NFL North Projected Starters

NFL Preview: NFC North projected starters: Bears on the rise? #Packers #Lions #Vikings

By Gregg Rosenthal, Around The NFL Editor

Minnesota Vikings

» First-round pick Laquon Treadwell should replace the departed Mike Wallace as a starter, but the rest of the receiver group remains mostly unchanged. That’s why we don’t expect Cordarrelle Patterson to get cut. He is still helpful on special teams. Charles Johnson lingers on the fringes.

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Minnesota Vikings

Vikings Projected Starters
Offense Defense
QB: Teddy Bridgewater DE: Everson Griffen
RB: Adrian Peterson DT: Linval Joseph
WR1: Stefon Diggs DT: Sharrif Floyd
WR2: Laquon Treadwell DE: Danielle Hunter
WR3 Jarius Wright LB: Anthony Barr
TE: Kyle Rudolph LB: Eric Kendricks
LT: Matt Kalil CB1: Xavier Rhodes
LG: Alex Boone CB2: Trae Waynes
C: John Sullivan CB3: Captain Munnerlyn
RG: Brandon Fusco S: Harrison Smith
RT: Andre Smith S: Michael Griffin

» This exercise is a prediction of what will happen, not a snapshot of the current depth chart. Last year’s No. 11 overall pick Trae Waynes is definitely behind Terence Newman at the moment, but Newman is 38 years old. Waynes came along slowly last year but this isn’t out of the ordinary for coach Mike Zimmer and cornerbacks. It’s time for Waynes to play.

» Zimmer’s history of slow-playing rookies is why I kept second-round cornerback Mackensie Alexander behind Captain Munnerlyn at the nickel cornerback role.

» Zimmer entered the offseason wanting competition on the offensive line and he’s got it. Second year pro T.J. Clemmings will challenge Matt Kalil at left tackle. Andre Smith and Phil Loadholt will battle at right tackle. We give Smith the edge because Loadholt is coming off a serious injury.

» We moved Danielle Hunter into a starting job over incumbent Brian Robison. Hunter flashed serious skills as a rookie and Robinson could be more effective in a situational role at 33 years old.

» Long a problem spot for the Vikings, the team is suddenly looking good at linebacker. Anthony Barr is an ascendent top 100 player. Chad Greenway and Emmanuel Lamur figure to battle for snaps, but won’t play every down. Eric Kendricks played well at middle linebacker but could also move outside. The return of Audie Cole and the drafting of Kentrell Brothers in the fifth round gives Minnesota great depth.

Green Bay Packers

Green Bay Packers

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Packers Projected Starters
Offense Defense
QB: Aaron Rodgers DE: Datone Jones
RB: Eddie Lacy NT: Kenny Clark
WR1: Jordy Nelson DE: Mike Daniels
WR2: Randall Cobb OLB: Clay Matthews
WR3 Jeff Janis ILB: Blake Martinez
TE: Jared Cook ILB: Sam Barrington
LT: David Bakhtiari OLB: Julius Peppers
LG: Josh Sitton CB1: Sam Shields
C: Corey Linsley CB2: Damarious Randall
RG: T.J. Lang S: Morgan Burnett
RT: Bryan Bulaga S: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix

» Leaving Jeff Janis on the bench is a mistake coach Mike McCarthy won’t keep making — we think. Jordy Nelson‘s return and Janis’ ascent could leave Davante Adams struggling for snaps and possibly a roster spot. The Packers also have Ty Montgomery returning at a crowded position.

» Second-round pick Jason Spriggs looks like a swing tackle, but it wouldn’t be a shock if he challenged David Bakhtiari for a starting job eventually.

» Rookie linebacker Blake Martinez might wind up earning starter snaps replacing Barrington on passing downs. The fourth-round pick has more of a passing down skill set than Jake Ryan or Sam Barrington.

» The Packers plan to move Clay Matthews back to the outside, certainly on passing downs. That doesn’t mean he’ll be just lining up at the same spot every play — that’s wasting his impressive versatility.

» Drafting Kenny Clark in the first round was a huge need for general manager Ted Thompson. After B.J. Raji‘s retirement and Mike Pennel‘s suspension, they needed someone who could play right away.

Detroit Lions

Detroit Lions

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Lions Projected Starters
Offense Defense
QB: Matthew Stafford DE: Ezekiel Ansah
RB: Ameer Abdullah DT: Haloti Ngata
WR1: Golden Tate DT: Tyrunn Walker
WR2: Marvin Jones DE: Devin Taylor
WR3 T.J. Jones ILB: Tahir Whitehead
TE: Eric Ebron LB: DeAndre Levy
LT: Taylor Decker LB: Josh Bynes
LG: Laken Tomlinson CB1: Darius Slay
C: Travis Swanson CB2: Nevin Lawson
RG: Larry Warford S: Glover Quin
RT: Riley Reiff S: Rafael Bush

» The more I looked at this roster, the worse it looked. There’s an easy argument for none of the position groups being above league average. There are some great star players (Ezekiel Ansah, Golden Tate, DeAndre Levy, Darius Slay) but there are huge roster roles. Defensive end is very thin. Cornerback and safety are worse; each position has one reliable player. There are big questions at offensive tackle and running back.

» The Lions‘ brass likes Nevin Lawson, a fourth-round pick from 2014 who filled in with nine starts last season. But it was still surprising to see the position so ignored this offseason. Rafael Bush has been injury prone and one dimensional in his career and is on his third team in as many years. Fourth-round rookie Miles Killebrew could wind up starting.

» First-round pick Taylor Decker and Riley Reiff should start at the two offensive tackle spots. It’s up to Decker to show he is a better option on the blind side, which would push Reiff to the right.

» T.J. Jones and Jeremy Kerley will battle for the No. 3 receiver spot. Even at receiver, where the Lions have two quality starters, there are a lot of question marks.

Chicago Bears

Chicago Bears

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Bears Projected Starters
Offense Defense
QB: Jay Cutler DE: Mitch Unrein
RB: Jeremy Langford NT: Eddie Goldman
WR1: Alshon Jeffery DE: Akiem Hicks
WR2: Kevin White OLB: Pernell McPhee
WR3 Eddie Royal ILB: Danny Trevathan
TE: Zach Miller ILB: Jerrell Freeman
LT: Charles Leno OLB: Lamarr Houston
LG: Cody Whitehair CB1: Tracy Porter
C: Hroniss Grasu CB2: Kyle Fuller
RG: Kyle Long S: Adrian Amos
RT:Bobby Massie S: Harold Jones-Quartey

» Jeremy Langford is a solid bet to start at running back, but he doesn’t have the profile of a primary running back. Fifth-round pick Jordan Howard is a sleeper to get a lot of snaps.

» The Bears were the anti-Lions in this exercise. The more I looked at their roster, the more I liked it. If Kevin White is healthy, the Bears have a terrific wideout corps. The offensive line makes more sense with Kyle Long at guard and the team added pieces on the interior with a key draft pick (Cody Whitehair) and free-agent pickups for depth.

» The defense was among the league’s youngest last year and looks much deeper now. No. 9 overall pick Leonard Floyd isn’t pegged as a starter, but he should play a ton on passing downs. Lamarr Houston can move inside on those downs for flexibility. Third-round pick Jonathan Bullard could also get in the pass-rushing mix. Eddie Goldman and Danny Trevathan are underrated starters. Pernell McPhee is a quiet star.

» If the Bears have a fatal flaw, it would be their secondary. They are relying too much on Tracy Porter to repeat a surprising 2015 season and the safety position is very inexperienced.

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