The 2023 NFL off-season is winding down, and with the regular season on the horizon, what better time than now to check out the offensive landscape of the NFC North? There have been plenty of changes in the division, headlined by the departure of quarterback Aaron Rodgers. With three of the four teams undergoing drastic changes this off-season, how much of an impact will that have on the eventual division winner?
In the first installment of this series, we'll break down each NFC North offensive position on the depth chart to see where each team stands. Considering the number of shakeups this off-season, this could prove to shift the winds in the division.
1. Kirk Cousins (Minnesota Vikings)
The biggest impact with the departure of Rodgers will be at the quarterback position, where each team's signal caller slides up one spot. Although Cousins has never been an "elite" quarterback, he has consistently performed as an above-average player in Minnesota. It always helps to have an elite receiver, but the lack of respect Cousins has received during his career has always been confusing to me. This will be a contract year for the soon-to-be 35-year-old veteran, which could bring out a higher level of play. The Vikings will have an interesting decision to make at the end of the year. Some of that could revolve around the development of rookie Hendon Hooker.
2. Jared Goff (Detroit Lions)
Goff remains one of the bigger surprises to me during the 2022 regular season. The former Los Angeles Rams signal caller was viewed as a "throw-in" during the Matt Stafford deal during the 2022 off-season but has proven to be much more than that. Not only has he kept the trust of the front office and coaching staff, but he was also statistically impressive most of last season. Goff ranked in the Top 10 in yards-per-game, touchdowns, and quarterback rating. He led a Lions offense that ranked fifth in DVOA, fifth in points-per-game, and fourth in yards-per-game. If anything, you can make an argument for Goff over Cousins based on last season alone. I lean on overall track record, which is why he comes in second.
3. Justin Fields (Chicago Bears)
Despite a rocky first two professional seasons, Fields appears to be in a prime position for the patented Year 3 breakout that Jalen Hurts and Josh Allen have recently experienced. Make no mistake, Fields has to play better as a whole, but a quality supporting staff around him should dramatically help that out. Fields will be entering the second year of the same offense for the first time in his NFL career. He'll also have an improved offensive line and drastically improved pass catchers. We've all seen what he can do as a runner. We've seen the arm talent. Now it's up to him to put it all together and become the player many in Chicago hope he can be. Don't be surprised to see Fields at No. 1 on this list at year's end.
4. Jordan Love (Green Bay Packers)
When was the last time you looked at a list of quarterbacks and saw "Green Bay Packers" attached to the last name on the list? It's been a while, considering the reign of terror that was Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers lasted a full 30 years. Now enters Love. Boasting just one start in three professional seasons, there will be plenty to learn about the former first-rounder in 2023. The talent is there, as well as the coaching. The question is, can he outperform expectations? Green Bay says they are "confident" with him, but their actions (declining his fifth-year option and giving him a low-risk two-year extension) say differently. Who can blame them? This is unfamiliar territory for a franchise that has been blessed by a pair of Hall of Fame quarterbacks in back-to-back tries.
1. Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon (Packers)
For what the Packers lack at the quarterback position, they make up for at running back. Jones and Dillon are one of the best one-two punches in the league. Jones is an explosive yet versatile runner who has been a valued asset to both Green Bay and any fantasy football manager out there. Dillon has come into his own, bringing a physical style but with some surprising versatility. It seems like Jones has been on the fritz (due to his contract status) for the past two years, but a reliable running game is paramount for an inexperienced quarterback.
2. Jahmyr Gibbs and David Montgomery (Lions)
These next two groups are tough. While I firmly believe both teams improved their running back rooms this past off-season, I have to lean on the combo of Gibbs (draft status) and Montgomery in the No. 2 spot. Gibbs, albeit over-drafted, should be a great fit in Detroit. He's an explosive runner with plenty of versatility. He should be exactly what the Lions hoped they would get from D'Andre Swift. Montgomery is a runner that many NFC North fans are familiar with. While he lacks runaway speed and overall burst, he's a tough back who is reliable as both a pass catcher and a willing blocker.
