2014 NFL Preview: Best players in the NFC North

The NFC North was historically mediocre last season. With the Green Bay Packers emerging victorious despite just a 8-7-1 record, it’s hard to make the argument that this division is one of the best in football.

But I’m going to do just that.

Last year was a down year for the North, mostly due to a high level of parity and Aaron Rodgers‘ broken collarbone. Sure, the defenses weren’t scary, but the offenses in the North can score and score a lot.

There really are elite players at almost every position on offense within this division, highlighted by the aforementioned Rodgers, Calvin Johnson and Adrian Peterson. All three of these guys have a legitimate claim at being the best at their position in the entire world, let alone their own division.

But there is competition and it’s stiff. The offensive side of the ball is absolutely stacked in the NFC’s Midwest region, and there are some superstars on the defensive side of the ball as well.

If I could create a 53-man roster comprised of the NFC North’s best players, it would sure score a lot of points. It would sack the quarterback with regularity and not give up many sacks the other way. It would be a dangerous team with weapons all over.

Some of these were tough, but I’ve given it a shot and created the NFC North dream team.

Offense

Quarterback: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

As I mentioned earlier, Rodgers is one of the best in the league at the most coveted position in it. He can make every throw, is mobile, and can lead as well. With Matthew Stafford and Jay Cutler in the division as well, there is competition, but quite frankly, those two have a ways to go before reaching Rodgers’ status.

Backup: Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears

Cutler, like Rodgers, can really sling it. Under new head coach Marc Trestman, Cutler had a resurgent season in which he threw for 2,651 yards in only 11 games. He totaled 19 TDs to 12 INTs and seemed to pick up Trestman’s system easily.

And it helps to have a pretty solid receiving corps doesn’t it?

He’s my pick over Stafford because of his willingness to step into the pass rush and deliver strikes downfield. He has a better arm than Stafford and as a Lions fan, I hate watching Stafford get happy feet in the pocket and make bad throws.

Running Back: Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings

This is a no-brainer, right? Well, yes and no. Peterson is the NFL’s best at the running back position, but this division is loaded in the backfield. When guys like Eddie Lacy and Reggie Bush don’t even make the squad, it’s got to be a pretty good one.

Backup: Matt Forte, Chicago Bears

This was a tough one. If I had to start a franchise, I’d probably go with the youngster Lacy. But if I had to win one game, I’m taking Forte because the guy can do it all. He’s fast, powerful, and a great pass catcher. When all is said and done, there will be Marshall Faulk comparisons made.

Wide Receiver one: Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions

Megatron has gained more yards through the air in a single season than any player ever, making him a pretty good option as the NFC North’s go-to guy. The 6-foot-5, 240-pound monster can out-leap, out-muscle, and out-work any corner in the game and he’s been doing so for years. The scary part? He’s only 28 and has a lot left in the tank.

How much is left in the knee?

Wide Receiver two: Brandon Marshall, Chicago Bears

What a one-two punch. With Rodgers at the helm and Johnson/ Marshall on the outside, this offense would be just about unstoppable. The back-shoulder fades that Rodgers has made routine would be that much easier with these two guys running down the sidelines.

Wide Receiver three: Alshon Jeffery, Chicago Bears

I realize that Jeffery isn’t the prototypical slot receiver, but I don’t care. Jeffery is a guy that can make plays all over the field and is another big body that can take hits over the middle.

This receiving corps racked up more than 4,000 yards last year as a trio. What they could do together would be mind blowing, assuming everyone can get along and share the rock.

Backup: Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers

Nelson caught 8 TDs and racked up more than 1,300 yards in 2013, and half of those numbers came without his stud QB. With his main man at the helm, he’d be a heck of a reserve to put in when any of the above guys need a blow.

Tight End: Eric Ebron, Detroit Lions

Before he ever played an NFL snap, I knew Ebron would be a great asset to the Detroit Lions. Was he a needed asset with the offense already as potent as it is? That’s up for debate, but his talent isn’t. He’s 6-foot-4, 245 pounds and runs a 4.5-second 40-yard dash. Yeah, sign me up.

Backup: Martellus Bennett, Chicago Bears

It was tough to pick Ebron over Bennett, who is coming off a really nice season. I like Bennett a lot, but the recent off-field issues are troubling and he may not bring great chemistry to this team. I still want him, but as a reserve.

Left Tackle: Jermon Bushrod, Chicago Bears

Bushrod has been one of the league’s top tackles for several years now and I don’t see any sign of him slowing down. He’s my guy to protect Rodgers’ blindside.

