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State of the Team by Fantasy Position - NFC North
John Tuvey
July 28, 2008
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This series of analysis on the 32 NFL teams takes a look at where teams have been over the last three years for each position - where they have ranked in the most notable categories and the hard statistics produced. This is to give a view of each team heading into training camp and what they most likely need to improve on this season and where their strengths lie that likely won't need any changes. Ending each team review is a brief summation of what to watch in training camp in August to uncover those developing situations that you can take advantage. Combining where teams have come from and what they have done in free agency and the NFL draft gives you the very same thing that NFL coaches are looking at as they attempt to improve their team for 2007.
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Chicago Bears
QB Carries Rush YD Rush TD Pass Comp Comp % Pass YD YPP Pass TD Int Rank YD Rank TD
2005 25 41 0 416 218 52% 2183 10 11 15 31 31
2006 30 -3 0 512 280 55% 3413 12.2 24 22 15 9
2007 32 54 0 567 326 57% 3692 11.3 17 21 14 22

Quarterback - Aside from failing to close the deal (seven fewer touchdowns), the Chicago passing game was roughly as productive in 2007 as they were in 2006—which isn’t necessarily a good thing. Worse, heading into 2008 the Bears will be without 40 percent of their receptions from last year. Can it get any lower than flipping a coin to decide who opened training camp under center? Ultimately the choice between Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton comes down to this: can the Bears afford the risk of turnovers that come with Grossman’s big-play upside? At least Brian Griese and his two picks per game are out of the picture, but the up-in-the-air status—both of the situation in general and of the typical Grossman pass—renders Bears quarterbacks impotent from a fantasy perspective.

RB Carries Rush YD YPC Rush TD Target Rcv Catch % Catch YD Rcv TD Rank YD Rank TY Rank TD
2005 461 2025 4.4 11 74 53 72% 290 2 6 9 15
2006 472 1915 4.1 14 105 75 71% 458 0 5 14 10
2007 384 1286 3.3 8 120 86 72% 693 0 30 27 27

Running Backs - When this offense was working, circa 2005 and 2006, there were 500 touches to be shared and almost 2400 yards of offensive production. Last year’s attempts to make Cedric Benson the sole workhorse failed miserably, and Chicago addressed the situation on multiple fronts: jettisoning Benson following an offseason of legal transgressions, adding line help and running back Matt Forte in the draft, then signing free agent Kevin Jones prior to camp. With the former Lion opening camp on the PUP list, the Bears’ best-case scenario shapes up thusly: Forte asserts himself as the team’s primary back and Adrian Peterson handles third-down duties until Jones is healthy, at which point it becomes a 2:1 split much like the early days of Thomas Jones and Benson—only this time the rookie is the lead dog. Of course, the best case also assumes first-round pick and projected starting left tackle Chris Williams isn’t out of the lineup with back spasms, and that the perpetually injured Jones returns to form sooner rather than later.

WR Target Rcv Catch % Catch YD YPR Rcv TD Ranks YD Rank TD
2005 282 138 49% 1661 12 6 30 32
2006 316 153 48% 2309 15.1 16 16 10
2007 296 154 52% 2056 13.4 11 25 21

Wide Receivers - Wideouts accounted for less than half of Da Bears' receptions last season, and almost three-quarters of those catches left in the offseason when Bernard Berrian signed with Minnesota and Muhsin Muhammad returned to Carolina. In their place Chicago has inserted Brandon Lloyd and prodigal son Marty Booker (the only Bear wideout to post a 1,000-receiving yard season this millennium), striking fear into absolutely no defensive coordinators on Chicago’s 2008 schedule. Now that Devin Hester’s contract squabbles (and, apparently, hamstring issues) are behind him the Bears may ask him to play a larger role in the offensive game plan. Mark Bradley and rookie Earl Bennett could also factor into the mix, but there simply isn’t a big enough pie here for any slice of production to warrant serious fantasy consideration. Bringing Hester’s return work into the mix brightens his blip on the radar, but this passing game hasn’t produced a wideout with double-digit TDs since 1995 and there’s little reason to believe that string ends in 2008.

