Most recently, I tackled the AFC North – my favorite division as a Bengals fan. But my second favorite division is the other North division, home of the Detroit Lions, my home state’s team. I have loved the blue-collar work ethic of the NFC North over the years, games with snow, and the competitiveness the division always brings.
I believe I’ve used it’s the “Lions, Bears, Packers, and Vikings, oh my!” many times before but I love the Wizard of Oz reference when naming the teams in the division. Enough of my bad jokes; here are the players to own for IDP fantasy in the NFC North.
Employing a 4-3 primarily, the Bears have two interior starters who should get a majority of the snaps. Justin Jones came over from the Chargers and had a career year statistically in 2022. He had 52 tackles, 12 for a loss, three sacks, and seven QB hits. It was a solid year from the interior, and if he can replicate them, it makes Jones a solid start from the DT position. Andrew Billings comes over from the Raiders but isn’t a viable fantasy option unless you are desperate.
The Bears added Zacch Pickens and Gervon Dexter Sr. via the draft, and both guys are solid rotational pieces. Keep an eye on each; both guys have tools and could develop into stellar DT-required league starts.
The ends are slated to be DeMarcus Walker and Trevis Gipson. Walker just came off a career-high in sacks, with seven in 2022 with Tennessee. I have trouble expecting him to do it again, and he doesn’t give you much with tackles and forcing turnovers. Gipson had seven sacks for Chicago in 2021, but the number dropped to three last season. He can generate pressure, but he won’t give you much from big plays and turnovers either, and I’m not excited to roster either Walker or Gipson.
All four starters are merely depth guys with potential for the rookies to emerge in the next few seasons. Having better ends would help the defense massively. The only end beyond Walker and Gipson I would have on an IDP squad is veteran Rasheem Green. I still hope he puts it all together.
Let me take a quick nap; that first section lulled me to sleep a bit.
Okay, refreshed and on to a much more exciting unit. After trading star linebacker Roquan Smith to the Ravens, the Bears had a massive gaping hole at middle linebacker. They signed Tremaine Edmunds to a four-year $72 million contract to address that need. TJ Edwards was also added via free agency, and Noah Sewell was added in the draft. The unit got a massive overhaul, so what does it mean for IDP fantasy?
Top 25 most important Bears in 2023: No. 5 Tremaine Edmunds https://t.co/v6QckUNemU— Bears Insider (@bears_insider) July 19, 2023
Edmunds is still a fringe LB1, but he’s never going to reach the heights we thought he might. He’s a lock for 100 tackles and is one of the best cover linebackers in the league per PFF Coverage statistics. Edmunds is our LB13 on the site and is a guy you throw in your lineup and know he’s going to get 7-8 tackles every week.
Edwards was signed for significantly less but is also one of the best coverage linebackers in the league; refer to the same article above. Edwards was a top-ten-scoring linebacker last season on top of that. With Philadelphia, he raked in 159 tackles and a pair of sacks. I doubt he can duplicate that tackle number in Chicago’s defense, but he should be able to at least get 100. Edwards is going much later in drafts, and I like his cost way more.
Jack Sanborn is currently listed as the third starter, but I think he’s a bit more limited and only viable as depth for IDP. He started six games, played in 14 as a rookie from Wisconsin, and he did have 64 tackles. Sanborn’s production was after the Bears traded Smith, and Sanborn was the best option for tackles.
Noah Sewell said see me in the hole. pic.twitter.com/7pq1zhf9FZ— RJ Young (@RJ_Young) September 11, 2021
Sewell is interesting as a former five-star prospect who never seemed to realize his massive potential while at Oregon. He’s got phenomenal size and patrols the middle of the field well, but his movement and coverage are not great. There’s enough on tape to think Sewell may develop into a solid middle linebacker, but it’s going to take time.
The corners are Jaylon Johnson, rookie Tyrique Stevenson, but the nickelback, Kyler Gordon, is a corner you want to own for IDP purposes. In 14 games, he had three INTs and 71 tackles to finish in the top-24 of scoring. He’s going to continue to be an IDP asset assisting a rookie corner. If you stream corners, Stevenson will be tested often and should be a source for tackle opportunities too, but overall, he’s not going to provide much in run support or pass rushing.
The safety duo of Jaquan Brisker and Eddie Jackson are both solid IDP options, but Brisker is the cat you want on your fantasy team. He’s our DB4 in our Dynasty Nerds’ rankings and is entering his second year as the Bears’ starting strong safety. Brisker had 104 tackles, four sacks, and an interception in 14 games and looked better as the season went on.
Jackson has been with the Bears for six seasons and is a solid veteran safety and a guy you can rely on to put up consistent numbers. He’s always going to be around 80 tackles, and last year’s four INTs were a nice bonus. It inflated his scoring finish a little.
The Lions also employ a 4-3 primarily, but the big money on defense for Motor City is at the defensive end. The tackles are Alim McNeill and Isaiah Buggs, with Christian Covington and rookie Brodiric Martin also figuring in. Even the starters have almost no value in DT-required leagues. I don’t recommend rostering any of them.