3. Khalil Herbert, D'Onta Foreman, and Roschon Johnson (Bears)
You can look at these top 3 names and put them in whichever order suits you best. The reality is quite simple here. All three backs will rotate, and this should be a true committee, at least until one of them separates themselves as the best overall fit. Herbert has plenty of explosion and quality vision. His biggest issue is everything else. He needs to improve as a pass blocker and become a more effective pass catcher. Foreman has enjoyed back-to-back outstanding seasons coming in relief of two of the best runners in the game. Foreman brings versatility and surprising explosion for such a big, physical runner. Johnson is the crown jewel in most Bears fans' eyes. It might take a bit for him to earn meaningful snaps, but it would not shock me to see a similar path to Jordan Howard by the end of this season.
4. Alexander Mattison, Myles Gaskin, and Ty Chandler (Vikings)
Gone are the days of Dalvin Cook in a Vikings uniform. It just seems weird to even think about, doesn't it? Some believe he has lost a step, but color me confused on why they just couldn't wait to let him walk. Also, why did they wait so long? Mattison is a quality runner who has filled in admirably for Cook when he was hurt. Now, he'll step into a much bigger role. Gaskin was recently added in free agency after being cut in Miami. He should see a quality role as a key depth piece. Chandler likely slots in as the second option after a strong training camp and preseason. This is an unproven group with a limited ceiling despite their love for Mattison as a featured back.
1. Justin Jefferson, Jordan Addison, K.J Osborn, and Jalen Nailor (Vikings)
Ranking this group came as much more of a challenge than I had originally expected. A quality argument can be made for any of the Top 3 teams to hold the No. 1 spot, but if I'm starting a team tomorrow and have these four to choose from, give me the best receiver in the league over any of them. It's true that Minnesota lacks proven depth, but Addison should be a nice addition. More than anything, the depth concerns me the most here.
2. D.J. Moore, Darnell Mooney, Chase Claypool, and Tyler Scott (Bears)
It's amazing what adding Moore does to this entire group. Heading into the off-season, we all knew Chicago needed a true No. 1. It was just a matter of how they would get it. Moore fell into their laps thanks to that No. 1 overall pick, and because of that, it pushed everyone down a peg. Mooney (assuming he's healthy) slides back into being that high-end second or third option. Claypool has a high ceiling and an outstanding training camp, but he will need to prove he wasn't a two-year wonder in Pittsburgh. You could make an argument for Equanimeous St. Brown as the team's No. 4, but by all accounts, Scott has made a strong first impression heading into the preseason. Depth should not be a problem for a group that ranked dead last in most metrics just a season ago.
3. Amon-Ra St. Brown, Jameson Williams, Marvin Jones Jr., and Josh Reynolds (Lions)
I waffled back and forth on whether I wanted to rank Detroit or Chicago in these two spots. Frankly, had Williams not been suspended for the first six games this season, I might have placed the Lions at No. 2. St. Brown has been an outstanding mid-round find in Detroit. Jones is back, and Reynolds only adds to their quality depth. All in all, this is a quality group that might lack a true top-end name but will likely outlast many other teams once injuries hit in the middle of the season. Williams remains the biggest X-factor in how high their ceiling is.
4. Christian Watson, Romeo Doubs, Jayden Reed, and Malik Heath (Packers)
Over the past few years, the Packers have let a lot of their offensive firepower walk out the door. First, it was Davante Adams, then Marquez Valdez-Scantling, and this year it was Allen Lazard and Rodgers. The good news? They have a young group of pass catchers that should bring some cautious optimism. Watson found his stride (and the end zone… a lot) later in the season. Doubs impressed during the preseason. Reed is an interesting addition, as well. This group has a lot of youth and upside, but there are just too many unknowns to put them any higher.
