Editor’s Note: We asked Red Zone Rick to evaluate the top fantasy football players across the divisions by identifying gold level candidates (best prospects relative to projected draft round), silver level, bronze level, and diamonds in the rough (high ceiling selections with potentially incredible value).
In this first in the series, he’s evaluating the NFC North, breaking out his evaluations on a team-by-team basis.
NFC North Fantasy Football Rankings
Having grown up in Minnesota, I follow this division very closely. The 2019 season projects to be a strong one for stars in the North. But, let’s take a deeper dive and see which stars have the highest potential to shine, and which provide the most value.
It’s the Olympic scoring systems – Gold, Silver, and Bronze – with Diamonds-in-the-Rough thrown in for good measure. And, we’ll take it one team at a time.
1.) The Bears Defense
A year ago, nobody expected the Bears to do anything in 2018. Matt Nagy had other ideas. The last-minute addition of Khalil Mack turned the NFC North on its head as the Chicago defense instantly became a real problem for everyone lining up against them.
The Bears made it to the playoffs and were a makeable, game-winning field goal away from the divisional round. And all of this because of a rock solid defense. The formula is the same in 2019, but with another year of experience.
2.) Jordan Howard (RB)
The big man. He was billed as “too physical” of a runner by some of the teams that passed on him during the draft. Why that would ever be considered a bad thing? I really don’t know.
He can get touchdowns, first downs, and can even catch the ball. He does share touches, but that just keeps him fresh in my eyes. The Bears are a game controlling, clock churning, hard-hitting team and Howard is probably the single most essential cog on the offensive side.
3.) Allen Robinson (WR)
If you had doubt about Robinson last year, that’s okay, you weren’t alone. Coming off of a torn ACL and heading from sunny Jacksonville to the bitter tundra of Soldier Field, there was cause for concern. But Robinson hit his stride and started to look like his old self as the season went on. It wasn’t a false indicator. He will be back and even better than last year.
1.) Taylor Gabriel (WR)
Gabriel can be knocked as a gadget player. Be as it may, Matt Nagy loves himself some gadgets to play around with (Gabriel, Tarik Cohen, Cordarrelle Patterson) and isn’t afraid to give his gadgets a big workloads if they’re the right tool for the job. Gabriel might not be every week, but he certainly is explosive and started to put up some respectable fantasy numbers last year.
2.) Anthony Miller (WR)
He’s young but that just means he has room to grow. Someone has to be the receiver Trubisky can trust when he can’t get the ball to Robinson. Look for him to make the leap in year two.
1.) Trey Burton (TE)
As far as tight ends go, Burton is kind of a gadget man himself. And under Nagy, expect all the gadgets to get used when the time is right.
2.) Mitch Trubisky (QB)
Calm and collected, Trubisky is probably a textbook example of a game-manager. At times last season (specifically after his shoulder injury) his interceptions were higher than desired, but for the most part he was a solid player. Probably not your target for a QB1 this year, but never say never.
Diamond in the Rough
1.) Tarik Cohen (RB)
Cohen, The human joystick, is a highlight reel waiting to happen every week. He moves backwards, forwards, side to side– and he spins too. Every time he touches the ball he is dangerous. And on top of all that, he isn’t afraid of adding a little contact at the end of a run just to get his point across (or the ball across the goal line).
He truly transcended the “gadget player” and “change of pace” titles last year and became a unique weapon with real fantasy value.
Most Exciting Player in 2019? Tarik Cohen Video
The Minnesota Vikings
1.) Stefon Diggs (WR)
He’s one-half of the most deadly one-two punch in the NFL right now.
2.) Adam Thielen (WR)
He’s the other half.
3.) Dalvin Cook (RB)
The Vikings were thinking Super Bowl last year and instead missed the playoffs. There are two prominent theories predominating the world of Monday-morning quarterbacks: The Offensive Line was Swiss cheese, and the Vikings didn’t run the ball nearly enough.