TE Target Rcv Catch % Catch YD YPR Rcv TD Ranks YD Rank TD
2005 59 28 47% 250 8.9 3 28 20
2006 98 55 56% 701 12.7 8 14 5
2007 140 86 61% 950 11.0 6 6 12

Tight Ends
- If there’s a bright spot in the Chicago offense, it’s the tight end position. Last year’s top pick, Greg Olsen, flashed signs of his talent and incumbent Desmond Clark is at least a little better than adequate. With questions along the offensive line and potentially an inexperienced quarterback in Orton the tight end could become an even larger factor in 2008. The downbeat is that Clark and Olsen appear set to split up the 150 or so looks the position will get, so until Olsen asserts himself as the alpha in this equation it’s yet another reason to not feed the Bears on drauction day.

Training Camp Fantasy Angle - Plenty on the Bears’ plate this August: pick a quarterback, groom a new running back, find a pair of starting receivers. While the passing game is barely worth your time (unless you’re tracking Hester and can use his half-dozen special teams scores to your benefit), how Lovie Smith opts to divvy up the carries between Forte and Jones is of keen interest to those looking for depth in their fantasy backfield.

Detroit Lions
QB Carries Rush YD Rush TD Pass Comp Comp % Pass YD YPP Pass TD Int Rank YD Rank TD
2005 42 131 1 521 298 57% 3021 10.1 15 18 26 28
2006 34 156 2 596 372 62% 4208 11.3 21 22 5 13
2007 29 53 0 587 368 63% 4216 11.5 19 22 6 17

Quarterback - It’s been a nice run for Jon Kitna as a fantasy entity, but with the departure of Mike Martz you can cut those pass attempt digits by at least 10 percent—and probably a great deal more. Kitna still has a couple very nice targets on the outside, and there’s little to suggest the Lions won’t be playing from behind enough to require 30 passes a game, but all indications are that Jim Colletto’s game plan is to run, run, and then run some more. Passing out of desperation can lead to bigger yardage totals but also bigger interception numbers—something Kitna and his 146 career picks are all too familiar with. The Lions may also want to get a look at last year’s second-round selection, Drew Stanton, especially if the team falls out of contention—further dampening the dying embers of what’s left of Kitna’s fantasy value.

RB Carries Rush YD YPC Rush TD Target Rcv Catch % Catch YD Rcv TD Rank YD Rank TY Rank TD
2005 361 1336 3.7 9 127 92 72% 654 1 25 23 21
2006 263 963 3.7 7 134 102 76% 832 3 32 28 26
2007 285 1180 4.1 12 98 72 73% 490 0 31 31 19

Running Backs - Martz’s departure heralds the return of a running game to the Motor City, though truth be told the bottom-feeding Lions ground game ranked only slightly higher prior to Mad Mike’s pass-happy schemes. Colletto has promised a return to Norris Division football, and the use of draft picks on Gosder Cherilus and Kevin Smith suggest Detroit is intent on following through. Tatum Bell is the apparent starter, though history has shown us he’s best served in small doses—say, a dozen touches per game or so. Enter Smith, who set an NCAA record for single-season carries and seems best suited for the workhorse duties Colletto desires. Of course, there’s a big difference between 450 carries at Central Florida and even 200 carries in the NFL. At a minimum the Lions should be back above the 300-carry mark for the year, but so long as Bell threatens to siphon off a slice of the pie whatever fantasy value residing here is muted.

WR Target Rcv Catch % Catch YD YPR Rcv TD Ranks YD Rank TD
2005 296 148 50% 1810 12.2 10 28 24
2006 395 225 57% 2857 12.7 14 7 14
2007 436 268 61% 3370 12.6 18 2 11

Wide Receivers - The gravy train for third receivers like Shaun McDonald and Mike Furrey has departed Motown, packed up and headed west to San Francisco. It’s not as if the Lions’ wide receiver cupboards are bare, however; having gone two-for-four with first-round wide receiver picks leaves Detroit with Roy Williams and Calvin Johnson on the outside—a tandem most teams would be more than happy to field. Don’t let the past two seasons fool you: McDonald and Furrey led the team in catches the past two seasons working out of the slot, but Colletto’s new offense promises to focus on the two big targets outside. Whether there will be enough passing to provide both wideouts with production worth of fantasy starters remains to be seen, but this should be a team throwing out of necessity so solid digits for both Williams and Johnson aren’t out of the question. What is relatively certain is that, barring an injury to one of the former first-rounders the days of McDonald and Furrey stealing space on your fantasy roster are likely over.

