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WCG’s 2021 NFC North top 50: Nos. 50-41

In the first article of a six-part roundtable series, the staff of Windy City Gridiron come together to rank the top 50 players in the NFC North heading into 2021, starting with the players ranked 50-41.

Chicago Bears v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images

We’ve reached the low period in the NFL offseason.

An exciting 2021 NFL Draft for Bears fans has come and gone. Free agency, while technically still ongoing, features very few notable names and players likely to make an impact on the course of a team’s season.

However, with the draft concluded and the free agency market dried up, now is as good of a time as any to compare how teams in certain divisions square up to each other.

In an exercise similar to that of the annual NFL Top 100 list, multiple staff members from Windy City Gridiron have come together to vote on a list of the top 50 players in the NFC North. The voting process had similarities to that of the league-official list: each staff member who participated in the exercise was asked to list their top 35 players, and a certain amount of points was assigned to each ranking slot. For example, if a player was ranked first, that player would receive 35 points. The player ranked second would receive 34 points, so on and so forth. A consensus list was then compiled from how each staff member ranked each player.

Before the list begins, let’s see how many players on each team made it onto the list:

  • Bears: 17
  • Packers: 14
  • Vikings: 12
  • Lions: 8

While the Bears feature the most players in the top 50 of any other team on the list, it’s worth noting that the Packers take up half of the top 10 and that Aaron Rodgers ranks much higher than any other quarterback in the NFC North. The Bears fandom of the WCG staff may have played a slight factor in certain rankings, but the finding were generally balanced and unbiased.

Without further ado, let’s things kick off by taking a look at the players ranked 41 through 50 on Windy City Gridiron’s second annual consensus top 50 NFC North players.

T-50. Preston Smith, EDGE, Packers; Jimmy Graham, TE, Bears

High: Honorable Mention (Smith: Infante, Graham: Sunderbruch)

Low: N/R

Last year: Smith: 22, Graham: N/R

To kick off the list, we go to two accomplished veterans who, while unable to make the top 35 for any WCG staffer, were still included as honorable mentions.

Smith had a down year in 2020, tallying 4 sacks after finishing with 12 in his first year with the Packers the year before. His career has been marred by inconsistent play, as he typically follows up a fantastic year with a much less productive season. By that trend, though, he should be plenty productive in 2021.

Graham is coming off of one of his most productive seasons in recent years, scoring 8 touchdowns and finishing fourth among tight ends in that statistic. While not the game-changer he was earlier in his career, he still brings value as a high-quality red-zone target.

T-49. Darnell Mooney, WR, Bears; Robert Quinn, EDGE, Bears

High: 35 (Mooney: Zimmerman, Quinn: Salo)

Low: N/R

Last year: Mooney: N/R, Quinn: 23

Two Bears on completely opposite ends of the spectrum hold the No. 49 spot in tandem.

Mooney surpassed expectations as a fifth-round rookie, starting in nine games and finishing second on the team in both receptions and receiving yards. His electricity in the open field, his reliable hands and his deep-threat potential could see him take a big step in 2021, so don’t be surprised if he finishes higher on this list next year.

While Mooney exceeded his hype, Quinn fell far short of his. The pricy free agent signing had just two sacks in 15 games after having 11.5 sacks in 2019 with the Cowboys. His campaign was affected by nagging injuries, though, so it could be of interest to see if the two-time Pro Bowler bounces back this season.

47. James Daniels, OG, Bears

High: 34 (Robinson)

Low: N/R

Last year: N/R

Before Daniels got injured in Week 5, he arguably looked like the Bears’ best offensive lineman.

The interior blocker out of Iowa brings athleticism to the table that makes him a great fit as a guard in Chicago’s outside-zone blocking scheme. He hasn’t been fully able to live up to expectations as a second-round pick yet, but the pieces are in place for him to take that next step in 2021 and earn himself a large contract extension at the end of the year.

46. Billy Turner, OT, Packers

High: 33 (Zeglinski)

Low: N/R

Last year: N/R

In his two seasons with the Packers, Turner has proven to be a solid, versatile option along the offensive line.

Playing at right guard in 2019, he made the switch to right tackle when Bryan Bulaga left in free agency. He even stepped in at left tackle when David Bakhtiari got injured and was able to hold his own. Though somewhat unspectacular, Turner is a reliable lineman who plays with a high motor and well-proportioned power.

45. Rashan Gary, EDGE, Packers

High: 32 (Obringer)

Low: N/R

Last year: N/R

With Preston Smith’s down year, Gary was able to find himself in a bigger role for the Packers in 2020.

The 2019 first-round pick finished with five sacks and saw his snap count percentage go from 24 percent to 44 percent in the jump to his second year in the NFL. Though Smith holds the starting job at edge rusher alongside Za’Darius Smith, it wouldn’t be shocking to see the freakishly athletic Gary break into the lineup sooner rather than later.

T-44. Christian Darrisaw, OT, Vikings; D’Andre Swift, RB, Lions

High: 30 (Darrisaw: Sunderbruch), 32 (Swift: Leming)

Low: N/R

Last year: Darrisaw: N/R, Swift: 41

The No. 44 spot is held down by two young, promising talents on the offensive side of the ball for their respective teams.

Many were surprised that Darrisaw fell all the way to No. 23, and luckily for the Vikings, they were able to select him after trading back from the No. 14 spot. The athletic, lengthy and powerful offensive tackle projects as a starter at left tackle for Minnesota. If he maximizes his full physical potential, he could be a book-end at the blind side for years to come.

Swift put together a solid season for the Lions in 2020, albeit primarily in a reserve role. He finished second on the team behind Adrian Peterson with 521 rushing yards, tallying 4.6 yards per carry and scoring 8 touchdowns. Save for his drop against the Bears, Swift also looked very good as a pass-catcher and showcased three-down ability. He projects to step into a bigger role in Year 2.

42. Teven Jenkins, OT, Bears

High: 29 (Sunderbruch)

Low: N/R

Last year: N/R

Despite being drafted after Darrisaw in the 2021 draft, Jenkins finds himself ahead of the Vikings tackle, and depending on one’s pre-draft evaluation of the Oklahoma State alumnus, that claim isn’t too far-fetched.

Jenkins is a powerful and nasty blocker with intriguing athletic traits and a high football IQ. His falling into the second round was surprising to many, and the Bears surely felt strong enough about his tremendous tape to trade up for him. He projects as the team’s starting left tackle with Charles Leno Jr. gone, and if Jenkins lives up to his potential, he can be a high-quality starter for their offensive line.

41. Jeff Okudah, CB, Lions

High: 24 (Salo)

Low: N/R

Last year: 34

The No. 3 overall pick last year, Okudah didn’t necessarily live up to expectations in 2020.

Dealing with nagging injuries throughout the course of the year, Okudah only played in nine games as a rookie, and even then, his play seemed impacted by a rough bill of health. He finished with just one interception and two pass deflections and wound up allowing completions on 77.4 percent of passes thrown his way. However, there’s no denying the elite physical ceiling the Ohio State alumnus brings. With a full offseason to recover and work out with the team, he could see major improvements in his game in 2021.