Right Tackle: Riley Reiff, Detroit Lions

Reiff was the anchor of a Detroit Lions offensive line that was arguably the best in the business last year, allowing just 23 sacks (2nd-best in the NFL) despite the pass-heavy offense.

Backup Tackle: LaAdrian Waddle, Detroit Lions

Waddle came out of nowhere for Detroit last season and took over the starting right tackle job for the best line in the division. He has loads of potential and can certainly get better with time.

Left Guard: Rob Sims, Detroit Lions

Sims has been an emerging star for a few years now, and last year was the year where everything clicked. Sims, along with the rest of the Lions’ O-line, had a great year and has cemented himself as one of the best in the division.

Right Guard: TJ Lang, Green Bay Packers

This was tough between Lang and Lions guard Larry Warford, but I went with Lang because of his experience. He’s been around the block and has proven himself as a solid veteran presence.

Backup Guard: Larry Warford, Detroit Lions

Warford had a really nice rookie season for Detroit and will be a starter on this all-NFC North team soon if he continues to improve.

Center: Dominic Raiola, Detroit Lions

This is a particular strength within the division, although not many people know about it. Raiola, Roberto Garza, Evan Dietrich-Smith and John Sullivan are all great centers in their own right. Bleacher Report recently ranked all four of them in the top eight in the NFL. I chose Raiola because of his leadership skills and bulldog mentality. He may be undersized, but he makes up for it with grit and intensity.

Backup center: John Sullivan, Minnesota Vikings

Can’t go wrong with this group as I mentioned, but Sullivan stands out to me as a guy who brings his lunch pail and hard hat to work everyday. I want an example-setter anchoring the center of my offensive line and Sullivan will do just that.

Fullback: John Kuhn, Green Bay Packers

Are there other fullbacks in the division? If so, they aren’t as famous as Kuhn and probably not as good either.

Backup: Jerome Felton, Minnesota Vikings

Of course I was making jokes above- this was actually a tough decision between the two and I ultimately went with Kuhn because of his offensive production. Felton won’t score many touchdowns, but he will deliver chinstrap-wrenching hits to linebackers.

Defense

Defensive end: Clay Matthews, Green Bay Packers

My All-NFC North team will run a 4-3, meaning Matthews will be a defensive end. Technically, he’s an outside linebacker, but in the 3-4 system Dom Capers runs in Green Bay, he’s not dropping into coverage very often. He’s one of the best at getting to the quarterback and is a disruption no matter who he’s up against.

Lamarr Houston, Chicago Bears

Houston was a huge pickup for the Bears this offseason and will immediately bolster a defensive line that was pretty punchless last season- they ranked last in the league in sacks. Houston is athletic enough to get to the quarterback (6.0 sacks in 2013), but is also big enough at 300 pounds to stop the run.

Backup: Julius Peppers, Green Bay Packers

Peppers isn’t what he once was, but he is still scarily athletic. The reason he’s not a starter on my squad is because of health concerns- Peppers looked to slow down last year because of a few nagging bumps and bruises. It will be his 13th season in the league, and at 34, he’d be better served as a rotational player in my mind.

Everson Griffen, Minnesota Vikings

Had to mention him because it was so close between him, Peppers and Houston.

Sorry folks, but Jared Allen is past his prime and has given me too many reasons not to like him, so he doesn’t make the final cut.

Defensive Tackle: Ndamukong Suh, Detroit Lions

He’s the best defensive tackle in the game, and there isn’t another man I’d want to anchor my defensive line. He’s mean, nasty, hated, and will do whatever it takes to strike fear into his opposition. The personal fouls are an issue, but he wasn’t flagged for one in 2013, so things seem to be trending up.

Linval Joseph, Minnesota Vikings

Joseph was another big d-line acquisition for the NFC North this offseason, and will be one of the top defensive tackles in the division right away.

Backup: Nick Fairley, Detroit Lions

Based on potential, Fairley is a definite starter on this team and might be right there with Suh atop the depth chart. But based on results, Fairley doesn’t belong in the starting lineup. He has poor work ethic, can’t stay healthy, and has been arrested twice. He has the tools to be the next Suh, but he needs to work to get there.

Middle linebacker: Stephen Tulloch, Detroit Lions

Linebacker isn’t a particular strength within the North, and while Tulloch is a solid veteran player, he’s not a star by any means. He’ll do everything right, but nothing great.

