During the month of August, the Last Word On Pro Football will be breaking down every division in the league by position. This is the 2019 NFC North offensive breakdown. There is “the best” of each unit, followed by “the rest” in descending order.
2019 NFC North Breakdown by Position: The Offense
2019 NFC North Breakdown by Position: The Defense and Special Teams
The Best: Green Bay Packers
The Rest: Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Minnesota Vikings
When looking at the NFC North breakdown by postion for the offense, there is only one choice for who has the best quarterback room in the division. The Packers may have a new regime in place, but they do bring back two-time NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers to lead this team in 2019. The Packers’ signal-caller is one of the game’s all-time greats and has a stellar 41-18-1 record against NFC North rivals. Entering his 11th season as the team’s starter, Rodgers will be looking to bounce back from an off-year by his standards. DeShone Kizer is heading into his second season as the backup in Green Bay. He has shown a lack of consistency but the raw talent and potential are obvious with Kizer.
The next three quarterbacks are all very close in the rankings. Matthew Stafford is the second-best quarterback in this division, but he has already shown his ceiling in this league. There have been talks of the Lions moving on from Stafford, but he has never really had a well-constructed team around him. Mitch Trubisky of the Bears is almost the opposite. He is very athletic and has shown flashes in his first two seasons but doesn’t have the toughness and leadership ability that Stafford possesses. Chase Daniels is a much better safety valve at backup quarterback than anything the Lions have, so they get the bump when looking at the whole depth chart. The team constructed around these quarterbacks takes a lot of pressure off. Kirk Cousins is like Stafford-lite. He provides great statistics every year but doesn’t show up in the biggest moments. He has more to prove than any other quarterback in this division.
The Best: Chicago Bears
The Rest: Minnesota Vikings, Green Bay Packers, Detroit Lions
The Bears top this position in the NFC North breakdown to their proven talent and young potential. Tarik Cohen has already shown what he can accomplish in Matt Nagy’s offense, accumulating almost 1,200 yards of offense in 2018. He is an electric return man and run-after-catch specialist out of the backfield. The team shipped off leading rusher Jordan Howard to the Philadelphia Eagles this off-season. Then they traded up in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft to secure the services of David Montgomery from Iowa State. He should be an impact contributor right away. Mike Davis makes for a perfect third-string runner that can do a bit of everything and shines in the passing game. The team might not have a true workhorse back but could have one of the best running back committees in the league in 2019.
The Minnesota Vikings could have the best running back in the division if he can stay healthy. Dalvin Cook has looked like an explosive three-down back when on the field. He has only played in 15 games over two seasons, though. Third round rookie Alexander Mattison may cut into Cook’s carries more than many believe. Preseason standout Mike Boone and ex-Lion Ameer Abdullah are fighting for the third spot on the depth chart. This team is very top-heavy at running back. If Cook gets hurt again this team could be in serious trouble.
The Packers and Lions have similar outlooks in the backfield. Both Aaron Jones and Kerryon Johnson are young explosive backs that haven’t had the opportunities to truly show how great they are. That could change this season as both appear to be the head men in their respective committees. They also have bruising tailbacks behind them. Jamaal Williams has performed well when Jones has been out of the lineup. C.J. Anderson was on the street before a nice renaissance in the second half of the season with the Las Angeles Rams. He compliments Johnson well and should be more effective than LeGarrette Blount last year.
The Best: Minnesota Vikings
The Rest: Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, Detroit Lions
Easy decision here. The Vikings have one of the best wide receiver duos in the NFL entering 2019. Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen are exceptional route runners that have similar skill sets on the outside. Either has the versatility to succeed in the slot as well. Each has incredible hands which allows them to make contested catches in traffic despite neither possessing top-notch speed. Both Diggs and Thielen had over 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns last year. Thielen started off to a historic pace, tying the NFL record for straight 100-yard receiving games. He did it in the first eight weeks. There is a staggering lack of depth behind these two, though. Former first-round pick Laquon Treadwell has severely disappointed and will most likely not be on the roster next year. There have been reports that second-year pro Chad Beebe has been outperforming Treadwell. He has just four receptions to his name.
It was very difficult to determine the hierarchy of the remaining NFC North wide receiver depth charts. The Bears have more proven talent and depth than the Packers or Lions, so they get the nod here. Allen Robinson is a good deep threat but had a lackluster first year in Nagy’s offense. 2018 second-round pick Anthony Miller showed a lot of promise in year one, collecting seven touchdown receptions. Miller was a very exciting and tough player at Memphis who thrived on contested catches. He will be one to watch in year two. Taylor Gabriel and Cordarrelle Patterson are veteran speedsters that can ignite the Bears offense at any time. Then, there’s fourth-round rookie Riley Ridley that could be fighting for playing time in year one.
The one player that sets the Packers apart in the NFC North breakdown is receiver Davante Adams. One of the more underrated players in the league is finally gaining some recognition. The sixth-year pro has gotten better every season. He is one of the best red-zone targets in the league and is coming off three straight years of double-digit scores. Adams set career highs in receptions, yards, and touchdowns in 2018 for an offense that had very few other pass-catching options. It may be the case this year as well. There are several intriguing but unproven options behind Adams. Geronimo Allison and Marquez Valdes-Scantling could become popular names by season’s end. Allison has great chemistry with Rodgers and Valdes-Scantling has blazing speed and great potential.
The Lions still have strength at the top of their depth chart. Kenny Golladay has asserted himself as the team’s new number one target. He broke out in year two by recording his first thousand-yard season on a bad offense. Marvin Jones has been a staple of this offense when healthy. He is just one year removed from a 1,100-yard, nine touchdown season. General Manager Bob Quinn reunited Danny Amendola with second-year head coach Matt Patricia to be the team’s starting slot receiver. He provides veteran leadership and could be a key contributor on third downs. The Lions will be focusing on the run game more in 2019. It will be tough for any of these players to receive enough targets to make a leap in 2019.
