NFC North Offseason Review

Jon Bray

04/18/2016

Chicago Bears

  • Overview – The Bears 2016 offseason to date can be characterized as a shift in focus from Offense to Defense.  Gone are offensive coordinator extraordinaire Adam Gase, RB Matt Forte and TE Martellus Bennett and in comes ILBs Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman and DE Akiem Hicks. All of the defensive additions are generally considered at bargain price tags compared to the quality of player being obtained, and will instantly upgrade the talent second year defensive coordinator veteran Vic Fangio has to work with.
  • Offense – Losing the likes of Gase, Forte and Bennett will of course lead to a significant shift in the team’s offensive character but QB coach Dowell Loggains steps into the coordinator role after helping QB Jay Cutler regain his post 2014 form.  Additionally, resurrected TE Zach Miller takes over for Bennett and if the second half of 2015 is any indication, then the drop off will be slight at worst.  RB therefore becomes the primary focus for the balance of the offseason….Jeremy Langford simply hasn’t shown to date that he is the type back that can carry the load or consistently contribute in pass protection.  Forte is aging and you can’t fault the front office for deciding the time is right for a movement, however it’s now imperative that the rookie draft produce a quality back to at least complement Langford and second year prospect Kadeem Carey in a platoon.  Resigning WR Alshon Jeffrey was the priority, and the team came through in this regard.
  • Fantasy Impact – While the general perception is that the Adam Gase offense is one centered around the passing game (due primarily to the high flying nature of his time in Denver with Peyton and Company), the fact is the Chicago offense ranked #6 in 2015 in rushing attempts and a paltry #25 in passing attempts.  This fact combined with (1) an expected return to more balance under Loggains and (2) the vacated targets from Forte and Bennett now available to returning pass catchers, gives rise to a potential monster season for Alshon Jeffrey.  Ample opportunity should also exist for WR Kevin White and TE Zach Miller, however White will effectively be playing a rookie season after missing all of 2015 to injury and Miller is a mid-level talent at best and is north of 30 years old.  Cutler remains a solid backup QB but not one worth starting most weeks in most fantasy formats.  The RB position, as mentioned above, needs to be examined post-draft as Langford, Carey and a rookie option will all likely factor into some time-share in 2016.
  • DefenseWhile the defensive results for the Bears in season 1 under Fangio was a massive upgrade over the debacle of 2014, plenty of room for improvement exists.  The Bears addressed the biggest performance gaps from 2015 through the acquisitions of Trevathan, Freeman and Hicks.  The expectation is that another big step forward is likely in Fangio’s second year.  The track record for the 28 year NFL vet fully supports this notion as well.
  • Draft – First round: 11th overall selection; Second round: 41st overall selection
  • Coaching – John Fox remains at the helm and he will want to continue to build on the defensive front and improve the running game effectiveness, however the full impact of shifting from a Gase offense to a Loggains offense remains to be seen.

 

 

 

Detroit Lions

  • Overview – Really just one significant offseason development for the Detroit franchise, however it was likely the most significant in the entire NFL….the retirement of Calvin Johnson of course.  This will no doubt leave a gaping hole in the offense as Johnson was the centerpiece of the Detroit passing game for nearly a decade now.
  • Offense – With Johnson’s somewhat unexpected early retirement, the Lions made the best free agent WR move that they really could have by adding Marvin Jones, the very capable number 2 option in Cincinnati the past few years.  Jones and Golden Tate form a respectable, though far less dynamic tandem for QB Matthew Stafford to throw to in 2016.  Otherwise, all skill players return hoping to rebound after a disappointing performance in 2015.
  • Fantasy Impact – Going into 2016, Golden Tate should now see ample enough targets out of necessity alone to warrant WR2 status.  Tate was already a heavily targeted receiver throughout the 2015 campaign despite Calvin’s presence, though he failed to crack 100 yards in any single game.  Look for that to change quickly in 2016.  Jones should be a strong WR3, and will likely see a bit more coverage attention than he might have with the Bengals, though again the targets should certainly increase.  TE Eric Ebron now bumps up against the TE1 ranks, and this could be a breakout year for the very talented pass catcher.  At RB, it’s likely second year phenom Ameer Abdullah is given greater opportunity for touches at the expense of Joique Bell in particular, as Bell is yet to be resigned by the club.  Stafford likely deserves a downgrade now not being able to simply throw it up to one side of the field in occasional desperation, with the real chance his former 6 foot 5 inch prototype would come down with the ball in amazing fashion.
  • Defense – The Lions wisely resigned both LB Tahir Whitehead and DT Haloti Ngata this offseason, but saw some shuffling in the secondary.  #2 CB Rashean Mathis was another offseason retirement casualty for Detroit, and will likely be replaced via the rookie draft as a second starting caliber corner does not currently appear to be on the roster.   Strong safety Isa Abdul-Quddus has departed for Miami and his snaps will be taken by the combination of incumbent James Ihedigbo and new acquisition Tavon Wilson from New England.  All in, Detroit should remain in the upper half of NFL defensive units in the upcoming season.
  • Draft – First round: 16th overall selection; Second round: 46th overall selection
  • CoachingThe majority of the Lion coaching staff returns, though second year offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter (yes, potentially the greatest namesake in NFL history) will have a real task cut out for himself trying to improve a somewhat stagnant offense without the greatest WR in franchise history.  Jim Caldwell remains at head coach despite many rumors he would not return and Teryl Austin leads the defense in hopes of returning to the #2 rank he led them to in 2014.

