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NFC North projected starters: Bears begin new era at QB; boom or bust for Vikings

With the 2021 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.

Table inside Article
QB Justin Fields DE Akiem Hicks
RB David Montgomery DT Eddie Goldman
WR Allen Robinson OLB Robert Quinn
WR Darnell Mooney LB Roquan Smith
WR Anthony Miller LB Danny Trevathan
TE Cole Kmet OLB Khalil Mack
LT Teven Jenkins CB Jaylon Johnson
LG Cody Whitehair CB Desmond Trufant
C Sam Mustipher CB Duke Shelley
RG James Daniels S Eddie Jackson
RT Germain Ifedi S Tashaun Gipson
  • Even if Justin Fields doesn't start the season opener in Los Angeles, he's still likely to lead the Bears in quarterback snaps. Coach Matt Nagy's job security hinges on his ability to shepherd Fields' career, so I doubt the Bears will waste much time.
  • Fun fact: Nick Foles is still on the Bears' roster.
  • The talent around Fields is deeper than you think. Allen Robinson is a true No. 1 receiver. David Montgomery finished fourth among all running backs in forced missed tackles last season, according to Pro Football Focus. No. 2 wideout Darnell Mooney and tight end Cole Kmet both played well as rookies and should improve in Year 2. Jimmy Graham and Tarik Cohen make sense as veteran backups rather than featured players. Could the Bears be ... watchable? Dare to dream!
  • The Damien Williams signing was a sneaky good under-the-radar move. If Nagy is going to run a little too often with a rookie quarterback behind center, at least there are three diverse options to choose from. Williams has a way of beating expectations.
  • "The Bears are fun now!" narrative hinges on the offensive line. They released sturdy veteran Charles Leno Jr. to start second-round pick Teven Jenkins at left tackle. Second-round rookie tackles are a hit-or-miss proposition, but I'm more concerned about Germain Ifedi starting on the right side. The upside of this group projects as average and the downside is that Fields has a new coach next season.
  • The usual safety net for Bears quarterback mediocrity is a good defense. They've ranked eighth, 10th and first since 2018 in defensive DVOA, but there are warning signs for a decline.
  • Robert Quinn was a letdown in Year 1 with the Bears and would probably have been released if not for his guaranteed money. Akiem Hicks remains an asset, but is off his 2018 peak. The cornerback depth is also no longer a strong suit.
  • That's the bad news. The good news is that Eddie Goldman is back after opting out last season and Bilal Nichols is a terrific rotation player. If Khalil Mack can give the Bears one more season as a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, the Bears will be strong up front. Mack's durability is incredible; only Cameron Jordan has played more snaps as an edge rusher since 2014.
Table inside Article
QB Jared Goff DE Trey Flowers
RB D'Andre Swift DT Michael Brockers
WR Tyrell Williams DE Levi Onwuzurike
WR Breshad Perriman OLB Romeo Okwara
WR Amon-Ra St. Brown LB Jamie Collins
TE T.J. Hockenson LB Alex Anzalone
LT Taylor Decker CB Jeff Okudah
LG Jonah Jackson CB Quinton Dunbar
C Frank Ragnow CB Amani Oruwariye
RG Halapoulivaati Vaitai S Tracy Walker
RT Penei Sewell S Will Harris
  • Lions head coach Dan Campbell is a strong, powerful man who desires a team of strong, powerful men. And he's off to a strong start with an offensive line that could rank in the NFL's top five if first-round pick Penei Sewell pans out.
  • The defensive line is similarly overstuffed with big-bodied run stoppers, including two high draft picks. The NFL has been all about space and perimeter players in recent years. The Lions are attempting to zig while the rest of the league zags.
  • Pristine protection could help Jared Goff look more like the plus starter he was from 2017-2019, rather than the player who lost his confidence last year.
  • "But this is the shakiest-looking receiver group this side of the 2020 Patriots!" you scream at your device. To which I say: Yes, that's true and thank you for still supporting the written digital word in 2021. We need all the support we can get.
  • (Also: this receiver group screams out for the addition of another veteran or two before the season.)
  • I'm looking forward to seeing D'Andre Swift run behind this line, hopefully with more decisiveness in Year 2. But fantasy leaguers should expect backup Jamaal Williams to play plenty.
  • Third-round nose tackle Alim McNeill is not listed above. In McNeill, Michael Brockers, Levi Onwuzurike and Trey Flowers, the Lions have potentially elite run defenders. Expect some opponents to avoid them altogether and pass mercilessly against the Detroit secondary.
  • The defensive backs could be the worst group in football, especially if Jeff Okudah doesn't have a big second-year leap after a disastrous rookie season. The No. 3 overall pick was outplayed by Amani Oruwariye last year, and now the scheme will be different with defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn.
  • Corn Elder is another option as the possible starting slot cornerback. This a group just hoping to survive.
  • There was no way to solve all the Lions' problems in one offseason, and this regime has a clear vision for how they want to turn the franchise around. I just worry that the vision made more sense back when Dan Campbell was a starting tight end for the Giants.
