With the NFL Draft approaching on April 23, it’s time to take stock of NFL rosters to find prime opportunities for the incoming rookie class. Even the most talented rookie can get buried on a depth chart in the NFL while a fourth-round pick could break out in year one if drafted into the right situation.
This series of articles will search each NFL roster for glaring holes in the depth chart, focusing on the fantasy football positions of quarterback, running back, wide receiver, and tight end. If a talented rookie is drafted to fill one of the following roster holes, we could have the formula in place for a fantasy football difference-maker.
Chicago Bears: WR
Despite finishing 29th in both points and yards per game last season, the Bears have some good pieces in place on the offensive side of the ball. The strength begins at WR with Allen Robinson and Anthony Miller. Robinson finished as a top-10 receiver in PPR and really carried the passing offense. He saw at least five targets in every single game, and he topped 14 fantasy points 10 times. He is locked and loaded as the team’s top threat. Behind him is Anthony Miller.
Miller had a brutal start to his 2019 season with 8 total targets in his first four games and an average of 3.5 per game at the midway point. He found his stride in week 10 and averaged seven targets per game in his last eight outings. The Bears offense saw an offensive uptick that coincided with the change. They averaged 3 more points per game over their last eight contests. I expect Miller to continue to grow into his role as the #2 if he can stay healthy. Still, the Bears are in need of a third option now that Taylor Gabriel is gone. They could look to fill this need in the draft with a deep WR class. If the Bears spend a pick on WR, they will be expecting an immediate impact–if only in limited routes to start. The need is really for a deep threat who can pull back opposing safeties and open things up short. Any receiver added for this role would be boom/ bust, but could eventually challenge Miller as the team’s #2.
The Bears also have a need at tight end, but it might be a hard sell on draft day. They are currently rostering Adam Shaheen, Trey Burton, and newly-signed Jimmy Graham. The team quite frankly has bigger needs both on offense and defense, and I don’t see an immediate impact player being added here, short of some late-round “George Kittle” dream situation.
I feel like it would be wrong not to mention quarterback or running back. While the Bears are once again shakey at quarterback, I don’t expect them to take someone. They have Mitch Trubisky in his fourth year as well as offseason acquisition Nick Foles. I have to imagine they roll with this duo and hold off drafting someone until after the 2020 season. As for running back, the jury is still out on David Montgomery. He impressed me at times with his power and ability to avoid tackles, but other times he seemed too timid to hit the holes opening in front of him. I want to watch another year of the young back before I hand down a verdict. Behind Montgomery is Tarik Cohen. Cohen regressed from his amazing 2018 season, but he was still a big part of the offense with 9 touches per game. Cohen should continue on in a similar role. With both Montgomery and Cohen locked in, significant capital spent on a running back would be shocking to me.
Detroit Lions: RB
I was quite impressed with the Lions offense last season. In their first eight games, they put up 25.5 points per game. These were the games where Matthew Stafford was the quarterback. After Stafford went down for the season, the Lions averaged 17.1 points the rest of the way. This is no surprise though: losing your QB is typically a death sentence for the season. I fully expect Stafford to return to form as he’s still only 32, and there is no immediate need here. The only draft option is a backup to be groomed for the future.
The Lions’ strongest offensive unit is at wide receiver. Kenny Golladay averaged 7.75 targets, 80 yards, and 0.9 TD per game with Stafford. He continues to prove himself to be one of the best young WR in the game and is locked in as the number one option here. Marvin Jones Jr. is a strong option as the team’s WR2, averaging 7 targets, 67 yards, and .75 TD per game. Any wide receivers added here would be depth pieces meant to eventually replace the 30-year old Jones Jr. I don’t expect significant year one contributions from any newcomers brought in.
The tight end position is also spoken for in Detroit. The Lions spent the eighth overall pick last year on TJ Hockenson and he announced his presence in a big way in week one: 6 receptions for 131 yards and a TD. Everyone was ready to crown him the next big thing. Unfortunately, Hock was mostly quiet for the rest of the year, but he still flashed the talent that says he can be a big-time weapon for years to come. Anyone added here would be at best the team’s fourth option in the passing game, and not worth mentioning for fantasy purposes.
This leaves us with the running back position. Kerryon Johnson has the talent of an RB1 and has flashed game-changing ability in his first two seasons when healthy. However, he has also shown that “when healthy” isn’t a given. Johnson has missed 14 of his first 32 games with multiple injuries. He also injured his shoulder (twice), ankle, and hamstring at Auburn. I dislike using the injury-prone moniker, but Kerryon is feeling riskier and riskier with each passing season despite still being only 22. I would be surprised if Detroit didn’t spend significant capital on the position in what looks like a deep class. They have an extra third and fifth, so there is plenty of ammo to use. Kerryon likely goes into the season as the lead back, but I doubt Detroit is still comfortable giving him a full workload. Another injury would give a rookie the chance to steal the job outright. It looks like a good situation for any back.
