Thursday, Sep 8th
Monday, Sep 12th

2022 NFC North

Chicago Bears

General Manager Ryan Pace had an extremely busy offseason, bringing in eight new staff members including new head coach Matt Eberflus, new offensive coordinator Luke Getsy, and new defensive coordinator Alan Williams. In addition to the entirely new front office, Pace hired two new faces to head up the team’s new “technology department,” with director of football analytics Krithi Chandrakasan and football systems developer Ryan Hubley. The mere fact that the Bears now have an analytics department is a sizeable plus.

The Bears made 11 total selections in this year’s draft, beginning in the second round with cornerback Kyler Gordon with the 39th overall pick. They didn’t have to wait long for the next pick as the team selected safety Jaquan Brisker with the 48th pick of the second round. They continued with wide receiver Velus Jones, Jr. in the third (71st overall), offensive tackle Brandon Jones in the fifth (168th overall), defensive edge Dominique Robinson in the fifth (174th overall), offensive tackle Zachary Thomas in the sixth (186th overall), running back Trestan Ebner in the sixth (203rd overall), offensive lineman Doug Kramer in the sixth (207th overall), offensive lineman Ja’Tyre Carter in the seventh (226th overall), safety Elijah Hicks in the seventh (254th overall), and punter Trenton Gill in the seventh (255th overall).

Defensive lineman Eddie Goldman, linebacker Danny Trevathan, running back Tarik Cohen, and linebacker Khalil Mack all departed via trade or release this offseason for the Bears, who were equally as busy with free-agent acquisitions. They brought in prospective starting center Lucas Patrick, prospective starting defensive lineman Justin Jones, prospective starting defensive edge Al-Quadin Muhammad, prospective starting wide receivers Equanimeous St. Brown and Byron Pringle, prospective starting weakside linebacker Nicholas Morrow, and a slew of additional depth pieces. As I said before, Ryan Pace was quite busy this offseason.

Interpretation

It’s hard to project this defense for anything more than a bottom 10 unit in 2022 considering the extensive amount of defensive personnel turnover, and even that might be too giving. Now consider the fact that PFF has the Bears offensive line graded as the worst unit entering the 2022 season, paired with little-to-no pass-catching depth to speak of, and we’re left with a likeliest scenario that has Chicago playing catchup for a good portion of the season. There are two ways to view those truths, we can either write this team off entirely or buy into the few players on the roster that we can have confidence in. If you’ve followed my Best Ball journey on the Twitter machine, you probably know where I stand on that debate – give me every single share of quarterback Justin Fields, primary wide receiver Darnell Mooney, and borderline every-down tight end Cole Kmet. Let’s break it down. 

Justin Fields got such a raw deal in 2021, being thrown into the starting lineup after receiving almost zero first-team repetitions in both camp and preseason, which should help to explain his lack of pocket presence and unwillingness to run the football. With a full offseason as “the guy,” I expect those two blemishes to be vastly improved in what will be his first full season as an NFL starting quarterback. Before we get too far down this rabbit hole, it bears repeating just how poor this offensive line is projected to be, so he’s going to need to greatly improve upon his pocket presence, vision, and escapability, but the good news is those are all quarterback traits that can be learned, or improved upon, once at the NFL level, and his rushing prowess cannot be understated. The combination of an underwhelming defense and poor offensive line should add to the weekly rushing floor as well as keep his pass attempts at healthy levels, leading to Fields being my most-owned quarterback through the early portion of the Best Ball draft window at a current QB16 valuation. What’s more, his two primary pass-catchers are absurdly cheap to stack, not to mention the tertiary guys are free. Add it all up and I’m doing myself a disservice if Fields, Mooney, and Kmet are not amongst the highest-owned players at their respective positions when all is said and done.

The previous regime was plenty comfy in giving the majority of the running back work to one back in most weeks, an idea that has kept lead back David Montgomery’s draft price objectively high. Eberflus comes over from his previous position as defensive coordinator for the Colts, while new offensive coordinator Luke Getsy previously served as the quarterbacks coach for the Packers. Both offenses had, until the Colts changed course in 2021, utilized a tandem back system in the past and I’m more inclined to believe that could be the case moving forward. Khalil Herbert, newcomer free-agent addition Darrynton Evans, and pass-catching specialist rookie Trestan Ebner all offer unique skillsets that could keep all four backs active come game day, particularly considering Ebner’s special teams’ prowess. If forced to make a prediction today, I would guess Montgomery regresses to a more standard-for-today’s-game 60-65% of weekly running back opportunities, with Khalil Herbert the primary change of pace back and Trestan Ebner potentially mixing in on obvious passing downs and some third downs. Ebner is likely to contribute primarily on special teams. Chicago ranked 26th in explosive play rate via the run in 2021 and there isn’t much to inspire confidence at that rate increasing moving forward.

