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IDP Pre-Season Preview: NFC North
Steve Gallo
August 21, 2012
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Every year there are new faces in new places – not just players, but coaches too.  With those changes come scheme changes, and value changes with regards to fantasy football.  In addition, many teams have new defensive coordinators – you can read about them in the 2012 Coaching Changes article.  When you add up all of the player acquisitions, losses, and scheme changes, you will find that they can combine to have a profound effect on a player’s fantasy value.  The following information should help you understand what to expect in 2012.  If you have any additional questions please feel free to email me at gallo@thehuddle.com or find me on twitter @IDPSteve.

Chicago Bears

HC: Lovie Smith
DC: Rod Marinelli
Base Defensive Scheme: 4-3
Scheme Change: No

Key acquisitions: DL Shea McClellin

Defensive Line

Julius Peppers is still, well, Julius Peppers, a solid DL1 in all fantasy formats.  Peppers doesn’t have the upside that he once had, and he can be streaky at times, but that comes with the territory after you get past the top tier at the DL position.  That doesn’t make him a bad fantasy selection, but it is also why he isn’t challenging JPP or Jared Allen to be one of the first DLs off the board either.

Starting opposite of Peppers at LDE is Israel Idonije, and not rookie Shea McClellin.  Idonije may not be a household name like Peppers, but last year he scored the 19th most fantasy points among all DL, good for a solid DL2.  I don’t think he will be able to replicate that season, especially with the addition of McClellin who will undoubtedly carve out a rotational role.  I think Idonije, who is going undrafted according to MFL ADP, comes in as a DL3/4 at best this year.  McClellin, he might flash every now and then but if you aren’t in a dynasty league I see no reason to roster him this year.

In DT required leagues, I like DT Henry Melton.  I don’t expect him to put up DT1 numbers but I do think he has the ability to be a DT2 and provide nice depth at the position.  With talks of him in some offensive packages, he might even be able to pad his numbers with a TD or two this year.

Linebacker

Brian Urlacher has been a force on the Bears defense for a long time, and he has been a fantasy force along the way.  Last year, Urlacher was a solid LB2, coming in at number 19 in LB scoring, the year prior he finished 10th.  What’s not to love with a LB that is going to give you between LB1-LB2 type numbers?  Nothing, as long as he is on the field, and that’s the rub.  Urlacher missed basically all of 2009 due to injury, and if he isn’t on the field he isn’t doing the Bears or fantasy owners any favors.  At 34 years old your body just doesn’t recover the way it once did when you were younger, and that is my concern with Urlacher for 2012.  He has had arthroscopic surgery on his knee twice already this year (January and this past spring).  Urlacher and the Bears will most likely spin it as they are just taking it slow and want to be careful.  Completely understandable they would want to be careful without Urlacher, because he is the heart and soul of their defense.  While I hope that the knee isn’t an issue for Urlacher this year, I have a funny feeling it is going to be an issue, and recommend steering clear of him this year.

Lance Briggs may not have the upside that Urlacher has for fantasy owners but he is a solid and consistent player.  Over the past three years he has finished as a LB2, ranking 20th, 33rd & 19th in fantasy points scored among LBs.  In addition, he has only missed 4 games since coming into the league in 2003.  A solid, consistent scoring LB2, that is pretty much always on the field, yes, I’m buying Briggs, especially with an ADP of LB42.

Secondary

In Charles Tillman, the Bears have a rare CB that is not just a viable fantasy option, but one that puts up DB1 numbers.  Tillman has an ADP of DB7, so if you want him on your team you are going to have to spend a relatively valuable pick on him.  But hey, he has been consistent, something that many DBs aren’t.  Over the past four years, he has finished as a top 20 scorer each year (2, 19, 18, & 8).  It isn’t a secret that DB turnover in the top 20 is massive, so with a four year run like Tillman’s I can see why owners are drafting him so early.  However, it is a bit early for my taste – probably largely driven by his finish as the 2nd best scoring DB last year.  I’m not saying you should avoid Tillman.  Instead what I am saying is don’t be shocked if he doesn’t repeat his top 10 performance, but worst case I do think he ends up as a DB2, so there is little risk with him.

At SS the Bears have Major Wright pegged as their starter, and I really like him as a “sleeper” this year.  Don’t let me get you too excited, by that I mean that I think he could end up as a DB3 with the upside of a DB2.  From weeks 9-13 last year, he showed some glimpses of what he could do.  Over that span of time, he averaged 11.8 PPG and ranked as the 20th best scoring DB.  Where I think most of Wright’s upside comes from is if Urlacher does indeed miss time, which in turn would give Wright more tackle opportunities due to a lesser talent playing MLB in front of him.

