The Deep State series continues with an examination of fantasy studs and duds in each NFL division to help you better prepare for your 2019 fantasy football season. The formula? A proprietary blend of statistics, trends, player tendencies, and three decades of fantasy knowledge.
Previously, we revealed studs and duds from the AFC North. Next up in the series, the NFC North.
NFC North Studs and Duds
Stud: David Montgomery, running back
Had the Chicago Bears just jettisoned Jordan Howard and drafted Montgomery, this would be a no-brainer. It didn’t go down quite like that and the Bears muddied the waters a bit by signing Mike Davis in free agency. Chicago’s brass has been singing the praises of Montgomery since he arrived, bragging about his ability to do everything on the field. The lip service coupled with his preseason week one performance (3 rushes for 16 yards and a TD, 3 receptions for 30 yards) leads us to believe that Montgomery will be the main focus of the rushing attack with Tarik Cohen used as a receiving threat and Davis spelling the rookie at times.
Dud: Taylor Gabriel, wide receiver
Gabriel saw a surprising 93 targets last season, but don’t expect those opportunities to repeat in 2019. Matt Nagy’s offense will continue to evolve, and he has some new toys this year in Montgomery and Cordarrelle Patterson. Fellow receivers Allen Robinson and Anthony Miller are healthier than last year, meaning fewer targets for Gabriel. Just going by sheer volume, don’t expect Gabriel to be as involved this year. Despite his target share last season, Gabriel is easily one of our players to avoid this year.
Green Bay Packers
Stud: Aaron Jones, running back
The Aaron Jones era has begun in Green Bay, and we’re seeing shades of Ahman Green. Jones is an every-down back with enough gas to break a big play at any moment. New head coach Matt LaFleur sounds committed to the run game to bring more balance to a traditionally pass-heavy offense. He also wants to get the backs more involved in the passing game. All signs point to Jones having a monster year in one of the league’s top offenses.
If you have an upcoming draft, you can probably get him at a bargain price. Jones does come with injury risks, suffering MCL injuries that ended each of his first two seasons prematurely. He’s improved his conditioning in the offseason and is preparing to be the team’s workhorse. An early camp hamstring injury may scare some fantasy football owners away from selecting Jones early. Don’t make the same mistake. Jones will see enough volume to be a strong RB2 with RB1 potential.
Dud: Jimmy Graham, tight end
Once the top tier tight ends are off the board, some fantasy owners might panic and look for a “name.” After all, who wants to get stuck with C.J. Uzomah at tight end? Graham is a proven name on a high-octane passing attack, why not roll the dice, right? Wrong.
Graham’s time as a top tight end is over. He’ll turn 33 during the season and his production has been declining since 2016. The Green Bay Packers invested a third-round pick on receiving TE Jace Sternberger this year, revealing doubts in their veteran starter (we are, after all, conspiracy theorists here at The Deep State). Graham is a low-end option but do not overdraft him based on name recognition alone.
Stud: Dalvin Cook, running back
This all boils down to one thing: Cook’s ability to stay healthy. If he can, he’s primed for a monster fantasy season. A look at the team’s running back depth chart tells us so. The team let Latavius Murray leave via free agency, leaving third-round rookie Alexander Mattison and a host of “just a guy” options should Cook go down.
The depth chart also reveals the Minnesota Vikings’ confidence in Cook’s repaired ACL heading into the season. In his 15 career games, Cook has 51 catches and averages 4.7 yards per carry. A season total of 1,200 yards rushing and 60 receptions is not out of the question if he can just stay healthy for a full season.
Dud: Kyle Rudolph, tight end
The Vikings and Packers are on eerily similar trajectories when it comes to their depth chart. Each has young running backs saddled with injury questions and veteran tight ends nearing the end of their prime. Like Green Bay, Minnesota invested a day two pick on a tight end with the selection of Irv Smith Jr.
Rudolph saw a slight uptick in targets, receptions, and yards in 2018, but we don’t see that trend continuing this year to result in quality fantasy football production. With a healthy Dalvin Cook and the addition of Smith Jr., the opportunities just won’t be there. The Vikings also have a terrific pair of receivers in Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, further eating into Rudolph’s red zone targets.
Stud: Kerryon Johnson, running back
We like to dig deep here at The Deep State, and we realize this is a bit of a “thanks Captain Obvious” kind of selection. The deep dive comes in the reason why we’re selecting Johnson as a stud. Like Cook, he’s in line for a potential monster fantasy football season, and it boils down to volume. Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell’s offenses have finished in the top ten in rushing percentage (how often a team runs the ball compared to passing it) eight out of the last 12 seasons. If you pair that with the fact that the Detroit Lions released longtime third-down back Theo Riddick, you can start piecing together the Lions plan for Johnson.
Detroit will run the ball a lot this season and will utilize Johnson more in the passing game as well. In ten games, Johnson averaged a gaudy 5.4 yards per carry and hauled in 32 receptions. Look for a big increase in production from the Lions second-year back in 2019. Depending on how the Lions work in their other backs, Jones is an RB2 lock with the potential for RB1 numbers.
Dud: Kenny Golladay, wide receiver
Kenny Golladay is a fine football player but a victim of circumstance. As the Lions offensive scheme giveth to Kerryon Johnson, it taketh away from Golladay. Plus, wide receiver Marvin Jones returns from injury after seeing 100-plus targets in 2016 and 2017. Free agent Danny Amendola also creates an attractive slot target for quarterback Matthew Stafford. Throw in rookie TE T.J. Hockenson for good measure and you start to see the number of targets in a rush-heavy offense dissipate quickly for Golladay.
Travis Yates is a writer for the Pro Football Network covering the Cincinnati Bengals and Fantasy Football. Travis is also a co-host of the Fantasy Fixtures podcast for PFN. You can follow him @TheTravisYates on Twitter.