2022 NFC North Breakdown by Position: The Defense

NFC North Defense

During the month of August, the Last Word on Sports NFL department will be breaking down every division in the league by position. This article contains a position-by-position breakdown of the NFC North defenses. The breakdown will contain “the best” at each unit followed by “the rest” in descending order. If two starters are close in skill level, depth at the position will be considered in the decision.

NFC North Breakdown by Position: The Offense

2022 NFC North Defense Breakdown by Position

The NFC North has had its fair share of defensive stars over the years. Each team has at least one unit that shines brighter than the rest of the defense. In 2022, the NFC North seems like it will be more of an offensive-driven division, so stellar, play-making defenses will become even more important. Here are the defensive rankings, by position, for the NFC North for the 2022 season:

Do note that the position groupings will be based on the team’s scheme and not the exact, listed position (3-4 or 4-3).

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Defensive Line

The Best: Green Bay Packers

The Rest: Minnesota Vikings, Detroit Lions, Chicago Bears

Here, the Packers’ defensive line excels above all other competitors. The line features Kenny Clark (2x Pro-Bowler), Jarran Reed, and Dean Lowry. Each guy is entering their seventh NFL season and the trio has plenty of NFL experience and production. They, together, have recorded 62 sacks and 79 tackles for loss in their careers. They could be among the league’s best units up front in terms of stopping the run.

The Vikings fall in second as they are led by Dalvin Tomlinson. He has had a solid career with the Giants and Vikings, posting four seasons of 49 or more tackles. Minnesota also has solid options with Armon Watts and Harrison Phillips accompanying Tomlinson. Following closely behind are the Lions’ two defensive tackles, Michael Brockers and Alim McNeill. Brockers is an 11-year veteran who has posted close to 450 career tackles with the Rams and the Lions. McNeill posted 39 tackles and two sacks in his rookie year last year. Both of these groups are pretty close, but the Vikings edge Detroit out in this category.

The Bears fall in last place for these rankings. Their line features Angelo Blackson and Justin Jones as their two starting tackles. Blackson hasn’t had any outstanding seasons but has been pretty consistent throughout his seven-year career. Jones has had a similar career to Blackson, posting about-average numbers for tackles in each year of his four-year career. However, neither of the two have anything eye-popping that would put them ahead of the other three groups.

Edge Rushers

The Best: Minnesota Vikings

The Rest: Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions

This was one of the hardest categories to rank. Each team has a guy or two that makes all of the units be considered for a top spot. However, the Vikings take this one because they have not one, but two proven stars as edge rushers. Danielle Hunter has 35 sacks and 42 tackles for loss through 39 games in his past three seasons. He also was a Pro Bowler in 2018 and 2019. And, his counterpart, Za’Darius Smith, had two consecutive 12.5+ sack, Pro Bowl seasons before getting injured last year.

Following closely behind is the Packers’ group; it features linebackers Preston Smith and Rashan Gary. Both guys are very talented and have had several years of production. The two combined for 18.5 sacks (9+ each) and were also very effective in rushing defense. The loss of Za’Darius Smith will hurt the Packers, but it seems they’ve found another capable rusher in Gary. The Bears follow closely behind with their duo of Robert Quinn and Trevis Gipson. Quinn led the NFC in sacks last year with 18.5. Gipson also added seven more. However, the duo of Smith and Gary (mainly the impacts in the rushing game) outweigh the heavy sacking numbers for the Bears’ tandem.

The Lions’ starting two edge rushers are not bad by any means, but simply unproven. Charles Harris, a veteran who resurrected his career last year, and second-overall pick Aidan Hutchinson headline the defensive line. Harris started 14 games in 2021 (started just nine games in the previous four seasons) while adding 65 tackles and 7.5 sacks. Hutchinson will surely make an impact immediately for the Lions, but given he is a rookie, the Michigan product and Heisman finalist will have tons to prove.

