This week on LWOS, each division is getting their own All-Division team. As far as positions go, there will be one quarterback, one running back, three wide receivers, a tight end, and five offensive lineman. The offensive lineman were chosen as the five best overall offensive lineman, not necessarily the best at each individual spot from left to right. Which players made the cut for our NFC North All-Division team?
2016 NFC North All-Division Team: The Offense
Quarterback: Aaron Rodgers – Pretty easy one here, although this division does have talent at this position. Each of the other three quarterbacks in the NFC North have had moments of greatness, but Rodgers is truly the elite of all elites. The consistency, arm strength, ability to elongate plays, miracle play-making ability and sheer talent separate Rodgers from the rest. For Rodgers, it would be this way with any division except maybe the AFC East because of the other number 12, Tom Brady.
Running Back: Adrian Peterson – Another decision that was not too difficult here. Although the duo of Eddie Lacy and James Starks is a formidable one, and Jeremy Langford looks like he can possibly step right in for Matt Forte, Peterson is not only top of the division, but probably still the top of the league. Year in and year out, AP’s numbers are consistently huge and he plays every down. “Feed the beast” is something that Vikings fan will be chanting this coming season yet again, and rightfully so.
Wide Receiver: Alshon Jeffery – Quickly replacing Brandon Marshall as the go-to guy in Chicago, Alshon Jeffery became a monster in 2015. Although he missed seven games, Jeffery still amassed over 800 yards receiving for an average of 89.7 yards/game, good for eighth best in the NFL. More than the numbers, Jeffery’s presence when playing had a tremendous impact on the game and the Bears offense. As a target monster, Jeffery delivers big catch after big catch and gets in sync with Bears quarterback Jay Cutler so well that coverage does not even matter at times.
Wide Receiver: Jordy Nelson – Not playing a single snap last season and still being the second best or, arguably, the best receiver in this division says a lot about this guy. Nelson’s influence on the Packers offense was unfortunately felt the most when he was not there. In 2014, Nelson was top five in receiving yards/game (94.9), second in receiving touchdowns (13), and fourth in receiving yards (1,519). From that 2014 season to the 2015 season, Aaron Rodgers’ passing yards per game dropped by 20 yards, his touchdown total dropped by seven, his interceptions increased by three, and his passer rating dropped by 20 points. Wow. Not that all of those numbers are directly a result of not having Jordy Nelson, but there is certainly some correlation. Now that Jordy is back, healthy, and surely hungry for a return, I would not be surprised if he ends up being the best receiver in this division next season.
Slot receiver: Golden Tate – Yes, he counts as a slot receiver. Although Tate can play anywhere, he has played plenty of snaps in the slot and has made them count. Randall Cobb was a close second here but the way things panned out in Green Bay after Nelson was injured, and with the resurgence of James Jones having an even better season than Cobb, Tate is the guy for now. Having graded out as an 81.8 this past season according to Pro Football Focus, Tate was 26 spots higher than Cobb and was more efficient in both catching and run blocking. Totaling 90 receptions on only 128 targets and always being the explosive threat that he is, Tate did an exceptional job this past season making plays when given the opportunity. He will now have even more opportunities with the retirement of Calvin Johnson, but will also see better coverage. Will he be able to accept the challenge and rise to the occasion or will he be blanketed with coverage and fail? In less than 100 days, we may find out.
Tight End: Richard Rodgers – Although Zach Miller graded out higher, the recipient of the biggest play in the NFC North in 2015, and best overall tight end, was Richard Rodgers. Rodgers saw significantly more action than Miller, 940 plays compared to Miller’s 590, and Miller was in a pretty good position playing opposite Martellus Bennett, who saw better coverage. Rodgers has some room to grow in the blocking department, but that is not what he is asked to do much of in Green Bay. As far as receiving goes, Rodgers is quite sure-handed with only 2 drops to go along with 58 receptions. The tight end position has become more important the last several years and the trend of receiving tight ends, rather than blocking tight ends, is likely to continue which is why Rodgers gets the nod over the rest.
Offensive Line: Joe Berger – Berger was a backup for several seasons before 2015. Due to an injury to John Sullivan, Berger got his chance and made the absolute most of it. Turning himself into the best run-blocking center in the entire league, Berger also managed to do a heck of a job in pass protection as well. The best part about Berger is that he is a versatile lineman. Having played center and guard in his career, he will likely be moved back to guard next season with the return of John Sullivan, another Pro Bowl caliber player. Vikings fans will be pleased to hear that Adrian Peterson’s 2.8 yards per carry in between the tackles will likely improve with that strong, potentially All-Pro, tandem.
Offensive Line: Manuel Ramirez – Lions fans will not want to hear it, but Ramirez is very good and will be very good for the Bears this year. Although his run blocking was only sufficient, Ramirez’s pass blocking in 2015 was superb. Grading out as the second best pass blocking center this past season according to Pro Football Focus, Ramirez, like Berger, also has the flexibility to move to guard if necessary and hopefully give Jay Cutler some time in the pocket. With the likelihood of Kyle Long staying at right tackle, Ramirez has several opportunities to continue this past season’s success, even if Hroniss Grasu somehow manages to keep his starting job.
Offensive Line: T.J. Lang – Just because an offense is capable of being productive and may have several skill position players that have gaudy numbers, does not mean that every offensive lineman on that team is performing well. Green Bay does not have that problem. With two incredible guards, T.J. Lang literally leads the way for the Packers offense in terms of blocking. Grading out as the fifth best overall guard in all of football, T.J. Lang did not have any weaknesses in 2015. Showing a top ten ability to both pass block and run block, Lang, along with fellow guard and teammate, Josh Sitton, has had plenty of Monday night dinners courtesy of Aaron Rodgers.
Offensive Line: Josh Sitton – Another guard and another beast up front for the Packers, Sitton had a season equal to his guard counterpart T.J. Lang and was able to have yet another very solid season for the Packers. Having only missed two starts in the last seven seasons, Sitton has been a proven commodity in Lambeau for a while and is not showing any signs of slowing down. Ranked just under Lang, Sitton graded out as the league’s sixth best overall guard, showing slightly better pass protection than run blocking. Sitton looks like he is on pace to be one of those offensive lineman that plays for 12-15 years and consistently performs at high levels, bringing a sweet smile to Aaron Rodgers’ face week in and week out.
Offensive Line: David Bakhtiari – Although there are a couple of rookies in this division (Cody Whitehair, Taylor Decker) that could possibly be on this list next year, for the moment our last offensive lineman is another Packer, David Bakhtiari. When discussing a list of offensive lineman, it is my belief that there must be at least one tackle. Since we have had none thus far (two guards, two centers) David Bakhtiari is our guy. As one of the highest graded tackles in the division, Bakhtiari fought off some injuries last year but still managed to play 14 games. Pass protection is not a problem for Bakhtiari, however his run blocking was sketchy at best. Luckily for David, and the rest of the Packers, Green Bay will surely continue its high-powered passing attack allowing for Bakhtiari to do what he does best.
In case you are wondering, here is the defense.