The NFC North is home to some great past and current quarterbacks. While removing passers from some other divisions—like the NFC West and AFC West—made teams better, looking at rosters in the NFC North without a quarterback shows an overwhelming amount of weaker position groups.
Talent in the four tight end rooms and on the offensive line is lacking, and a lack of depth across the board makes this division one of the NFL’s most flawed. There are a few stars, which help bolster each team’s case, but no one team truly benefits without their passer—even if it is a boiling hot or freezing cold Mitchell Trubisky for the Chicago Bears or a deteriorating Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay.
The Packers have too many holes without Rodgers, bumping the 13-win team in 2019 down the order but above the middling Bears and lowly Detroit Lions.
Let’s take a closer look.
The Minnesota Vikings have arguably the best tight end group, definitely the best running back and a top offensive and defensive line to take the No. 1 spot in these non-QB rankings. However, the 2020 season will have a lot of unknowns with the amount of turnover during the offseason. The Vikings parted ways with a laundry list of stars, most notably wide receiver Stefon Diggs.
Minnesota’s offense success was due in large part to running back Dalvin Cook. Cook, who has been battling injury in his short NFL career, played the most games last season (14) since joining the Vikings in 2017. He ran for more than 1,135 yards and recorded 13 touchdowns to help form one of the NFL’s top rushing attacks. Minnesota just missed the top five and averaged 133.3 rushing yards per game. The Vikings had one of the more balanced offenses among the NFL’s scoring leaders and averaged the eighth-most points per game (25.4). It’ll be a testament to their depth and pass-catchers if they can keep this up without Diggs. The tight end group of Kyle Rudolph and Irv Smith Jr. should help, as well as the addition of first-round talent Justin Jefferson.
The Vikings defense lost a good chunk of their secondary and Everson Griffen and Stephen Weatherly, but were quick to add talent via the draft and free agency. Minnesota selected cornerbacks Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler in the 2020 NFL Draft and acquired defensive tackle Michael Pierce in the free-agent market. While the litany of new faces should be concerning, defensive-minded head coach Mike Zimmer gets the benefit of the doubt here and the edge over the rest of the division.
Green Bay Packers
Green Bay went from the best team in the division in 2019 to not quite good enough here. While Rodgers’ play can be iffy, and the Packers’ trust in him questioned after selecting Jordan Love as his replacement in the draft, it does show the impact the future Hall of Fame passer has on this roster. Without him on offense, Green Bay has one notable star in the receiving corps, a nearly non-existent tight end room, a decent backfield and still a very good offensive line—which is good news for Love.
Davante Adams is easily the best receiver in the division and one of the best in the league, but behind him are so-so pass-catching options in Devin Funchess and Allen Lazard. Instead of the Packers electing to add to their receiver or tight end room, they added a quarterback they don’t need in the immediate future and muddied the backfield with another rusher. It’s nice to have options, but it would be nicer to produce on multiple levels. Now, Green Bay faces a dilemma in how to build around and pay Aaron Jones with the lack of proven wide receivers and either a too-old Marcedes Lewis or an unproven Jace Sternberger leading the tight end room.
The Packers have David Bakhtiari to solidify their offensive line as one of the league’s best left tackles, but when you turn your eyes to the defensive line there are glaring concerns. Green Bay struggled to stop the run and didn’t bring in too many reinforcements this offseason. If the Packers are to improve, they must rely on development and changes within the already established roster. The few bright spots are with edge rushers Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith while Jaire Alexander highlights the secondary where others (Kevin King and Darnell Savage) haven’t played to their potential.
The Bears have a good defense, sure, but their lack of depth in almost every spot of the field on offense is frightening.
The subtraction of passers, and the questions surrounding them, make the headache of figuring out Chicago’s offense slightly less severe. The Bears made some key additions leading up to the 2020 season but still have to answer for having one of the worst scoring offenses; they ranked 29th in points per game (17.5) last year. Chicago has a similar tight end room to Green Bay with the aging Jimmy Graham and 2020 second-round pick Cole Kmet; however Kmet has a lot more upside than Sternberger.
There’s little to look forward to in the backfield after David Montgomery’s average rookie campaign; his 889 yards and six touchdowns weren’t exactly what the Bears were hoping for after they traded up to get him in the 2019 draft. The Bears’ receiving corps has some playmakers in Allen Robinson, Ted Ginn Jr. and Anthony Miller, but they’re not enough to propel this offense alone.
But alas, defense wins games, right?
Chicago’s defense could be enough to keep them afloat once again and it’s headlined by all-time great Khalil Mack. The defense allowed just 18.4 points last season and should continue to be one of the best with cornerback Kyler Fuller, safety Eddie Jackson and linebacker Danny Trevathan manning two of the three levels. The addition of Robert Quinn, who is coming off an 11.5-sack season, his highest output since 2013, and Jaylon Johnson provide enough positive reinforcement to keep this defense among the best. However, the Bears’ success is going to hinge on what the offense can do.
With or without a quarterback, a team that only had three wins in 2019 is deserving of the bottom spot. Detroit has had its fair share of downs and struggled mightily to turn things around under the direction of head coach Matt Patricia and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. The Lions went from back-to-back nine-win seasons in the final years of coach Jim Caldwell’s tenure to six wins in 2018 and three last season.
There isn’t much to point to in terms of successful position groups other than wide receiver. Detroit has Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones Jr. with Danny Amendola as a slot receiver. Golladay led the league with 11 receiving touchdowns and had the third-highest yards per catch (18.3). While Golladay can’t top Adams for the best receiver in the division, the Lions separate themselves from the rest of the field with depth.
Jones is Detroit’s reliable WR2 and posted the best catch percentage of his career (68.1) in 2019. He nearly tied his career-high in receiving touchdowns (10) with nine, which was the third-best mark in the NFL. Amendola, who will turn 35 in November, recorded the second-most yards of his career; his 678 receiving yards in his first season with the Lions was behind his 2010 number (689) with the then-St. Louis Rams. The Lions also have Geronimo Allison, Marvin Hall and Quintez Cephus for added depth.
Beyond this? Detroit has T.J. Hockenson starring in the tight end room, who is coming off an exciting rookie season, second-round 2020 selection D'Andre Swift as the new face in the backfield and the pairing of No. 3 overall pick Jeffrey Okudah and free-agent addition Desmond Trufant in the secondary. Detroit has tried to make improvements to its defense and brought in Trey Flowers for a high price last offseason; while it sort of paid off, the Lions ranked near the bottom in points allower per game (25.4), leaving Flowers’ seven sacks and eight tackles for a loss all for not if the rest of the group is lacking.
The Lions need major improvements in almost every area of the field if they want to think about 1) climbing up the division and 2) having a winning record.
- Aug 08, 2022
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