Training Camp Preview: NFC North

Fri Jul 26 9:16am ET
By JEFF PAUR
Sr Fantasy Writer

Rodgers played hurt last year


This is the sixth preview in a series of training camp previews. We will continue to release the previews throughout the week. The previews give you a quick look at each team, going over position battles and injuries to watch in camp. The season is right around the corner.

Packers

The Packers have a new coaching staff for the first time in a long time. This means the team has to learn a new offense and defense for the coming year. This will be the big theme of training camp for Green Bay. Aaron Rodgers has a new offense to learn for the first time in his entire career, so there could be a learning curve for him. Keep an eye on the team’s progress during camp. There could be some bumps along the way.

Position battle: The big position battle in Packers camp is for the right to start opposite Davante Adams. The two most likely candidates are Geronimo Allison and Marquez Valdes-Scantling. The Packers have a lot of young receiver vying for playing time but these two players stand out above the rest. Many think Valdes-Scantling is the most likely to earn the job but don’t discount Allison, who has produced with past chances. The winner of this job will have some fantasy value for the coming year in the Packers pass-first offense. 

Injury watch: Aaron Rodgers played the entire season last year, but was hurt much of the year. He played at less than 100 percent because of a tibial plateau fracture and a sprained medial collateral ligament. It is pretty amazing he was able to play with these injuries. He is recovered from the injuries but his health is really a key to the Packers season. He played hurt last year and was limited to just seven games the previous year. Injuries have been a factor for him in recent years.

Vikings

There were high hopes for the Vikings last year with Kirk Cousins now on board as their franchise quarterback, but things didn’t go quite as planned. Cousins had an up and down season and the team followed his lead with inconsistent play. Minnesota will look to right the ship this training camp. Much of the year might depend on Cousins. He will need to play more consistent football if the Vikings hope to return to the playoffs. Cousins has a new offense to learn but could be a better fit for the system, which bodes well for him. We will get our first look at Cousins and the new offense, starting in camp. 

Position battle: The Vikings surprised some by using a second-round pick on tight end Irv Smith in this year’s draft. Smith is a pretty complete tight end that does well as a blocker and receiver. He will look to push Kyle Rudolph for the starting job this year. Rudolph has produced for the Vikings in recent year but probably hasn’t been the player the team hoped. He could lose out on playing time to the rookie this year.

Injury watch: Running back Dalvin Cook has played 15 games in two seasons. He missed time again last year after missing nearly all of his rookie year. Cook has really struggled to stay on the field to start his career. He seems to be over his hamstring injury from last year, though, and should be 100 percent for the start of the camp. The trick for Cook is now staying healthy for the entire season. We’ll see if he is able to do that. 

Lions

Detroit had a season to forget last year, finishing 6-10. The team is in a bit of rebuild mode after trading and letting some key players from past teams go. Some younger players will get their chance to shine this year, though, so much of this camp should focus on the progress of those young players. Can guys like Kerryon Johnson and Kenny Golladay take their games to new levels this year? The Lions sure hope that is the case, giving them a chance to shine this year. 

Position battle: The Lions made some changes at tight end this offseason, signing Jesse James and drafting T.J. Hockenson. Both these guys will challenge for the right to start. James might have the edge because of his experience, but Hockenson is the future of the position for the Lions. He should be given every opportunity to start because he provides the most potential for big things. James can be a bigger asset as a blocker. 

Injury watch: Quarterback Matthew Stafford played every game last season but played with a back injury much of the year. He reportedly played with broken bones in his back, which could explain his down play. Stafford didn’t play at his usual level, struggling with accuracy and consistency. He should be over his back injury for the start of this year but keep an eye on him in camp to make sure he looks back to old form. Stafford could be a sneaky late pick for fantasy teams this year if he is healthy and back to his old self. 