The Best: Detroit Lions
The Rest: Minnesota Vikings, Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers
Another tough debate for the top spot, both the Lions and Vikings have similarly impressive tight end rooms. Kyle Rudolph and Jesse James are both huge veteran targets that excel in the red zone. Then there are the rookies. The Lions drafted T.J. Hockenson with the eighth overall pick and the Vikings took Irv Smith in the second round. The Lions get the nod in this exercise due to Hockenson’s massive potential. The rookie out of Iowa is the best two-way tight end to come out of the draft in years. He is an old-school player that fits what the Lions envision for their offense. His toughness and willingness to finish plays in the run game sets him apart from the other tight ends in this division. James has never reached 500 yards receiving but is a stable presence and a great number two tight end.
Ranking the Lions over the Vikings in the NFC North breakdown seems a bit disrespectful to Rudolph who is a two-time Pro Bowler. He has been a top-ten tight end almost his entire career, but the team will most likely start phasing Smith more into the offense as Rudolph gets up there in age. Smith has great athleticism at the position but is a bit undersized. He and Rudolph could compliment each other well in an offense overseen by Gary Kubiak.
The Bears gave Trey Burton a lucrative deal in free agency last off-season to become an important cog in Nagy’s offense. His first season was average, if uneventful. He did start all 16 games but posted just 569 yards to go along with a respectable six touchdowns. He’s not much of a blocker, though. Third-year pro Adam Shaheen hasn’t had much production but is a solid number two option. The Bears will hope for a stronger showing from both in year two of Nagy’s offense.
The Packers could easily jump to the top of this list if Jimmy Graham has a huge bounce-back season. The main issue was Graham’s lack of production in the red zone. He only recorded two touchdown receptions and didn’t look like the same player that has four double-digit scoring seasons under his belt. There has been some talk that Graham takes a season to gel with his quarterbacks. His second years with Drew Brees and Russell Wilson were dramatically more efficient than his first. He still lacks any semblance of run-blocking ability though. Backing Graham up is veteran run-blocker Marcedes Lewis and two young raw prospects in Robert Tonyan and Jace Sternberger. Tonyan appears to be the player to keep an eye on this season as a large pass-catcher with great hands and solid route-running ability.
The Best: Green Bay Packers
The Rest: Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Minnesota Vikings
The Packers take the top spot here due to their bookend tackles. It is not an easy task to block for Rodgers and his willingness to extend the play. David Bakhtiari is perhaps the best left tackle in the league and a top-five talent along the offensive line. When healthy, Bryan Bulaga locks down the right side of the line. Health is always a concern with the ninth-year veteran but he enters 2019 with fewer question marks than past years. The Packers have strong players on the outside and another good piece at center in Corey Linsley. The sixth-year pro has started an impressive 70 of a possible 80 games since being drafted in 2014. He is a very stable, solid player. The Packers do have some questions at both guard spots. Free-agent signee Billy Turner received a lucrative deal and has been running as the first-team right guard. Lane Taylor will be entering his seventh season with the Packers but is reportedly facing stiff competition from rookie second-rounder Elgton Jenkins from Mississippi State for the other spot. This should be a top ten O-line assuming the transition to new head coach Matt LaFleur’s offense doesn’t hinder their chemistry.
The Bears have several solid offensive linemen that have come together well over the last few years. They have smartly followed the draft and develop strategy across their O-line. Four of the five starters were drafted by the Bears with right tackle Bobby Massie being the only exception. Both center Cody Whitehair and guard James Daniels were drafted in the second round. They are young, ascending players that excel in pass protection. Whitehair has started each game in his three-year career while Daniels started the final ten games of last season. They also have longtime stalwart, Kyle Long. After posting three straight Pro Bowl appearances to start his career, Long has struggled to stay healthy, missing 20 games over the past three years. This group returns all starting five from last year. They should continue to grow together in Nagy’s offense.
Both the Lions and Vikings have been working rigorously to improve their offensive line play. Each has invested high draft picks and free-agent dollars along the line. The Lions ranked middle of the pack in pressures and sacks allowed last year. They also made an improvement on a historically dreadful ground game. Retaining four of five linemen is important for this team. They have a nice mix of youth in second-year center Frank Ragnow, left tackle Taylor Decker, and right guard Graham Glasgow. Ricky Wagner was signed to a lucrative deal from the Baltimore Ravens in 2017 but has had mixed results on the field. The only new starter this year is Kenny Wiggins who takes over for the retired T.J. Lang at left guard. He was signed to a modest two-year, $5 million contract after spending the last four seasons with the Las Angeles Chargers. This group has young talent and veteran leadership but really needs to put it all together in 2019.
The Vikings had one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL last season. They spent their first-round pick this year on Garrett Bradbury to replace Brett Jones at center. He was viewed as one of the draft’s safest prospects coming out of NC State. His presence slides third-year pro Pat Elflein over to guard. He was horrid when forced to play center last year. Another young investment is tackle Brian O’Neill. A second-round pick last year, O’Neill started 11 games during his rookie campaign. The Vikings have also scoured the free-agent market in recent years. Riley Reiff was a former first-round pick by the Lions, but they chose not to retain him. The Vikings gave him $26 million guaranteed and he has not been great. Then they went out and gave Josh Kline a three-year $15 million contract his off-season. They are certainly trying to solve their issues but a new offensive scheme and several new faces could make things difficult early in the year.
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