OpinionSeptember 4, 2012

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Fantasy Preview: NFC North and NFC West

By Stever

Welcome to Fantasy Preview where we are taking a look at each team’s fantasy outlook. In this installment, we are going deeper into the NFC North and NFC West.

NFC North

Chicago Bears
The new additions for the Bears, Brandon Marshall and Michael Bush, both get a bump in fantasy value. Marshall reunited with Jay Cutler has the upside to be a top-five wide receiver in fantasy leagues. He is a guy to target in trades. The Bears added another big receiver in Alshon Jeffery. Keep an eye on him after he had an impressive preseason. Michael Bush was brought in to be the goal-line back and he has flex appeal in fantasy. He could also take touches away from Matt Forte, so be cautious when drafting Forte in non-PPR leagues. However, Forte should still be a top 10 PPR running back. Kellen Davis has deep sleeper appeal with Mike Martz gone.

Detroit Lions
The Lions, led by Matt Stafford, have plenty of fantasy options. After a 16-touchdown season, Calvin Johnson is the top wide receiver in fantasy. I would not take him though until the late first round because the wide receiver position is deep this season. Second year wideout Titus Young is a good value pick late in fantasy drafts. Brandon Pettigrew is a low end TE1 this season because he relies on touchdowns. The running back position is a fantasy mess. Kevin Smith looks like he will be the lead back in the first game of the season. However, when Mikel Leshoure returns from a suspension, and Jahvid Best returns from the PUP list, there will not be enough touches to go around. I would avoid this situation until the late rounds of fantasy drafts.

Green Bay Packers
One of the more dangerous offenses in the league, the Packers have very few fantasy question marks. Aaron Rodgers is as close as it gets to a lock for top-three production this season. Wide receivers Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson both should be top-20 fantasy options. Look for a decline in production from Nelson because it will be hard for him to repeat 15 touchdowns. If you are looking for a sleeper take a look at Randall Cobb. The running back situation looked like it was the Packers’ main offensive problem until they brought in veteran Cedric Benson. As the goal-line back, look for Benson to be a RB3 this season. One of the more overrated fantasy TEs, Jermichael Finley is an average start this season.

Minnesota Vikings
The big question surrounding the Vikings is about Adrian Peterson’s health. I expect him to have a slow start to the season due to limited touches. He is a good value in the third round, but I would not draft him sooner then that. Toby Gerhart should see the majority of the early season-workload, making him a good flex play. Quarterback Christian Ponder is not being drafted in standard leagues. Keep an eye on him if you need a bye-week starter though. Ponder’s go-to receiver, Percy Harvin, is a low-end WR1 this season. Second year player Kyle Rudolph was featured as a sleeper here at the Cafe. I view him as a low-end TE1 going into the season.

NFC West

San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers added new receivers to their offense, Randy Moss and Mario Manningham. It is expected that it will be a wide receiver by committee for the spot opposite Michael Crabtree. This limits the new guys’ value. Crabtree will not see many targets either in the run-first offense, so expect little fantasy upside. The below-average Alex Smith should not be drafted in standard formats. There is value in Vernon Davis this season as a mid-range TE1. One of the most over-drafted player this season is Frank Gore. Look for Kendall Hunter to take touches away from Gore. In addition, it looks like Brandon Jacobs will get goal-line duties when he returns. I view Gore as a RB3 this season.

Arizona Cardinals
The fantasy outlook for Cardinals centers around the how the quarterbacks play. John Skelton beat out Kevin Kolb for the starting job, which is good news for Larry Fitzgerald owners. Skelton is not afraid to take some chances down the field. Even with Skelton, I do not see Fitzgerald having a top-three season. Running back Beanie Wells has tough competition this season. I expect second-year player Ryan Williams to have the job by midseason. The tight end situation is one to avoid in standard formats.

Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks went with Russell Wilson instead of free agent pickup Matt Flynn at quarterback. I think that Wilson will start off hot then fade after defenses will know what to expect. He is a guy to target late in fantasy drafts. The wide receiver situation is one to avoid until later rounds. Sidney Rice has top -0 upside but is an injury risk going into the season. The running back situation could become interesting if Marshawn Lynch slows down. Robert Turbin looked impressive in preseason and could take over if Lynch was to miss any time. My favorite value D/ST squad this season is Seattle, as they are picked in the last round, if they are drafted at all.

St. Louis Rams
Josh McDaniels did not do what the Rams hoped for last season. Even with a new offensive coordinator, there is not a ton of fantasy appeal. Sam Bradford had an impressive preseason; however, there are still questions surrounding his offensive line and his health. I expect him to be a QB2 this season with limited upside. If you want a low-risk, high-reward player late in the draft, I would take a look at Steve Smith. He should see first-team snaps and could be a bench option in PPR. The running game, led by Steven Jackson, is as consistent as it gets. Look for him to have another top-15 finish in PPR formats. Tight end Lance Kendricks is a sleeper candidate heading into the season. Brian Schottenheimer uses tight ends frequently (see: Dustin Keller). All Kendricks has to do is cut back on the drops.

Stever is one of a growing number of fantasy experts who write for the Cafe. You can catch up with Stever in the Cafe's forums where he posts under the name of 11stever11.
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