Bears

The Bears had a great season last year, going 12-4. Expectations are going to be very high for this team and with good reason. It is a pretty complete squad. The big thing to watch this training camp could be the progression of starting quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, though. He played well last year but had some consistency issues. If the Bears truly hope to be a special team, they will need Trubisky to play at a high level all season. 

Position battle: The Bears will have a battle on their hands for the starting running back job. The team signed Mike Davis this offseason and drafted David Montgomery. These guys will battle it out for the right to start. Davis had a breakout season last year with the Seahawks, showing he could start and produce at a high level in the league. Montgomery is a three-down back that can carry the load. He probably has the edge to start but don’t discount Davis. He just made plays when given the chance last season. 

Injury watch: Tight end Trey Burton had hernia surgery this offseason. He should be ready for the start of camp but nothing is 100 percent certain right now. Keep an eye on his progress to make sure he doesn’t have any setbacks. Burton can play a big role in the offense, an offense that likes to look for the tight end. He didn’t have quite the season as expected last year but could turn things around this year in year two with the Bears.

Jeff Paur is a two-time finalist for FSWA Fantasy Football Writer of the Year and won the FSWA award for Best Fantasy Football Article on the Web in 2011. He also was the most accurate expert in 2012, winning the FSTA Fantasy Football Accuracy Award. If you have any questions for Jeff, email him at jeff@rtsports.com. Follow Jeff on Twitter @jeffpaur.

Player Notes
Zach Pascal Aug 18 2:00am ET

Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Zach Pascal was dead silent in their Week 2 preseason matchup against the Cleveland Browns. He was targeted twice, and he registered no catches. With the injury to wideout Daurice Fountain, there is a role open for a number of wide receivers to capture. With the performance fellow wide receiver Deon Cain put up, this was not the type of performance that he needed.

From RotoBaller

Eric Ebron Aug 18 2:00am ET

Indianapolis Colts tight end Eric Ebron was a touchdown machine last season, and he maintained that performance during the team's Week 2 preseason matchup with the Cleveland Browns. He caught just two passes for 28 yards during his limited work, and one of those two catches was for a touchdown. Regardless of the presence of fellow tight end Jack Doyle, Ebron will continue to have a role especially down in the red zone.

From RotoBaller

Deon Cain Aug 18 1:50am ET

Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Deon Cain has been showing out throughout training camp. That remained true during the team's Week 2 of the preseason game against the Cleveland Browns. He was their best offensive player with seven catches for 80 yards. Behind wide receiver T.Y. Hilton and Devin Funchess, there is a role available for someone to capture, and Cain is doing his best to make his case. If he's able to maintain similar levels of performance moving forward, he can become a great weapon for this offense.

From RotoBaller

Jordan Wilkins Aug 18 1:40am ET

Indianapolis Colts running back Jordan Wilkins (foot) was expected to miss the team's Week 2 preseason game against the Cleveland Browns, and that remained true. With a cluster of running backs fighting for roles behind the two lead backs of Marlon Mack and Nyheim Hines, he needs to get himself back onto the field. As long as he's able to show the consistency we saw from him last year, he should be fine.

From RotoBaller

Tony Pollard Aug 18 1:30am ET

Dallas Cowboys rookie running back Tony Pollard led the backfield in Saturday's preseason game, running the ball five times for 42 yards and a touchdown. He added a nine yard catch as well. Pollard got the most carries and yards and the only touchdown among Cowboys running backs. With Ezekiel Elliott possibly on the sidelines for Week 1 or more, Pollard could be in for a couple of RB1 weeks.

From RotoBaller

Dak Prescott Aug 18 1:30am ET

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott completed all five of his passes in Saturday's preseason game, gaining 64 yards. As expected, Prescott didn't play much but he should get a larger share of at least the first half in the Cowboys dress rehearsal next week. With Ezekiel Elliott far from a sure thing for Week 1, Prescott may have a bit more on his shoulders than expected to start the season.

