Dynasty with Daniel: Investigating the NFC North

by | Mar 9, 2021

The Green Bay Packers have dominated the NFC North picture over the last ten seasons. They’ve only surrendered the division crown thrice over that span, with the other three teams fighting over the scraps, mired in relative mediocrity. The good news for the other teams is that Aaron Rodgers is 37 years old and can’t play forever. The bad news is that he won an MVP award at 37, so maybe he can at least play into his Tom Brady years.

Rodgers and the Packers aside, the North is going through some stuff. The Chicago Bears need a quarterback and the Lions are a disaster. The Vikings are fine? Regardless, there are plenty of players to get excited about and plenty of tasty landing spots for incoming rookies and free agents.

Let’s get after it!

Chicago Bears

The Bears were the epitome of average this season, demonstrated wonderfully with their pedestrian 8-8 record and their yawn-worthy +2 Point Differential. The NFC on the whole was so lackluster that the ho-hum Bears even slipped into the playoffs, only to snooze their way through a 21-9 defeat at the hands of the New Orleans Saints. If nothing else, we need some excitement in Chicago!


The Bears can be confident that Mitchell Trubisky is just a guy. Super Bowl Winner Nick Foles has also been awfully “guy-ish” since receiving a massive deal in the wake of his improbable playoff success.

Naturally, the brass in the Windy City have been scouring the market for any capable starter. Will they draft one at 1.20? With Carson Wentz off to Indianapolis, will another option emerge? Regardless, this isn’t a great offense. Unless they can net an elite option like Deshaun Watson, it’s hard to get excited about anyone on this team for the 2021 season, especially if stud receiver Allen Robinson departs.

Running Back

After a mediocre rookie season, David Montgomery felt like a poor man’s “Insert Name of Good Running Back Here.” Splitting time with Tarik Cohen and ceding much of the passing work, he appeared to have a limited ceiling, even if his floor was decent thanks to volume in the rushing game. It was much of the same through the first 11 weeks of the 2020 season, even with Cohen going out for the year with an injury. Montgomery missed one game, tallied four single-digit performances, and only surpassed 20 fantasy points once. He was a “fine” RB2, but nothing too exciting, much like the Bears themselves.

Then Week 12 happened. Montgomery went off on Green Bay and never looked back. He went over 20 fantasy points in each of the last six games, hit 100 yards every time and scored eight total touchdowns. He was a league-winner for goodness sakes, finishing No. 6 among qualified running backs with a 17.5 Fantasy Points per Game average.

Moving forward, we do need to keep in mind that Cohen is under contract through 2023 with a reasonable out after 2021. That would limit Montgomery’s upside, making it difficult for him to reach the 12.0-percent (No. 14) Target Share that he enjoyed this year. Even so, there’s plenty to like with his robust rushing workload being that Chicago gave him 247 (No. 4) Carries.  

Efficiency-wise, Montgomery was fine, though not elite like his counting stats may suggest. We like seeing 1.49 (No. 16) Yards Created Per Touch and 449 (No. 4) Yards Created. However, he’s not a big play threat, sporting a paltry 2.4-percent (No. 52) Breakaway Run Rate. Additionally, his -2.7 (No. 42) Production Premium suggests that the last six games may have been an aberration. 

If you can get an RB1-type haul for Montgomery I’d do it in a heartbeat. If the market is down on him, I’m also fine holding him with the realization that he’s more of an RB2.   

Wide Receiver

Don’t let Anthony Miller clog your roster. 

Darnell Mooney had some moments, and the rookie fifth-round pick ended strong, hitting double-digit fantasy points in three of his last four games. The Bears looked to utilize his 4.38 (96th-percentile) speed with 23 (No. 11) Deep Targets. It’s unfortunate that his quarterbacks were so bad that he ended with 739 (No. 10) Unrealized Air Yards. He’s certainly worth adding.

