Projected Starters  

 

NFC North projected starters: Will Bears exceed expectations?

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Gregg Rosenthal will project post-draft starting lineups for all 32 teams because he needed another way to annoy his wife. The NFC North is below:

Chicago Bears

QB: Mike Glennon
RB: Jordan Howard
WR: Cameron Meredith
WR: Kevin White
WR: Kendall Wright
TE: Dion Sims
LT: Charles Leno
LG: Josh Sitton
C: Cody Whitehair
RG: Kyle Long
RT: Bobby Massie

DE: Akiem Hicks
DT: Eddie Goldman
DE: Jaye Howard
OLB: Leonard Floyd
ILB: Nick Kwiatkoski
ILB: Jerrell Freeman
OLB: Pernell McPhee
CB: Prince Amukamara
CB: Marcus Cooper
S: Adrian Amos
S: Quintin Demps

» The Bears' starting lineup is remarkably settled for a team that won three games last season. There are some clearly defined strengths. The interior offensive line boasts three Pro Bowl candidates and the front seven on defense is muscular. If football is truly won in the trenches, this team will be better than expected.

» It's just that the problem areas on the roster are big problems. The Bears threw a lot of money at replacement-level starters in the secondary because installing replacement-level starters like Prince Amukamara and Quintin Demps represented a big step up.

» Mike Glennon's chances of starting all 16 games decreased drastically when the Bears traded up to draft Mitchell Trubisky, but it would be stunning if Glennon's $16 million was sitting on the bench in Week 1.

» It's bizarre that a 24-year-old undrafted former quarterback (Cameron Meredith) is the surest thing among the receiver group. Meredith has shown far more No. 1 receiver potential than Kevin White, drafted No. 7 overall in 2015. Kendall Wright was a headache in Tennessee but has the potential to help the Bears in the slot.

» The lackluster wideouts will be supported by plenty of two-tight-end sets, with Zach Miller and second-round pick Adam Shaheen supporting surprise free-agent splurge Dion Sims.

» The best chance for the Bears to be relevant resides in the front seven. Leonard Floyd and Pernell McPhee can be a great edge-rushing tandem. The linebacker group will look even better when Danny Trevathan returns from injury. Akiem Hicks had a quietly excellent season in 2016, and there aren't many nose tackles left like Eddie Goldman.

Detroit Lions

QB: Matthew Stafford
RB: Ameer Abdullah
WR: Marvin Jones
WR: Golden Tate
WR: Kenny Golladay
TE: Eric Ebron
LT: Taylor Decker
LG: Graham Glasgow
C: Travis Swanson
RG: T.J. Lang
RT: Ricky Wagner

DE: Ezekiel Ansah
DT: Haloti Ngata
DT: A'Shawn Robinson
DE: Kerry Hyder
OLB: Tahir Whitehead
MLB: Jarrad Davis
CB: Darius Slay
CB: Teez Tabor
CB: Nevin Lawson
S: Tavon Wilson
S: Glover Quin

» The Lions barely touched two positions that figured to be high on their offseason wish list: running back and defensive end.

» That leaves Ameer Abdullah as the unquestioned starter in the backfield, and he has the talent to excel. Still, a veteran signing, for the sake of insurance, feels inevitable.

» Kerry Hyder was the team's best pass rusher last season, a trend that Ziggy Ansah's agent hopes doesn't continue. Hyder is the favorite to start opposite Ansah, although that spot is up for grabs. Detroit was ranked No. 28 in Pro Football Focus' team pass-rush rankings last season, and it's hard see a path for the Lions to reach "average."

» General manager Bob Quinn's first draft in Detroit went well enough last year, as it instantly fortified the team's offensive line. Quinn could desperately use an even bigger score from his 2017 class in the form of middle linebacker Jarrad Davis and cornerback Teez Tabor. Davis is a lock to start. While Tabor has an uphill battle to pass incumbent Nevin Lawson, this is a defense that desperately needs more juice. In my scenario, free-agent pickup D.J. Hayden would be an expensive fourth cornerback.

» The Lions' best hope for staving off decline comes from that offensive line. If T.J. Lang and Ricky Wagner look as good on the field as they do on paper, this could be one of the better groups in football.

