7 Questions: NFC North
September 1, 2012 | Kevin Hall
Points, points, and more points! We’re taking a look at the high flying and fantasy laden NFC North in this version of “7 Questions.”
1. Where should I draft AP?
I get so excited I sweat when I think about the possibility of drafting Adrian Peterson in the third round (where he’s currently going in mocks).
I apologize for starting out this column with that imagery, but it’s true.
“All Day” missed 4 games last year (or 1 more than he did in all four of his previous seasons combined) and, as we all know, was taken out of Week 16 early after tearing his knee to shreds. He still managed to finish with 1,112 total yards and 13 touchdowns. Leslie Frazier said AP is a game time decision for week 1, which proves to me that he’s not far from coming back. If he plays 14 games, I know I’m getting 1,200 yards and at least 12 touchdowns. How many other running backs can we say that about, especially this season?
I understand the fear of drafting a guy who is only a few months removed from tearing BOTH his ACL and MCL, but I hold to the fact that AP is a once-in-a-decade kind of athlete and a onetime freak accident does not an injury risk make. If Wes Welker can recover as quickly as he did from a similar injury, then I have no problem thinking that Peterson will be perfectly fine. I mean, look at this guy!
Behind that hard-hitting analysis, AP is still firmly in my top-7 running backs and I will draft him in the middle of the second round without hesitation.
2. Does Aaron Rodgers deserve to be the #1 overall pick?
The idea of running backs being the premier fantasy position started to deteriorate a couple of years ago, but it’s officially become an afterthought going into the 2012 season. Quarterbacks are where it’s at and, seeing as how we’re heading towards the NFL adding an “F” and becoming the National Flag Football League, it looks like it’s going to stay that way.
Something else that shouldn’t change for a while is Aaron Rodgers being at the top of the quarterbacks list. I don’t expect him to keep up his ridiculous 7.5:1 TD-INT ratio from 2011, but he HAS averaged fewer than ten interceptions a season since he took over for Brett Favre four years ago.
His only competition at the top is Tom Brady and Drew Brees, so let’s compare. Here are their averages for the four seasons when A-Rod’s been a starter (I counted ’07 instead of ’08 for Brady):
Rodgers: 4,259 YDS/33 TDs/9.25 INTs
Brees and Brady have him in yards and touchdowns for now, but Rodgers turns the ball over way less than Brees and, given his exponential leap from 28 touchdowns in 2010 to 45 last season, will most likely average equal to more TDs than those two over the NEXT four years.
Another feature that puts Rodgers head and shoulders above the rest of the QBs is actually under both the aforementioned body parts…his legs. A-Rod averages three times as many rushing yards as Brees and Brady combined to go along with four rushing touchdowns a year.
Simply put, Aaron Rodgers gives you the passing production of Drew Brees and Tom Brady with the rushing numbers of a second string running back. He’s quite simply the perfect fantasy player. I will be legitimately dumbfounded by any league where Rodgers isn’t the first player taken overall.
3. Is Matt Forte a top-5 fantasy running back?
Forte is in the special club of elite running backs who got hurt early enough to be healed before training camp (he’s the secretary, Jamaal Charles is President). Due to his exclusive membership in that group, his sprained knee should cause no concern for his potential owners in upcoming drafts.
Before going down in week 13, Forte was averaging 14 pts/gm and was on track to easily become a top-5 fantasy back. There’s no doubt in my mind Forte will finish there this year. On a per game basis, he was the second most targeted running back behind Darren Sproles and averaged almost 6 yards every time he touched the ball, putting him above Ray Rice in that regard.
The addition of Brandon Marshall (more on him below) will also help out Forte’s value. Marshall is easily the most dominant offensive weapon Forte’s played with since coming to Chicago and should attract attention from the defenses that always just honed in on Forte when he left the backfield.
4. Is Matthew Stafford worth a first round pick?
No one threw more passes last year than Matthew Stafford. Think about that for a second. We watched Drew Brees break Dan Marino’s yardage record and even HE didn’t fling it as much as Stafford.
The big question was always whether Stafford could stay healthy. The potential was there, we just needed him to play an entire season. Well he did and he more than exceeded everyone’s expectations. Stafford finished with a 63% completion percentage, was 1 of 3 passers who surpassed 5,000 yards, and was third in touchdowns behind only Brees and Rodgers.