From RotoBaller

Diontae Johnson Aug 18 1:10am ET

Pittsburgh Steelers rookie wide receiver Diontae Johnson caught three of five targets for 46 yards and a touchdown in Saturday's preseason win over Kansas City. Johnson's touchdown didn't come until the fourth quarter when fellow rookie Devlin Hodges was throwing to him, but Johnson made a spectacular catch in the end zone. The third-round pick from Toledo has been opening eyes in training camp in both offensive drills, as well as in the return game. He doesn't hold any redraft value but his dynasty value has seen a nice tick upward over the preseason.

From RotoBaller

Alex Barnes Aug 18 1:00am ET

Tennessee Titans undrafted free agent running back Alex Barnes led all running backs in rushing with seven carries for 42 yards in the team's Week 2 preseason matchup with the New England Patriots. Barnes showed an excellent combination of power and patience in only his second NFL game, but he is still considered a long shot to make the roster. Barnes' impressive combine and preseason showing help his chances at landing on a practice squad if he is cut by the Titans, but he should be considered droppable even in deep dynasty formats.

From RotoBaller

Delanie Walker Aug 18 1:00am ET

Tennessee Titans tight end Delanie Walker only played two drives in his first action since Week 1 of the 2018 season, but that was enough for him to catch two passes for 26 yards and a touchdown. It seems Walker and quarterback Marcus Mariota are picking up right where they left off prior to Walker's season-ending injury. Walker remains a solid late-round value pick at tight end, but expect his ADP to start to creep up as we get closer to fantasy draft season.

From RotoBaller

Donte Moncrief Aug 18 1:00am ET

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Donte Moncrief caught one pass for three yards before fumbling in Saturday's preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs. It was the first play of Pittsburgh third drive and Moncrief caught the short pass to the right and was stripped. He only played the first quarter before James Washington saw the majority of the work from there on out. Even after fumbling, the fact that Moncrief only played one quarter means that the team is comfortable with where the veteran is at in his first year with the team. He's batting with Washington to be the second starting wide receiver besides JuJu Smith-Schuster but Moncrief continues to be the favorite to win the job. If he can earn the starting role, his 11th round ADP could prove to be an absolute steal for fantasy owners.

From RotoBaller

Vance McDonald Aug 18 1:00am ET

Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Vance McDonald caught his sole target for five yards on Saturday against the Chiefs. The starting tight end job is all McDonald's now that Jesse James is gone. McDonald is set to improve upon his 2018 season of 60 receptions for 610 yards and four touchdowns. Naturally, he's been climbing up fantasy draft boards recently due to the increase in opportunity. The 29-year-old has jumped into the seventh round of mock drafts and presents great PPR value.

From RotoBaller

Eli Rogers Aug 18 12:50am ET

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Eli Rogers caught two of his three targets for 31 yards in Saturday's preseason win over Kansas City. The 26-year-old is looking to earn a spot in the offense after missing the majority of 2018 with an injury. However, he earned a start in the final three games and caught 12 passes for 79 yards. Rogers is fighting with Ryan Switzer, Diontae Johnson, and Diontae Spencer for work in the slot this year. Even though Rogers has never truly broken out in his three years with the team, they seem to really see something in him and will likely continue to target him heavily this preseason. Either way, he doesn't hold any fantasy value but could develop into a streamable flex option down the road if he can gain enough chemistry with Ben Roethlisberger.

From RotoBaller

Ka'imi Fairbairn Aug 18 12:40am ET

Houston Texans kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn was 3-for-3 on field goal attempts and 3-for-3 on extra point attempts in Saturday's preseason win over the Detroit Lions. His longest field goal was a 50-yarder. Fairbairn's one of the most promising young kickers in the NFL and has a chance to break into the top tier of fantasy kickers this season based on his accuracy and the opportunities he'll have in Houston's offense. If you're someone who doesn't want to stream kickers, Fairbairn is worth a look.

