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NFC North projected starters: Familiar challenge awaits Rodgers

Gregg Rosenthal will project post-draft starting lineups for all 32 teams, because there's no better way to celebrate the arrival of spring.


» I'm drinking my colleague Adam Rank's David Montgomery-flavored Kool-Aid. Tarik Cohen should still have a huge role in the offense, but there's little reason to think Cohen will top 500 snaps if he didn't do it last season while playing alongside Jordan Howard. The Bears traded up for Montgomery in the third round of this year's draft because he's a three-down back who fits head coach Matt Nagy's offense like a full beard fits Rank.

» Cohen could essentially be listed as a starter, as could second tight end Adam Shaheen. With Cordarrelle Patterson also getting into the mix as a gadget player, the Bears could easily have four wideouts, two running backs and two tight ends top 400 snaps in a spread-the-wealth offense.

» The Bears have said they might flip the positions of Pro Bowl center Cody Whitehair and second-year guard James Daniels. That move aside, this is a very stable line that improved with better coaching last season. It's a different group, however, when Kyle Long isn't healthy.

» Buster Skrine (replacing Bryce Callahan) and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (replacing Adrian Amos) are the only new starters on the best defense in football. Losing coordinator Vic Fangio to the Broncos is a far bigger concern than the turnover in the secondary.

» If there's a weakness on the defense, it's the outside linebacker spot opposite Mack. If Fangio couldn't get Leonard Floyd to produce, it's probably not going to happen.

» Only two starters are listed on the defensive line because the team rotates snaps so much opposite Akiem Hicks, but it's a strong, deep group up front.

» The Bears are one of the few teams left in football that leave two inside linebackers on the field nearly every snap. Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan make it work.

Biggest change from a year ago: Aside from expectations, this is largely the same group as a year ago. Now we just have proof Nagy is the real deal.


» Two tight ends are listed as starters because the Lions didn't draft T.J. Hockenson No. 8 overall and pay Jesse James $10.5 million guaranteed to sit them on the bench. Expect them both to play more snaps than No. 3 receiver Danny Amendola.

» The two tight end sets should complement a running game built around Kerryon Johnson, with quality backups in Theo Riddick and C.J. Anderson.

» On paper, this offensive line looks pretty strong outside of the right guard position. Last year's front five just didn't play that well together. Oday Aboushi gets the first crack at right guard because he's played under new coordinator Darrell Bevell before.

» Matthew Stafford is a good symbol for this entire offense. Each position group looks solid, possibly better than average. But is there championship potential?

» Coach Matt Patricia will be judged largely on whether his defense improves in Year 2. There are more pieces for him to use up front with Da'Shawn Hand, Trey Flowers and A'Shawn Robinson all able to rotate and play multiple roles. Lions fans shouldn't expect Flowers to be a flashy edge rusher because that wasn't what made him great in New England.

» The Lions could really benefit if rookie second-round pick Jahlani Tavai steps into a role immediately over Christian Jones, who struggled in 2018.

» Justin Coleman is a quality addition as a slot cornerback, but the secondary still appears to be a piece or two away. If nothing else, Patricia has a lot of options to choose from off the bench.

Biggest change from a year ago: Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn are a lot closer to realizing their defensive vision.


» Aaron Rodgers can make this work, but this might be the most unproven group of skill-position players he's had around him since he became the team's starter. It's almost like the Packers' brass wants to prove it can win offensively with the same players former head coach Mike McCarthy had.

» The offensive line should be better after drafting Elgton Jenkins in the second round. Giving Billy Turner big money ($9 million guaranteed) in free agency was a big surprise.

» The boom-or-bust nature of the offense extends to the coaching staff. First-year head coach Matt LaFleur is a mystery because of his limited track record as a coordinator and there are some indications he's fighting uphill battles organizationally.

» Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown were productive for rookie receivers selected on Day 3 of the draft (Valdes-Scantling went in Round 5; St. Brown went in Round 6). They need to make a big leap this season to become trusted core offensive players, although Geronimo Allison appears to be the early favorite for the No. 2 receiver spot.

» The Packers have a terrific starting defensive line and go four deep at the edge rusher position with first-rounder Rashan Gary and Kyler Fackrell coming off the bench. Preston Smith and Za'Darius Smith may have big contracts, but they seem unlikely to top 800 snaps with such solid backups. That's a positive for the Packers.

» Anything less than a top-10 defense would be an organizational failure because they've put so many resources into that side of the ball and reportedly pushed LaFleur to retain coordinator Mike Pettine (which was smart).

» The depth on defense extends to the secondary, where Tramon Williams is sharing time at cornerback with three recent high picks: Jaire Alexander, Kevin King and Josh Jackson. Another recent second-round pick, Josh Jones, looks likely to be displaced by rookie first-round safety Darnell Savage.

Biggest change from a year ago: Premium free-agency dollars and draft picks continue to be poured into making what's been a mediocre defense shine.


» This is one of the better rosters in all of football, but the receiving options would be thin if they traded veteran tight end Kyle Rudolph, who remains in a contract-negotiation standstill with the team. Rookie second-round pick Irv Smith figures to get playing time, in part because the options at No. 3 receiver (Laquon Treadwell and a gang of seventh-round rookies/undrafted players) are not inspiring. An injury to Stefon Diggs or Adam Thielen would be devastating.

» The offensive line added first-round pick Garrett Bradbury and journeyman guard Josh Kline to a group that was woeful a year ago while struggling with a lot of injuries. If Riley Reiff and Pat Elflein can play 16 games together on the left side, it doesn't look like a bad group on paper.

» Kirk Cousins and the coaching staff can make the O-line look better by getting the ball out of his hand faster. The offense is changing again under Gary Kubiak, but hopefully another season in Minnesota helps Cousins be more decisive.

» I'm excited to see what Dalvin Cook can do another year removed from ACL surgery, especially with Kubiak re-working the running game. Even with third-round pick Alexander Mattison behind him, Cook is set up for monster production.

» It is truly remarkable in today's NFL to have as much continuity as Mike Zimmer's defense. The only new starter this season is Shamar Stephen, who's replacing Sheldon Richardson but is no stranger to this D having spent the first four seasons of his career with Minnesota before a one-year stint in Seattle. Safety Anthony Harris was a breakout player down the stretch as a starter last year and the rest of the group has multiple years of starting experience together. This is Year 2 of the Kirk Cousins Experiment, but this should be Year 5 of Zimmer piloting a top-10 scoring defense.

Biggest change from a year ago: For one of the most stable rosters in football, two new starters on the offensive line could be the key to Cousins' second season with the Vikings.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

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