Position Battles to Watch: NFC North
It’s early, but now is the time to make notes on who’s getting the action and buzz around team activities as the NFL season starts to warm up. These are some of the position battles to keep an eye on as things get underway…
The Bears RBs
Chicago has been one of the busier teams in addressing their backfield this off season, bringing in D’Onta Foreman and Travis Homer through free agency and then taking Roschon Johnson in the draft. Already familiar with the team, Khalil Herbert has the inside track to start the season as the main runner. He’s one of the most efficient backs in the league, and he’s a solid inside runner for a back of smaller stature. That being said, the Bears inexplicably ceded most of his touches to David Montgomery when he was in the backfield, and they could follow suit with one of the bigger backs they’ve added. Foreman showed that he could shoulder a lead back role during his time in Carolina, and Johnson has the traits to do any and everything asked of him as a RB – If not for Bijan Robinson taking touches at Texas, he could’ve been a top 5 back in the draft. The best combo of youth and talent of the bunch, Johnson should win this one out, but nothing is certain here.
David Montgomery vs Jahmyr Gibbs
It should seem like a foregone conclusion that Gibbs will take the lead role here. Why else would the Lions waste 1st round draft capital on him? But the Lions aren’t above giving the first two downs and goal line opportunities to Montgomery, as we saw was the case with Jamaal Williams and D’Andre Swift over the last couple of seasons. Swift garnered a 16% target share as a pass-catcher, and I would expect Gibbs to get at least that much. Gibbs could eat into Montgomery’s carries too, but if Montgomery holds onto goal line touches on one of the more dynamic offenses in the NFL, Gibbs could be relegated to PPR beastliness only. It’s less of a battle, and more of a situation to monitor as to how the two players will be used as a tandem.
Brock Wright vs Sam LaPorta
LaPorta is already being reported as the best player on the field in Detroit practices, which may be a bit of an overstatement, but the fact that the rookie is performing well above expectations bodes well for his chances of seeing the field early in his career – TEs are notorious for not being fantasy viable until about year three. Standing in his way, if you don’t already consider the numerous capable pass-catchers at other positions, is Brock Wright. Wright was the “no.1” TE for the Lions in 2023, though Shane Zylstra and James Mitchell were involved as well. They’re all still on the roster, so maybe they should be included in this conversation – Mitchell’s collegiate metrics actually rivaled those of Kyle Pitts. That being said, the Lions wouldn’t have brought in LaPorta if they didn’t feel they needed depth at the position.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers WR corps
The complexion of the Packers has changed drastically with Aaron Rodgers moving on to the Jets. Jordan Love is now the QB, for better or worse, and with that comes a new pecking order in the WR corps… or does it? Christian Watson is the frontrunner to lead the pack here, as he is the best size/speed combo of the group and his 22% target share over the last month of the 2022 season led all other GB WRs not named Allen Lazard. Romeo Doubs was productive in stints last season, though he only had 3 games over 50 yards. Sources close to the team have indicated that he’ll be the chain mover in 2023, but that is yet to be seen. The new kid in the mix is rookie Jayden Reed out of Michigan State. Undersized compared to the other two, Reed profiles as a slot man/kick returner. Quick and decisive, he found plenty of seams at the Senior Bowl. For my money, Watson is the Packer WR to target in fantasy first, but the great thing about this “new” offense is that potential abounds in several directions so Doubs and Reed are well worth owning too.
Alexander Mattison vs DeWayne McBride
It seems all but a foregone conclusion that Dalvin Cook will find a new home before the season starts, leaving Mattison and newly acquired McBride to battle it out for the lead back job in Minnesota. This doesn’t seem like a fair fight, as Mattison has already had run as the bell cow for the Vikings over the past few seasons, when Cook was out with injury, and he’s still going to be just 25 when the season starts. McBride is no slouch though, as he had a 7.3 YPC average on 484 attempts and ran for 1,713 yards in his last college season. He also scored 32 TDs in his last 2 seasons at UAB. McBride could be a sneaky fantasy asset if he can work his way to consistent touches in this offense.