However, the stud on this roster is none other than Allen Robinson. Forever tortured by bad passers, he puts up numbers no matter what. He commanded 151 (No. 3) Targets which he turned into a solid 102 (No. 4) Receptions, 1,250 (No. 8) Receiving Yards and six (No. 24) Touchdowns. Even though his efficiency metrics weren’t amazing, he continued to be a reliable source of fantasy production thanks in large part to his 1,490 (No. 7) Air Yards and 17.0-percent (No. 10) Hog Rate.

The problem for Chicago is that it seems unlikely Robinson returns, meaning he can go on to another place where he hopefully gets a better passer. This would make the Bears an interesting spot for an incoming rookie. While he’s heading towards his age-28 season, I like scooping up the criminally underrated Robinson wherever I can in anticipation of yet another 1,000 yard campaign.

Tight End

Honestly, good for Jimmy Graham. He still threatens defenses in the red zone as he ages. Though he pulled in eight (No. 5) Touchdowns and commanded 20 (No. 3) Red Zone Targets, the Bears have a reasonable out this offseason and that may be it for him in Chicago. 

Even if Graham makes it another year, it looks like the Bears will be ready to turn it over to Cole Kmet, who saw a respectable rookie year 60.7-percent (No. 34) Snap Share, which only increased game-by-game as the season progressed. The 22-year-old product from Notre Dame boasts good athleticism, evidenced by a 106.8 (83rd-percentile) Speed Score and 126.3 (88th-percentile) Burst Score. The second-round pick has as good a chance as any to end as the best tight end in an admittedly poor 2020 class. He makes sense as a cheap add, especially with a great class entering the league in 2021. 

Recap: Wait and see on the quarterback. Sell high on David Montgomery if possible. Buy Allen Robinson. Darnell Mooney and Cole Kmet make for interesting cheap adds.

Detroit Lions

As an actual football team, the Lions are in full rebuild mode. Bringing in new leadership, we’ll have to see the direction taken in free agency and the NFL Draft. However, for fantasy purposes, the Lions are actually a little fun. Of course, we’ll have to see what it looks like with Jared Goff, but this offense boasts high-profile players.


With Matthew Stafford out the door, game manager Goff (I keep accidentally typing “Goof” so take that for what it is) takes over unless the Lions ship him off too! I won’t lie, that would be great for the rebuild and would set them up to grab an exciting rookie. 

Speculation aside, Goff is the man for now, so we need to analyze his game.

Beyond a 69.4-percent (No. 9) Play-Action Completion Percentage, Goff didn’t do anything well in 2020. Sean McVay, realizing who Goff is as a passer, surely drew up as much play-action as he could to help him. He made little happen with his arm, evidenced by his modest 14 (No. 20) Money Throws, and instead relied on the playmaking ability of Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods among others. Unfortunately for the Rams, Goff not only failed to make big plays, but also put his team in tough positions with 34 (No. 9) Danger Plays. Despite having ample chances with his 552 (No. 9) Pass Attempts, he just couldn’t push the ball downfield, ending with only 3,503 (No. 19) Air Yards and a 7.1 (No. 22) Yards per Attempt average.

Goff simply isn’t a QB1. He had moderate success in the past with the right system, but Detroit likely isn’t that system in 2021. Time to move on if you still have him clogging your rosters.

Running Back

Matt Patricia was trying to get fired. I cannot be convinced otherwise. Otherwise, I cannot make sense of the fact that D’Andre Swift only logged a 49.1-percent (No. 30) Snap Share. The Detroit coaching staff insisted on trotting out the corpse of Adrian Peterson and Kerryon Johnson far too often, limiting Swift’s production. Whether it was incompetency or willful sabotage on the part of Patricia, Swift still excelled.

Despite being confined to the dreaded RBBC, Swift managed three out of a possible 13 RB1 weeks, offering us a tantalizing picture of a future top-5 back in the league. He offered great receiving upside by commanding a 12.8-percent (No. 10) Target Share and 1.69 (No. 6) Yards Per Route Run average. This will be a great floor on which to build moving forward.

