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NFC North Fantasy Football Deep-Dive: Best Picks, Sleepers, Draft Advice for 2021

Breaking down the Bears, Lions, Packers, and Vikings' rosters for 2021 fantasy football, including rankings, sleepers, and more!

With the 2021 NFL season fast approaching, I’ve taken it upon myself to go division-by-division and breakdown each team for 2021 fantasy football. For each team, I’ve picked the best fantasy options and a few up-and-comers on the roster who could have sneaky fantasy value this coming season. I’ve also included Sharp Football’s Strength of Schedule Metrics for each team (1st = easiest, 32nd = hardest) and my own 2021 .5PPR rankings for the players were applicable. (Listed ADPs via FF Calculator)

Chicago Bears
Overall Strength of ScheduleOpposing Off. EfficiencyOpposing Def. EfficiencyOpposing Pass D EfficiencyOpposing Run D Efficiency

Head coach Matt Nagy has stuck to his guns, doubling down on his declaration that washed up veteran quarterback and free agent signee Andy Dalton will be the team’s starting quarterback in Week 1. This comes despite the team drafting their presumed QB of the future Justin Fields with the 11th overall pick in this year’s NFL Draft.

For those thinking that letting a quarterback hold a clipboard for part (or all) of his rookie season is good process because it worked out in Kansas City, think again. Patrick Mahomes is an inherently talented QB who landed in the perfect scenario: being coached by Andy Reid and mentored by Pro Bowl QB Alex Smith on a team built for Super Bowl contention.

Take the time to breakdown every successful quarterback in the modern day NFL and it’s clear to see that nearly all of them started early in the first season. You get better with repetition, not stagnation. Not to mention the advantage that a rookie QB salary brings to the salary cap but that’s for a different story.

Kings in the North

WR Allen Robinson (My 2021 rank: WR9)

Allen Robinson has done more with less, at the quarterback position, than perhaps any wide receiver before him. The eighth-year receiver has finished as a top 12 receiver in three of his five (mostly) healthy seasons, despite catching passes from the likes of Blake Bortles, Mitchell Trubisky, and a washed up Nick Foles.

Although he’ll have to play with The Red Rifle for an unknown number of games this year, there’s at least some hope that Fields takes over at some point, which would instantly improve Robinson’s odds of producing a career year on a points per game basis. He’s an outstanding pick at his current 3.11, WR12 ADP.

RB David Montgomery (RB18) & Damien Williams (RB38)

In his 2020 sophomore campaign, a combination of injuries, schedule, and volume launched David Montgomery into the realm of productivity that many of us expected him to land in the season prior. Pass catching No. 2 back Tarik Cohen suffered an ACL tear in Week 3 and Montgomery’s passing game work went from 3 targets per game to 6.3 over the next couple of weeks. His run against some of the league’s worst front-sevens through the final six games of the year was a sight to behold and helped him finish the .5PPR’s overall RB4.

Looking ahead to the upcoming season, it’s fair to expect Montgomery to keep a lot of the work that he earned to close the season last year—especially given the fact that Cohen’s recovery is not going well at all—but hopes for another RB1 season aren’t likely to be met. This offseason, the team added veteran rusher Damien Williams, who put the Kansas City Chiefs on his back through various portions of their Super Bowl victory just one year ago.

Montgomery is sure to retain lead back duties but it would be a fool’s errand not to expect Williams to be a regularly used dual threat chess piece. While the 3.03, RB17 ADP for Montgomery is a fair price to pay for such a solid player, Williams is the far superior value pick at his 14.05, RB62 ADP.

In Line for the Throne

WR Darnell Mooney (WR61)

Darnell Mooney is a parlay bet. The downfield speedster flashed repeatedly last season but was unable to make much of it due to the Bears’ lackluster passing attack. Should the cannon-armed Fields take over sooner rather than later, Mooney would make for an intriguing add.

TE Cole Kmet (TE27)

Cole Kmet would be closer to the TE15 were Jimmy Graham not in the building. He’s a bet-on-talent pick, late in drafts.

Detroit Lions
Overall Strength of ScheduleOpposing Off. EfficiencyOpposing Def. EfficiencyOpposing Pass D EfficiencyOpposing Run D Efficiency

The biggest conclusions that we can draw from Detroit’s new wiz kid duo of head coach Dan Campbell and offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn are that the running backs will be startable, along with one or two pass catchers. This coaching staff is very stupid and they will not keep their jobs for long.

