contract year for Cohen so he has all the incentive in the world to make it count and get paid. He’s an intriguing cheap stash in dynasty if he moves to a team as an offensive weapon, think like the Eagles used Darren Sproules or the chargers used Ekeler last season. There isn’t another bears
Wide Receivers: Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller, Riley Ridley, Javon Wims, Ted Ginn, Darnell Mooney
Draft day A Rob’ery in the 4th Round?
Whisper it quietly so his draft value doesn’t sky rocket, but Allen Robinson is an elite wide receiver. He’s had to deal with bad quarterback play throughout his career and yet he still manages to put up elite numbers. He’s currently going under the radar a bit because there are a lot of wide receivers people are high on this season but generally you can get him in the 4th round of a 12 team draft (I’ve seen him fall into the 5th and even early 6th depending on the leagues valuation of running backs). When he’s been fit and played a full 16 games, he’s never been outside the top 25 WR and that’s with the horrible QB play of first Blake Bortles at the Jags and last season in one of the worst offences in the league led by Trubisky. He was WR 10 in half PPR and WR 8 in full PPR ahead of everyone’s fantasy darling and NFC north WR Kenny Golladay with 154 targets, 98 receptions, 1147 yards and 7 touchdowns despite the Bears complete inability to move the chains. So, I have absolutely no idea why people aren’t talking about ARob more? While the offense will still likely be bottom half of the league it will improve under Foles and we’ve seen how much Foles liked to throw it up to Alshon Jeffery and let him make a play, he’s going to do the same with ARob, who has proven he can make the magic happen. If you are going RB heavy at the top of your draft (most people are this year.) Then if I have to wait to the 4th to grab my WR 1 then ARob is a player I’d be delighted with. If he’s my WR2 then even better.
It’s Miller Time?
Anthony Miller was a much-publicised sleeper last season and let’s be honest if you had him on your team while you got a couple of good games in week 13 against the Lions and week 15 against the Packers you were not happy. However, Miller’s talent still remains and he just inherited a QB who has quite the reputation for targeting the slot receiver. Now as the Bears offence is going to be low scoring, whether you think Miller is a post-hype sleeper probably depends what you believe about the Bears TE group. Now for me I think they won’t be very productive (I’ll get to that in a minute!) so I expect the targets in the offence to largely be shared between ARob (1st target), Miller (2nd target) and Cohen (3rd target) mainly with the rest being distributed out over the team. For this reason and Miller’s prowess in the redzone (7 TD’s in his rookie year) and the fact that he now seems to be healthy following last season’s troubles with injury. I’m loving Miller in dynasty where his price is cheap and throwing him in as a flex or bench stash in redraft because of his TD upside.
Who replaces Gabriel?
Ok so this one I’ll make really easy, in all but the deepest of leagues ignore the rest of the receivers, because the volume won’t be high enough to support any kind of meaningful fantasy production. As Nagy can get a little cute with his play calling sometimes you can bet your bottom dollar that one of these guys will blow up for a game and get 2 TD’s on 3 receptions for 80 yrds or something crazy like that but you won’t be able to predict it and if you chase it, it will end in sadness as whoever it is, is likely to be the 4th target anyway. The only two I’m really interested in and this is probably for dynasty are Darnell Mooney and Riley Ridley. Mooney is lightning fast and was a good deep threat so he’s capable of blowing up a defence on a deep ball and Riley has excellent route running skills so if he gets an opportunity due to injury he could make it count as a possession receiver.
Tight Ends: Jimmy Graham, Cole Kmet, Adam Shaheen, Demetrius Harris etc…etc…etc…..
The really really “tight” end room
The Bears drafting of Cole Kmet despite the large contract they gave to the ghost of Jimmy Graham raised some eyebrows. This is probably because it took the Bears to 10 TE’s on the roster. Now while this shows the bears want to have a TE they can target, the fact there are 10 of them shows they aren’t confident and neither can you be. Graham is well past his best and while Kmet is probably the most talented and highest draft capital it usually takes 3yrs for rookie TEs to break out so let someone else draft him and go trade for him later in a dynasty league when he disappoints in his first season as all rookie TEs do.
The Lowdown: The Vikings are always there or thereabouts when it comes to topping the division and the playoff picture but they never quite seem to be able to piece it all together to make it to a Super Bowl appearance. They will be looking to push on and finally get themselves to the big game. The change from Stefanski to Kubiak as offensive coordinator shouldn’t have as much of an impact as Kubiak already had significant input into the offensive scheme as an offensive adviser to the Zimmer/Stefanski partnership last season.
Quarterback: Kirk Cousins
What to make of Kirk Cousins late round fantasy darling and top 7 QB in his time in Washington but posted his lowest fantasy since 2014 last season. Cousins pass attempts, completions and passing yards were the lowest of his career and seem tied in to 2 things. The first was wanting to control the game through the run and building around the defence. The second is the recognition that when Cousins is put under pressure he has a tendency to turn the ball over. Limiting his pass attempts helped increase his efficiency but it also kept him around the 3500yrd mark effectively using him as a game manager. For me this poses 2 questions when I’m looking to his 2020 fantasy production. The first is did it work? If we are honest yes it did, they had a positive win loss record and made it to the divisional round in the playoffs before being dismissed by the niners. The second is has the offensive coaching changed. With Kubiak replacing Stefanski and Zimmer still in position it’s unlikely and we can expect more of the same in my view and this is important because what wins NFL games isn’t necessarily what wins fantasy championships. Gary Kubiak’s tendency towards a run heavy attack and the integration of a new receiver into the offence means in superflex Cousins is probably safe as your QB2, provide a consistent floor and might win you the odd week against weak opposition. The opportunity for him to return to the previous heights of top 7 just isn’t there. If he’s your QB in a single QB league you aren’t winning your championship but he does have streamer written all over him if you subscribe to the late round QB philosophy and I do.
