By Ron Jumper
So the last division of our preview is finally here, the wild and wacky NFC North. There is the 0-16 Lions, hoping to at least get a win or two now that they have top pick Mathew Stafford. The Bears have what they hope is their saving grace at QB after trading for Jay Cutler. The Packers are looking to bounce back after an underachieving 2008, with the lone bright spot being the emergence of Aaron Rodgers. Oh yeah, and some guy named Brett Favre is going to play for the Vikings I think? Something like that…
So Matt Forte was dynamic as a rookie, how will the addition of Jay Cutler impact his fantasy value in 2009? In 2008, then-QB Kyle Orton would often check down to Forte out of the backfield, resulting in Forte being the only running back in the league to lead his team in receptions. With Cutler, who has a cannon for an arm, expect them to attack more down the field and not rely so much on Forte. I still like Forte though because, as the offense opens up, so will the running lanes and that should raise his yards per carry from 3.9 to more like 4.5 or so. I would point to Thomas Jones as an example from 2008, as he was very productive even though he didn‘t always get a high number of carries. As for the receivers, I like Devin Hester to become a little more productive but still in the mold of someone like Saints’ wide receiver Devery Henderson that is wildly inconsistent. The most consistent option for Cutler should be tight end Greg Olsen. Keep an eye out for another receiver to emerge in the preseason. The Bears defense was very up and down last season, we know the talent is there and they are worth picking up when the matchup is right.
What do we make of Detroit? The winless Lions had little to brag about in 2008. One guy that did stand out was Calvin Johnson, as he has emerged as an elite wide receiver in the league. Calvin Johnson is right there in that mix with Fitzgerald, Andre Johnson, and Moss. As for everyone else, the only other player worth targeting is running back Kevin Smith. To say the least, I think Smith is a risk/reward pick. On one hand, he played great down the stretch last season but, on the other, the Lions signed Maurice Morris and still have an awful line. As for the QB situation, Culpepper should be the starter early but we all know Stafford will take over eventually. Either way, I don’t want either of them on my fantasy team unless something drastically changes. The other first round pick, TE Brandon Pettigrew, is a more accomplished blocker at this point and won’t be making his way to fantasy relevance any time soon. Avoid the D/ST at all costs.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers underachieved on the field in 2008, including Ryan Grant. The one bright spot was that QB Aaron Rodgers played great all season, with only 2 single digit games. Rodgers finished as the second best fantasy QB in 2008, an impressive feat for a first time starter. Now, the bigger question, what will we get from Ryan Grant? I think his success will be linked to the team’s success to some extent, as the 6-10 Packers were behind a lot and abandoned the run. In turn, the Packers only had 11 rushing touchdowns as a team compared to 28 passing touchdowns. If the team is closer to .500, then that ratio should even out a little more. The other side of that coin is the defense, as they are switching to a 3-4 and drafted 1st rounders DT B.J. Raji and OLB Clay Mathews. In 2008, the defense was 22nd in points allowed, with 23.8 ppg. If the Packers are winning games and playing better defense, expect Grant to be the main benefactor. Wide receiver Greg Jennings is a stud and is a consensus top 5 fantasy wideout.
So the Vikings appear to be bringing in Brett Favre, how does that affect everyone else’s fantasy value? Truthfully, I don’t think that it makes that much difference. The Vikings are still going to be a run-first offense centered around Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor. Through 3 quarters, I don’t see the offense being much different. The element Favre brings to the table is experience and the ability to engineer game winning drives. It would be silly to think they are going to throw 35-40 times for over 300 yards every week. Yes, Favre is better than Tavaris Jackson, but to abandon their biggest strength (the running game) would be a detrimental mistake in my opinion. I give wide receiver Bernard Berrian a slight increase in production, but nothing drastic. Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe is a top 5 tight end. The D/ST is a top 10 defense, with the potential to be top 5.