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What To Watch For: NFC North (Fantasy Football)

By Ryan Weisse

In Club Fantasy’s “What To Watch For” series, we will be taking a look at one key issue facing each NFL team in 2020. Having already taken a look at the AFC North, let’s jump conferences and examine the NFC North.

The story in this conference is basically how much stayed the same. Outside of the Vikings losing Stefon Diggs and the Lions adding D’Andre Swift, most of these offenses will look very similar to the way they did in 2019. That doesn’t mean there isn’t anything worth keeping an eye on, it just means it’s time for some players to step their game up.

Minnesota Vikings

Adam Thielen is a Sleeping Giant.
Since 2016, there have been 11 instances where either Adam Thielen or Stefon Diggs missed a game and the other has played. In these games, where there was a clear cut WR1, that player averaged 8 targets and a 25% market share. If those numbers continue, Adam Thielen is going to end up being a steal in your fantasy draft.

Of the 32 teams in the NFL, the Vikings ranked 30th in throwing the ball last year, but a 25% target share makes up for that. If they only throw the ball 470 times like they did last year, that would still be 117 targets for Thielen. If the passing attempts increase with new OC, Gary Kubiak — the Broncos averaged 586 attempts with Kubiak as their head coach in 2015-16 — Thielen could be looking at as many as 145 targets. In 2017, when he was targeted 143 times, Thielen was the overall WR8.

If you want an opposing view point, Chris Molina wrote an excellent article on Thielen’s downside.

Chicago Bears

Can these RBs overcome their offense?
There are so many bad things to say about the Bears RBs in 2019. Neither David Montgomery nor Tarik Cohen averaged more 3.7 yards-per-carry. Combined, they had just six rushing TDs (all by Montgomery) and fumbled the ball five times. Montgomery finished as the RB24, despite touching the ball 267 times. Cohen scored 70 fewer points than he did in 2018 and finished as the RB27. To make matters worse, they didn’t add any offensive linemen until the seventh round of the NFL draft and are projected to return all five starters from last year.

If we are going to see improvement, it will be because of the backs themselves — there is hope that they can do it. As a Junior in college, David Montgomery had 109 forced broken or missed tackles. Last year, he was ranked in the top-15 in both juke rate and evaded tackles, plus was 17th in yards created. Cohen was down across the board in 2019 but scored eight TDs on just 170 touches in 2018. If we see improved QB play from either Mitch Trubisky or Nick Foles, it should open things up for these backs to finish much better in 2020.

Green Bay Packers

Does it even matter who the WR2 is?
While Davante Adams is just about the hottest commodity in fantasy football coming into 2020, there is almost no hype for the guy lining up across from him. That could be due to the fact that nobody even knows who it will be. In 2019, nobody could stay healthy and we saw a combination of Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Allen Lazard, and Geronimo Allison in that position. None of them were particularly good, all averaging fewer than nine fantasy points-per-game.

In 2020, Allison is gone — replaced by Devin Funchess — and people are already starting up the hype train. Funchess has one good year to his name and missed almost all of 2019 with a clavicle injury. There is some hope for Lazard, who averaged about five targets-per-game last year, but only recorded 10+ fantasy points three times. The long and short is this: the last time a WR2 mattered for Aaron Rodgers and the Packers was 2016, and that was a different Aaron Rodgers and a very different coach and scheme. Putting those expectations on the 2020 Packers is just setting yourself up for disappointment.

Detroit Lions

What will it take for one of Detroit’s RBs to be a viable fantasy option?
Kerryon Johnson is starting to flirt with that “B” word nobody wants to be associated with their name: Bust. Sure, most of his disappointments have been due to injury, but two years with only 14 starts, 1,044 yards, and eight total TDs aren’t stellar numbers for a former 2nd Round pick. The Lions have clearly recognized this and added another 2nd Round pick to the RB room, Georgia’s D’Andre Swift. Swift was regarded as one of the top RBs coming into the league in 2020 and presents a real threat to Kerryon and his potential fantasy breakout.

The Lions ran the ball 407 times last year and just 404 times in 2018 when Matt Stafford was healthy. Unless one of these two backs ends up with about 2/3 of the carries, there won’t be a bell-cow here. With a 50/50 split, that’s about 200 carries per player and that won’t make you a fantasy star…unless you also get the passing-down work. The Lions have averaged 123 total RB targets over the past two seasons and if one of these guys ends up taking the majority of that work too, they will be the back you want to own coming out of the Motor City.