Running Backs: Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison everyone else.
Dalvin cooking up a holdout?
The Vikings backfield doesn’t need a massive amount of analysis, they are a run first offence and that won’t change, Stefon Diggs moved on to the Bills and there is lots of historical data to show when a wide receiver leaves an offence the targets move to the running back so Dalvin Cook is likely to be in for a huge workload. That would make him a top 5 back in both redraft and dynasty. However, Cook has clearly stated he will holdout if he doesn’t get a pay rise and we have seen the result of a holdout on the value of Lev Bell and Melvin Gordon in past years. This year with the changes to the collective bargaining agreement the league have made it clear that anyone holding out will lose that year’s eligibility to free agency and the team won’t be able to withdraw the mandatory fines issued when that player does return for training. So, put simply Cook has absolutely no leverage and nothing to gain from holding out and is unlikely to do so. For me if the first big 5 players are off the board in McCaffery, Barkley, Zeke, Thomas, Kamara I’m still taking the risk on Cook. If you are risk averse you have 2 option’s one is to take Cook and draft Mattison who is the clear backup in the 8th to 10th round depending on you league as one of the most valuable handcuffs in the league. In dynasty I’ve cashed in on the Cook concern and bought him cheap in a couple of places and I don’t think this diminishes his value long term, if he moves teams, he will still be elite and there are few players with true workhorse RB capability but Cook is definitely one of them. Quick word on Mattison he’s a great RB and I’m grabbing everywhere I can because of his upside if Cook goes down or does hold out. He will be flex worthy and give you some production but if you are in a league and can sell him for high value to the Cook owner now might be the time to consider that. I don’t care about any other back in this backfield do not roster them in a 12 teamer even a dynasty.
Wide Receivers: Adam Thielen, Justin Jefferson, Tajae Sharpe, Bisi Johnson
Thielen good? Or Thielen done?
Adam Thielen is an elite wide receiver and in games when he was healthy, he’s always been inside the top 10 at his position. The departure of Diggs in the offseason leaves him as the undisputed no1 receiver. Thielen has also hit the magical 30yrs old mark this year. 2 narratives seem to persist within the fantasy community regarding Thielen and his current 4th round adp. The first is does losing Diggs mean he will face top cornerback coverage and struggle as a result. The second is has Thielen lost a step and now he’s past it? Thielen has been facing top cornerbacks his entire career and has been productive he’s also always been comfortable lining up inside and outside the formation and has a clear chemistry with Cousins as his go to target. Thielen proved last season in his games before injury he was the wr9 and we haven’t seen anything to suggest he’s lost a step when fit. Much like ARob he seems to be going under the radar because he’s not a sexy pick, but if you go RB heavy early on then hes an excellent choice alongside ARob as your WR1 or WR2 in the 4th or 5th round. In dynasty the strategy is simple if you’re win now you can probably go buy him cheap so do it. If you are rebuilding wait till, he performs well early in the season and sell him to a contender (The Vikings have a schedule that should allow him to put up numbers early on).
Justin Jefferson was extremely productive on the LSU offence with Joe Burrow last season third for college receiving yards and tied for most receiving touchdowns meant the receiver with soft hands, smooth rounds and impressive speed in both the 40yrd dash and 3 Cone at the combine made a lot of people high on him coming into the draft. That hype died down a bit when he went to the Vikings rather than the Eagles where most had him predicted. The big question was the fit and whether or not the receiver who had played most of his college career would play in the slot or whether it would be Thielen? Looking at the routes of both Thielen and Diggs during there time shows that Diggs actually spent more time in the slot than Thielen and I expect Jefferson will spend a good amount of his time there. This makes Jefferson one of the rare rookie wide receivers who could make an impact straight away as a flex play and he’s only going to improve as he familiarises himself with the offence. Cousins loves a target over the middle and so it’s possible that Cousins targets Jefferson more than anyone realises. I love him in the late first in dynasty rookie drafts and think he’s worth putting on the end of your bench in a redraft as a surprise upside play you can drop in the early weeks if his role doesn’t materialise.
Sharpe dressed man or left the house without your Johnson’s on?
When considering Tajae Sharp or Bisi Johnson you have to ask yourself 2 things the first is do you want the 4th or 5thtarget on a run first offence with a QB who threw for 3500yrds last year? The answer is clearly no? Both are quick strong deep threats, but neither has a substantial contract or draft capital committed the them and they should only be rostered in the event of an injury. Personally I like Bisi who had strong production in college and flashed some big play upside. But I’m only drafting him in the deepest of dynasty leagues.
Tight Ends: Kyle Rudolph and Irv Smith jr
Beauty and the Beast.
While the title might seem harsh I use it because it perfectly describes people’s attitude towards the 2 TE’s here. Irv Smith is the hot young pick people seem to be keen on to take over the mantle and finish as a top 10 TE. Rudolph is the TE no one wants due to his age and seeming lack of mobility. The problem is I think the truth is somewhere in between. Irv Smith volume will likely increase and the Vikings will probably look to run with more 2 TE sets to support the run game and give Cousins short targets to control the ball possession. Similarly Rudolph will probably still command red zone targets and limit Smiths upside. I don’t really want either of them and would rather draft someone with more upside like Ian Thomas or Jonnu Smith who are going close to Irv in drafts.