Detroit Lions

Head coach Dan Campbell and defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn enter their second season in their respective positions for the Lions, with new offensive coordinator Ben Johnson receiving the in-house promotion from Detroit’s tight ends coaching position.

Detroit possessed eight total picks in this year’s NFL draft, kicking things off with their selection of defensive edge Aidan Hutchinson with the second overall pick. Their second pick in the draft came quickly with the selection of wide receiver Jameson Williams with the 12th overall pick in the first round. They continued with defensive edge Josh Paschal in the second round (46th overall), safety Kirby Joseph in the third (97th overall), tight end James Mitchell in the fifth (177th overall), linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez in the sixth (188th overall), defensive edge James Houston in the sixth (217th overall), and cornerback Chase Lucas in the seventh (237th overall).

The Lions took a conservative approach to free agency, electing to re-sign the vast majority of players whose contracts were up to one or two-year deals, signing only five newcomers all to one-year deals. Those players include wide receiver DJ Chark, tight end Garrett Griffin, cornerback Mike Hughes, linebacker Chris Board, and safety DeShon Elliott. They made no trades and only released defensive end Trey Flowers as a cap casualty. The vanilla trend invoked by GM Brad Holmes continued in his second offseason in the position.

Interpretation

“(Insert joke here) is good for ARSB” and “you’re too low on D’Andre Swift” are about the extent of the offseason rumblings surrounding this team so far this year. If that doesn’t tell you how boring this franchise has become, I don’t know what will. In all seriousness, Dan Campbell and Brad Holmes have come together to form one of the most conservative head coach/GM pairings in the league, electing to build their team from the inside-out. They have dedicated the majority of their attention in the draft the past two years into the offensive and defensive lines, which, in all honesty, is the optimal way to turn an NFL franchise around. What it doesn’t do is make for an exciting offense to attack through both season-long drafts and DFS. 

2021 saw this team experience a plethora of key injuries, which eventually left then-rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown as the lone bright spot over the second half of the season. Tight end TJ Hockenson was hurt, running back D’Andre Swift was hurt, and even quarterback Jared Goff got hurt. This year, the team drafted Jameson Williams with the 12th overall pick, brought in wide receiver DJ Chark, and both Hockenson and Swift appear to be healthier than they have been in some time. Williams is likely to miss most, if not all, of camp and preseason after tearing his ACL in the NCAA Championship game last season, meaning we’re likely to get a starting wide receiver unit consisting of DJ Chark and Josh Reynolds on the perimeter with ARSB in the slot to start the year. Detroit ran 11-personnel just above league-average at 63%, played at a moderate 19th-ranked pace, and ranked near the middle of the league in explosive play rate in 2021. We should expect the recent trend of “smashmouth football” to continue under Campbell. 

What should help this team the most is an offensive line that ranks in the top five in the league heading into 2022, which will benefit both the run game and short to intermediate pass game. The additions on the defensive line should also offer a slight boost to the 62.1 plays per game this team was able to run in 2021, but the fact that Goff surpassed 300 yards passing in only one of 14 games keeps the fantasy prospectus of their pass-catchers rather bleak considering the now-unconcentrated nature of their offense. Goff’s 6.4 and 6.8 average intended air yards values over the previous two seasons, coming on two different teams, highlight the fact that he is most comfortable working the short-to-intermediate areas of the field, again, a trend that should continue moving forward. Expect D’Andre Swift to remain the alpha out of this backfield, and his gaudy receiving role keeps him in firm top-12 consideration in PPR formats. He feels priced closer to ceiling in half-PPR and standard-scoring formats considering his low TD expectancy and poor rushing volume expectancy. Jamaal Williams will once again serve as the primary change of pace back and feels entirely over-drafted in current Best Ball contests. Finally, argue all you want about the fact that “targets are earned” when speaking on ARSB, but I want the targets earned by players on my Best Ball rosters to carry more upside than a 7.0 aDOT and modest 1.07 yards per snap, which came in a season that saw him emerge as the primary option more out of necessity than anything else. Yeah, sorry dudes and dudettes, I’m down on this offense compared to the industry. 