Well, any improvement in either of those areas will spell good tidings for Cook. And it is no secret that the Vikings will try to utilize Cook this year. And here are a few reasons why you can count on Cook:
a.) Mike Zimmer fired his OC mid-season for lack of running the ball. So you already know that if Kevin Stefanski wants to keep his job he’s going to call more runs.
b.) The offensive line can’t possibly be worse than it was last year (because presumably Mike Zimmer also wants to keep his job).
c.) The Vikings let Latavius Murray sign with the Saints, so there are a lot more touches available.
1.) The Vikings Defense
Mike Zimmer’s baby. He has been crafting this defense ever since he left Cincinnati and with the retention of Anthony Barr the whole unit (Sans Sheldon Richardson who was only there for one season anyway) will remain together.
This defense very easily could be gold-rated but got blown-up a few too many times last year for this writer to feel completely comfortable with awarding that level of prestige. But make no mistake, this unit is the real deal and don’t feel gun shy about drafting them if the time is right.
2.) Kirk Cousins
The big contract; the new team; Super Bowl expectations. He just couldn’t deliver. But in the infamous words of Marshawn Lynch: “Football is a team sport”. One guy can’t do it all.
Don’t let the down year fool you, Cousins has good mechanics and a good brain for football–the whole team just needs to learn how to play and find their identity around their most expensive chess piece. Don’t be shocked when Cousins bounces back in 2019.
1.) Laquon Treadwell (WR)
It’s safe to say the former first round pick is officially a bust. But the Vikings haven’t given up on him yet. With Diggs and Thielen drawing the undivided attention of corners and safeties, the opportunities undoubtedly will be there for Treadwell. If he can make the most of them, he may have some fantasy value.
Diamond in the Rough
1.) Kyle Rudolph (TE)
This man can be the missing link between Minnesota’s offense and the end zone. He’s a big target with good hands and good speed. Cousins and Rudolph developed a bit of a chemistry as the season went on, and with Laquon Treadwell’s disappearing act since arriving in the NFL, someone needs to be that extra option for the Vikings’ QB.
If the Vikings do put it together this season, count on Rudolph being an integral component.
Green Bay Packers
1.) Aaron Rodgers (QB)
Do I even need to write anything about why this guy is solid gold? I will, but I’ll keep it short: he has a MASSIVE ego and is coming off of a disappointing season. That means Aaron Rodgers will be a little cheaper and on top of all the arm talent he now has a little chip on his shoulder.
Aaron Rodgers Beer Chugging Contest (ok, more the David Bakhtiari) Video
2.) Davante Adams (WR)
He’s Aaron’s go-to guy. That’s all the reason you need.
1.) Aaron Jones (RB)
The other Aaron you want to own from this franchise. Can he stay healthy? That’s literally the only thing to question here. He has running back talent that jumps off the game tape. Green Bay was approaching its run game with the committee mentality (which may still be the case) but now there is a clear leader in the RB race.
The only problem is that he’s showcased his talent for the whole football world to see and yet he still hasn’t really shown he can be a RB1 as far as fantasy managers are concerned.
2.) Jamaal Williams (RB)
The other running back you should concern yourself with when eyeing Green Bay’s backfield. Jones has more talent but don’t let that overshadow the fact that Williams is a complete RB and has proven himself very useful in aiding Aaron Rodgers and Co.
It’s likely that new head coach Matt LaFleur will deploy a committee, although Jones will be the feature-piece. Concurrently, Williams will see his draft value plummet (bargain shopping). He may not be an RB2, but he could be at some point. And the price likely will be very agreeable.
1.) The Packers Defense
The Packers have done a lot to strengthen this D after their horrendous showing in 2017, but is this really the year they become a defensive team? The answer is, No. The Packers are an offensive team but Aaron Rodgers needs help and that includes beefing up the defense. Wait and see with this group, but there might be some great plug-and-play opportunities this season.
2.) Jimmy Graham (TE)
Ted Thompson would be rolling in his proverbial grave if he was dead, but he’s not, the Packers are just indicating that the Ted Thompson Era is dead. And it already feels like their “No Free Agent” mantra was a lifetime ago.
How’s that working out for them? Well, they signed Jimmy Graham to a massive contract and he got all of 2 touchdowns in his first season as a Packer. So, not well. Can you expect him to rebound this year? I wouldn’t.