Backup: A.J. Hawk, Green Bay Packers

Hawk, like Tulloch, is one of those guys who is rarely out of position, but won’t make a ton of flashy plays. Another solid, if uninspiring, player.

Outside linebacker: Chad Greenway, Minnesota Vikings

Remember when I said linebacker wasn’t a strength? I meant it.

Don’t get my wrong, Greenway has been productive for a long time, but to rank him as one of the top two outside linebackers in an entire division is a bit unsettling.

DeAndre Levy, Detroit Lions

Levy excels in pass coverage, and made an incredible six interceptions last season playing linebacker. He’s a bit undersized, making him a bit of a liability in the running game, but he can hold his own and certainly add in coverage.

Backup: Shea McClellin, Chicago Bears

It was between McClellin and Lions rookie Kyle Van Noy for this spot, but ultimately, we don’t know what Van Noy will be, so I’m going with McClellin. McClellin is really more of a 3-4 OLB, but I feel that he would translate well to 4-3 OLB considering his size and athletic ability.

Cornerback: Tramon Williams, Green Bay Packers

If you thought the linebackers in the division were weak, just wait and see what the secondary has in store.

Williams leads things off, and is coming off a pretty good season in which he recorded 3 picks, 2.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries. Williams is a veteran and knows what it takes to play corner in this league. While he isn’t elite, he generally gets the job done.

Tim Jennings, Chicago Bears

Again, Jennings isn’t an elite guy, like every other corner in the NFC North. When the best pass defense ranks ranks 15th in the league (Chicago) and the Worst ranks 31st (Minnesota), there aren’t many elite options. However, Jennings put together a nice 2013 campaign: he notched four INTs, two of which he took to the house, forced two fumbles and recovered one.

Backup/ Nickel: Charles Tillman, Chicago Bears

I mentioned that the Bears were the best in the division at defending the pass, and their corners were a big reason for it. Tillman regressed from his amazing 2012 season, but he can still create the most coveted defensive statistic: turnovers.

Strong Safety: Morgan Burnett, Green Bay Packers

Burnett has been a consistent contributor for the Packers since he arrived in Green Bay as a rookie in 2010. In his four years as a Packer, he’s started 49 games and been a reliable force in the secondary.

Free Safety: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Green Bay Packers

This is a testament to the other free safeties in the division more so than a testament to Clinton-Dix’s skill. I think the kid will be a good player, but in this case he’s simply the best of a bad group. Maybe the fact that he’s an unknown commodity is a factor here.

Backup safety: James Ihedigbo, Detroit Lions

He came over from Baltimore to Detroit along with Jim Caldwell, and will look to stabilize a shaky secondary in Detroit. He’s a solid player that can deliver big hits and play consistently in coverage.

Special Teams

Punter: Sam Martin, Detroit Lions

Martin stepped in as a rookie and led the North in both yards per punt (47.2) and net yards per punt (40.4). In fact, he ranked in the top ten in the league in both categories.

Kicker: Robbie Gould, Chicago Bears

It was a very close battle between Gould and Mason Crosby of the Packers, but Gould is my man for a couple reasons.

First, he booted the longest field goal of anyone in the division last year (58 yards), showing off his big leg. Second, he had the highest FG percentage in the North at just shy of 90. Lastly, and most importantly, Gould lacks Crosby’s demons, and who knows when they could show up again?

Return specialist: Randall Cobb, Green Bay Packers

Move over, Devin Hester, the NFC North has a new return king.

In short, this all-division team would be able to put up loads of points, but might struggle to keep opponents from doing the same.

The Best Players in the NFL by Division

 

  • Mike Peterson

    Really? You pick Robbie Gould and Mason Crosby, Gould yes, Crosby has been the most inconsitant kicker in the division, Blair Walsh (yes a little inconsistant but his accurancy from 50+ is excellant. I agree with Cobb in return game but to not even mention Flash Patterson. I feel you’re a little biased against one team, and whats with everyone hating on Chad Greenway, they guy has 900 tackles and is one the best in the league at LB, and a great leader for this defense. What about Harrison Smith at safety, he is one of the strongest safteys in football.

    • Barlowmaker

      Quit your crying – the Vikes have won 24 games the last 4 years.

    • Randall Brakob

      Although I think Patterson should be included in this list, I don’t think Smith is quite ready to make this list. Walsh is probably a little bit better than Gould and Crosby, but he’s also had the luxury of kicking in the metrodome the past two years. Either way, I hope you’re reading the Vikings posts on here, and SKOL!

  • Tombrat

    IDIOT!!!