Kings in the North

RB D’Andre Swift (My 2021 rank: RB25) & Jamaal Williams (RB29)

With Anthony Lynn calling plays, some version of Austin Ekeler and Melvin Gordon usage can be expected for the Lions’ 1-2 RB punch of D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams. The biggest hindrance to Swift is the nagging, if mild groin injury that he’s currently dealing with. Groin injuries tend to either be a non-issue or very bad, and while all indications are that it’s the former, Swift’s status for Week 1 is still up in the air. If healthy, a workload in the neighborhood of 10 t0 12 carries and 6 t0 8 targets is well within Swift’s range of outcomes. His current 3.09, RB19 ADP is a little too rich. Should he fall, go ahead and him in the early 5th round.

Related: Running Backs to Target Based on NECC Consistency Rating

Williams, though, is far more of an interesting pick in the early-to-mid 9th Round (RB43). In late May, Lynn admiringly called Williams a “classic ‘A’ back”, of the hard-nosed, pass catching-capable variety. Although his total touch count is likely to be a hair lower than Swift’s when both backs are healthy, 12 to 16 per game, both through the air and on the ground, is an entirely reasonable expectation. Should Swift miss time, Williams could push for 25 touches in Detroit’s RB-happy scheme.

TE T.J. Hockenson (TE9)

In short, T.J. Hockenson is a supremely talented blocking and pass catching tight end. The rest of the Lions’ pass catching corps is largely made up of castoffs. Although Hockenson isn’t likely to produce like the position’s elite, he should see a top 10 target count at the position.

Green Bay Packers
Overall Strength of ScheduleOpposing Off. EfficiencyOpposing Def. EfficiencyOpposing Pass D EfficiencyOpposing Run D Efficiency

Green Bay’s strength of schedule is no walk in the park but ultimately, a team that throws the ball at a league average clip on first-half early-downs (55%), while totaling the eighth-most play-action pass attempts (147), and quarterbacked by Aaron Rodgers, can stay competitive with anyone. Should they throw the ball more often, say at a top 5 rate? Yes, absolutely. But we can’t win ‘em all.

Kings in the North

QB Aaron Rodgers (My 2021 rank: QB9)

Any question as to how much this franchise needs Aaron Rodgers was solidly put to rest when he forced them into restructuring his deal, and trading for a washed up Randall Cobb. It’s his world and the Packers are just living in it. Last year’s overall QB3 is likely to regress to some degree but he’s a locked-in QB1. His 6.05, QB7 ADP is worth the cost and those who draft Davante Adams in the 1st Round should even consider Rodgers with a late 5th Round pick.

WR Davante Adams (WR1)

Over the last three seasons Davante Adams has finished as the WR3, the WR6 in .5PPR PPG, and as the WR1. During that span, he’s also finished No. 3 or No. 1 in receptions per game. Likewise, Adams has regularly been a top 10 red zone target and finished 3rd last year in end zone targets with 16. His mind-meld with Aaron Rodgers is unparalleled in the league and the only changes in the receiver corps from 2020 to 2021 were 3rd round NFL Draft pick Amari Rodgers, who had a chance to fill the starting slot receiver gig, and the dreadfully washed up Randall Cobb who will operate as the starting slot receiver for much of the year.

Adams should see no real dent in his target volume. He’s this year’s WR1 and his 1.07, WR1 ADP may actually be a value. He should go as early as No. 5 overall.

RB Aaron Jones (RB7)

The case for Aaron Jones performing as a dominant RB1, while perhaps not the RB1, is about as simple as it is for Davante Adams. Over the last two seasons, Jones has finished as the RB2 and the RB5 in .5PPR and for the first time this year, he’ll no longer be competing with Jamaal Williams for touches. Now a Detroit Lion, Williams operated at a near 1B-back rate rather than a backup, playing a fair share of snaps behind Jones in both 2019 (388 vs. 679) and 2020 (419 vs. 539). Williams’ 226 total carries and 70 total targets aren’t numbers to shake a stick at. Now free of a competent dual threat backup, Jones should see his highest seasonal touch count yet. His 1.06, RB6 ADP is reasonable.

TE Robert Tonyan (TE8)

Tight end Robert Tonyan broke out last year, finishing as the TE3 in .5PPR scoring. With the tight end position so barren of fantasy viability and the team so largely unchanged in it’s pass catching corps, Tonyan is a decent mid-tier TE1 to bank on.

In Line for the Throne

WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling (WR75) & Allen Lazard (WR64)

MVS has been touted as a lid-lifting breakout candidate since his rookie season in 2018. His on-field speed is evident to the eye but he’s had serious issues producing at a reliable level, as evidenced by his oft-empty box scores. He’s as much of a dice roll as any decent downfield, one trick pony in the NFL.

