Our Roster Reset series takes a division-by-division look at where things stand across the league heading into the 2018 NFL Draft. Marc Sessler examines the current makeup of the NFC North below.
For years a one-horse town, the NFC North has evolved into pure fascination.
We've been doing these Roster Resets one offseason after the next. Each time around, I made one request of our hard-working editorial crew: Just keep me off the NFC North.
Green Bay still boasts the game's finest quarterback in Aaron Rodgers, who returns fresh from last year's season-sinking broken clavicle. The Vikes, though, came within a game of the Super Bowl with a dominant, hurly-burly defense and Case Keenum under center. After adding defensive behemoth Sheldon Richardson and Cousins last month, they loom as the class of the division -- and arguably the conference.
In Chicago, the Bears finally feel fun again, with an inventive, new, offensive-minded coach in Matt Nagy. The former Chiefs play-caller will pair with ex-Oregon coach Mark Helfrich to draw up a spicy attack for second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. The Bears aggressively built around their young passer by adding free-agent wideouts Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel, along with "Philly Special" hero Trey Burton. John Fox feels a million light years away.
After decades of hyper-dull offense in Chicago, the Bears should finally be fun to watch. Same goes for a Lions team now under the control of Matt Patricia, the wunderkind ex-Patriots defensive coordinator tasked with doing what the last guy couldn't: give Detroit an identity. I love this hire for the Lions and expect them to underscore an NFC North that looks like the opposite of a snoozefest in 2018.
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Who were you expecting here? New Vikings guard Tom Compton? Cousins looms as the biggest add-on by any team in the league. He gives Minnesota a plug-and-play, talented starter at the most important position in the game. Cousins is a rough-and-tumble signal-caller who fits perfectly on paper with a star-studded attack that also returns second-year running back Dalvin Cook. Coach Mike Zimmer refuses to call this a Super Bowl-or-bust campaign, but Vikings fans beg to differ.
No bigger name left the division than Jordy Nelson, the Packers pass-catcher who served for years as a go-to man for Rodgers. The 32-year-old wideout landed in Oakland, but look for McKinnon to make the bigger splash in California. The former Vikings back will serve as coach Kyle Shanahan's lead horse in San Francisco, operating as a pass-catching, hard-running athlete whom the 49ers are paying like a three-down asset. It's a perfect new home for a player who impressed with Minnesota last season.
We mentioned Burton above for good reason. As a protege of Andy Reid, Nagy employs a system that relies heavily on the presence of an athletic "U" tight end. "It's easy to create some plays for," Nagy said at the NFL Scouting Combine. "And when you have a guy that has the size that Trey has and the speed that he has, it's about mismatches." Burton isn't a physical freak like Travis Kelce, but he looms as an emerging figure in a Bears passing game destined to grow under this new coaching staff.
Chicago Bears: In an ideal world, the Bears would make up for the loss of guard Josh Sitton by watching Quenton Nelson fall to them at No. 8. Don't hold your breath. The position must be addressed, though -- along with holes at linebacker following the departures of Pernell McPhee, Jerrell Freeman and Christian Jones. The Bears will be intriguing to track as we learn more about their new identity on offense.
Detroit Lions: The Lions could use help at left guard, along with a playmaker at tight end after Eric Ebron's release and subsequent signing with the Colts. I'd love to see Patricia follow what the Patriots did and stock up on running backs in the draft. LeGarrette Blount helps -- and Ameer Abdullah has his moments -- but Detroit has gone without a reliable, dominant, weekly starter for years. Establishing a brutal ground game would do wonders for Matthew Stafford.
Green Bay Packers: We know what the Packers need based off who they tried to get. Green Bay's attempt to steal away cornerback Kyle Fuller from the Bearsfell flat, leaving this position as a bona fide target in the draft. Signing 35-year-old Tramon Williams does nothing to change that. Thinking ahead, the team could also seek out a young pass-rusher to prepare for the potential departure of Clay Matthews after this coming season.
Minnesota Vikings: Keeping Cousins healthy is the key. That begins with finding help at right guard after veteran Joe Berger announced his retirement. The defense could also use depth at cornerback, while the Vikings would be wise to pad the offense with another young receiver. Of all the clubs in the North, Minnesota roams as the deepest. Lacking a true weakness, these Vikes are the team to beat from where we stand today.