From RotoBaller

Ryan Switzer Aug 18 12:40am ET

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Ryan Switzer caught his only target for five yards in Saturday's preseason win over the Chiefs. Switzer didn't see any action in the first preseason game but his limited role on Saturday causes some questions about his role on the team. The 24-year-old made his money in the return game last season but with the team's addition of Diontae Johnson and Diontae Spencer, Switzer is going to have to work extra hard to carve out a role on the offense. He's battling both previously mentioned as well as Eli Rogers for the slot position. Regardless, he holds no fantasy value and even if he's on the field he'll likely be the fourth and sometimes fifth best option for Ben Roethlisberger.

From RotoBaller

DeAndre Hopkins Aug 18 12:30am ET

Houston Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins caught two passes for 17 yards and a touchdown on Houston's first series during Saturday's preseason win over the Detroit Lions. Hopkins continued to show good rapport with quarterback Deshaun Watson and reminded fantasy owners why he's the first wide receiver being drafted in most leagues. Notably, Houston ran a sharp, sped-up offense that could provide Hopkins with additional playmaking opportunities if it carries over to the regular season.

From RotoBaller

JuJu Smith-Schuster Aug 18 12:30am ET

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster was unable to catch any of his three targets in Saturday's preseason win over Kansas City. The 22-year-old saw his action in the first quarter before sitting the remainder of the evening. Smith-Schuster is the team's top pass catcher and is being targeted in fantasy drafts accordingly. His early-to-mid second round ADP has the chance to provide great value in PPR formats. However, he hasn't scored more than seven touchdowns in his first two season but now that Antonio Brown is out of town, the USC product has a chance at a career year in Pittsburgh.

From RotoBaller

Jordan Thomas Aug 18 12:30am ET

Houston Texans tight end Jordan Thomas has missed most of training camp and the preseason, but he was active in Saturday's preseason win over the Detroit Lions. Thomas caught two of his five targets for 17 yards and also had a touchdown called back by penalty. Thomas was originally expected to be Houston's top tight end, but he was third on the depth chart on Saturday. How fast he manages to work his way back consistently into the rotation will determine how much -- if any -- fantasy value Thomas will have. For now, he's somewhere in the high TE3 range but with upside to finish as a TE2.

From RotoBaller

Taiwan Jones Aug 18 12:20am ET

Houston Texans running back Taiwan Jones started Saturday's preseason win over the Detroit Lions. He rushed once for five yards. While Jones wasn't very involved offensively, head coach Bill O'Brien's decision to go with him as the starter with Lamar Miller and Duke Johnson out suggests that Jones may be in the lead for the third running back role in Houston. His ability to make an impact on special teams -- something O'Brien wants from the third and fourth back -- will be what gets him a spot if he earns one. Don't expect Jones to see much usage if Miller and Johnson are healthy.

From RotoBaller

Benny Snell Jr. Aug 18 12:20am ET

Pittsburgh Steelers running back Benny Snell Jr. rushed seven times for 16 yards and caught two passes for five yards in Saturday's 17-7 win over Kansas City. The 2019 fourth-round pick is getting a strong look this preseason as the team knows what to expect from incumbent James Conner and Jaylen Samuels. Snell Jr. is Kentucky's all-time leading rusher so his talent is undeniable, but it might be awhile before he gets a solid workload in Pittsburgh. He has solid dynasty value but can be forgotten about in redraft, unless something were to happen to Conner or Samuels.

From RotoBaller

Vyncint Smith Aug 18 12:20am ET

Houston Texans wide receiver Vyncint Smith caught a 31-yard touchdown in Saturday's preseason win over the Detroit Lions. It was Smith's only catch on his four targets. Smith is embroiled in a tough battle to be Houston's fifth receiver, and Saturday night was a reminder that he has the big-play ability to perform in that role. There's still a chance someone like Steven Mitchell winds up beating him out, and even if Smith makes the team, he'd be too inconsistently used to be worth a fantasy roster spot unless injuries occur.

From RotoBaller