Table inside Article
QB Aaron Rodgers DE Dean Lowry
RB Aaron Jones DT Kenny Clark
WR Davante Adams OLB Za'Darius Smith
WR Allen Lazard OLB Preston Smith
WR Amari Rodgers LB Kamal Martin
TE Robert Tonyan OLB Rashan Gary
LT David Bakhtiari CB Jaire Alexander
LG Elgton Jenkins CB Eric Stokes
C Josh Myers CB Kevin King
RG Lucas Patrick S Darnell Savage
RT Billy Turner S Adrian Amos
  • Aaron Rodgers remains the most likely Week 1 starter for Green Bay because he's under contract and only has the threat of retirement as leverage. If former teammates like James Jones, an NFL Network analyst, believe that a compromise can be reached to keep the reigning MVP happy, then I lean that way, too.
  • If Rodgers does hold out of training camp, second-year QB Jordan Love has an enviable situation to take over if you just ignore the crushing amount of pressure.
  • Devin Funchess is an X-factor after missing 15 games due to injury in 2019 and then opting out of 2020. At his best, he could provide a third-down and red-zone option like a second tight end. 
  • For all the complaints about Rodgers' supporting cast, I like the versatility of this receiver group a lot. Marquez Valdes-Scantling has proven he can take the top off a defense. Allen Lazard is sneaky athletic. Rookie Amari Rodgers provides another flavor, ideally in a Randall Cobb-like role. 
  • Last year's second-round pick, A.J. Dillon, will replace Jamaal Williams as Aaron Jones' backup and insurance policy. 
  • The usually excellent Packers offensive line has more questions than usual with David Bakhtiari coming off a torn ACL. Rookie Josh Myers has a great path to starting at center. Elgton Jenkins is an emerging star, but he might be the only above-average talent in the starting five until Bakhtiari is back up to speed. 
  • Cornerback Kevin King's one-year contract with the Packers was one of the odder moves of the offseason and looks even stranger after the team drafted a player with a similar skill set in first-round pick Eric Stokes.
  • It's possible that Jaire Alexander will play often in the slot and travel with top receivers under new coordinator Joe Barry, much like Jalen Ramsey did last year for the Rams. This aptly named Star position allows analysts to sound fancy, so expect to hear a lot about it. 
  • Rashan Gary came on strong down the stretch last season and should play more than Preston Smith if Smith's pass rush doesn't improve. But the Packers' trio of edge players (Smith, Gary and Za’Darius Smith) should get starter-worthy snaps compared with Green Bay's so-so-rotation of interior defensive linemen and below-average off-ball linebackers. 
  • Brian Gutekunst has done a strong job overall since taking over as general manager in 2018, but the team has poured a ton of resources into a mostly middling defense. It's the type of trend that can make a franchise quarterback mad.
Table inside Article
QB Kirk Cousins DE Danielle Hunter
RB Dalvin Cook DT Dalvin Tomlinson
WR Justin Jefferson DT Michael Pierce
WR Adam Thielen DE Stephen Weatherly
WR Bisi Johnson OLB Anthony Barr
TE Irv Smith MLB Eric Kendricks
LT Christian Darrisaw CB Patrick Peterson
LG Wyatt Davis CB Cameron Dantzler
C Garrett Bradbury CB Mackensie Alexander
RG Ezra Cleveland S Harrison Smith
RT Brian O'Neill S Xavier Woods
  • Kirk Cousins probably wasn't thrilled with the Vikings' decision to draft Kellen Mond in the third round, but it would take a blistering preseason by Mond to apply any pressure this season.
  • This is a boom-or-bust offensive line, at best. Brian O'Neill is solid at right tackle and there are major question marks everywhere else. The Vikings will be counting on two rookies (Christian Darrisaw and Wyatt Davis) and two recent draft picks (Ezra Cleveland and Garrett Bradbury) to improve greatly. 
  • No quarterback rises and falls with his offensive line and play-calling more than Cousins, so the paragraph above represents a major concern.
  • It was weird that the Vikings waited until the fifth round to draft a receiver this year. In a league where most teams are trying to find four quality wideouts, the Vikings looked content with two. (Albeit two great ones.) This group screams out for a late addition, whether in free agency over the next couple months or during training camp.
  • I'm not sure what happened with this Vikings depth chart, which has a stars-and-scrubs feel. Suddenly it feels like almost every position group is vulnerable. 
  • A return to form for Danielle Hunter would cover up a lot of sins elsewhere. Giants import Dalvin Tomlinson can be a steady presence next to him, but this defensive line still doesn't stand up to the high standard of the Mike Zimmer era. 
  • I'm fascinated to see Patrick Peterson in a different scheme, but he was not able to hold up last season in Arizona against No. 1 wideouts. He and Cameron Dantzler, who flashed as a rookie, are part of another boom-or-bust group on a team full of them.
  • Don't be surprised if Xavier Woods turns into a surprise Pro Bowl candidate. Zimmer's defense is a Candyland for smart safeties and Woods is an underrated player.
  • I see the Vikings as one of the highest variance teams in the NFL. Eleven wins wouldn't be a shock; 11 losses wouldn't either.

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