Green Bay Packers: WR
The Green Bay Packers were an impressive 13-3 in the regular season and eventually lost to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game. They boast stability at the quarterback position with Aaron Rodgers, but we might be seeing age get to him. He hasn’t hit 30 touchdowns since 2016 and his touchdown percentage was below 5.0 for the last two years. This hadn’t happened in any other season with Rodgers as the starter. We could blame the lack of weapons. We could blame the offense. Still, I have to wonder if Green Bay is considering a QB if the right player falls. Even if they do, they obviously won’t be fantasy relevant any time soon. Hell, drafting another guy could be the best way to motivate Rodgers.
Running back feels stable with the likes of Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams, and Dexter Williams holding down the fort. Aaron Jones is an explosive weapon and will continue to be the team’s top threat out of the backfield. He put up 1500+ yards from scrimmage and 19 total touchdowns last season. Jamaal Williams is a capable change of pace, and the team is clearly comfortable with him in a sizable role–around 9 touches per game last year. Sophomore Dexter Williams is the third choice, though unlikely to see much time outside of an injury ahead of him. I would be surprised to see any real draft capital spent here.
Moving on to the wide receiver group, we see our first big hole. Davante Adams is the WR1, and he is one of the league’s best. He has drawn more than 10 targets per game each of the last two seasons, but this also illustrates the problem: he has been the only consistent weapon in the passing game. Green Bay is in desperate need of another capable receiving weapon. Outside of Adams, they haven’t had a 700-yd receiver in the last three seasons. Last year, no one but Adams even bested 500 yards. Expect the Packers to look for another weapon early in the draft–someone who can have an immediate impact. This receiver should slot in as the team’s WR2 and have plenty of opportunities. This is definitely a player we want to keep on the fantasy radar. Even if Rodgers only throws 25-30 touchdowns, there is still enough volume here for two guys to eat. As the Packers drafted Jace Sternberger at tight end in the third round last year, I don’t expect them to look at the position again in a significant way.
Minnesota Vikings: WR
We finish up with the NFC North with the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings were 10-5 last season, they upset the New Orleans Saints in the Wild Card round, and they lost to the 49ers in the divisional round. They head into the season with Kirk Cousins at the helm, and there is no reason to expect a change here. The Vikings just extended Cousins for 2 more years ($66 million total) and are clearly happy with him. Cousins wasn’t asked to do too much, only completing 444 passes (24th) and putting up 3603 yards (16th). Still, his completion percentage (69.1%) and INT% (1.4) put him amongst the league’s best. I attribute this to the Vikings wanting to be a run-first team. That mindset could make for limited opportunities for Minnesota’s pass-catchers.
At running back, the Vikings are a picture of stability. In 14 games, Dalvin Cook put up 1,654 scrimmage yards and 13 touchdowns. He is a monster when healthy, and he has the potential to be the most productive back in the league any given year. I know what you’re thinking: when healthy. Sure, Cook still has a bit of a stigma about his health, despite a mostly intact 2019. Enter Alexander Mattison. Mattison was definitely the distant #2 to Cook, but he looked good with his 100-carry workload. If Cook went down, the Vikings could easily manage with Mattison as their RB1. Behind Mattison is Mike Boone. Boone saw half of Mattison’s workload, but was again capable in the Vikings’ offense. Needless to say, there is no need here.
Like the Packers, the Vikings have a pretty glaring hole at WR. They traded away Stefon Diggs in the offseason and picked up a first-round pick in return. They still have Adam Thielen, who will become the top option by default. Thielen put up excellent numbers in 2017 and 2018 before injuries hampered him last season. Still, it’s not hard to see him returning to form in 2020. Thielen alone won’t be enough though: I’d be shocked if the Vikings didn’t go WR at one of their first two picks, or even trade up to secure their dream guy. Minnesota is extremely thin behind Thielen: Alexander Hollins, Tajae Sharpe, and Bisi Johnson look like the best options. I expect whoever Minnesota drafts to take on a big role, and they should be fantasy relevant right away.
This leaves us with the tight end position. Minnesota, like the rest of the division, is unlikely to attack tight end in any real way. They roll into the season with veteran Kyle Rudolph and second-year Irv Smith Jr. Rudolph has been a steady presence for years while Smith flashed some exciting upside in his rookie season. He saw multiple targets in each of his last 11 games and will be only 22 when the season starts. The breakout is probably another year or two away, but I like what I’ve seen so far. Needless to say, this is not a pressing need.
(Photo by Larry Radloff/Icon Sportswire)