Swift also demonstrated plus playmaking ability with a 5.3-percent (No. 13) Breakaway Run Rate and plus efficiency with a +22.7 (No; 7) Production Premium. All of this led to a 14.6 (No. 16) Fantasy Points per Game average, a respectable tally for a player blocked at every turn by a miserable coaching staff. Hopefully Dan Campbell and company will fully unlock Swift. 

If you have him, congrats! If not, too late.

Wide Receiver 

The Lions are set to lose both Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay to free agency, and it isn’t clear if the new regime wants to bring either back. This could set up a strange 2021, and this is one position group that we must observe carefully. As it stands, D’Andre Swift and T.J. Hockenson stand to profit from this uncertainty.

Even so, we should at least take a look at Golladay, whether or not he returns to Detroit.

Golladay suffered through an injury-plagued season. Heading into his age-28 campaign, there are plenty of question marks. The window is certainly closing, and we need to discern whether or not he has another productive season or two in the tank. That will partly depend on where he is playing, the rest will depend on his health and if his game ages well.

Going back to 2019, Golladay shredded defenses. He seemingly spent all his time far down the field with his 37 (No. 1) Deep Targets, 18.3 (No. 4) Yards per Reception, 1,826 (No. 4) Total Target Distance, and 15.7 (No. 6) Average Target Distance. It’s no wonder that he ended with 11 (No. 1) Touchdowns and 1,190 (No. 6) Receiving Yards. He was the center of that offense, en route to superb efficiency metrics such as his +24.6 (No. 9) Production Premium and +27.8-percent (No. 7) Target Premium

A hip and hamstring injury later, the question is whether or not Golladay can come close to replicating that 2019 production in 2021 and hopefully beyond. If I have a contender, then I’d consider grabbing him while his value has taken a hit. He should be able to deliver solid production across the next two years. After that, or during the 2022 season, I would then look to move him for whatever I can get. We all know that WRs age better than RBs. Take the injury discount and profit.  

Tight End

The 2021 season is setting up to be great for T.J. Hockenson. There likely will be approximately 1,000,000 vacated targets and Hockenson will benefit greatly. I go deep into his profile here. So check it out and buy him up before he becomes elite.  

Recap: Sell Jared Goff. Enjoy elite D’Andre Swift. Buy Kenny Golladay and T.J. Hockenson.

Green Bay Packers

Green Bay’s dominance in the NFC North just keeps on keeping on. And incredibly, the Packers lit their 2020 draft picks on fire! That’s how concerned they are with the rest of the division. Now if they want to win another Super Bowl with Aaron Rodgers, they’ll need to draft actual contributors, but they’ve owned the North with him. I’m awfully interested to see how the front office moves forward with this team that isn’t good enough to win it all but probably good enough to roll it back and make the playoffs. This is an aging team though, and we as fantasy gamers need to be especially careful not to hold for too long. 


What can we say about Rodgers? He went scorched-earth on the league on his way to his third MVP award. He’s getting up there, but why can’t he continue on for another three years? 

On principal, I don’t buy pop years from vets. Heading into 2020, I loved Rodgers and wanted him everywhere because he was coming off a disappointing season. The price was right. This year, I most likely won’t acquire him anywhere and might move on. Not because I think he’s bad, but because his value has likely risen a decent amount. With these older quarterbacks, I would play the swings and buy low/sell high. 

Maybe poor Jordan Love will get to play one day.

Running Back

The way it looks right now, both Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams will be playing elsewhere, opening up A.J. Dillon for a massive workload.

For Jones, I’d pay careful attention to where he lands. He’ll be 26 years old for roughly the whole 2021 season, so he’s not ancient. However, the cliff is coming, and he could still fetch a good price after averaging 18.4 (No. 4) Fantasy Points per Game. I like to cycle through RBs fairly quickly, always trading an aging player for a younger one. I’m thrilled if I can get three years from a back because I’m not interested in being a bag-holder. Keep an eye on how things go down and considering moving on from Jones.