TE Target Rcv Catch % Catch YD YPR Rcv TD Ranks YD Rank TD
2005 99 57 58% 561 9.8 4 20 16
2006 66 43 65% 504 11.7 4 22 20
2007 45 30 67% 364 12.1 1 29 31

Tight Ends
- The recent history of Lions tight ends includes such notables as Ulysses Norris, Walter Rasby, David Sloan, and Mikhael Ricks. If that list elicits a great big “huh?” you probably missed out on Sloan’s seven scores in 2001. Since then the position has been largely a statistical wasteland in Detroit, and with Dan Campbell and Michael Gaines atop the depth chart there’s no reason to think that changes this season. Nothing to see here; move along.

Training Camp Fantasy Angle - The philosophy shift in Detroit doesn’t promise the fantasy sexiness of Air Martz, but there are running back issues to be decided which in turn will yield a possible fantasy helper. While it would be foolish to expect the Lions to tip their hand during the preseason, astute observers should get a feel for what Colletto’s new offense should look like when the games start to count in September.

Green Bay Packers
QB Carries Rush YD Rush TD Pass Comp Comp % Pass YD YPP Pass TD Int Rank YD Rank TD
2005 20 69 0 623 381 61% 3946 10.4 20 30 6 16
2006 25 39 1 625 347 56% 3917 11.3 18 18 10 19
2007 41 47 0 578 383 66% 4461 11.6 30 15 2 6

Quarterback - Somehow, “changing of the guard” just doesn’t begin to encompass what’s going on here. The Packers have gone full speed ahead with the transition to Aaron Rodgers despite Brett Favre’s reversal of field on his retirement, and there appears to be no going back. So it will be Rodgers getting the camp reps and attempting to fill some very big shoes. Green Bay’s system should provide support to its inexperienced quarterback, and what little we did see of Rodgers last year in the Dallas game was at least promising. However, you can’t be faulted if this situation scares you off for fantasy purposes. Of course, a preseason Rodgers injury and struggles by the rookie tandem of Brian Brohm and Matt Flynn might lead to a call to Kiln, Mississippi, at which point…

RB Carries Rush YD YPC Rush TD Target Rcv Catch % Catch YD Rcv TD Rank YD Rank TY Rank TD
2005 367 1247 3.4 11 154 115 75% 873 2 28 16 16
2006 399 1643 4.1 8 147 114 78% 828 3 19 12 22
2007 342 1534 4.5 13 125 95 76% 603 0 20 18 15

Running Backs - Was Ryan Grant’s stellar second half of 2007 the ground game solution Green Bay has been seeking since Ahman Green peaked in 2003? We may not get the chance to find out, as the relegated-to-the-back-pages camp story is starting to get ugly. If Grant gets the money he feels he deserved, will he be as motivated? Is he even capable of a follow up or was last year a fluke? Brandon Jackson and Vernand Morency weren’t able to fill the role last season; will they fare better given a second chance? Let’s assume cooler heads prevail and Grant returns; can he pick up where he left off, averaging 106 yards from scrimmage and better a touchdown per game after taking over the starting gig? With Rodgers at quarterback you can expect the Pack to lean more heavily on its running game, which bodes well for Grant’s numbers considering he produced his gaudy stats on roughly 18 carries per game. There is still some risk associated with a back who sports just a 10-game track record, but unless Rodgers proves thoroughly incompetent and opposing defenses are able to stack the box against Green Bay everything lays out for Grant’s continued success.

