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WCG’s NFC North Consensus Top 50: Nos. 10-1

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To conclude our NFC North consensus top 50, we reveal which players ended up in the top 10, and which player ranked first overall.

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NFL: NFC Championship-Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Our Windy City Gridiron staff consensus top 50 NFC North players list has officially come to an end.

Today, we will be revealing which players made it into the top 10, as well as which superstar players finished with the highest points total of the group to claim the No. 1 spot.

Without further ado, let’s begin...

10. Dalvin Cook, RB, Vikings

High: 3 (Salo)

Low: 13 (Zeglinski)

Criticized for being unable to stay healthy after missing 17 games in his first two professional seasons, Dalvin Cook finally put it all together in the form of a fantastic 2019 campaign.

Cook made it into the Pro Bowl for the first time in his career, playing in 14 games last year. He finished with a total of 1,135 rushing yards that placed him tenth in the league, 13 rushing touchdowns that saw him rank fourth in the league, and impressive production as a pass-catcher out of the backfield: 53 receptions for 519 yards. One of the most well-rounded backs in the league, Cook brings plenty of speed, agility, power, vision and soft hands to Minnesota’s offense. He finally had the breakout season that many anticipated from him, and there’s no reason to believe he can’t do it again in 2020.

9. Akiem Hicks, DL, Bears

High: 3 (Curl)

Low: 13 (Salo)

2019 wasn’t a kind season to Akiem Hicks, who missed all but five games of the season dealing with assorted injuries. His presence along the defensive line was sorely missed by Chicago’s defense, and there was a noticeable difference when he stepped onto the field.

When Hicks was able to play last season, he was a disruptive force who was able to eat up gaps against the run and pressure the quarterback. In the previous three seasons leading up to 2019, he tallied 23 sacks, 38 tackles for a loss and 53 quarterback hits during his time with the Bears, and his dominance along the interior was finally rewarded with a Pro Bowl appearance in 2018. He is a powerful defender who packs violent hands, significant power in his anchor and deceptive acceleration off the snap, making him a nightmare for opposing guards and center to try and neutralize. The 6-foot-4, 352-pound mammoth of a man will look to pick up right where he left off as he heads into a new season.

8. Matthew Stafford, QB, Lions

High: 3 (Zeglinski, Leming)

Low: 15 (Wiltfong)

If you’re looking to know how valuable Matthew Stafford is to the Lions, see how they fared when he went down for the years with a back injury.

In the eight games Stafford started for Detroit in 2019, they went 3-4-1, which isn’t a stellar record, but it’s a respectable one. In the eight games he didn’t play, though, the Lions failed to win a single game. Now, the cannon-armed veteran, who will be entering his 12th season in the NFL this year, will look to bring stability back to their team after a rocky season. Having topped 4,000 yards seven times in his career, Stafford already ranks 18th all-time in passing yards. Lack of postseason success aside, he is a physically gifted quarterback who has consistently produced for his team.

7. Za’Darius Smith, EDGE, Packers

High: 4 (Householder, Curl, Wiltfong)

Low: 14 (Salo, Zimmerman)

Za’Darius Smith finally had his time to shine in 2019, settling into a full-time starting role after signing a four-year, $66 million deal with the Packers last spring. As one could infer from this ranking, he certainly made the most of his opportunity.

Smith finished with a career-high 13.5 sacks last season, a tally that ranked sixth in the league. He led the league with 22 quarterback knockdowns, and his total of 50 quarterback pressures ranked fourth. He was nothing short of a pass-rushing machine in 2019, using his strength and technique to overwhelm opposing offensive linemen on a weekly basis. Green Bay found a gem when they signed Smith in free agency, and they surely hope he can follow up on his career year with many more great seasons to come.

6. Davante Adams, WR, Packers

High: 5 (Infante)

Low: 12 (Zeglinski)

Davante Adams is one of the most valuable wide receivers in the league; not just because of the lack of depth the Packers have at the position outside of him, but because of how good he is on a yearly basis.

Though missing four games due to injury saw him finish just three yards shy of 1,000 in 2019, Adams still played at a very high level. He caught 83 passes and averaged 83.1 yards per game, a rate that would have seen him finish with 1,329 yards on the year if he stayed healthy for its entirety. This elite play came as no surprise, as Adams has had 40 receiving touchdowns in the last four seasons and immediately picked up the slack when Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb got old and left the team. He is a top-notch route runner who wins with technique and athleticism, and his ball skills and body control are as good as it gets. He finishes here as the top wide receiver in the NFC North, a ranking that is well-deserved.

5. Eddie Jackson, S, Bears

High: 4 (Salo)

Low: 13 (Leming)

Sure, Eddie Jackson didn’t have any pick-sixes or finish second in the league in interceptions like he did in 2019, but he quietly was still one of the best safeties in the league last year.

Jackson’s allowed completion percentage of 53.5 placed fifth among safeties, and his passer rating against of 57.6 was the sixth-best rating at his position. Since coming to the Bears as a fourth-round pick in the 2017 draft, he has totaled 10 interceptions, 26 pass deflections, four forced fumbles and five defensive touchdowns in three seasons. With his lightning-quick processing abilities, the speed necessary to accelerate out of his breaks and jump a route, and his ball skills, he is a true ball-hawk at the safety position who was well worth the four-year, $58.4 million extension he received in January.

4. David Bakhtiari, OT, Packers

High: 3 (Infante)

Low: 12 (Leming)

As much flak as he gets from Bears fans for his holding tendencies, David Bakhatiari is one of the best offensive tackles in the league.