The guys in the middle do the dirty work, so the rest of the front seven can succeed, starting with second-year stud Aidan Hutchinson. He exploded in Week 2, with six tackles and three sacks versus the Commanders. On the season, he had 52 tackles, 9.5 sacks, and a surprisingly three interceptions. Obviously, that will be difficult to do again, but Hutchinson is an end on the rise. He’s our DL7 and will rise with another big season.
Beyond Hutchinson, there’s not much for fantasy viability. The linebackers, on the other hand, let’s have some fun.
Alex Anzalone was the man in the middle last season and led the team with 125 tackles. His role will change this year as he moves to the Will spot, I think he will still have some tackle production, but I think it will be in the 90-100 range. He is still a decent LB to start, but he’s being ushered out by my favorite rookie.
I think Iowa LB Jack Campbell is the best MLB in this class – and I think he’ll be buzzing more after the Combine— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) February 20, 2023
Size, range, instincts, start-stop, play ID, shed blocks, underneath zones, short area quicks
Shake route from 185lb WR/All Conference Returner? Got that covered pic.twitter.com/2f0IHQKK9w
The new middle linebacker is rookie Jack Campbell, whom the Lions selected in the first round. He’s got range, his instincts are off the chart, and the guy just understands his position better than many young defenders do. He’s strong in coverage but doesn’t have the suddenness or speed to stick with quick receivers or backs. Campbell is still one of those old-school tough linebackers to build your corps around, and he’s good enough in coverage not to be a liability. He’s a three-down guy and will quickly be a top-ten linebacker for IDP fantasy.
Malcolm Rodriguez has a solid 2022 rookie season but has been relegated to a non-starting role, according to recent depth charts. Rodriguez had 87 tackles and a sack last season, and the Lions will still have him on the field on the first two downs. His grade against passing opportunities was atrocious, as was Anzalone’s.
And then you also have to contend with James Houston, an EDGE/Linebacker that had eight sacks as a rookie. He’s the starting Sam Linebacker now. Unfortunately, for IDP, unless you are in a big-play scoring format, that’s not very helpful, and even then, sacks are impossible to predict. If you have a big-play IDP Best Ball, take a shot on Houston.
Emmanuel Moseley and Cameron Sutton are the starting corners, and both are going to be tested often. I don’t see either as a strong option, even in streaming cornerback situations.
However, C.J. Gardner-Johnson is listed on the depth chart as the starting nickel corner. If he gets the CB designation, he becomes a must-start corner. He had 67 tackles for the Eagles in 2022 and tied for the league lead with six interceptions.
The safety duo of Tracy Walker III and Kerby Joseph are each decent options for IDP. Walker is the veteran in his sixth season with the Lions. He only appeared in three games last season but eclipsed 100 tackles twice in the previous three full seasons. Walker is the free safety, and his tackle numbers are capped by the position some. He was the strong safety in those three seasons. I see a decline in production coming, but Walker could still be a decent DB3/4.
Joseph, on the other hand, is the ascending asset, and I like where I am seeing him go in IDP drafts. He had 82 tackles and played in over 90% of the Lions’ defensive snaps. Joseph added four interceptions as well. I expect those numbers to increase, despite better linebacker play, and could see Joseph routinely eclipsing 100 tackles with big plays added.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
The first defense covered in the North that employs primarily a 3-4 defense, the Pack has a good defensive tackle in Kenny Clark. He generates pressure and is tough against the run. He averages 50 tackles a year and will give you a few sacks for some big play-scoring. He’s listed as an end on the depth chart but is a defensive tackle in MFL for now. If he’s DT, Clark is a decent start for the position. As an end, he’s just a depth guy and likely not startable at DE or DL.
There aren’t any other options startable on the Packers’ defensive line. They added rookies Colby Wooden and Karl Brooks, but I don’t project either to be anything other than rotational pieces.
I miss Blake Martinez, as I am sure the Packers do as well. Although, the linebackers are improving, and the Cheeseheads have a few good ones for fantasy.
De’Vondre Campbell missed a few games yet still finished with 96 tackles and two interceptions, and one returned for a score. I’m not sure he gets back to the linebacker we loved, who had 146 tackles in his first season with Green Bay, but Campbell is still a strong LB3 at worst.
Speed + Physicality is the Quay Walker package…— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) August 26, 2022
Love the finishing/momentum stopping tackle here on 3rd down pic.twitter.com/tvt6L3QOb4
The emergence of Quay Walker will affect Campbell’s numbers, and Walker is emerging as a possible top-ten linebacker type of player. In his first season, he tallied 121 tackles, 1.5 sacks, seven passes defended, and three forced fumbles. It’s almost like Georgia knows how to recruit and develop these defensive players. Walker was a pleasant surprise in 2022, and he’s going to anchor the middle for a long time.
Then they have a pair of linebackers that don’t fit the prototypical linebacker mode, yet guys who can be productive for fantasy. Preston Smith had 59 tackles and made his money with 8.5 sacks. He’s not going to get you much consistently with tackles but is always going to flirt with double-digit sacks if healthy.