WR Target Rcv Catch % Catch YD YPR Rcv TD Ranks YD Rank TD
2005 328 182 55% 2358 13 12 14 18
2006 376 180 48% 2540 14.1 13 11 17
2007 349 220 63% 3140 14.3 21 5 7

Wide Receivers - It’s an admittedly small sample size, but consider that in the one game Rodgers played last season 12 of his 18 completions went to Donald Driver and Greg Jennings while none of Favre’s five completions were to his top two targets as he threw instead to Ruvel Martin, Koren Robinson, and James Jones. What can we learn from this? Few quarterbacks were better at coming up with a Plan B than Favre, a fact consistently spelled out in the reception totals of Green Bay’s third and fourth wideouts. Odds are that won’t be the case with Rodgers, who lacks the experience, arm, and sheer bravado to go that deep into his progressions and then make the throw. The expectation is for Green Bay to run a little more than in past years to ease Rodgers’ burden, so there will also be a smaller sum from which to draw shares. Driver and Jennings should be fine, but Jones—whose preseason showing dramatically overvalued him on draft day—and Martin not only can expect less action they’ll also have to contend with the Packers’ top pick, Jordy Nelson. End results: a slightly smaller total with the primary targets drawing larger shares shouldn’t negatively impact the fantasy values of Jennings and Driver but definitely mutes the potential of the rest of Green Bay’s wideouts.

TE Target Rcv Catch % Catch YD YPR Rcv TD Ranks YD Rank TD
2005 130 85 65% 725 8.5 6 13 10
2006 113 56 50% 580 10.4 2 17 26
2007 97 68 70% 718 10.6 9 12 6

Tight Ends
- Tight ends tend to be favorite targets of younger quarterbacks, as they’re an easy checkdown with the rush closing in and the first two reads covered. Factor in the prominence of a tight end in the typical West Coast offense game plan and there are plenty of reasons to like Donald Lee’s chances this year—especially since he no longer has to share with Bubba Franks. Rookie Jermichael Finley is a bit raw but athletic enough to take the second tight end job by season’s end; however, if he’s too good all he’ll do is take a bite out of Lee’s digits. Packer tight ends have traditionally been fantasy helpers and that should be the case again this season, with Lee being the better option and Finley a consideration in dynasty leagues.

Training Camp Fantasy Angle - With all due respect to Favre and apologist Peter King, the bigger story here is Grant’s holdout. At least the Pack has a plan in place at quarterback; Grant’s absence means they’re back to square one with their feature back. Once Grant’s contract is resolved, then the fantasy focus can turn to the myriad ways in which Rodgers can impact Green Bay’s array of fantasy weapons—as well as his own fantasy potential.

Minnesota Vikings
QB Carries Rush YD Rush TD Pass Comp Comp % Pass YD YPP Pass TD Int Rank YD Rank TD
2005 43 199 1 509 322 63% 3449 10.7 18 16 18 20
2006 46 161 2 538 330 61% 3371 10.2 11 20 17 31
2007 59 278 3 427 246 58% 2817 11.5 12 14 31 30

Quarterback - Vikings fans looking to Favre as the team's potential savior is akin to North Carolina hiring Mike Krzyzewski as its head coach; it might lead to a title, but it leaves you feeling more than a little icky inside. Of course, as Tarvaris Jackson himself has said, if he had played better there wouldn’t be the need for a debate. With Favre an unlikely candidate for a purple jersey all eyes will be on Jackson, as the Vikings are loaded just about everywhere else on the roster and have designs on more than merely a return to the postseason. T-Jax certainly won’t be asked to throw 40 times a game, not with Adrian Peterson in his backfield. What he will be asked to do is keep defenses from putting 10 men in the box, occupying the safeties with at least the threat of a deep ball, and not making the kind of mistakes that cost the Vikings victories—like his four-interception fiasco against the Lions in Week 2 last season. Jackson has a new target in Bernard Berrian and a burgeoning red zone option in Sidney Rice, so while gaudy yardage numbers are extremely unlikely he could throw and run his way to 20 combined touchdowns—numbers that make him at best an adequate fantasy backup.