1. T.J. Hockenson and Josh Oliver (Vikings)
Last year around the trade deadline, the Vikings decided to make a deal with the enemy. Minnesota swapped a pair of picks to land their top tight end. Hockenson's NFL career didn't start as impressive as some had hoped, but he's still a good player and set career highs in 2022. Oliver's three-year, $21 million free-agent deal in March was a head-scratcher, but he does bring good value as a blocker with some untapped upside as a pass catcher. Detroit grabs the top spot because they have the best tight end in the division.
2. Cole Kmet and Robert Tonyan (Bears)
Chicago's new regime has not been shy about running players out that they did not bring in. It appears that Kmet is going to be the first one of those players from the old guard to get a new extension. The former Notre Dame product can be frustrating to watch, but after two quality seasons, he's becoming an above-average player at a very tough position. Tonyan will need to prove that he can regain his old form, as 2022 was a rough one. All in all, it's hard not to love the floor of this group; you just have to question the ceiling.
3. Luke Musgrave and Tucker Kraft (Packers)
"Out with the old and in with the new" has been a trend for Green Bay, especially on the offensive side of the ball. The Packers let both Marcedes Lewis and Tonyan walk in free agency but wasted little time in April's draft replacing them with a pair of high-upside names in an extremely deep tight end group. Rookie tight ends are notorious for struggling, but this was more of a long-term play that should pay off in a few years. It's hard not to love the ceiling of these two.
4. Sam LaPorta and Brock Wright (Lions)
The Lions found a way to upgrade a pair of draft picks, save some future money, and go right back to Iowa well to find their new tight end. LaPorta was a DraftNik favorite coming out. He comes from a school that is producing players at a position like it's a factory. Much like in Green Bay, this just might take some time to produce a good product. Wright is also an interesting player that should see an expanded role in 2023. All in all, there's just nothing proven about this group, and the upside isn't as high as the spot above them.
1. Detroit Lions
The Lions have rapidly risen through the ranks over the past few years due to their quality drafting in the trenches. At one point, Detroit was without many options on the offensive line. Now, they are slightly ahead of Green Bay for the top spot within the division. Four of their five starts are draft picks over the past seven seasons. Detroit has done an outstanding job building and developing its starting five in that time. Depth is a little more of a question mark, but I do believe that they have the best starting five of the group.
2. Green Bay Packers
If there's one thing Love truly has going for him, it's the fact that (when healthy) he'll have one of the better offensive lines in the league. Green Bay has been incredible at developing homegrown talent in the trenches. They've also done a nice job retaining their best talent in the process. Not only will their line consist of multiple plus-starters, but their depth is also in a good spot due to their ability to accumulate and develop late-round gems. The only real question here is how long All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari can stay healthy and whether or not this will be his last year in Green Bay.
3. Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings, like the Bears, have had their fair share of issues along the offensive line in recent history. Their ability to draft and develop has improved, but it was not enough to get them any higher than No. 3 on this list. All five starters are homegrown, with all of them being taken within the first two rounds of the last five drafts. Depth is another question here. Even much more than Detroit. Even so, this unit should do well enough to keep their offense moving the ball consistently. Hard not to like their combo at the starting tackle spots.
4. Chicago Bears
Some may disagree, but heading into this past off-season, I felt the most important addition(s) to the team would come on the offensive line. Yes, Fields needed better receivers, but his offensive line was horrid in 2022. Especially in true pass sets. Similar could be said in his rookie year, too. The good news? The Bears will have two new starting offensive linemen that they spent large resources on. The bad news? Two of their projected started will be playing in a brand new spot, compared to where they were just a year ago. Teven Jenkins is also expected to miss at least the first month of the season at left guard. Depth is a concern here, especially at tackle. The development of this group could be the biggest factor in Fields' Year 3 jump. For now, they'll stay at the bottom until they prove they can play at a higher level.
What are your thoughts on these rankings?
I'll have the defensive rankings out tomorrow.