It feels like Stafford’s been around for awhile because of all his injury woes, but he’s only going into his fourth season. It’s possible he hasn’t reached his ceiling yet since he could work on improving his interception rate, throwing 37 in his 29 career games.
He’s my number four behind the big 3 mentioned above and, with the importance I’m putting on elite quarterbacks this season, I would have no issue drafting Stafford at the end of the first round or early in the second.
5. Will Brandon Marshall return to fantasy dominance?
Marshall could go for 1,000 yards with you or me throwing him the ball. A feat he’s accomplished five out of his six seasons in the league and with the likes of Kyle Orton, Chad Henne, and Matt Moore as his signal callers.
Now Marshall’s reunited with his old bud Jay Cutler, who helped him average 103 receptions, 1,300 yards and 6.5 touchdowns in their two full seasons together in Denver.
I agree with what Marshall said in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times after his impressive performance Tuesday night against Washington:
“If you look at our history, we definitely have some chemistry there, and I think it’s going to be more special this time around because where we’re at understanding the game, our maturity level.’’
Back in Denver, Cutler and Marshall were both just young guns with tremendous talent. It’s different in Chicago. They’re on a team with the potential to be a super bowl contender and I think they understand how they go, the team goes.
6. Greg Jennings or Jordy Nelson?
I’m always one to choose the proven and consistent veteran over the “new guy” (only duo I don’t follow that logic with this year is Roddy White and Julio Jones), which is why my vote goes to Jennings.
From 2008-2010, Jennings had three straight seasons of at least 1,100 yards, averaging eight touchdowns a season. What’s crazy to think about is how last year, even during Nelson’s breakout campaign, Jennings was on track for his best season yet before getting hurt in week 14.
Nelson had an incredible season, but he was definitely boom or bust. Of course, he had his crazy six games over 16 points (3 with 20+), but he also had five games where he scored less than five. Jennings, on the other hand, had only one full game where he scored below eight points.
Nelson also benefited in a huge way once Jennings went down. Over the four week span Jennings missed, Nelson caught 20 balls for an insane 387 yards and 6 touchdowns! This accounted for 34% of Nelson’s fantasy production last season.
Nelson isn’t sneaking up on anyone this year and, as such, should take some defensive attention away from Jennings, who should pick up right where he left off last season.
7. Who is the better sleeper at wide receiver, Randall Cobb or Alshon Jefferey?
These two are being picked just a couple of spots apart based on ADP, so it’s likely you’ll have to choose between them come draft day.
First off, they have polar opposite skill sets. There’s no doubt Cobb is the more explosive of the two. He proved his ability to make defenders miss on his kick returns last season in a big way. Jefferey is more of the sure-handed big man (6’3, 216) who’s going to get the quick possession routes and gain his YAC from being so hard to bring down. In this regard, you’re choosing between the guy who has the capability to catch 3 balls for 104 yards and a touchdown once every 4 or 5 games, and someone who could consistently get 5-7 receptions per game for 60-80 yards on top of redzone looks.
I think from an opportunity standpoint, the advantage goes to Jefferey. Of course, Cobb has the better quarterback and more explosive offense, but he also has to deal with Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Jermichael Finley and what’s left of Donald Driver’s fantasy-maddening corpse. If James Jones gets traded to Miami like some have rumored, then things could open up for Cobb a little more, but I just don’t see him getting on the field for much more than return duties. On the other hand, there’s no doubt in my mind Jefferey will be lined up across from Brandon Marshall for the majority of the year. The Devin Hester experiment hasn’t worked, and will continue to not work. It shouldn’t be too difficult for Jefferey to surpass Hester for the WR2 slot and Cutler is going to sling it enough this year to make his number two option productive.
All things considered, I think Jeffery has a better shot at being fantasy relevant this season than Randall Cobb. Jefferey’s ADP puts him in the 15th round, but I would have no problem reaching for him around the 12th or 13th. I think he has rookie of the year kind of potential.
The questions in my upcoming columns are changing from my own ideas to yours! Send your fantasy questions this season to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll do my best to answer them in my Friday mailbags.