But they have paid him so handsomely that you know they will find ways to get him involved. He’s probably a mid season trade target after the owner who drafts him gets utterly fed-up with a string of low-point performances. Buy low; plug-and-play high.
Diamond in the Rough
1.) Marquez Valdes-Scantling (WR)
The only thing harder than saying Marquez Valdes-Scantling ten times fast is envisioning the entire football world uttering his name on a weekly basis because he becomes a superstar. But let’s face it, saying his name ten times fast is actually the harder thing because the latter could possibly happen this year.
It’s a long shot but hear me out. Randall Cobb is gone, Jordy Nelson went to the Patriots (and didn’t return to Green Bay) and Davante Adams is too good for defenses not to plan around. So when the opposing defense specifically tries to slow down the WR1, where does arguably the best QB of all time throw the ball? MVS.
Note, Geronimo Allison has a dark horse shot at being the WR2 as well. Both of them should be cheap. I recommend getting at least one of them – preferably Marquez Valdes-Scantling.
1.) To Be Determined
Right now, no one on the Lions is jumping out at the Gold Level. I’ll continue to monitor.
1.) Kerryon Johnson (RB)
If anyone can make a case for being a gold-caliber player on this team, it’s Kerryon, yet as it is right now he certainly feels like more of a silver level player with a silver lining. He is everything you want from a guy that could be a lead back, we just need to wait and see if he can deliver. Silver with upside.
2.) Marvin Jones Jr. (WR)
He has certainly shined very bright at moments since leaving Cinci, he’s also faded away at times too. He’s fast and gets open and Stafford can certainly gun-sling which compliments his skill sets, yet he has never been a dominating factor all season. With Golden Tate gone, Jones will get looks, but he just doesn’t feel like the “Number 1” guy yet. Maybe that changes.
3.) Matt Stafford (QB)
He’s always been good, but not always been great. He has a big arm, one could argue the biggest arm, and that’s never a bad thing. Yet even with the huge contract and years upon years of experience with the Lions, he is still a poor man’s Aaron Rodgers – but how bad of a thing can that be, really?
He’s a solid, reliable quarterback, but too often the “Wow” factor isn’t really there. If the price is right though, Stafford is a great QB to grab.
4.) Matt Prater (K)
Big leg; middle of the road team; clutch kicks. He’s got what you need. But, as always, kickers get drafted very, very late.
1.) Theo Riddick (RB)
In PPR leagues Riddick get a sizable bump. But he just wasn’t that effective last year. He’s never a bad guy to have on your team, but he’s probably going to be on your team bench. He’s a good football player, but not a reliable fantasy producer–and reliable points is the bread and butter of a successful fantasy team.
2.) The Lions Defense
Matt Patricia is a defensive genius (and a rocket scientist). The defense struggled at times last year, but they have a lot of promising talent (Darius Slay can be phenomenal) in need of a few finishing touches to bring it all together. That’s where a full year under Patricia could really start to show its value this year.
3.) Danny Amendola
Speaking of time with Patricia, the Amendola addition is clearly because of the familiarity between the two ex-Patriots (and a Super Bowl ring, or two). He disappeared in Miami last year, but maybe a little time away in the Florida sun was all the rest he needed. We’ll wait-n-see with this one though.
Diamond in the Rough
1.) Kenny Golladay
He passes the eye test. And the ceiling, well there isn’t one. Can he get there? Maybe. If you can get Golladay on your roster – no reaching – you should feel pretty good about your choice to nab him. He needs to iron-out a few kinks and find his groove, but everything is there for Kenny to be the WR1 in Detroit.
So, there you have it. In what many are projecting to be the most competitive division, fantasy stars from the NFC North may likely play a big role in point accumulation in your league. Keep a close eye on these teams.
— Red Zone Rick
Red Zone Rick is a long time fantasy football player, commissioner, and writer. Look for his insights coming soon on other divisions. When not breaking down film and analyzing data, he can be found practicing judo, reading or running.
You’re on NFC North Fantasy Football Rankings 2019 page.
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