RB Carries Rush YD YPC Rush TD Target Rcv Catch % Catch YD Rcv TD Rank YD Rank TY Rank TD
2005 326 1217 3.7 8 95 72 76% 515 4 30 30 24
2006 393 1648 4.2 10 138 106 77% 901 1 18 10 19
2007 428 2326 5.4 19 96 66 69% 693 1 1 1 3

Running Backs - The numbers are almost as jaw-dropping as an All Day run itself, with the most amazing being that 5.4 yards per carry average. The offense added a deep threat in hopes of stretching the field, and the remaining pieces return intact for another season of ground-game dominance. Peterson’s record-breaking performance last season, however, didn’t come with some of the same old questions regarding his durability—and worse, a three-yard debacle in San Francisco during Week 14 that likely knocked his fantasy owners out of the playoffs. Chester Taylor looms, but the job was a 2:1 share in ADP’s favor last season and if that shifts in any direction it will be in favor of Peterson. Taylor is a must-cuff, insurance for whatever injury concerns you may have regarding Peterson, but barring an ADP injury he’s looking at maybe a dozen carries a game at best. Hey, if it keeps Peterson fresh for the fantasy playoffs you know ADP owners will cede a few yards and the occasional vultured touchdown to get their 150 and two each week from 14 through 16.

WR Target Rcv Catch % Catch YD YPR Rcv TD Ranks YD Rank TD
2005 301 157 52% 2166 13.8 13 19 16
2006 291 159 55% 1983 12.5 9 19 24
2007 254 143 56% 1796 12.6 9 28 24

Wide Receivers - Minnesota is without question a run-first offense, helmed by a quarterback the fan base has clamored to replace… and yet both Bernard Berrian and Sidney Rice continue to creep up fantasy draft boards. In Berrian’s case it’s the theory that he’ll face defenses packed close to the line of scrimmage to stop Peterson, with Jackson under orders to throw at least a couple long balls a game in hopes of stretching the defense. Those who saw Troy Williamson drop multiple sure touchdowns down the field have already put those in the TD column for Berrian. Rice, on the other hand, is being viewed as an afterthought, a developing talent who may find himself left alone in the red zone while teams focus on Peterson and the ground game. Bobby Wade is the likely slot receiver, a sure target who won’t see enough balls thrown his way to produce anything of fantasy value. These Vikings won’t make anyone forget the Randy Moss/Cris Carter days, but there could be some sneaky fantasy value to be found; just make sure you treat Berrian and Rice as fantasy WR3s with upside instead of banking on them as WR2s.

TE Target Rcv Catch % Catch YD YPR Rcv TD Ranks YD Rank TD
2005 127 93 73% 768 8.3 1 10 29
2006 104 67 64% 518 7.7 3 20 25
2007 64 40 63% 449 11.2 2 28 29

Tight Ends
- That aforementioned theory about a West Coast offense and young quarterback producing good fantasy tight numbers? Doesn’t apply when the tight end in question is Visanthe Shiancoe. Of course, had Shiancoe held on to, among others, the two touchdowns he dropped last season… nah, the numbers still would have been abysmal. Minnesota left the need unaddressed this offseason, so they must believe Shiancoe is better than he demonstrated last year. He can’t be much worse, that’s for sure. Maybe Shiancoe can catch, maybe he takes advantage of defenses stacked at the line of scrimmage in the red zone, and maybe he produces a handful of touchdowns. That’s a lot of maybes, which means you should definitely wait until you have a bye week or injury need and Visanthe has shown a little something before pinning any fantasy hopes to him. Jimmy Kleinsasser is essentially an extra right tackle, and there is nothing else on the Viking roster at this position that warrants fantasy attention.

Training Camp Fantasy Angle - With what the Vikings have put in place, the training camp focus will be on the quarterback. But fantasy folks will want to watch where Jackson’s throws are ending up: downfield to Berrian? Rice in the red zone? More flares to Peterson and Taylor? There shouldn’t be any offensive surprises in Minnesota, but there is the potential for a pair of wideouts to contribute fantasy-wise—if Jackson has stepped up his game. You may not even need to watch; if T-Jax looks to be the Achilles’ heel you’ll hear the wails and moans of Viking fans no matter where you are on the planet.

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