2017 Fantasy Football Preview: NFC North
Dom Murtha goes division by division and hands out his predictive superlatives for each NFL team in this upcoming fantasy football season.
2016 was an awful season for Chicago, thus they tore it down and have begun a rebuild. They enter 2017 with two new quarterbacks – both of whom they have a lot invested in. Positively at least, they welcome back the league’s second leading rusher in Jordan Howard…
Fantasy MVP: Jordan Howard
This was a rather easy decision, as Howard is the returning starter and coming off a rookie season in which he finished second in the NFL in rushing yards. The Bears figure to stink once again in 2017, but with much of the offensive identity remaining the same – save for a couple of new quarterbacks – they are likely to ride Howard even harder, which should only bode well for his fantasy prospects.
Fantasy Rookie of the Year: Adam Shaheen
Shaheen is a deep sleeper pick this year, as he is a relative unknown to most football fans, yet he possesses an incredible combination of size and talent. For reference, Shaheen is 6-foot-7, 278 lbs. and possesses legitimate separation speed. Sure he has a couple of guys ahead of him on the depth chart at the moment, but if things start to go south for this team early on, chances are that the rookie will get some serious burn. Once on the field, Shaheen will prove himself – I have that much faith in what I saw in his college tape.
Most Improved Fantasy Player: Kevin White
This was another easy pick because with Alshon Jeffery out of town, the Bears have no one else to turn to as a legitimate number one option. It appears that White is finally healthy, and with now two seasons of practice and film sessions, he should be totally acclimated to the NFL game. On talent alone, the sky is the limit for White, so now it’s just time for him to put it all together – no more mistakes, no more injuries.
Biggest Fantasy Disappointment: Markus Wheaton
Wheaton offers limited size and a really inconsistent motor. His concentration over the years has also been known to wane, which is a fantasy kiss of death as far as I’m concerned. Combine all of that with the fact that he just got paid, and you’ve got the makings for a disappointing season. Oh, and let us not forget that Wheaton is also coming off a injury riddled season in which he only played in three games. Avoid Wheaton.
The Lions just narrowly made the playoffs last season and it was on the strength of their starting quarterback. Matthew Stafford made the talent around him better last season and this offseason the front office has reciprocated by adding more talent overall to the roster. With the offensive line looking more formidable than it has in years, the Lions will be looking to improve upon their nine win 2016.
Fantasy MVP: Matthew Stafford
With limited weapons in 2016, Stafford still managed to bump his QBR to over 70 – a new career high, up his yards per game, and yards per completion, while lowering his interceptions to a career low of 10. With players coming back healthy, and through the help of a revamped offensive line, the belief is that Stafford should only improve in 2017 on what was an awesome 2016 season.
Fantasy Rookie of the Year: Kenny Golladay
Part of the Lions offensive problems last season was that they didn’t have a field stretcher and they didn’t have a big red zone target. In Golladay they get both, as he can run a sub 4.5 40-time and offers a massive 6-foot-4 frame. Expect him to serve as a matchup nightmare once he learns the nuances of the NFL game, while early on he can offer Matthew Stafford and his cannon arm the “air it out” option that he has been missing since the retirement of Calvin Johnson.
Most Improved Fantasy Player: Zach Zenner
You might not have noticed it, but when given the opportunities, Zenner was the Lions best runner of the football in 2016. Sure Theo Riddick was a far superior fantasy player, but his PPR skillset doesn’t necessarily translate well into filling the “between the tackles” void that Detroit has had for quite some time now. At over 220 lbs. Zenner is big enough to handle the pounding inside, while his determination and savviness as a runner helps him around the goal line. The expectation is that he will win the red zone job, which should give him a healthy amount of vulture touchdowns (AKA: fantasy gold).
Biggest Fantasy Disappointment: Ameer Abdullah
Because of my belief that Zenner is going to emerge, Abdullah is likely going to be a backfield victim in 2017. There’s only so many touches to be given per game, and with already so many mouths to feed, chances may end up being that Abdullah falls out of the rotation. The former second round pick sure has some talent, but coming off of an injury riddled season and still possessing an uncured fumbling issue, Abdullah is a guy to avoid in 2017.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers stumbled out of the gates last season – as has become tradition – however, by Thanksgiving they caught fire to the point of white hot, as they reeled off eight consecutive wins, including the playoffs. 2017 will be a season in which they contrarily will focus on starting out hot so that the end of the year isn’t so stressful. If they succeed, fantasy owners should benefit, as their production will be far more balanced throughout the season.
Fantasy MVP: Aaron Rodgers
Need I really explain myself? He’s the best thing going in the NFL right now and is gracefully gliding through his prime years. 2017 is sure to be another legendary season for the future hall of famer.
Fantasy Rookie of the Year: Jamaal Williams
I have outlined in other articles my belief that Williams will end up being the Packers lead back sooner rather than later in 2017, so he makes obvious sense here. His downhill running skillset with power and decisiveness is exactly what the Packers need as a compliment to their prolific aerial attack. He should prove to be an excellent fit and a potential OROTY candidate.
Most Improved Fantasy Player: Martellus Bennett
Marty-B is going from one hall of fame quarterback to another, but only this time he will be the starting tight end. He has unquestioned talent, so that was never a problem, but his depth chart boost is exclusively what puts him in this slot for me. Expect big things from the veteran tight end.
Biggest Fantasy Disappointment: Ty Montgomery
I really like Montgomery, but the fact of the matter is that he’s not a natural running back and he has some serious competition on his heels. I still think he will produce, but he won’t live up to his “starting running back” draft position. Again, I hate to list Montgomery here, but it’s not a popularity contest.
With Teddy Bridgewater seriously injuring himself during summer practice last season, the Vikings had to significantly pivot their direction. They acquired the always-underwhelming Sam Bradford to start in Bridgewater’s stead, and to no surprise, he offered very little fantasy value. However to Bradford’s credit though, he set an NFL record for completion percentage. Still though, headed into 2017, the Vikings are unlikely to feature an intimidating aerial attack, which should make their effectiveness in the ground game that much more critical.
Fantasy MVP: Dalvin Cook
This selection may come as a surprise, but the reality is that Cook is the most talented player on this Vikings offense and he shouldn’t take long to supplant Latavius Murray as the starting running back. With a limited aerial attack, whomever ends up getting the most carries on this team should end up as the team MVP. Consider it what you want – a selection by default, or a stamp of approval – Cook will be a fantasy boon in 2017.
Fantasy Rookie of the Year: Dalvin Cook
See: Everything I just said above, but only more of a guaranteed lock.
Most Improved Fantasy Player: Laquon Treadwell
Treadwell really struggled to grasp the playbook in his rookie season, but now with a full year under his belt, he should be unleashed in 2017. Even if he still is struggling to grasp the nuances of the NFL game, Treadwell possesses the physical gifts to serve as an elite red zone option – something that the Vikings sorely missed last season. I’m not saying to draft Treadwell this August, but definitely keep an eye on him as the waiver periods run.
Biggest Fantasy Disappointment: Latavius Murray
Over the years, I have made it no secret how I feel about Murray. Now in a new city, with less talent around him, and with a better rookie behind him, my doubts in Murray have grown even stronger. He should lose his starting job within the first few weeks of the season, while Dalvin Cook is to end up as the Vikings back to own going forward.