As we reach training camp, it’s time to take a look at the best players in each division by position and here we will be looking at the 2021 NFC North defense. It’s a division that could be in transition in 2021 with questions surrounding a very key figure. Regardless, there is plenty of talent up and down the rest of this group. And don’t forget to check out the 2021 NFC North offense!
2021 NFC North All-Division Team: The Defense
EDGE: Khalil Mack – Chicago Bears
First on the 2021 NFC North Defense, Khalil Mack’s sack numbers haven’t been up to snuff over the past couple of years but he’s still been as dominant as ever. Pro Football Focus named him the top EDGE defender heading into the 2021-22 season because of how much he impacts opposing passing games. He’s also been a force against the run, ranking fifth in last year’s standings. If Robert Quinn is back healthy we could see a return of the gaudy numbers from Mack.
EDGE: Za’Darius Smith – Green Bay Packers
Za’Darius Smith is another Packer to make this list despite voicing some displeasure with the status quo. He is reportedly looking for a new deal and recently went to social media claiming to be in need of a realtor. Last season, he put up 12.5 sacks, giving him 26 in two seasons with Green Bay after having 18.5 sacks total in four years with the Baltimore Ravens.
Defensive Lineman: Akiem Hicks – Chicago Bears
Akiem Hicks bounced back from a rough 2019 in which he only made five appearances to start 15 of 16 games, missing one with injury. As for his impact, 3.5 sacks don’t scream dominant. But the Bears ranked second in rushing touchdowns allowed last season despite not having Eddie Goldman, as opposed to being 26th in 2019 when the situation was reversed.
Defensive Lineman: Kingsley Keke – Green Bay Packers
The Packers are a defensive lineman factory, continually unearthing and developing players into meaningful contributors. Kingsley Kee is just another one with four sacks from the interior in his second season out of Texas A&M. If you can knock him for anything, it’s that he played just 40 percent of the defensive snaps with so much of the game today played in sub-packages.
Nose Tackle: Kenny Clark – Green Bay Packers
All of the linemen seem content in Green Bay and Kenny Clark has every reason to be after the way he’s played since becoming a regular in the starting lineup. In four seasons running with the first team, Clark has produced 18.5 sacks from his interior line position. While technically considered a nose tackle, he’s much more disruptive than most with that label.
Linebacker: Eric Kendricks – Minnesota Vikings
Another year, another 100-plus total tackle season for Eric Kendricks of the Minnesota Vikings. That makes five straight going back to his second season after he recorded 92 total stops as a rookie. Kendricks also picked off three passes last season, a career-high. He doesn’t get to the quarterback or jar the ball loose like some others. But you’d be hard-pressed to find a smarter, more technically sound player with the range he has.
Linebacker: Roquan Smith – Chicago Bears
Roquan Smith has been so good for the Chicago Bears and by all accounts hasn’t come anywhere close to scratching his ceiling. Like Kendricks, Smith has displayed a knack for bringing down ball-carriers from the beginning. He has three straight seasons with over 100 total tackles to start his career making him just one of 32 linebackers and second Bear (Brian Urlacher) since 1987 to do so.
Cornerback: Jaire Alexander – Green Bay Packers
If you still aren’t seeing why the Packers having so much dissatisfaction most of the off-season seemed odd, Jaire Alexander is Exhibit J (clever, right?) in a long list of Packers to make the All-Division Team. He’s been good from the get-go too. Starting with his rookie season, the 5-foot-10 Alexander has allowed completion percentages of 64.8, 53.6, and down to 51.3 percent last season. All while covering the opposing team’s best receiver.
Cornerback: Cameron Dantzler – Minnesota Vikings
Seeing Cameron Dantzler on the 2021 NFC North Defense might be a surprise. His new teammate Patrick Peterson has garnered most of the discussion in regards to the Vikings re-re-made secondary. But, in addition to having a track record in the division (otherwise Beshaud Breeland might occupy this space), Dantler outperformed Peterson who has been on a downturn the last two seasons. Dantzler allowed 63.4 percent completion while picking off two passes as a surprise starter.
Safety: Harrison Smith – Minnesota Vikings
Harrison Smith sets the bar for both consistency and performance in this division and arguably in the NFL. Heading into his 10th season, Smith failed to make the Pro Bowl for just the fourth time in his career. He didn’t force or recover any fumbles as he’s been known to do, but he did manage to tie his career-high for the third time with five interceptions.
Safety: Adrian Amos – Green Bay Packers
Our final entrant for the 2021 NFC North Defense is Adrian Amos. If it weren’t for Smith’s seniority, Adrian Amos would be the standard-bearer in the division. His game has traveled to Green Bay after beginning his career with the Bears. Amos had two picks for the third straight year — he isn’t much in the way of a ballhawk — but he did get to the quarterback twice, matching his total from the previous two seasons.
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