Projected Starters

NFC North projected starters: Lions a playoff contender in 2020?

With the 2020 NFL Draft and most of free agency in the rearview, Gregg Rosenthal will project starting lineups for all 32 teams because that's his idea of fun. Check out the NFC North breakdowns below.

CHICAGO BEARS

Table inside Article
OFFENSE PLAYER DEFENSE PLAYER
QB Nick Foles DE Akiem Hicks
RB David Montgomery DT Eddie Goldman
WR Allen Robinson OLB Khalil Mack
WR Anthony Miller ILB Danny Trevathan
TE Cole Kmet ILB Roquan Smith
TE Jimmy Graham OLB Robert Quinn
LT Charles Leno Jr. CB Kyle Fuller
LG James Daniels CB Jaylon Johnson
C Cody Whitehair CB Buster Skrine
RG Germain Ifedi S Eddie Jackson
RT Bobby Massie S Tashaun Gipson
  • A shortened offseason of practices shouldn't hurt Nick Foles in his competition with Mitchell Trubisky. Foles knows coach Matt Nagy's offense from their time together in Kansas City. More importantly, Foles has played at a higher level than Trubisky has ever displayed. 
  • David Montgomery and Tarik Cohen disappointed as a running back tandem last year. Montgomery doesn't create a lot of yards after contact, but he ran with more confidence, making defenders miss late in the season. He'll get plenty of touches.
  • I'll give Ted Ginn the slight edge over Javon Wims and Cordarrelle Patterson for snaps as the third receiver, but I doubt any of them will play "starter" snaps. Patterson is primarily a special teamer, playing only 202 snaps last year despite all the injuries in Chicago.
  • Instead of listing three receivers, both Jimmy Graham and do-everything rookie Cole Kmet get the nod as tight end starters. Nagy hasn't used a ton of two-tight-end sets in Chicago, but Kmet's skill set and Graham's salary should get them on the field together. 
  • The Bears felt great about their offensive line after 2018, bringing the same crew back last season. They still have mostly the same group, but no longer feel so good. Nagy expressed confidence that tackles Bobby Massie and Charles Leno Jr. will bounce back after the Bears fell from 11th to 25th in PFF's overall O-line rankings last year
  • The defensive front seven is essentially the same as a year ago, except with Robert Quinn replacing Leonard Floyd as an edge rusher. That's an upgrade if Quinn stays healthy, which he's struggled to do for much of his career. If Quinn gets hurt, there's not much behind him. 
  • The interior defensive line depth is better than at outside linebacker. The Bears love Roy Robertson-Harris and Bilal Nichols rotating opposite Akiem Hicks, who was sorely missed when he missed 11 games with an elbow injury last season. 
  • The Bears re-signed Danny Trevathan this offseason, indicating they will remain one of the few teams that plays two inside linebackers nearly every down. It's a big year for Roquan Smith. Bears fans and coaches swear by him, but his PFF ranking last year was in the bottom half of inside linebackers, matching a second season without many standout moments. 
  • Chicago drafted cornerback Jaylon Johnson in the second round to start sooner than later opposite Kyle Fuller. There isn't much competition with Prince Amukamara gone, with former Steeler Artie Burns being one candidate for snaps. 
  • The Bears fell from No. 1 (by a lot) in defensive efficiency in 2018 to No. 8 last year, per Football Outsiders. It's still a talented group, but 2018 was lightning in a bottle, rather than a realistic goal for the 2020 Bears under defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano. 
  • The quickest route to improvement is probably through Chicago's top defensive players (Khalil Mack and Eddie Jackson) playing their best after relative down years.