Allen Lazard has been a steady, if unsexy, Eddie, posting back-to-back stat lines within 30 yards of each other while scoring three times in each of the last two seasons. Lazard would only garner serious starting consideration were Davante Adams to miss time. Were that the case though, Lazard would immediately be on the WR2/flex radar.

RB A.J. Dillon (RB46)

A.J. Dillon, the big bodied bruiser that the team drafted unreasonably high just a year ago, is now in line for as many as 80 carries in a backup role. Some of that workload may come as a bulldozer in scoring position, but Dillion is unlikely to provide reliable standalone value.

Minnesota Vikings
Overall Strength of ScheduleOpposing Off. EfficiencyOpposing Def. EfficiencyOpposing Pass D EfficiencyOpposing Run D Efficiency

Per SharpFootballStats, the Vikings’ overall strength of schedule metrics really aren’t significant one way or another, and even if they were, it wouldn’t matter. In an unspectacular move, soaked in nepotism, the Vikings promoted Klint Kubiak, son of 2019/2020 offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, to the position of offensive coordinator in early February of this year.

Klint should carry on with Gary’s preposterously run-heavy scheme with aplomb. Minnesota ran the ball on 50% of first-half early-downs last year and, regarding the aforementioned schedule comments, continued running the ball on second-half early-downs, when losing, at the league’s ninth-highest rate (39%).

Kings in the North

RB Dalvin Cook (My 2021 rank: RB8) & Alexander Mattison (RB44)

Dalvin Cook is a superb talent who sees heaps of usage every week. As mentioned above, Minnesota hardly ever stops running. Even when they do, they target the running back 20% of the time, tied for 8th-highest in the league. When on the field, Cook will be the best bet to dethrone Christian McCaffrey from the overall RB1 perch on a weekly basis. The sole reason that Dalvin Cook is not ranked as the RB2 is because of his long history of shoulder dislocations, among other serious injuries. (For more, check out this FREE breakdown of Dalvin Cook’s injury profile, written by the inimitable Dr. Edwin Porras of FantasyPoints.) Drafting Cook at his current 1.02, RB2 ADP comes with extreme risk that the rest of the 1st round field does not have. If drafting for ceiling, I get it. But Cook is a pass for me with this profile.

Related: Running Back Deep-Dive: Dalvin Cook Isn’t a Top-5 Fantasy Back

There’s an argument to be made that if you draft Dalvin Cook, you should draft backup running back Alexander Mattison a round or two early to secure the handcuff. Many a fantasy analyst has already addressed the cost/benefits of doing so in the past but in short, if you do so, you are committing two roster spots to what will only ever be one starting fantasy asset. You can do it, to be safe but it’s not an upside-play. Mattison’s 9.11, RB45 ADP is a fine place to draft him, regardless.

Savvy drafters might lean a different direction than opting for a handcuff though. Let’s say you draft Ezekiel Elliott and the 9th round is rolling around. Do you want to take his primary backup, Tony Pollard, whose ADP currently sits at 9.05, RB43, ensuring that if Zeke were to miss time, you’re set? Or would you instead opt for Alexander Mattison. I would take Mattison, thus opening the opportunity to add another starter to my lineup, rather than replacing one. Were I to draft Elliott in this scenario and Cook were to miss time, I now have two locked-in Top 12 options at the position.

WR Justin Jefferson (WR8) & Adam Thielen (WR23)

As a rookie last year, Justin Jefferson produced a Yards per Route Run (Y/RR) mark of 2.66, second best in the NFL, trailing only Davante Adams. His 1,400 receiving yards were fourth-most across the league as well. The kid is the real deal and he’s here to stay. Although Jefferson might have access to even gaudier totals were he in a more analytically inclined offense, the narrowness of the Minnesota target tree (ie. Jefferson and veteran receiver Adam Thielen) is a tremendous boon to his success. His 2.12, WR7 ADP is a great place to take him.

Adam Thielen’s 925 receiving yards were the fewest of the three seasons he’s spent playing 15 games or more as a full-time starter. That didn’t stop him from keeping his mid-to-low WR1 streak alive though, as his 14 touchdowns were also a career high. While it’s fair to question whether or not that type of touchdown production will hold, Thielen did see 20 end zone targets last year, most in the NFL. Hedge a hair and draft him as a WR2 at his 5.03, WR20 ADP.


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