 

Green Bay Packers

  • Overview – Another typical Green Bay offseason of not much excitement or major moves made.  The entire starting 11 on offense returns, though Jordy Nelson returning healthy is absolutely a welcome upgrade from being forced to start a not-quite-ready Davante Adams in 2015.  TE Jared Cook was obtained and should battle Richard Rodgers for the starting slot.
  • Offense – The Packer offense in 2015 was uncharacteristically average, and much of that was due to limited passing options for QB Aaron Rodgers and a letdown performance from RB Eddie Lacy, which presumably was tied to his poor weight training management.  This offseason, Jordy Nelson returns to health and Lacy, by all indications, has fully dedicated himself to his fitness and preparedness in order to return to his prior all-pro level.  A year of experience and another offseason program can only help the likes of Davante Adams, Ty Montgomery and Jeff Janis as well.
  • Fantasy Impact – Rodgers and WR Randal Cobb were clearly not the same without Nelson running the deep seam and sideline routes.  Opposing defenses were effectively able to shrink the amount of field that required tight defense.  Nelson’s return along with a re-dedicated Lacy (15 to 18 lbs lighter currently) should return the Packers passing game skill players to their 2015 preseason ranks.  Rodgers is arguably the number 1 fantasy QB, Nelson is a high end WR1, Cobb a WR2 and Adams/Janis/Montgomery as lottery ticket flyers.  The winner of the starting TE spot between Cook and Rodgers becomes fantasy roster-able as a decent backup option.  At RB, Lacy’s wasted season allowed James Starks to reassert his viability to some extent which causes a bit more of a time share than what Lacy owners would like.  Currently, Lacy looks like a high-end RB2 option while Starks is solid roster depth.
  • Defense Green Bay’s defensive unit was solid in 2015, and the only notable departure this offseason is CB Casey Heyward to the San Diego Chargers.  The organization will likely focus on the defensive side of the ball in the rookie draft, particularly at inside linebacker and corner back.
  • Draft – First round: 27th overall selection; Second round: 57th overall selection
  • Coaching – The majority of the coaching staff returns in 2016, including both coordinators and head coach Mike McCarthy.  The defense remains in long time defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ capable hands.  Offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett returns for a second season with what the team hopes is a full and healthy complement of weapons in 2016.

 

Minnesota Vikings

  • Overview – Minnesota has had one of the most deceptively productive and well managed off-season’s in the league.  After a year where the offensive line performed well despite ill-timed injuries, the front office made shrewd moves to shore up the line with veteran bargain free agents in OT Andre Smith and OG Alex Boone.  The team did let WR Mike Wallace walk, and rightfully so after one of the more inefficient performances among starting WR’s in the league.  The defense is all business in their upward trajectory, and the Vikings are one of a small handful of NFL teams that has full flexibility to draft “best available player” throughout the upcoming rookie draft.
  • Offense – The offensive line now has 8 to 9 starting quality options to choose among, and is due some good luck after losing two starters before the 2015 season began. At WR. Stefon Diggs was a revelation in 2015 allowing the team to part ways with the under-performing and over-paid Mike Wallace.  Otherwise, the offense returns in tact looking to continue improvement made in 2015.
  • Fantasy Impact – This is far from the most fantasy-friendly offense in the league, and past Adrian Peterson and perhaps Stefon Diggs, not one is much approaching fantasy starter relevance.  The Viking offense is one that is much more effective from an NFL wins and losses perspective than it is from a fantasy perspective.  QB Teddy Bridgewater, RB Jerrick McKinnon and TE Kyle Rudolph make solid fantasy roster depth though the ceiling is very much capped for each.
  • Defense – A top 5 NFL defense with back to back years of measurable improvement, not much was needing to be done in the offseason.  S Michael Griffin was signed as secondary depth in the place of departing Robert Blanton, but otherwise this appears to be a very focused cohesive unit intent on improving in year 3 of the Mike Zimmer regime.
  • Draft – First round: 23rd overall selection; Second round: 54th overall selection
  • Coaching – Year 3 of the Mike Zimmer, Norv Turner and George Edwards era begins with two years of steady improvement under their belt.  This is a front office and coaching staff that seems to simply get “it” as far as it relates to NFL wins and losses success, but again not much to look at in the way of fantasy stardom.  Watch and appreciate the practical achievement this franchise generates, but not worth spending too much time analyzing the fantasy prospects along the way.

 

 

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