In our first installment of the NFC North’s 2020 positional previews, we took a look at the defensive side of the ball. While there were some drastic changes from 2019, will the same be said about the offensive side of the ball?
While there have been changes like any other off-season, the only true real change came at the quarterback for the Chicago Bears who are challenging former No. 2 overall pick Mitchell Trubisky. Other changes were somewhat minimal including for Minnesota Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs being shipped out to the Buffalo Bills.
How does each NFC North offensive group look heading into the 2020 season? Let’s take a deeper dive into each position.
1) Aaron Rodgers (Packers)
Rodgers isn’t the same elite quarterback he was a few years back but make no mistake, he’s still one of the best in the league. Moving forward, the one thing to truly watch will be what the Packers choose to do with him, considering he just signed an extension recently and they used a first round pick on Jordan Love. As long as Rodgers is healthy, there’s no question he’s the best quarterback in the division. The bigger question is, for how long?
2) Matthew Stafford (Lions)
This may be one of the more hotly debated topics on this list and for good reason. In terms of availability, Stafford missed the majority of the 2019 season. When he was healthy, he was one of the best quarterbacks in the game last year. He’s an elite talent but has never really truly put it all together due to the talent around him and overall inconsistencies. With that being said, Stafford is a very good quarterback who could be on his way out with another bad Detroit season. Especially if they choose to tear it all down, starting with head coach Matt Patricia and his staff.
3) Kirk Cousins (Vikings)
Much like Stafford, Cousins is a very good quarterback. Some can question his abilities in big games and that’s completely valid. With that said, he was able to put some of that to bed last year, but now he’ll face a new challenge without Diggs. The Vikings are best when their running game is going, but Cousins is still a top 10-12 quarterback in this league, regardless of how “clutch” he is perceived to be. There’s no denying his deep ball either, which is one of the best in the league.
4) Mitch Trubisky/Nick Foles (Bears)
There’s very little to question in terms of this selection. Whether it’s Trubisky or Foles, the Bears’ quarterback situation is unquestionably the worst in the division. Ideally, Trubisky wins the competition and turns the corner in his career. More realistically, Foles is the better of the two quarterbacks and eventually gets his shot, while having to play hero again like he did for the Eagles in two straight years. Either way, it doesn’t appear the team has their long-term answer currently on the roster.
1) Dalvin Cook/Alexander Mattison (Vikings)
Cook had a breakout year last year and it was a big reason why the Vikings won as many games as they did. Despite all of the talk about a potential holdout for a new contract, Cook has been in camp and barring something unforeseen, he’ll be there for Week 1 and beyond in 2020. Cook’s yards-per-carry could go up a tick but all in all, Cook’s production at the running back position was borderline elite in 2019. Don’t sleep on Mattison either, as he quietly put up a very productive rookie year. Expect another big year from this duo.
2) Aaron Jones/A.J. Dillon (Packers)
As a pure runner, Jones may not be the best on this list, but it’s hard to argue against him being the most well-rounded back in the entire division. Jones’ breakout 2019 campaign was highlighted by his 19 total touchdowns. That number alone is incredible and might be worthy on some lists as the best back in the division. He also averaged a slightly higher yards-per-carry than Cook. This is a neck and neck race that could very well be taken over by Jones in 2020. Either way, the Packers’ one-two punch of him and rookie A.J. Dillon will be a deadly force to recon with for years to come.
3) David Montgomery/Tarik Cohen (Bears)
Under Matt Nagy, the Bears running game has seen a consistent drop off two years running. With coaching changes at both offensive coordinator and the offensive line, the hope is that new faces and closer Andy Reid ties will help the Bears finally gain control of a consistent run game. Montgomery faces a big second year, especially with his draft status. Cohen is in a free agent year, which I fully expect him to return to a closer resemblance of his first two years in the league, rather than his down year in 2019. Keep an eye on how they use Cordarrelle Patterson in this spot as well.
4) Kerryon Johnson/D’Andre Swift (Lions)
Some may remember how high I was on Johnson heading into last season. Injuries derailed what could have been a very good sophomore season and now he faces competition for his job with a rookie in Swift. For whatever reason, the Lions haven’t been able to consistently put together a formidable rushing attack for years now. While unproven, make no mistake, this is a combination that has a lot of upside.
1) Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones Jr. (Lions)
One of my “draft crushes” a few years back, Golladay broke out in a big way for the Lions in 2019. Jones is still one of the more underrated pass catchers in the league as well and for that, the Lions have grabbed the top spot heading into 2020. There’s a lot of upside with this group and while Golladay may not outright be the best receiver in the division, the combination and depth here gives them the clear No. 1 tag.
2) Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson (Vikings)
These next three spots on the list are going to be hotly debated and for good reason. If Diggs was still on this Vikings roster, they’d be the unquestioned number one but after dealing him to Buffalo, there’s some questions both in terms of second receiving option and overall depth. Despite all of that, Thielen is a top end receiver and Jefferson should translate almost immediately as an NFL receiver.
3) Allen Robinson and Anthony Miller (Bears)
Coming in third on this list is a duo that could rise very quickly in Robinson and Miller. For starters, Robinson is one of the more underrated receivers in the entire league. Throughout his career, he has had poor quarterback play. Factor in Miller putting it all together and there’s a very good duo here. The problem? The quarterback situation and more importantly, Miller hasn’t consistently put it all together for a full season or even stayed healthy. Their depth is solid as well, which lands them here on this list.
4) Davante Adams and Allen Lazard (Packers)
Adams is the best receiver in this division. There’s little question to that, at least in my mind. Outside of Adams though, there’s a lot of question marks. Some are high on Lazard and maybe he continues his upward trend in 2020 but after that, who do they have that has any sort of proven production? That was a question that was supposed to be answered this off-season, but instead the Packers opted to draft a quarterback and another running back in the first two rounds of the draft. Also worth noting, their lone free agent addition in Devin Funchess opted out.
1) Kyle Rudolph and Irv Smith Jr. (Vikings)
For all of the strong positional groups this division has boasted throughout these breakdowns, tight end is a spot where there’s not a dominant team in this group. Rudolph has been a consistent producer throughout his career and while he’s never been elite, he’s probably more proven (or at least still producing consistently) than any other tight end on this list. Smith is also a nice third-year player that could be in for a bigger role in 2020.
2) T.J. Hockenson and Jesse James (Lions)
Hockenson gives the Lions the advantage as the number two group on this list. He showed some serious flashes in his rookie year, but health and simply being a rookie tight end made the optics of his rookie year a little less enticing. Even so, he has the highest ceiling out of any group in the division. James is solid, yet unspectacular, but that’s to be expected out of most second tight ends on a team.
3) Jimmy Graham and Cole Kmet (Bears)
For what feels like the 10th year in a row, the Bears shuffled around their tight end group in hopes that they could finally get some real production. Outside of Greg Olson and Martellus Bennett, production from this position has been hard to come by. After a productive 2018 season and a rash of injuries, Trey Burton is now gone, as is second-round bust Adam Shaheen. They re-tooled by overpaying a veteran in Graham, but the ultimate hope is that Kmet (the first tight end off the board in this year’s draft) can be the future. At worst, they should get better production at the position than they did in 2019.
4) Jace Sternberger and Marcedes Lewis (Packers)
The biggest factor in this group for the Packers is absolutely going to be Sternberger. After releasing Graham, they will be relying on an unproven second-year tight end with minimal on the field experience and a solid veteran in Lewis who is long past his prime of top-end production. If Sternberger develops into the player some thought he would be coming out of the draft, things change quickly for this group. If not, it’s one less weapon for Rodgers and company.
Despite losing Bryan Bulaga this off-season, the Packers still boast the top offensive line. At least on paper. Their only real concern comes on the interior, but Elgton Jenkins and veteran Corey Linsley should keep that from becoming too much of an issue. Any time you have David Bakhtiari as your left tackle, the offensive line is going to be in good shape.
The Lions appear to have upgraded the right side of the line after cutting Rick Wagner and replacing him with former Eagle Halapoulivaati Vaitai at the tackle position. Taylor Decker and Frank Ragnow are also very good players, giving this group a very solid standing. How they approach the run game will be the ultimate factor in how good this unit can be.
This was a toss up between the Vikings and Bears here. I believe a good argument could be made either way, but I tend to lean towards Minnesota in the three-spot. Both units have questions on the interior, but Brian O’Neil appears to be a very nice developmental find. Watching how the interior develops with Pat Elflein, Aviante Collins and Dru Samia all battling for two starting spots will be very crucial for this unit’s success.
After a pretty good product in 2018, many issues arose for this Bears unit in 2019. That included steps back from Charles Leno Jr, Bobby Massie and James Daniels. If Leno gets back to normal and Cody Whitehair continues to play at the same level, they might be in OK shape, but the development of Daniels in year 3 is big, as well as their battle at right guard between former first round pick Germain Ifedi and incumbent starter Rashaad Coward. New offensive line coach Juan Castillo and his philosophy will be heavily relied upon in 2020.