The time is now for Dillon, especially if Williams leaves. He received little rookie-year work outside of a Week 16 blowup against the Titans. His 129 yards and two scores were a welcome sign for fantasy gamers. Built like a freight train, he possesses an enticing athletic profile highlighted by a 117.3 (97th-percentile) Speed Score and 135.2 (97th-percentile) Burst Score to go along with a solid production profile coming out of Boston College. The mega-production notched a hefty 34.8-percent (81st-percentile) College Dominator Rating, and quite a few highlights trucking poor DBs. 

As long as the Packers are committed to him, and I certainly hope that they are after spending a second-round pick on him, Dillon should produce in an offense that gets up and down the field well. I’ve scooped him up in a few spots already in anticipation of a primary back workload.

Wide Receiver

The running question for Green Bay is this: “Is it time to sell this highly productive player?” We all know that Davante Adams is awesome. How many more elite seasons does he have? That’s where it gets tough. Personally, I’d ride it another year assuming I’m a contender and ship him off for a huge haul after he destroys the league again next year.

Adams isn’t that interesting though, is he? He is great. Yawn.

What about the other receivers in Green Bay?

They might not be interesting either, but let’s at least talk about them for a minute.

Both Allen Lazard and Marquez Valdes-Scantling are boom/bust receivers capable of dropping a 20 -spot one week and zero the next.

Lazard, in his 10 games, managed a respectable 9.8 (No. 17) Yards per Target and 124.4 (No. 11) QB Rating When Targeted. While he didn’t get downfield as much as we would like with his 9.5 (No. 67) Average Target Distance, averaging 2.17 (No. 6) yards of Target Separation helped Rodgers find decent success when looking his way. He was a fine secondary boom/bust player, though not one that the Packers or dynasty gamers could count on week in and week out.

Meanwhile, Valdes-Scantling was a downfield threat, leading all qualified wide receivers with a 17.5 Average Target Distance and 20.9 Yards per Reception. In 14 games played, he managed 22 (No. 12) Deep Targets. Drops are a bit of an issue being that he also led the league with a 14.3-percent Drop Rate. I’m not worried about drops for stud receivers, but I like to see complementary pieces convert most of their chances. Overall, his big play ability helped him clock in a +21.7 (No. 12) Production Premium. However, it’s hard to get overly excited about a low-volume field stretcher. It’s great when he hits, but playing him outside of Best Ball leagues or GPPs seems reckless. 

Neither receiver is terribly interesting long-term, and I’d love to see a rookie land in Green Bay.

Tight End

Robert Tonyan, the former QB turned WR from Indiana State, was a name floated before the 2019 season as a guy who could pop. As is often the case, 2019 was basically a bust. But with Jimmy Graham‘s departure, things opened up for Tonyan. After scoring in both Weeks 2 and 3, he delivered an insane 6/98/3 line in Week 4, vaulting him into the second tier of tight end producers. He never left. In a disappointing year for most tight ends, Tonyan showed decent consistency, ending the season as with an 11.8 (No. 5) Fantasy Points per Game average.

Tonyan led all tight ends in Touchdowns (11), Catch Rate (88.1-percent), True Catch Rate (98.1-percent), Target Premium (+33.5-percent), Target Separation (2.64), Production Premium (+61.3), QB Rating When Targeted (147.6), and Fantasy Points Per Target (2.99). He was excellent and essentially worked as the second receiver. There is plenty to like about yet another “out of nowhere” tight end, and he should continue as a TE1 moving forward with Rodgers looking his way often. 

Recap: Time to gauge the market for Aaron Rodgers, Aaron Jones, and Davante Adams. Buy A.J. Dillon and Robert Tonyan. Move on from Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Allen Lazard before the Packers vaporize them with a rookie

Minnesota Vikings

Offensively, the Vikings are solid. The defense was a mess, but we only care about offense here! There are some studs to cover in Minnesota, but also plenty of value for those of us looking to get in on an offense that scored the eight-most touchdowns in 2020. 


