The NFC North features some of the oldest and fiercest rivalries in the NFL. However, over the last few seasons, the division has struggled to shake the perception of being the least weakest in the conference. Yet here we stand, just months from the beginning of the 2019 season, and the NFC North has some of the best young players in the league and each team is a genuine contender for the playoffs. For each team in the division, how well their rookie can adjust to life in the NFL, will determine how long the season will run. Today we take a look at those rookies, and decide who will feast, and will be left for a famine.
NFC North Rookies
T.J. Hockenson – TE, Detroit Lions
Selected with the eighth pick in the first round, Hockenson is an excellent tight end prospect for the Lions. Detroit has lacked a consistent contributor at the position. The Lions drafted Eric Ebron in 2014, but he failed to be the playmaker they had expected. Ebron signed with the Colts last season. Hockenson could be the guy the Lions had envisioned, five years ago. The Iowa product has experience in a pro-style offense. It was his production in said offense which helped propel Hockenson to the top-10 selection.
It has been argued that Hockenson’s ability is equal, if not better than former Hawkeye, George Kittle. The 49ers drafted Kittle in the third round of the 2017 draft, and the tight end broke the position’s single season record for most receiving yards in just his second season. To help Hockenson find his place in the offense, the Lions have new offensive coordinator, Darrell Bevell. Bevell has seen half of his tight ends put up 1,000 yard seasons. Expecting a 1,000 yard season from the rookie tight end is a bit unlikely, however, Hockenson will have ample opportunity to make plays and show why he deserved the high selection.
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Rashan Gary – LB/Edge, Green Bay Packers
On defense, it is rare to find a player who lacked in college production, who then became difference makers in the NFL. Gary is hoping to buck that trend. The former Michigan Wolverine has always been an amazing athlete. However, during his time in Ann Arbor, he was often overshadowed by teammate Chase Winovich. Gary finished his collegiate career with 9.5 sacks as compared to 18.5 from Winovich.
Perhaps the biggest worry for Gary is his adjustment to playing as the rush linebacker. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the Packers bring him on slowly, primarily in passing situations. Keeping his role simple early on, would allow for a smoother transition. Can Gary consistently play in space? The NFL is littered with athletic wonders who failed to grow as a player. Those same players found themselves out of the league by the end of their rookie deals. Gary may very well become a force in the league, eventually. However, maybe it is time to temper expectations.