Green Bay Packers

Matt LaFleur returns for his fourth season as head coach of the Packers, joined by in-house promotion, offensive coordinator Adam Stenavich (LaFluer calls offensive plays), and second-year Packers defensive coordinator Joe Barry.

Green Bay made a hefty 11 selections in this year’s NFL draft, beginning with a pair of late first-round selections in linebacker Quay Walker (22nd overall) and defensive tackle Devonte Wyatt (28th overall). Both should make immediate impacts in the gut of this defense. Wide receiver Christian Watson was next off the board for the Packers, who some say was a reach at 34th overall in the second round, followed by offensive lineman Sean Rhyan in the third (92nd overall), wide receiver Romeo Doubs in the fourth (132nd overall), offensive lineman Zach Tom in the fourth (140th overall), outside linebacker Kingsley Enagbare in the fifth (179th overall), inside linebacker Tariq Carpenter in the seventh (228th overall), defensive tackle Jonathan Ford in the seventh (234th overall), offensive tackle Rasheed Walker in the seventh (248th overall), and wide receiver Samori Toure in the seventh (257th overall).

Collective eyes were on Aaron Rodgers to start free agency, which quickly turned to Davante Adams and his departure for Las Vegas. Linebacker Za’Darius Smith and hole-filler offensive lineman Billy Turner were released by the team, who then brought in free agent wide receiver Sammy Watkins as their major signing (yeah, real major). Finally, the team brought in no less than three kickers to apparently compete with the aging Mason Crosby.

Interpretation

What a glass case of emotions the Packers put fans through this offseason, amirite? First, it looked as if Aaron Rodgers was going to hang them up, likely at the request of his new witchdoctor girlfriend (kidding, kind of). Then Davante Adams jumped ship for Las Vegas, allegedly after being offered more money by the Packers. Things have just not been right with this franchise since they pulled the secret selection of first-round quarterback Jordan Love. All joking aside, they still have the best quarterback potentially to ever play the game in Aaron Rodgers, have an ascending defense, and have a dynamic backfield duo capable of ripping chunk gains with every touch, both on the ground and through the air. Speaking of an ascending defense, the Packers combined a high time of possession, slow pace of play, and elite secondary to allow only 21.3 points per game in 2021, good for 10th in the league. The in-season addition of Rasul Douglas, paired with the elite athleticism across the back end in Jaire Alexander, Eric Stokes, Adrian Amos, and Darnell Savage, gave this defense the spark they needed to turn the corner against the pass. Newcomers De’Vondre Campbell and Quay Walker will need to mesh better with nose tackle Kenny Clark than the previous inside linebackers did in order to put a clamp on the run, but each pass the initial eye test to do just that. 

This should allow the Packers to continue their sluggish pace of play moving forward, but we have to question whether or not they will maintain the same level of efficiency on offense after the departure of Davante Adams. His exodus leaves Allen Lazard as the top wide receiver on the depth chart, an interesting development for a guy widely regarded as one of the top blocking wide receivers in the league. His modest 1.34 yards per route run and 15.6% target rate on routes run values leave a lot to be desired, and it remains to be seen if his role in this offense really sees a drastic change. I’m of the opinion it doesn’t, as his blocking acumen is just such a large contributor to how this offense runs that it’s difficult for me to see LaFleur giving that up. That leaves newcomer Sammy Watkins, rookie Christian Watson, geriatric slot-man Randall Cobb, and flash-in-the-pan tight end Robert Tonyan fighting for relevance (and roster positions, possibly) in pass-catching corps devoid of spark.

The biggest spark on said pass-catching corps is likeliest to be running back Aaron Jones, whose numbers are absolutely ridiculous through the air in all games coming without Adams in his career. Now, it’s silly to extrapolate a small sample size to fit an entire season, particularly when so much changes with this offense with Adams’ departure, but we would be foolish to think LaFleur won’t devise new ways to feature his dynamic running back. Joining Jones in the backfield will be third-year bruiser AJ Dillon, whose silly 66.3% yards after contact value in 2021 was amongst the league leaders at the position. His 91.9% catch rate, 0% drop rate, and 9.4 average yards after catch values from a year ago might catch many by surprise, and I quietly expect his role to grow in the pass game moving forward as well. Consider this duo about as close to a 50-50 split as possible, with the added benefit of each likely being the featured piece when on the field. Both currently feel like values at their respective Best Ball ADPs.