It seems like Kirk Cousins is always underrated. Yet, he is a fringe QB1 in fantasy year after year. This past season was no different, as he ended with 19.3 (No. 11) Fantasy Points Per Game. He is the perfect target for those missing out on the studs in a startup draft.

Despite losing Stefon Diggs, Cousins kept rolling thanks to the rookie Justin Jefferson breaking out. Cousins, as we might expect, ranked middle-of-the-road with 25 (No. 12) Money Throws and 31 (No. 14) Danger Plays. He’s neither terrible nor awesome! He’s just good. It was great to see him push the ball downfield. He averaged an excellent 8.2 (No. 3) Yards per Attempt while maintaining good accuracy with an 80.8-percent True Completion Percentage. He doesn’t provide much of a rushing floor, but that’s not the end of the world for where you are buying him. And he makes up for it with good passing metrics like his 115.4 (No. 6) True Passer Rating. What’s not to like?

Running Back

Dalvin Cook is awesome. He blew up with 17 (No. 2) Touchdowns and 1,557 Rushing Yards in 2020. He’s active in the passing game, ending with 361 (No. 10) Receiving Yards. He’s everything you want in a stud running back. Look, you know my rant at this point. Eventually, you have to think about unloading him. It will be a downward slope from here. You can still get a monster haul for him now if you so choose to move on. If not, just be prepared for an Ezekiel Elliott-type cliff on the horizon. That cliff isn’t the end of the world. It’s not the Le’Veon Bell cliff, but just know it’s coming.

Wide Receiver

I don’t need to say much about Justin Jefferson. He’s an absolute stud and he’s only 22 yearsbold. You can’t afford him if you don’t own him, and you’re not selling him. He’s great, but not terribly interesting from a dynasty standpoint. In this case, boring is good.

Adam Thielen, on the other hand, is interesting. He is entering his age-31 season, so this is the time to start worrying about a production dip. Fortunately, Thielen is an excellent route runner (and I don’t even film grind), so his game should age well. He’s also coming off a season in which he averaged 16.8 (No. 11) Fantasy Points Per Game despite Jefferson’s presence, devouring defenses in the red zone by commanding 20 (No. 3) Red Zone Targets and pulling in 14 (No. 3) Touchdowns.

What is a plus is also a reason to sell. We like touchdowns, but touchdowns aren’t as predictable year over year, and so we would expect some regression in 2021. We also need to consider that touchdowns aside, Jefferson is the Alpha. Thielen may have dominated red zone looks, but he only managed 74 (No. 23) Receptions and 925 (No. 24) Receiving Yards in 15 games. 

I’m happy to roll out Thielen until he’s washed. I truly think he will produce for a few more years. However, if you’re looking for an out on an aging receiver, you’ll never find a better one than after a 14-touchdown season.

Tight End

Irv Smith will only be 23 years old entering his third year in the league. We know it takes time for tight ends to get going, and Smith has taken it slow through his first two years. He is a must-add in dynasty heading into his third-year breakout season.

Smith carries with him a solid profile coming out of Alabama with his 16.1 (88th-percentile) College YPR, while fighting for targets with this oft-praised ‘Bama receiving corps. He also boasts 4.63 (87th-percentile) 40-yard Dash speed.

Putting aside his college accolades, Smith was solid this year in delivering 30 (No. 31) Receptions for 365 (No. 27) Receiving Yards and five (No. 13) Touchdowns. He got downfield decently well, en route to a 12.2 (No. 8) Yards per Reception average on an 8.3 (No. 10) Average Target Distance. Cousins seemed to benefit when looking Smith’s way, demonstrated by a 134.4 (No. 2) QB Rating When Targeted, which should increase their rapport in the years to come. The tight end position is about to explode as this year’s rookie class enters and players like Smith find their form. Get in before you miss out on an explosive and cheap asset.

Recap: Buy Kirk Cousins and Irv Smith. Consider selling Dalvin Cook and Adam Thielen. Enjoy Justin Jefferson.

Follow Daniel Jolly on Twitter @DanForADay