Rashan Gary is in the same mold, although not as accomplished as a pass-rusher – yet. He had 32 tackles and six sacks in only nine games. In his fifth season, it’s time for Gary to emerge.
Keep an eye on rookie Lukas Van Ness, currently listed as a linebacker. He’s a ferocious pass-rusher in need of development but could be a 10-12 sack guy in a hurry. If he gets DE designation, it will massively increase his value. Van Ness is a player you should roster in case that does come to fruition.
Rasul Douglas and Jaire Alexander are the starting corners, and both are viable fantasy options. Douglas surprised everyone with 85 tackles, 13 passes defended, four interceptions, and a sack to finish 2022 as the CB3 in scoring. He’s a rare cornerback that should be plugged in and started regardless.
Alexander is routinely amongst the top scorers in the corner position. He had 56 tackles and five interceptions in 2022. Alexander will always post around 60 tackles and a dozen passes defended at the least, with interceptions as an added bonus.
The safety position is very uninspiring for fantasy. Currently, the Pack list Rudy Ford as starting free safety and Jonathan Owens as backup, and then Darnell Savage as starting strong safety. Let’s cover Savage first.
I had immense hope for the former Terrapin after watching him in college. I thought Savage would be a strong safety and have IDP value, and drafted him in so many places. He’s got decent coverage skills but hasn’t been as strong in run defense and tackles as I had hoped. Savage is a DB4 at best and a spot fill-in if needed.
Whoever does start at free safety is not someone I am interested in. Owens had a big season last year, with 125 tackles, but it’s hard to see him replicating it as it was the only time he’s eclipsed 20 tackles in four seasons. And what role will he have with the Packers?
It seems like not that long ago; this was one of the best units in the NFL. Led by Danielle Hunter, who is still on the roster, they routinely were one of the best front seven units in the NFL, and the line was nasty.
Now, they run a 3-4, and Hunter is listed as an OLB on the depth chart. The interior position is manned by Khyiris Tonga, and as far as the DT designation, Tonga is merely depth and shouldn’t be rostered, most likely.
The ends are Dean Lowry and Harrison Phillips, and Phillips is the one to have on your IDP squads. Lowry is good for 40 tackles and is essentially more of a defensive tackle. Phillips is more consistent, but, as an end, he’s not going to be amongst the top scorers due to a lack of big plays. He will get you 60 tackles and maybe a sack or two. Phillips is still just a low DL4-type of player, and if he somehow gets DT designation, would be worth a start at that position.
There aren’t any other players I’m targeting, and the defensive line is mostly just depth starters, as typical in most 3-4 defenses.
The linebackers look massively different too, but Jordan Hicks gives them a strong, reliable presence in the middle. Hicks finished as an LB2 with 129 tackles, three sacks, an interception, and ten passes defended. That’s right in his sweet spot as what I would project in 2023 for the 31-year-old vet.
The other middle backer is a second-year player, Brian Asamoah, and I have trouble projecting what to expect from him. I liked his athleticism, and he flashed potential at Oklahoma. He’s got good range and could develop into a good starter, but for 2023, I don’t expect much more than 60-70 tackles and a few big plays.
Hunter is now listed as a starting outside linebacker, immensely hurting his value for IDP. He’s one of the most consistent players when he’s on the field, and if he plays 17 games, Hunter will have 65-70 tackles and 10 sacks. He’s still a Pro Bowl-level player and is in a contract dispute currently. If he gets DE designation in your fantasy league, he’s still a strong option for IDP.
The other outside spot is slated to be the Saints’ former first-round project, Marcus Davenport. This may seem harsh, but I want nothing to do with him at this point. He’s started 32 games in five seasons, hasn’t eclipsed 39 tackles in a season, and has only 21.5 sacks in his career.
The linebacker crew is uninspiring, and rookies Ivan Pace Jr. and Andre Carter could see time sooner rather than later. Both guys are interesting prospects with tools, but I don’t see either developing into strong IDP assets.
The secondary should be tested often, as the Vikings’ proficient offense will force teams to score. The cornerbacks are Akayleb Evans and rookie Mekhi Blackmon, but the team brought over Byron Murphy from Arizona to man the nickel spot. Murphy is the one to roster; he should be a solid source of tackles. I think he may lead corners in tackles, as the starting corners are going to be flooded with targets. Murphy is going to have a lot to help with.
HUGE interception by Harrison Smith pic.twitter.com/OlsyawgXyP— Sean Borman (@SeanBormanNFL) November 6, 2022
Harrison Smith, at age 34, is perhaps still the best player to own for IDP purposes. The guy produces year in and out, showing no signs of slowing down. You can count on him for 90 tackles, a sack here and there, and has intercepted five passes four times, including 2022. Harrison is always where he is supposed to be and is one of the smartest defensive players in the league.
Camryn Bynum is the other safety and just a depth piece for IDP fantasy. Former first-rounder Lewis Cine is lurking as well, recovering from an injury, but is more suited to strong safety. He could work well in tandem with Smith, and Cine is a great stash for IDP.
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