Minnesota Vikings

New General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah started his tenure by hiring former quarterback and Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell for his head coach position, who brought new offensive coordinator Wes Phillips with him, previously the tight ends coach for the Rams. Defensive coordinator Ed Donatell was added to round out the new triad, coming over from his previous-held position as defensive coordinator for Denver.

Adofo-Mensah made a bit of a mockery of the first round in his first NFL draft, trading back from the 12th pick to the final pick of the first round before selecting safety Lewis Cine out of Georgia. Next off the board was former Clemson cornerback Andrew Booth at 42nd overall in the second round, who should be viewed as an upside pick at cost considering his extensive injury history. The Vikings continued with guard Ed Ingram in the second (59th overall), linebacker Brian Asamoah in the third (66th overall), cornerback Akayleb Evans in the fourth (118th overall), defensive end Esezi Otomewo in the fifth (165th overall), running back Ty Chandler in the fifth (166th overall), offensive tackle Vederian Lowe in the sixth (184th overall), wide receiver Jalen Nailor in the sixth (191st overall), and tight end Nick Muse in the seventh (227th overall).

Minnesota targeted two former Packers in early free agency in linebacker Za’Darius Smith and cornerback Chandon Sullivan, who each should immediately step into starting roles on defense. Linebacker Jordan Hicks and defensive tackle Harrison Phillips were also brought in on the defensive side of the ball. Continuity is king in football, and the Vikings return an offense with 11 familiar faces entering 2022.

Interpretation

Welcome to my bet for the biggest increase in potential fun for 2022 – the Minnesota Vikings. Gone are the Brad Childresses, Leslie Fraziers, and Mike Zimmers of the world. The Vikings suffered through 17 consecutive seasons of vanilla and boring football before the hiring of former quarterback Kevin O’Connell. The industry seems to finally be waking up to the fact that this offense has all the makings to be one of the most electric in the league this year, anchored by perennial underdog quarterback Kirk Cousins, dynamic running back Dalvin Cook, All-World wide receiver Justin Jefferson, and the thrown-to-the-wolves Adam Thielen. Oh yea, and KJ Osborne and Irv Smith, Jr. are above replacement value as well. We should expect this offense to look more put together than in previous seasons, not just built around the run and “winging” the rest on the fly. Expect Kirk Cousins’ efficiency to jump back up playing for a head coach that stresses as much, being a previous quarterback and all, after two consecutive seasons of decreased numbers in that area. Enough has been said about Justin Jefferson at this point, so I won’t belabor that here, but Adam Thielen deserves our respect and admiration, and he isn’t getting as much thus far in draft szn. Thielen has finished as the WR15 or better in fantasy points per game each of the last three seasons in Minnesota and now gets to play in an offense that is likely to feature his position on the field. That is absolutely mouth-watering, yet he is currently being drafted in the seventh round of early Best Ball drafts. Sign me up for that all day.

I expect the offense to remain rather concentrated, similar to what we have seen over the previous two seasons, with Jefferson, Thielen, and Dalvin on center stage. While we’re there, Kirk Cousins has missed a total of two games at the NFL level over the previous seven seasons, has passed for 4,200 or more yards in three of the previous four seasons in Minnesota, and has thrown 33 or more touchdowns each of the past two years. He now gets a coaching and scheme upgrade and is being drafted as the QB14 in early Best Ball drafts. Put some respect on that man’s name (and draft him, too!). If you’ve had a chance to peek at my top 300 rankings already, this write-up probably makes a lot of sense. If you haven’t, check them out here!

26-year-old running back Dalvin Cook is in the meat of his prime, which seems crazy considering his dominance to this point. Consider Dalvin one of the few workhorses remaining in the NFL game, who is likely to see a slight increase to his already robust passing game role. Expect Alexander Mattison to continue to operate in a change of pace role, one that would be one of the top expected workloads should Dalvin miss any games this year. The uncertainty surrounding the new coaching staff and how they will split touches amongst the two is alleviated, for me at least, by the likely increase to an already-robust weekly target floor for Dalvin, keeping him firmly in play for RB1 overall status this year. The beauty of this offense is that it already ranked in the top-ten in explosive play rate both on the ground and through the air, and now gets a substantial upgrade in play-calling moving forward. Buy, buy, buy! The first month of the season should play slow and tight against the Packers, Eagles, Lions, and Saints, but the Vikings kick off the second two months of the season in style with games against the Bears, Dolphins, Cardinals, Commanders, Bills, and Cowboys, Patriots, and Jets. Keep that in mind for DFS purposes.