» Kenny Golladay could potentially be the team's third rookie "starter" as a slot receiver -- if all goes well. As with the running back position, a veteran addition here wouldn't be a surprise if the coaching staff doesn't love what it sees in OTAs.

Green Bay Packers

QB: Aaron Rodgers
RB: Ty Montgomery
WR: Jordy Nelson
WR: Davante Adams
WR: Randall Cobb
TE: Martellus Bennett
LT: David Bakhtiari
LG: Lane Taylor
C: Corey Linsley
RG: Jahri Evans
RT: Bryan Bulaga

DE: Mike Daniels
DT: Kenny Clark
DE: Dean Lowry
OLB: Clay Matthews
ILB: Joe Thomas
OLB: Nick Perry
CB: Kevin King
CB: Davon House
CB: LaDarius Gunter
S: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
S: Morgan Burnett

» The Packers' cornerback group is unlike any other in the league. The top five players could wind up in almost any order on the Week 1 depth chart, and it wouldn't be a surprise. That includes 2015 first- and second-round picks Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins. Kevin King, the No. 33 pick in April, is the safest bet to start. The entire group could be anywhere from sneaky good to sneaky season-killing.

» Running back Jamaal Williams, the presumptive backup to Ty Montgomery, is one of the more important fourth-round rookies in football. If Williams doesn't look good in the offseason, the Packers should bring in a more experienced back.

» The best possible addition for the Packers' defense would be the return to form of Clay Matthews. Pair the old version of Matthews with Nick Perry on the edge and Mike Daniels on the interior line, and Green Bay will be tough to block.

» Only Daniels topped 600 snaps among Green Bay defensive linemen last season, so none of them will truly play "starter" snaps.

» Joe Thomas is a stand-in for Green Bay's underwhelming inside linebacker group, which includes Blake Martinez and Jake Ryan. The trio rotated snaps last season and didn't offer much playmaking.

» It's hard to argue with the performance of the offensive line last season, but a guard combination of Lane Taylor and late-period Jahri Evans feels like a far cry from the Josh Sitton-T.J. Lang combination the team boasted at this time a year ago.

Minnesota Vikings

QB: Sam Bradford
RB: Dalvin Cook
WR: Stefon Diggs
WR: Adam Thielen
WR: Laquon Treadwell
TE: Kyle Rudolph
LT: Riley Reiff
LG: Alex Boone
C: Pat Elflein
RG: Joe Berger
RT: Mike Remmers

DE: Danielle Hunter
DT: Linval Joseph
DT: Datone Jones
DE: Everson Griffen
OLB: Anthony Barr
ILB: Eric Kendricks
CB: Xavier Rhodes
CB: Trae Waynes
CB: Terence Newman
S: Harrison Smith
S: Andrew Sendejo

» Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur and Sam Bradford have worked together under three different head coaches in three different cities. Their best season together came in 2016 in Minnesota, but no one seemed to notice, because the rest of the Vikings collapsed around them. Their wandering, star-crossed story is the "When Harry Met Sally" of short passing attacks.

» Laquon Treadwell gets the nod as the No. 3 receiver by default. Free-agent pickup Michael Floyd is facing a potential suspension and can't even join the team until June because of legal problems.

» The Lions and Vikings both remodeled their offensive lines this offseason. I like Detroit's overhaul better. Minnesota's changes were necessary, yet they also come at the most high-leverage positions: both tackle spots and center. Coach Mike Zimmer usually brings his rookies along slowly, but he won't have that luxury with Pat Elflein, taken in the third round.

» Second-round pick Dalvin Cook could wait longer, considering the presence of free-agent pickup Latavius Murray and third-down back Jerick McKinnon. But Cook's complete skill set gives him the best bet to eventually lead the team in snaps.

» For all the attention the offense received last year, Minnesota's mediocre defense was as big a factor in the team's collapse. The defensive line is a strength, but there is a risk that Danielle Hunter is the only ascending player of the group, which includes 10-year veteran Brian Robison. Former first-round pick Sharrif Floyd's status is uncertain because of knee problems.

» That said, there is depth at every level of the defense. The components that had a lot of folks loving the Vikings before last season are still in place.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

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