A reliable mainstay in the starting lineup who has started in every game he has played and missed just six games in his seven seasons with the Packers, Bakhtiari is as reliable of a blind-side protector as one can get. PFF has given him pass-blocking grades of at least 85.0 in seven consecutive seasons, and pass-blocking grades of 89.9 or above in four consecutive seasons. His combination of size, footwork, strength and technique make him a very tough opponent to get past, and with just seven sacks allowed over the past three seasons, Bakhtiari is exactly what a team would want in a prototypical left tackle.

3. Danielle Hunter, EDGE, Vikings

High: 3 (Wiltfong, Zimmerman, Householder)

Low: 10 (Salo)

Danielle Hunter is inarguably one of the best pass rushers in the NFL today.

With 54.5 sacks in his five-year career—including 14.5 sacks in each of his past two seasons—Hunter is a safe bet to top double-digit sacks every year. He placed fourth in the league in sacks both this season and last season, and he has had 48 tackles for a loss in the three seasons which he has played as a full-time starter. He is an explosive, athletic, powerful and polished pass-rusher who can string moves together to create a truly diverse arsenal of techniques to shed blocks. As an added bonus, Hunter has only missed two games his whole career, so he can easily be relied on to stay healthy and make an impact throughout the entirety of a season. An elite talent at a premier position, he takes a well-deserved spot as one of the three best players in the NFC North.

2. Khalil Mack, EDGE, Bears

High: 1 (Wiltfong, Curl)

Low: 2 (Zimmerman, Infante, Leming, Householder, Salo, Zeglinski)

The Windy City Gridiron staff all agreed to a consensus top-two tandem on their ballots, but with just two of the available eight first-place votes, Chicago’s own Khalil Mack finds himself listed at No. 2.

It goes without saying why Mack belongs this high on the list. He is a wrecking ball in human form, a conveyor of chaos who uses speed, otherworldly power, a high football IQ and tremendous flexibility to beat his opponents in a vast array of ways. With 57.5 sacks in his past five seasons—excluding his rookie campaign—and 21 sacks since joining the Bears right before the 2018 season, he is a proven producer who can consistently get to the quarterback. He is also a tenacious turnover-causing machine who has forced 11 fumbles over the past two seasons, and he has placed in the top 10 in quarterback pressures in each of the past two years. Mack is the highest-paid defensive player of all-time for a reason: he is a bonafide difference-maker out on the field.

1. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers

High: 1 ((Zimmerman, Infante, Leming, Householder, Salo, Zeglinski)

Low: 2 (Wiltfong, Curl)

If it wasn’t going to be Khalil Mack, one could likely assume that the No. 1 player on this list was going to be Aaron Rodgers.

The Packers’ starting quarterback for the past 12 years, Rodgers has put together a first-ballot Hall of Fame resumé since replacing Brett Favre in 2008. The eight-time Pro Bowler has finished all but two seasons with a winning record with him under center. He has topped 4,000 yards eight times in his career, including 2019, where he had a fantastic 26 touchdowns to just four interceptions. For such a gutsy quarterback with incredible arm strength and the ability to hit just about any throw on the football field, the two-time league MVP has does a fantastic job of playing turnover-free football, having reached double-digit interceptions in a season just twice.

Rodgers is one of the few quarterbacks in the league that have opposing teams feeling like the game is never truly over, because in the blink of an eye he can have his team coming back from a three-score deficit and running an effective two-minute drill, dashing the opposing team’s hopes and dreams before their eyes. As Bears fans, the voters of this ballot can attest to that all too well. Though 2019 wasn’t his best season statistically, he still put together a very good season and led the Packers to a 13-3 year, and for that, as well as his numerous other accomplishments in his career, he takes his rightful place atop our list.

With the list officially concluded, here is the final result:

  1. Aaron Rodgers
  2. Khalil Mack
  3. Danielle Hunter
  4. David Bakhtiari
  5. Eddie Jackson
  6. Davante Adams
  7. Za’Darius Smith
  8. Matthew Stafford
  9. Akiem Hicks
  10. Dalvin Cook
  11. Adam Thielen
  12. Eric Kendricks
  13. Allen Robinson
  14. Kenny Golladay
  15. Kenny Clark
  16. Kirk Cousins
  17. Aaron Jones
  18. Harrison Smith
  19. Kyle Fuller
  20. Anthony Harris
  21. Jaire Alexander
  22. Preston Smith
  23. Robert Quinn
  24. Eddie Goldman
  25. Trey Flowers
  26. Anthony Barr
  27. Michael Pierce
  28. Cody Whitehair
  29. Taylor Decker
  30. Jamie Collins
  31. Roquan Smith
  32. Danny Trevathan
  33. Cordarrelle Patterson
  34. Jeff Okudah
  35. Adrian Amos
  36. Darnell Savage
  37. Riley Reiff
  38. T.J. Hockenson
  39. Justin Jefferson
  40. Kevin King
  41. D’Andre Swift
  42. Frank Ragnow
  43. Kerryon Johnson
  44. Elgton Jenkins
  45. Brian O’Neill
  46. Tashaun Gipson
  47. Jaylon Johnson
  48. Corey Linsley
  49. Marvin Jones Jr.
  50. Jeff Gladney
  51. (HM) Kyle Rudolph and Charles Leno Jr.

To see how each WCG staff member voted, here is a spreadsheet that shows how the results were tallied. As a remember, 30 points are awarded to the player ranked first, 29 points are awarded to the player ranked second, etc.