DETROIT LIONS

Table inside Article
OFFENSE PLAYER DEFENSE PLAYER
QB Matthew Stafford DE Trey Flowers
RB D'Andre Swift DL Da'Shawn Hand
WR Kenny Golladay Edge The flying Okwara brothers
WR Marvin Jones OLB Jamie Collins
WR Danny Amendola ILB Jahlani Tavai
TE T.J. Hockenson OLB Christian Jones
LT Taylor Decker CB Jeff Okudah
LG Joe Dahl CB Desmond Trufant
C Frank Ragnow CB Justin Coleman
RG Jonah Jackson S Duron Harmon
RT Halapoulivaati Vaitai S Tracy Walker
  • Lions offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and Matthew Stafford were in perfect harmony before Stafford's back injury last year forced his first missed games since 2010. If Stafford picks back up at that level, this team has a shot at the playoffs.
  • Detroit's pass-catchers have incredible continuity with Stafford. Tight end T.J. Hockenson could make a jump in Year 2 (like many tight ends do), which would round out Stafford's arsenal even though it lacks a defined No. 1 option.
  • Kerryon Johnson has managed 621 snaps in two years. While I like Johnson's all-around game, D'Andre Swift is more explosive and probably more polished in the passing game. They will share the load, but Swift wasn't drafted 35th overall to sit.
  • The Lions drafted guards in the third and fourth round (Jonah Jackson and Logan Stenberg) after taking a running back in the second round, all in an effort to fix their running game. They've put a lot of work into balancing their offense without great results under general manager Bob Quinn.
  • This defense was among the hardest to project because so many of the players play multiple spots. I cheated by combining third-round pick Julian Okwara -- an edge rusher out of Notre Dame -- with his brother, Romeo, who played 605 snaps last season.
  • Danny Shelton, a pickup from New England this offseason, will play on running downs. Lions coach Matt Patricia says they love 2017 first-round linebacker Jarrad Davis, but he projects as a part-time player at a crowded position.
  • I've been surprised to see all the Desmond Trufant slander this offseason. It's reasonable to believe he can still play at a high level, which would make this cornerback trio intriguing.
  • The pass rush needs work, but there aren't a lot of major needs or defined strengths on this roster. Most position groups look good, not great, which could lead to another good-not-great record like we saw from Detroit for most of the Jim Caldwell salad days.

GREEN BAY PACKERS

Table inside Article
OFFENSE PLAYER DEFENSE PLAYER
QB Aaron Rodgers DE Dean Lowry
RB Aaron Jones DT Kenny Clark
WR Davante Adams OLB Za'Darius Smith
WR Devin Funchess ILB Christian Kirksey
WR Allen Lazard OLB Preston Smith
TE Jace Sternberger CB Jaire Alexander
LT David Bakhtiari CB Kevin King
LG Elgton Jenkins CB Chandon Sullivan
C Corey Linsley S Adrian Amos
RG Billy Turner S Darnell Savage
RT Rick Wagner S Raven Greene
  • Aaron Rodgers could have overtaken Brett Favre much faster if Rodgers had played better in his rookie training camp and practices. (Favre had his worst season as a Packer in 2005, but Rodgers wasn't a threat.) Rodgers' sluggish start to his career set the tone for the three seasons to follow and it's worth wondering if Jordan Love, rawer than Rodgers was coming out of school, will follow a similar path.
  • The selection of Boston College big back AJ Dillon in Round 2 was a shock, partly because I thought Jamaal Williams filled that role capably last year. While Aaron Jones will undoubtedly be the lead back here, the draft capital used on Dillon indicates he'll get more work than Williams' 373 snaps from a year ago.
  • Left guard Elgton Jenkins was a find in last year's draft. The Packers' line looks very strong from center to the left, but the right side is a bigger concern than the team's receiver depth.
  • A healthy Devin Funchess can fill a physical role this Packers receiver group needs. In some ways, Funchess may be replacing Jimmy Graham more than any wideout.
  • With that said, Rodgers could desperately use the development of 2019 third-round pick Jace Sternberger into a reliable target at tight end.
  • I believe in Allen Lazard. I also believe that Lazard, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Jake Kumerow have to be thrilled the Packers didn't draft a receiver. CFL veteran Reggie Begelton is also getting some offseason love from Matt LaFleur and could make the roster.
  • Could Rodgers use more talent around him? Of course. But he has a top-10 back, a top-10 receiver and a top-five left tackle. These aren't exactly the Jake Plummer Cardinals.
  • The Packers are the only team in the league where I listed six defensive back "starters," with Raven Greene playing a dime linebacker role. In reality, it's unlikely that the team's third interior lineman (Tyler Lancaster?), second inside linebacker (Oren Burks) or Greene will top 500 snaps.
  • No coordinator loves playing six defensive backs like Mike Pettine. That approach was exposed against the 49ers a couple times, and Green Bay didn't add much bulk in the offseason up front.
  • This approach also puts a lot of pressure on free-agent pickup Christian Kirksey to hold up at inside linebacker in ways that Blake Martinez could not last year. Second-year safety Darnell Savage is another key. He flashed, but his down games were way down.
  • Za'Darius Smith was one of the best defensive players in football last season. If he does it again, he'll already be one of the best NFL free-agent signings of the last decade.
  • Few defenses have a better top three players than Kenny Clark, Za'Darius Smith and Jaire Alexander. The Packers have put a ton of resources into this defense. The team's erratic postseason performance was a microcosm of its streaky play a year ago, which has plagued Pettine's defenses over the years.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS

