Throughout the last eight seasons, the NFC North has boasted at least one top offense in the league on a yearly basis. Usually that’s been headlined by the Green Bay Packers and Aaron Rodgers, but the tide could be turning.
On paper, all four teams in this division have a shot at a top 15 product in 2018. Depth charts can be deceiving and injuries happen, but the North may even boast a pair of top 10 offenses in 2018. As we look at each side of the ball, it’s easy to see why.
With the 2018 season and training camp on the horizon, let’s dive in deeper for a position-by-position offensive breakdown.
1. Aaron Rodgers (Packers)
Until further notice, Rodgers is the best quarterback in the division and in the entire NFC. Outside of Tom Brady, you could make an argument he’s the best in the NFL.
2. Matt Stafford (Lions)
Second on this list is a complete toss-up. An argument could be made for both Stafford or Cousins, but I tend to lean toward Stafford because he’s a known producer under offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter. Biggest question for him: Can he win a playoff game?
3. Kirk Cousins (Vikings)
Following a surprisingly good season from Case Keenum, the Vikings chose to spend big money and fully guarantee all three years for Cousins. This has a chance to push them over the top, but it won’t be as easy as some think to replicate Keenum’s success from 2017.
4. Mitchell Trubisky (Bears)
Hear that? It’s a collective sigh from the majority of the Bears’ fanbase as I list Trubisky as the last signal caller in the division. For context, this list is simply off past production because it’s easy to see Trubisky making a sizable jump in 2018. He needs to prove it on the field with the arrow pointing up.
1. Jordan Howard (Bears)
This was a difficult decision but based on track record, Howard is the best running back in the NFC North. The 23-year-old struggles to catch the ball consistently, yet he’s amassed 2,435 rushing yards in his first two NFL seasons. Combine this with Tarik Cohen and Benny Cunningham and it’s one of Chicago’s deepest positions.
2. Dalvin Cook (Vikings)
The former second round pick out of Florida State looked great before going down with a torn ACL in Week 4 last season. I don’t expect that to impede his development moving forward. Plus, he’ll have Latavius Murray behind him for depth, which makes this combo dangerous. Proven production is the only thing keeping this group from the top.
3. Kerryon Johnson (Lions)
The Lions have been awful running the ball over the last handful of seasons and new head coach Matt Patricia knew that coming in. They spent a second round pick on Johnson and added veteran LeGarrette Blount to the mix. The Lions didn’t add a whole lot this off-season otherwise. This was about focusing on helping their running back position take a step forward in 2018.
4. Aaron Jones (Packers)
Head coach Mike McCarthy “promised” the Packers would go with a committee approach. Jones get the primary nod, barring health, though. Jones was impressive last year in just 81 carries, while averaging 5.5 yards-per-carry with availability being the major detractor. Following him is converted receiver Ty Montgomery and Jamaal Williams, which provides quality depth.
1. Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs (Vikings)
Deciding between the Vikings and Lions was all preference. I went with the youthful upside. Thielen has become a star in a short time and Diggs was a great value as a mid-round pick. Add in Laquon Treadwell and Kendall Wright, and you’ve got star power at the top and serviceable depth at the bottom.
2. Marvin Jones and Golden Tate (Lions)
This pair combined for over 2,100 yards and 14 touchdowns last year. Couple that with the upside of Kenny Golladay and the Lions have the potential for a top-end receiving trio in 2018. With a more balanced rushing attack, it’ll be interesting to see if Stafford has less responsibility as a passer.
3. Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel (Bears)
The last two on this list are once again a toss-up. If healthy, Robinson is a top-end elite receiver. Add in Gabriel and rookie Anthony Miller, and this group can be special. Kevin White looks like an X-factor as well. With a ton of targets to go around, this is going to be a much improved position for Chicago from 2017.
4. DaVante Adams and Randall Cobb (Packers)
Adams performed well in a 2017 contract year and was summarily rewarded with a huge extension. Cobb has been a solid third option the past few years, to boot. Outside of this duo, there’s a lot of question marks for the Packers at receiver after the release of Jordy Nelson. They spent a trio of mid-round picks but have minimal players to rely on otherwise.
1. Jimmy Graham (Packers)
A trio of Graham, Marcedes Lewis, and Lance Kendricks gives the Packers star power and depth at a position they’ve lacked for years. Expect the former Seahawk and Saint to play a gigantic role in the receiving game, potentially even becoming Rodgers’ top security blanket.
2. Kyle Rudolph (Vikings)
Rudolph, a former Notre Dame product, doesn’t have the star power of Graham but complements the Vikings offense seamlessly. He had eight touchdowns in 2017 and is a fantastic red zone target. Minnesota has little else aside from Rudolph, though.
3. Trey Burton (Bears)
Chicago made a ton of investments at tight end the past two years. From Burton and Adam Shaheen, to Dion Sims. Since the departure of Martellus Bennett, this has not been a strong suit for the Bears. Circumstances, however, appear to be changing. Burton fits Matt Nagy’s offense well and Shaheen is a freakishly-sized red zone weapon at the very worst.
4. Luke Willson (Lions)
Cutting Eric Ebron was something the Lions felt they needed to do but they’ll be hard pressed to find a replacement for him quickly. Behind Willson is Levine Tiololo and 2017 fourth rounder Michael Roberts. Not exactly an ideal situation.
The trenches within the North division is a close one. An argument can be made for every line and how they could be the top or the bottom. With that being said, the Lions stick out to me as being the slight favorite in this category. They have a good set of tackles led with Taylor Decker and Rick Wagner, and a solid interior that added 2018 first round pick Frank Ragnow.
Minnesota could have been higher up front, but questions on the interior and Mike Remmers starting at right tackle, there’s issues the Vikings have to answer for. Fortunately, Minnesota runs a balanced attack to mitigate any concerns. I’m just not sure Cousins can match Keenum’s athletic ability within the pocket to help this unit overcome any deficiencies.
The viewpoint for the Bears’ offensive tackles has never been positive. The reality is that both Charles Leno and Bobby Massie had relatively strong campaigns in 2017. On the interior, health is the key but even after declining Josh Sitton’s option, they have good depth and the chance to have a top pairing if rookie James Daniels plays to his draft status alongside Cody Whitehair.
There’s no denying Green Bay has one of the better pair of tackles in the league with David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga. That’s as good as it gets. The Packers’ interior is where there’s cause for concern. After giving up 51 sacks last year, they’ll need to improve on that number this year to get back into the elite ranks. Right guard and Justin McCray pose the biggest question heading into the 2018 season.
Follow Aaron on Twitter @AaronLemingNFL.