NFC North 2012 fantasy preview

Friday July 20th, 2012

The Packers failed to complete their pursuit of an unbeaten regular season; they lost to Eli Manning's Giants in the postseason; and they lost offensive coordinator Joe Philbin in the offseason. But they have the No. 1 quarterback in fantasy still in Aaron Rodgers, and he might only get better if the running game improves as hoped and a 21-year-old sophomore breaks out in Randall Cobb.

The NFC North is still the Packers' division, even if Matthew Stafford-to-Calvin Johnson is the best QB-WR combo in football, and Jay Cutler is ready to return to fantasy prominence with an elite 100-catch talent in Brandon Marshall on board. If not for the incredibly weak Vikings, whose lone hope (Adrian Peterson) is trying to make a speedy recovery from a serious knee injury, Rodgers and the Packers would be a runaway leader in what would be called the toughest division in football.

It might be anyway.

We already have taken our capsule look at the NFC East and AFC East, we continue with the NFC North depth charts, position battles, injury questions and fantasy positional rankings:

QB Aaron Rodgers Graham Harrell

RB James Starks John Kuhn Alex Green Brandon Saine

WR Greg Jennings Jordy Nelson James Jones Randall Cobb Donald Driver

TE Jermichael Finley

K Mason Crosby

Position battles

No. 3 WR: Jones was a veritable bust last year as Nelson took off and perhaps even surpassed Jennings as Rodgers', and fantasy's, go-to Packers receiver. Now the question is whether the speedy and talented Randall Cobb is the next in line for a Nelson-like breakthrough. As long as Jennings, Nelson and Finley are healthy, it won't make a significant difference, but Cobb qualifies as a legit sleeper in what could still be the best passing offense in football even with the loss of offensive coordinator Joe Philbin. Cobb will go higher in drafts because of potential and hype, but if Jones can cut the drops, he could be a sleeper for a rebound year. It will be interesting to watch in camp.

Injury questions

RB Alex Green, (knee) -- The Packers let Ryan Grant go and are expecting a breakout from Starks, but Green might be a sleeper in the equation, too, returning from an ACL injury. Starks hasn't been a model of consistency yet, so a healthy Green can become an intriguing low-end flier on draft day. He is hoping to have a healthy camp and he might be someone to track.

QB Matthew Stafford Shaun Hill

RB Jahvid Best Mikel LeShoure Kevin Smith

WR Calvin Johnson Titus Young Nate Burleson Maurice Stovall

TE Brandon Pettigrew Tony Scheffler

K Jason Hanson

Position battles

Starting RB: This isn't technically a battle as much as a wait-and-see on Best's health. He heads to training camp as the No. 1 back because LeShoure is coming off Achilles' surgery and is suspended for the first two games of the season. Smith is more of mere veteran insurance. Best has the potential to perform like a top-five back in fantasy, despite injury questions dropping him to being No. 3 back (out of the top 25).

No. 2 WR: Burleson, 30, admitted this offseason: Young was "brought here to take my position." Even if Burleson retains a starting role over Young, it will be the second-year talent from Boise State that makes the bigger impact in fantasy. Stafford has taken off as a fantasy starter, mostly because Megatron is an unstoppable force, but Young is going to pick up a lot of the slack with the coverage rotated over to help on the elite receiver on the other side. This is a huge year for Young, who can be picked well after every fantasy team already has its starting set of receivers.

Injury questions

RB Jahvid Best, (post-concussion syndrome) -- Best just might be the biggest injury-risk sleeper in fantasy football. It certainly helps that LeShoure is coming off his own injury and has the suspension hanging over him. The reports from the OTAs are he has looked great and quick. The question comes when contact starts. Best contends his concussions last year weren't close to as bad as his one in college. Well, that is precisely the reason everyone but Best is concerned. There is a pattern of damage with an injury that tends to worsen as it repeats.

RB Mikel LeShoure (Achilles') -- A substance-abuse policy violation will keep him out of the season's first two games and allow his surgically repaired Achilles' to heal into the season. The question is whether he will be healthy enough to get people more scared about Best during draft season. A healthy LeShoure can really cut down Best's value and an unhealthy Best could really allow LeShoure to rise high in-season for fantasy owners.