Table inside Article
OFFENSE PLAYER DEFENSE PLAYER
QB Kirk Cousins DE Danielle Hunter
RB Dalvin Cook DT Shamar Stephen
WR Adam Thielen DT Michael Pierce
WR Justin Jefferson DE Ifeadi Odenigbo
TE Kyle Rudolph OLB Anthony Barr
TE Irv Smith Jr. ILB Eric Kendricks
LT Riley Reiff CB Mike Hughes
LG Pat Elflein CB Jeff Gladney
C Garrett Bradbury CB Holton Hill
RG Dakota Dozier S Harrison Smith
RT Brian O'Neill S Anthony Harris
  • Justin Jefferson enters his first training camp with great opportunity and pressure. He's the early favorite to lead all rookie wideouts in targets because he has little competition. Vikings fans know that taking a wideout early (Troy Williamson and Cordarrelle Patterson) doesn't guarantee results, but Jefferson's skill set as a big slot receiver should translate quickly.
  • I listed both Kyle Rudolph and Irv Smith Jr. as starters over likely No. 3 wideout Bisi Johnson because each tight end played more than 600 snaps last year. Smith was impressive as a rookie, especially considering he was the youngest player taken in the 2019 draft. He's a breakout candidate.
  • The Vikings essentially have two good running backs (including Alexander Mattison), two good wideouts and two good tight ends. Yes, this is going to be a run-heavy offense.
  • The Gary Kubiak effect was seen on the Vikings offensive line last year in run blocking. However, they were among the league's worst at pass protection and are bringing back almost the exact same group. It's possible left tackle Riley Reiff could kick inside eventually if rookie tackle Ezra Cleveland, a second-round pick, develops.
  • Ifeadi Odenigbo played great as a super-sub in the role of No. 4 defensive end last season. Now he'll try to replace 10-year mainstay Everson Griffen as the starter at a position that hasn't been this thin in over a decade. It's a big test of Minnesota's self-scouting.
  • Perhaps Danielle Hunter is the Vikings' best defensive player. But Eric Kendricks is the group's leader, and his continued rise as one of the league's best coverage linebackers has made him a prototype for this era of football.
  • The cornerback group had incredible turnover, with three former starters departing (Trae Waynes, Mackensie Alexander, Xavier Rhodes). But the Vikings have two first-round picks slated to start this year and 2020 third-rounder Cameron Dantzler could get a shot to play here. The excellent veteran safety group can cover up the inexperience in front of them.
  • Anthony Harris recently signed his franchise tag and trade rumors surrounding him have died down. The Vikings may have to decide between re-signing Harris and keeping Harrison Smith after this season.
  • This offseason featured the most defensive turnover in Mike Zimmer's tenure. The Vikings made a record 15 draft picks, including nine on defense. It's a season where the Vikings offense may need to lead the way for once.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

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