Detroit Lions

HC: Jim Schwartz
DC: Gunther Cunningham
Base Defensive Scheme: 4-3
Scheme Change: No

Key acquisitions: DB Sean Jones, DB Alphonso Smith

Defensive Line

Ndamukong Suh gets a ton of notoriety, some good, some not so good.  For fantasy purposes Suh was abysmal last year, finishing the year with just one double digit scoring week, and finishing 70th overall in DL scoring.  Compared to finishing 5th overall in 2010 I would say it is safe to assume that Suh left many a fantasy owner unhappy last year.  I would like to say there should be a bounce back, but top 5 probably won’t happen again.  In DT mandatory leagues you can’t help but target him based on his upside alone, but realize that even in 2010 when he was the #5 scoring DL he only scored in double digits 5 times.

While Suh was the 5th best fantasy DL in 2010, it was his teammate, Cliff Avril that finished #5 in 2011.  Avril’s current ADP at MFL is DL15, and if you can get him as the 15th DL off the board I think you are getting nice value.  He may not repeat his top 5 performance but I do think he should easily finish as a DL1.

Outside of Suh and Avril the Lions DL does have some nice players, such as Nick Fairley, Kyle Vanden Bosch, and Lawrence Jackson.  All will have moments when they flash and look like they could put up solid fantasy numbers, but the problem is they will be pretty inconsistent and should probably be steered clear of.

Linebacker

Stephen Tulloch signed with the Lions last year and he had a very nice season for them.  He finished as the #12 overall scoring LB, achieved on the strength of 111 total tackles, 3 fumble recoveries, 3 sacks, 2 interceptions, 5 passes defended and 1 TD.  With an ADP of LB22 he presents a safe solid choice as a LB1 if you don’t hit the position early in your draft.  Since he was dealing with some knee issues earlier in camp that could be what has depressed his ADP, but he looks fine now and should be good to go for the season.

Dynasty league owners more than anyone else are familiar with DeAndre Levy and the potential that he holds/held.  I think that coming off of last year’s performance where he ended up ranking 27th in LB scoring but was very up and down has probably soured IDP owners.  Rightfully so, outside of a stretch from weeks 5-8 where he averaged 18.5 PPG, all he averaged was 9.72 PPG.  That is the type of player that will drive you crazy if you rely on him as a weekly starter.  At best he still has the ability to put up viable fantasy numbers, but I would rather have him as a LB4/5 that I can use as a bye week filler or in case of injury.

Secondary

The Lions needed help in their secondary, yet all that they really added was Alphonso Smith and Sean Jones.  Smith is slated to start across from Chris Houston.  Fantasy wise Smith should be available at the very end of your draft or on waivers after your draft concludes.  I am not saying he should be a target, but he could surprise and put some viable fantasy numbers.  Look at him as a sleeper and keep your eye on him if he looks like he is going to start filling up the box score.
About the only player in the Lions secondary that I would probably feel good about starting on a weekly basis is Houston, in CB mandatory leagues that is.  Currently he doesn’t even show up in MFL’s ADP list for CBs.  Just showing what type of value he provides.

Green Bay Packers

HC: Mike McCarthy
DC: Dom Capers
Base Defensive Scheme: 3-4
Scheme Change: No

Key acquisitions: LB Nick Perry, DB Casey Hayward

Defensive Line

The Packers 3-4 scheme, like many other 3-4 schemes just doesn’t provide us with any viable fantasy options.

Linebacker

Desmond Bishop finished last season as a very bright star for IDP owners, and his star was just getting brighter and brighter – until he got injured in a preseason game.  Bishop for all intents and purposes is done, kaput, finished for 2012.  A big blow to not just the Packers, but also to dynasty league owners (yeah, I’m one), and early drafters.  DJ Smith is set to replace Bishop in the starting lineup, just like he did for Bishop from week 13-15 last year – a timeframe where Smith ranked 10th in LB scoring with a PPG average of 16.66.  While it is clear that Smith isn’t as talented as Bishop that doesn’t mean that he can’t put up viable fantasy numbers, as evidenced by his performance from last year.  The dilemma now becomes when do you pull the trigger on Smith in a draft?  In the current SOFA IDP draft that is currently taking place he was selected with the 8th pick in the 15th round as the 30th LB off the board.  I think at that spot he offers tremendous upside as I expect him to put up LB2 numbers at worst and he has an outside shot to end up as a LB1.

Outside of Smith there really isn’t much left fantasy wise on the Packers defense.  Yes there is Clay Matthews who is a beast when it comes to rushing the QB.  And yes, the addition of Nick Perry is a welcomed addition to the defense.  But the problem is that Matthews, as well as Perry are going to be far too inconsistent to rely on for fantasy owners.  Last year Matthews ended up with just 37 solos, 13 assists, 6 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 3 interceptions, 9 passes defended and 1 TD, good for ranking 55th in fantasy scoring among LBs.  With an ADP of LB24 there is no way I would go near Matthews, just far too much risk for such an inconsistent performer.  If you are in a big play league, then sure it makes sense to target Matthews earlier.

