With the NFL season finally getting underway, we can finally turn our attention from the courtrooms and onto the field, where it belongs. In the coming weeks, we will rank the fantasy studs, duds and sleepers for each division. Today, the NFC North gets some time under the microscope.
Quarterback: Aaron Rodgers, GB (2010: 3922 yards, 28 TD, 11 INT, 356 rushing yards, 4 TD)
This is the biggest no-brainer of the studs group. In the past two seasons, Rodgers has elevated his game to another level. From a fantasy perspective, Rodgers was the model of consistency. He’s played in all but one game in the past two seasons, and put up at least one touchdown in all but one game last season (the injury-shortened week 14 against Detroit). If Rodgers is on your fantasy team, good luck getting rid of a 17-week grin.
Running Back: Adrian Peterson, MIN (2010: 1298 rushing yards, 12 TD, 36 receptions, 341 yards, TD)
Peterson has been a top-3 pick in almost every draft in the past three years, and that streak will likely continue this year. His rushing numbers have dropped each of the past three seasons, but Peterson has compensated by becoming a weapon in the passing game. With rookie Christian Ponder, second-year man Joe Webb, or a free agent to be named later under center for the Vikings this year, I think fantasy owners can feel comfortable in assuming Peterson will get plenty of work this year.
Wide Receiver: Greg Jennings, GB (2010: 76 receptions, 1265 yards, 12 TD)
It took a while for Jennings to get going in 2010, putting up over 75 yards just once in the first five weeks. But from there, everything just seemed to go right. He scored double-digit fantasy points eight times, and fell below eight points just once in the final 11 weeks. Jennings is the best pass catcher on one of the best passing teams in the league.
Wide Receiver: Calvin Johnson, DET (2010: 77 receptions, 1120, 12 TD)
Despite a carousel at QB, Johnson remained a top-flight pass option for the Lions. But that shouldn’t surprise any fantasy owner; he’s been doing this his entire career. Now the scary thought comes with what Johnson can do with a healthy quarterback all season (See Matthew Stafford below). Honestly, that thought should keep NFL secondaries awake at night.
Tight End: Jermichael Finley, GB (2010: 21 receptions, 301 yards, TD)
Finley makes this list based on potential for next season. In his first four games, Finley averaged five catches and 75 yards a game. More impressive, his role in the offense will likely expand even more this next season. Of course, fantasy owners will (and should) be apprehensive to spend a high pick on Finley based on his injury past. But if you roll the dice and win, you’re going to win big.
Defense/ST: Green Bay (2010: 166 fantasy points)
Green Bay was the second –highest scoring defense last year. The team forced at least one turnover in all but two games, and forced two or more in an astounding nine games. Need I say more?
Quarterback: Jay Cutler, CHI (2010: 3274 yards, 23 TD, 16 INT, 232 rushing yards, TD)
Cutler is just as frustrating as a fantasy player as he is to watch on the field. He has all the talent in the world, but to own Cutler is to ride the rollercoaster with him. When Jay is good, he’s very good (four weeks scoring over 20 points). But when he’s bad, he’s very bad (four weeks under seven points and a big fat -3 points in week 4). 16 quarterbacks scored more fantasy points than Cutler, including – pause for irony – Kyle Orton. Cutler is a fantasy backup. If you expect more from him, don’t expect much from your team.
Running Back: Jahvid Best, DET (2010: 563 rushing yards, 4 TD, 58 receptions, 487 yards, 2 TD)
If Best can remain healthy, he will quickly move off this list. But in a fantasy-rich running back division, Best is the worst. His 127 fantasy points are impressive for a rookie, but it becomes way less impressive when you consider he scored more than half of the points in three games. In fact, after week two, he scored just one touchdown the rest of the year.