Linebackers

The Best: Minnesota Vikings

The Rest: Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, Detroit Lions

The Vikings have an amazing tandem at linebacker with Eric Kendricks and Jordan Hicks. Kendricks has had six consecutive 100+ tackle seasons while Hicks has had three consecutive with the Cardinals. These two will be all over the field in 2022 and will be making tackles everywhere.

The Bears feature All-Pro Roquan Smith and a few others that are very good options. Smith had 163 tackles (fifth-most in NFL) and forced a few turnovers. They also have a few dependable options alongside Smith, like Nicholas Morrow and Joe Thomas.

The Packers feature expert playmaker De’Vondre Campbell. He had 146 tackles last year and also had two interceptions and two forced fumbles. Campbell was named to the All-Pro team as a reward for his phenomenal season. Alongside him will be rookie Quay Walker, who has a lot to prove but can be very good for Green Bay.

The Lions have the weakest linebacker core in the division. Two of the starters are Chris Board and Malcolm Rodriguez. Rodriguez is a sixth-round rookie and Board doesn’t have much experience at all. Alex Anzalone has several years of NFL experience and added 78 tackles last year. But, there are a lot of concerns about their middle-of-the-field defense.

Cornerbacks

The Best: Green Bay Packers

The Rest: Minnesota Vikings, Detroit Lions, Chicago Bears

The Packers have one of the best cornerback rooms in all of football. Led by Jaire Alexander, the group also contains stars Eric Stokes and Rasul Douglas. Alexander is a 2020 Pro Bowler who is very good in coverage and is one of the best corners in all of football. Stokes is a very underrated option who has earned the other starting gig with his 55 tackles, one interception, and 14 passes defended in 2021. Douglas serves as the third corner but posted the highest defense and coverage grade in the NFC North last year. Douglas picked off five passes, defended another 13, and had 57 tackles in just nine starts.

Following behind the Packers is the Vikings unit, which features Cameron Dantzler and Patrick Peterson. Dantzler has been really good in his first two seasons and boasts one of the best overall defensive grades for the NFC North. He was pretty good in pass coverage but made a lot of tackles on runs too. Peterson is an eight-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro veteran. He has certainly declined over the years but was still a rather valuable asset to Minnesota’s secondary.

The Lions’ starting corners are Amani Oruwariye and Jeff Okudah, and they have pretty solid depth behind them. AJ Parker and Will Harris will serve as the secondary corners, and Detroit has a few other safety-corner hybrid guys who will be important in the Lions’ defense. Jaylon Johnson leads the Bears at the corner position, but the depth and quality of the rest of the room is a concern. The other starting corner is rookie Kyler Gordon, and the two don’t have a whole lot of depth behind them in the event of injuries or in-game substitutions. 

Safeties

The Best: Green Bay Packers

The Rest: Minnesota Vikings, Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions

The Packers have one of the best safety tandems in the NFL, with Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage leading the charge. Amos had 93 tackles, eight passes defended, and two interceptions last year. Savage added decent numbers, and together, the duo has been one of the most effective in terms of coverage and preventing big, game-changing plays. Following closely behind the Packers are the Vikings. They are led by six-time Pro Bowler Harrison Smith who has also received various votes for DPOY and All-Pro teams. He is paired with free safety Camryn Bynum, who had one pick, eight pass deflections, and 28 total tackles in his rookie season. Minnesota also has considerable depth, with Josh Metellus and Lewis Cine backing these two up.

The Bears feature Eddie Jackson, who was one of the best safeties a few years ago. Ever since, his turnover production has decreased but he still remains rather effective in coverage. He is paired with second-round pick Jaquan Brisker out of Penn State. He was very good in a great conference in college, but now he faces the challenge of some of the NFL’s best receivers.

The Lions’ number one safety is veteran Tracy Walker, who tallied 108 tackles last season. He will be paired with ex-Ravens safety DeShon Elliott. He only had six starts last year and didn’t do anything mind-boggling. The good news is that Detroit has quite a bit of depth at the two safety positions. They have Ifeatu Melifonwu, CJ Moore, AJ Parker, and Mike Hughes backing up their starting two.

NFC North Breakdown by Position: The Offense