Secondary

The biggest news regarding the Packers secondary is that Charles Woodson is moving to SS on base defensive downs.  In sub-packages Woodson will move back to CB and cover slot receivers.  Since Woodson is playing SS on base downs MFL has changed his positional designation from CB to SS.  That might seem like the logical thing to do, but the Packers only played in their base defense 27% of the time last year.   I still think that Woodson has solid value in combined leagues, and should finish as a DB1, but in dynasty leagues where owners were counting on having a top tier CB the position change wasn’t a good thing. 

When Woodson moves over to cover the slot in sub-packages MD Jennings looks to be slated to fill in at SS.  His upside will be limited by not playing in base packages so he isn’t someone I view as a target to acquire in drafts.  However, in deeper leagues he could be a solid DB3/4, and by deeper I am talking about 16 to 32 team leagues that start at least three DBs.

The player that I am most concerned about with the move is FS Morgan Burnett.  My concern isnt’ that he will still put up viable fantasy numbers, but if he can put up top 5 numbers that match his DB5 ADP.  It doesn’t take much for a player to drop out of DB1 range, so my concern centers more on his upside than anything else.

Minnesota Vikings

HC: Leslie Frazier
DC: Alan Williams
Base Defensive Scheme: 4-3
Scheme Change: No

Key acquisitions: n/a

Defensive Line

Jared Allen is a beast!  That is really all that needs to be said, because yes, he is that good.  Last year, Allen came within a ½ sack of tying Michael Strahan’s single season sack record.  This past offseason Allen went on record saying that he thinks that someone can get 25 sacks in a year.  A long shot to happen, but if there is a player in the league that could make it happen it is Allen.  If you want Allen on your team it’s going to cost you a very early pick, but the return on investment with guys like Allen and Jason Pierre-Paul can be well worth it. 

Allen demanding so much attention makes things a bit easier for Brian Robison who starts opposite Allen on the Vikings DL.  Robison finished just 28th in DL scoring last year, a number that made him a DL3.  He is what he is, nothing special fantasy wise, but he does provide solid depth. 

The player on the Vikings DL that I like as a sleeper or stash and hold in dynasty leagues is Everson Griffin.  Griffin isn’t anywhere close to being a viable fantasy option yet, but if he gets the chance, which I think at some point in time he will, I think he could prove to be a solid DL2.  The one worry is that the Vikings could actually end up switching him to OLB.  That risk should be worth it since there is very little cost in acquiring him.  But do so only if you have a very deep roster and play in a keeper or dynasty league.

Linebacker

The Viking LBs, outside of Chad Greenway don’t inspire much confidence, at least for me.  Greenway should continue to be a solid LB1 for fantasy owners.  The thing that has me scratching my head is that after finishing 4th in LB scoring in 2010, and 7th in 2011, that Greenway has an ADP of LB21.  At worst Greenway will finish the year as a mid to high level LB2, so even with that there is value in his current draft position.

After Greenway you have Erin Henderson and Jasper Brinkley, and as much as I want to like either or both players I just can’t get excited about their prospects.  For starters Brinkley just doesn’t seem like he can stay healthy.  And if you are going to be a productive fantasy player you need to be on the field.  Then there is Henderson, who is currently listed as the starter, but new defensive coordinator Alan Williams has stated that Henderson and Marvin Mitchell will compete to be the starting WLB.  How do you get excited about a guy like Henderson when he is in a competition with a player that has been in the league for five years and never had more than 34 solo tackles?

Secondary

Saying the Vikings secondary needed some help is probably putting it lightly.  But at least they knew it and address the position at the end of the first round of the draft when they selected Harrison Smith with the 29th overall pick.  Smith looks like he will start from jump street and with the mess at LB I could see Smith putting up numbers strong enough to hit DB2 value.  Not bad for a guy that isn’t getting drafted in the majority of drafts.

Another player that I love in the Vikings secondary is veteran CB Antoine Winfield. Winfield started off on fire last year, but he got bit by the injury bug and wound up playing in just five games all season long.  If you want to see what I love about Winfield just take a look at what he did in weeks 1-4 last year.  Over the first month of the season he was the 3rd highest scoring DB in the league, averaging 17.75 PPG.  I have said it before, and I will say it again, a player needs to be on the field for you to rely on them for fantasy purposes.  However, when a player the caliber of Winfield is going undrafted in many leagues, I see value and plenty of it, so any risk that he presents due to health is offset by the absolute rock bottom price that he costs you.  I targeted Winfield in two of the mocks I have done so far this season, and I landed him with pick 21.11 as the 25th DB off the board and with 22.11 as the 24th DB off the board.  It’s easy to be all in when the cost is cheap, and I’m all in with Winfield this year.

AFC North AFC South AFC East AFC West
NFC North NFC South NFC East NFC West

Note:  Huddle IDPScoring system: solo tackle (2 pts), assisted tackle (1 pt), sack (3 pts), forced or recovered fumble (3 pts), interception (3 pts) and pass defended (1 pt).


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