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NFC North: A Pre-Draft Fantasy Assessment

With the oh-so exciting Pro Bowl (the sarcasm was obvious, right?) firmly in the rear view mirror, we can firmly plant our sights on Super Bowl 50. Hey, I really like the not using the Roman Numerals thing this year. Yes. I am a simple man. A simple man who enjoys simple pleasures.

I also enjoy looking further ahead than just this Sunday as I continue a division-by-division breakdown of each teams current fantasy potential.

As I sat down to examine the NFC North, little did I know that Calvin Johnson would actually decide to retire (or not…nothing is set in stone yet) making this piece that much more interesting to write.

Don’t worry, as we do take a closer look at the ‘Megatron’ situation in our breakdown of the Detroit Lions.

So let me quit pontificating too much in the opening and get down to the nitty-gritty.

 

MINNESOTA VIKINGS

Helmet_Minnesota_Vikings_1

QB- While no one was touting Teddy Bridgewater as a top 10 fantasy QB heading into last season, it’s safe to say that more was expected than was delivered. There was an idea that Adrian Peterson being back on the field would open up play-action deep throws to the newly signed Mike Wallace and company for Teddy. Well, that simply didn’t happen. The offense ran through “All Day” and Bridgewater became a dreaded “game manager.” There were 20 QBs that attempted more passes than the 292 that Bridgewater threw including the man widely known as the ultimate “game manager” Alex Smith. Bridgewater finished the season with only 14 passing touchdowns which landed him at 26th in that category. He did add three rushing scores but undoubtedly finished the season on many waiver wires in 2015. Until Bridgewater is allowed to throw the ball more and develops a rapport with his receivers (Stefon Diggs led the team with only 52 receptions), there is no reason to consider drafting him. Shaun Hill is under contract for 2016 and is likely to return as the back up to Bridgewater and carries no value.

 

RB- After he missed all but one game in 2014, it was business as usual for Adrian Peterson and the Vikings’ running game last year. “All Day” led the NFL in rushing yards with 1,485 and finished as a top-two fantasy running back in both standard and PPR formats. Look for Minnesota to ride the “A-Train” (yes, I love referring to Peterson with nicknames) again in 2016 as he remains their main weapon. We may see a bit of a regression in carries as the 327 Peterson logged last season was the third most in his nine years in the league. Regardless of that, we still see Peterson as an elite RB1 in 2016.

Behind “AP” it gets a little tricky. Jerick McKinnon was a distant second on the team in carries with 52 and hauled in 21 receptions while scoring three times. The easy observation would be to say McKinnon is the handcuff to Peterson (what? No nickname?) but that may not be the case as we saw in 2014.

McKinnon and Matt Asiata split the carries and Asiata actually got most of the goal line work scoring nine rushing touchdowns. There is the chance that Minnesota allows Asiata to walk in free agency, and if that does happens, then we like McKinnon a lot more. If Asiata is not brought back then Peterson owners can look to draft McKinnon late as a handcuff but do not reach for him.

 

WR- Meh. That is the only way to describe a position that caught a total of six touchdowns last season. To put that into perspective, there were 32 wide receivers that caught at least six touchdown passes. Yuck. The lone bright spot was rookie Stefon Diggs who led the team in receptions (52), yards (720) and touchdowns (4). Diggs did not see the field until week four and burst on the scene catching 25 passes and scoring twice in Weeks 4-8. Things went downhill from there as over the next nine games Diggs would average only three receptions per game and score twice. Diggs has the skill set to be a playmaker but will always suffer from the Vikings’ run first scheme and Bridgewater’s lack of arm strength. He brings low end WR3 value into the 2016 season.

The only good thing I can write about Mike Wallace is that Matt Venzel of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune predicts that he won’t be back with the Vikings in 2016. Wallace is due $11.45 million and he is not the sort to take a pay cut (not that I’m certain the Vikings would even ask him to). It’s good riddance to a WR that set career lows with 39 receptions for 473 yards and two touchdowns. I won’t draft Wallace at all next season and pity the NFL team that takes a chance on him.

Much was expected out of Charles Johnson after his strong finish to the 2014 season. Yeah. That didn’t pan out as Johnson wasn’t even an afterthought in the offense, finishing with nine receptions for 127 yards. The clock struck twelve on the Cinderella story out of Grand Valley State as Johnson was a healthy scratch for the Vikings’ Wild Card weekend game. He is off the fantasy radar come draft day.

Jarius Wright has flashed some potential at times but simply won’t see the looks in this conservative offense to have any fantasy potential.

Time is running out (more likely has run out) for Cordarrelle Patterson to ever be more than an excellent kick-off return man. There is no reason to draft him. I told you this was a ‘meh’ position for fantasy purposes.

 

TE- Folks have been waiting for Kyle Rudolph to have a big year and getting the same results as Linus has gotten while waiting for the ‘Great Pumpkin’ to appear. Folks. It is time to leave the pumpkin patch for good regarding Rudolph. For the record, I realize I am recommending this on the heels of Rudolph’s second best fantasy showing in his five year career. The 49 receptions for 495 yards and five touchdowns he put up still landed Rudolph outside the top 12 in both PPR and standard scoring formats. There is no reason to believe that Rudolph will reach fantasy relevance in this offense. There are too many other tight ends that can be taken ahead of Rudolph so keep him off draft lists unless you play in a two-starting TEs league (Old Uncle Waldo actually does). There are no other TE options on the roster right now that merit mentioning.

 

K- While Blair Walsh finished the 2015 fantasy season as a top-five kicker, he unfortunately finished the Vikings season by missing a 27-yard field goal that cost them a victory in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. Walsh has a strong leg and was 6-of-8 from 50-plus yards last season but he also missed four extra points as well as three kicks of 49-or-less yards. That being said, he should return as the kicker for 2016 and warrants a draft selection due to his strong leg.

 

D/ST- This is a solid fantasy defense that put up top-10 numbers last season despite missing some key players for a little while down the stretch. The defensive line brings good interior pressure as DT Tom Johnson put up 5 ½ sacks and the DT position accounted for 9 ½ sacks overall. Off the edge Everson Griffen posted a second consecutive double-digit sacks season and rookie Danielle Hunter came on late racking up 3 ½ sacks over the final four weeks. Hunter finished with five sacks for the season.

The linebacker position is full of young studs such as Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks bring big play potential. The duo accounted for 7 ½ sacks with three forced fumbles and an interception in 2015.

The secondary is solid with Harrison Smith leading the way and rookie CB Trae Waynes began to play solid ball late in the regular season and playoffs. Throw in the three defensive touchdowns as well as the three special teams score and we see this unit as s top-five D/ST next year.

About Wally Spurlin

Wally Spurlin is a Fantasy Football Staff Writer at Fantasy Sharks and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writer Association (FSWA). Spurlin’s work has appeared in print publications, including the FSWA award winning 2014 USA Today Fantasy Football magazine as well as the 2015 edition. Wally is also a weekly co-host on the Fantasy Football Feeding Frenzy pod cast on Fantasy Sharks Radio at Blog Talk Radio.Follow him on Twitter @WaltonSpurlin