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WCG’s 2021 NFC North top 50: Nos. 40-31

In the second 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, this time ranking players 40-31.

Divisional Round - Los Angeles Rams v Green Bay Packers Photo by Dylan Buell/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.

Without further ado, let’s look at the players ranked 31 through 40 on Windy City Gridiron’s second annual consensus top 50 NFC North players.

  • T-50. Preston Smith, Jimmy Graham
  • T-49. Darnell Mooney, Robert Quinn
  • 47. James Daniels
  • 46. Billy Turner
  • 45. Rashan Gary
  • T-44. Christian Darrisaw, D’Andre Swift
  • 42. Teven Jenkins
  • 41. Jeff Okudah

T-40. Jamie Collins, LB, Lions; Bilal Nichols, DL, Bears

High: 25 (Collins: Obringer, Nichols: Zeglinski)

Low: N/R

Last year: Collins: 30, Nichols: N/R

The second range of players kicks off with two front-seven defenders, both of which finding themselves in different parts of their careers.

Collins signed with the Lions last offseason and put together a solid season, tallying 101 tackles and adding six pass deflections and three forced fumbles in the process. He’s near the half-end of his career at 32 years old and wasn’t as productive as a pass-rusher, but he still brings plenty of value to a defense.

Nichols, on the other hand, enters a contract year in 2021 after a quietly-solid 2020 campaign. He put up career-high numbers with 5 sacks, 40 total tackles, 7 tackles for a loss and 13 quarterback hits. Part of his season was spent playing out of position at nose tackle, so with a full season to kick outside, he could be an impact defender for the Bears this coming year.

38. Brian O’Neill, OT, Vikings

High: 23 (Infante, Leming)

Low: N/R

Last year: 45

O’Neill has flown under the radar outside of Minnesota, but he is one of a handful of intriguing, young players along their offensive line.

With a PFF grade that has improved each year over the course of his three years in the NFL, O’Neill has proven capable of being a solid starter at right tackle for the Vikings. Though unspectacular, he is still a reliable piece on a Vikings unit that is worth watching over the next couple of seasons.

37. Jared Goff, QB, Lions

High: 26 (Salo)

Low: N/R

Last year: N/R

Though a notable drop-off from the eighth-ranked Matthew Stafford last year, the Lions still have an experienced starting quarterback in Goff.

Goff is a two-time Pro Bowler whose play helped the Rams make it to the Super Bowl in the 2018 season. His play has dropped off since then, but he was able to stretch the field in Los Angeles with solid accuracy. Detroit’s quarterback situation may not be as dire as some expect in 2021, as Goff is still an upgrade to what the team had at the position prior to Stafford.

36. Tarik Cohen, RB, Bears

High: 24 (Duerrwaechter)

Low: N/R

Last year: N/R

Cohen was unranked last year and only played in three games in 2021. However, it seems his value was appreciated more this offseason after having seen the Bears’ offense struggle without him.

His value as a punt returner and chops as a pass-catcher make Cohen one of the more valuable and versatile change-of-pace scat backs in the NFL today. Though unlikely he’ll ever be a true bell-cow back, very few of those exist in today’s game. He brings plenty of value to Chicago’s offense, one way or another.

35. Darnell Savage, S, Packers

High: 26 (Duerrwaechter, Obringer)

Low: N/R

Last year: 36

The second-year Savage took a major step for the Packers’ secondary in 2020.

After finishing with two interceptions and five pass deflections as a rookie, Savage exploded with four interceptions and 12 pass deflections despite missing a game. He also allowed completions on just 56.4 percent of passes thrown his way. With another big season, it won’t be long until he finds himself becoming a household name among national circles.

34. Cody Whitehair, OG, Bears

High: 22 (Schmitz)

Low: N/R

Last year: 28

Whitehair missed the first two games of his NFL career in 2020, and the fact that it’s taken him five years to miss a single game shows how reliable he has been for the Bears.

Though he started off the year shaky at center, Whitehair was able to kick it into high gear once he was moved out to guard. The former Pro Bowler had a 60.4 PFF grade at center and an 84.7 grade at left guard, and it’s likely he will play at guard in 2021. A steady veteran along the interior, his value on an offensive line with multiple young prospects could go beyond the field.

33. Jaylon Johnson, CB, Bears

High: 16 (Robinson)

Low: N/R

Last year: 47

Before his shoulder issues flared up, Johnson looked to be an incredibly promising rookie for the Bears’ defense.

Johnson tied for sixth in the NFL with 15 pass deflections despite missing three games. He allowed fewer than 60 percent of passes thrown his way to be completions, and his stickiness in coverage made him a reliable option for Chicago along the boundary. With Kyle Fuller gone, his impact for their secondary remains incredibly important for the 2021 season and beyond.

32. Robert Tonyan, TE, Packers

High: 23 (Zeglinski)

Low: N/R (Obringer)

Last year: N/R

After his breakout 2020 season, Tonyan found himself on 10 of the 11 staff ballots this year.

Despite having just 14 catches in his NFL career before last year, Tonyan exploded with 11 touchdowns, tying Travis Kelce for the lead among tight ends. A reliable possession receiver with strong hands and good route-running ability, he put together a fantastic season that has him projected in an important role for the Packers in the passing game going forward.

31. Penei Sewell, OT, Lions

High: 21 (Salo)

Low: N/R

Last year: N/R

Last year, Jeff Okudah was the highest-ranked NFC North rookie at No. 34. This year, the Lions’ rookie finds himself even higher, and he’s not even the high-ranked rookie in the division!

Sewell is one of the most highly-touted offensive line prospects to enter the draft over the last decade. His combination of size, strength, technical ability, football IQ and upside gives him perennial Pro Bowl potential at the next level. He projects as an immediate starter at right tackle for Detroit and figures to give them a reliable starter along the offensive line for years.