Wide Receiver: Donald Driver, GB (2010: 51 receptions, 565 yards, 4 TD)
Name the top two fantasy receivers for Green Bay last season. You’ve got Jennings, sure. But number two is? James Jones, and the race wasn’t all that close. Driver was a fantasy stud for years, but injury and a lost step cost him in 2010. He’ll be a solid option as a reserve, but he can no longer be counted on as a fantasy starter.
Wide Receiver: Devin Hester, CHI (2010: 40 receptions, 475 yards, 4 TD)
Oh sure, Hester is a return dynamo. Possibly the best there ever was. But as a fantasy receiver, he deserves a spot on this list. In a pass-happy offense that revolved around speedy receivers, Hester could only crack the 50-yard plateau twice. Even a gimpy Donald Driver has better fantasy numbers.
Tight End: Visanthe Shiancoe, MIN (2010: 47 receptions, 530 yards, 2 TD)
Shiancoe lived off of Brett Favre in 2009, and died off of him in 2010. After topping 75 yards in each of the first two weeks, he didn’t sniff it again the rest of the season. In fact, he caught more than 4 catches just once after week two. He’s on the wrong side of his career, has a shaky QB situation, and is going to play in a run-happy offensive system. Don’t expect much more than the numbers above in 2011.
Defense/ST: Minnesota (108 fantasy points)
The Vikings defense was drafted in the top-10 in almost all fantasy drafts last year, but scored just one more point than the Browns when all was said and done. With a number of free agent questions, and one huge hole fill (DT Pat Williams), the expectations should be much lower this year.
Quarterback: Matthew Stafford, DET (2010: 535 yards, 6 TD, INT, 11 rushing yards, TD)
The pieces are around him (Johnson, Best, Brandon Pettigrew, and Nate Burleson) and he’s got the talent. But can Stafford stay healthy? He’s played just 13 games in two seasons, but it’s way too early to write him off yet. Let me say this: if you draft Stafford as a backup and he gets hurt, is your team really hurt? But if you draft Stafford and he puts up the above numbers over an entire season, don’t you look like a genius? Roll the dice.
Running Back: Ryan Grant, GB (2010: 8 rushes, 45 yards)
Remember Grant, the steady running option that kept opposing defenses honest? The guy who rushed for more than 1200 yards in consecutive season before getting hurt this past season. The guy that missed just one game in his first three seasons? Hopefully you do (and your buddies don’t), because drafting Grant is going to be cheap with a big payoff. (Writers Note: Yes, James Starks belongs here too)
Wide Receiver: Nate Burleson, DET (2010: 55 receptions, 625 yards, 6 TD)
Burleson has been under the radar the past two seasons, putting up good numbers for Seattle in 2009 and Detroit in 2010. Burleson is an ideal option across from Megatron. He’s a guy who can hit a slant and take it to the house, and quietly puts up good numbers. If Stafford has the season I believe he will, Burleson becomes even more valuable.
Wide Receiver: Earl Bennett, CHI (2010: 46 receptions, 561 yards, 3 TD)
Finding a good sleeper option is like predicting the stock market. You look for trends, look to buy low, and hope the payoff is high. The Bears were impressed at what they saw from Bennett in the postseason, and has reportedly been an offseason workhorse. Will that translate to the playing field this year? Maybe, but we know the Bears will throw the ball, and someone’s got to catch them.
Tight End: Kyle Rudolph, MIN (Rookie out of Notre Dame)
I’ll leave the gossip to TMZ, but I think it is telling that Rudolph and Ponder have worked out together all offseason, and Ponder has crashed at Rudolph’s place during the offseason. If Ponder does take over as the starter, he’ll need a safety net, and that will be Rudolph. Even if it’s not Ponder under center, expect the Vikings to try to stretch the middle of the field with the big TE and keep the safeties out of the box.
Defense/ST: Detroit (120 fantasy points)
They boast one of the best front-fours in the league, will be great against the run, and will attack the quarterback. There are a number of question marks in the secondary, but this is a defense on its way up.
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This post was written by Stephen on July 25, 2011