QB Jay Cutler Jason Campbell

RB Matt Forte Michael Bush Kahlil Bell

WR Brandon Marshall Devin Hester Earl Bennett Alshon Jeffery

TE Kellen Davis

K Robbie Gould

Position battles

No. 2 WR: It likely doesn't matter who comes out on top of the annual battle between the physically-gifted Hester against any other option in the Bears' passing game, since Marshall is certainly going to the go-to target But Hester can be put in the proper position to stretch the field, which can make him a threat for some longer scores. Bennett is the position-receiver favorite from the same college Cutler went to, so clearly he is the third option for us in fantasy, even if he starts and forces Hester to the slot. Jeffery, a second-rounder out of South Carolina, is a sleeper, but he is more of an in-season sleeper than a Draft Day 1.

Injury questions

RB Matt Forte, (knee) -- Forte's MCL was just sprained, so it is a bit hard to fathom why he is not a first-round pick in many early drafts. When he went down, he was one of the most-relied-upon backs in the NFL and one of the top scorers among backs in fantasy. Perhaps the injury is dragging him down, or the addition of Bush as the backup, but Forte is a legit pick around the turn between Round 1 and 2.

QB Christian Ponder Joe Webb

RB Adrian Peterson Toby Gerhart

WR Percy Harvin Jerome Simpson Michael Jenkins Greg Childs

TE Kyle Rudolph John Carlson

K Blair Walsh

Position battles

None of note: The Vikes don't have a real good option to threaten Gerhart as the back if Peterson proves unable to be ready at the start of the season. That's unfortunate, because Gerhart himself is coming off a partially-torn MCL and coach Leslie Frazier said before OTAs in June: "There's a very good chance [Gerhart] is going to have to really carry the load early on."

Injury questions

RB Adrian Peterson, (knee) -- The reports are glowing right now, but bad knees, plus running back, plus being past the 27th birthday tends to be a real bad equation in the NFL and fantasy. The Vikings are going to procede with the right amount of caution, apparently: "He's so valuable to our organization that we have to be smart," Frazier told the USA Today in June. "We'll tread lightly as far as Week 1 and how much he'll contribute on the field. Even when we get to training camp, he's going to be champing at the bit but we'll have to be smart." Peterson might not fall out of the top-10 and, until we hear a negative report on his health in camp, he shouldn't.


1 Aaron Rodgers GB 2 Matthew Stafford DET 3 Jay Cutler CHI 4 Christian Ponder MIN 5 Jason Campbell CHI 6 Graham Harrell GB 7 Shaun Hill DET 8 Joe Webb MIN

Running backs

1 Matt Forte CHI 2 Adrian Peterson MIN 3 James Starks GB 4 Jahvid Best DET 5 Mikel LeShoure DET 6 Toby Gerhart MIN 7 Kevin Smith DET 8 Michael Bush CHI 9 John Kuhn GB 10 Alex Green GB

Wide receivers

1 Calvin Johnson DET 2 Greg Jennings GB 3 Jordy Nelson GB 4 Brandon Marshall CHI 5 Percy Harvin MIN 6 Titus Young DET 7 James Jones GB 8 Randall Cobb GB 9 Devin Hester CHI 10 Earl Bennett CHI 11 Nate Burleson DET 12 Jerome Simpson MIN

Tight ends

1 Jermichael Finley GB 2 Brandon Pettigrew DET 3 Kyle Rudolph MIN 4 Kellen Davis CHI 5 Tony Scheffler DET


1 Mason Crosby GB 2 Robbie Gould CHI 3 Jason Hanson DET 4 Blair Walsh MIN

Defense/Special Teams

1 Packers GB 2 Bears CHI 3 Lions DET 4 Vikings MIN

Eric Mack writes fantasy for You find him on Twitter, where you can mock him, rip him and (doubtful) praise him before asking him for fantasy advice @EricMackFantasy. He reads all the messages there (guaranteed) and takes them very, very personally (not really).

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