With the 2020 NFL Draft in the rear-view mirror, we now can turn our attention to the upcoming season. The Packers swept the NFC North division last season, which was pivotal to their overall success. Obviously, they (and the fans) would love to replicate that performance again this season. Three of the obstacles are the other teams in the division. Let’s take a look a the NFC North Rivals Offseason that has occurred.
Green Bay had a polarizing draft haul and offseason, so it’s very important to take a look at what the Vikings, Bears, and Lions did this offseason to predict whether or not the Packers will be able to dominate the division again this season.
We begin with NFC North runner-ups from last season. The Minnesota Vikings made questionable moves of their own this offseason, most notably trading away star wide receiver Stefon Diggs to the Buffalo Bills. Furthermore, they lost their top 3 cornerbacks from last season. Fortunately for the Vikings, they were able to address those gaps early in the NFL Draft. Minnesota started by selecting wide receiver Justin Jefferson from LSU in the first round. Nine picks later, they drafted TCU cornerback Jeff Gladney. Two rounds later, the Vikings went with another cornerback, this time Cameron Dantzler from Mississippi State. Both rookies, along with the recently retained Pro Bowl safety Anthony Harris, are expected to shore up the back end of the defense.
There were other areas addressed by the Vikings. For instance, offensive lineman Ezra Cleveland was drafted by Minnesota. The team also added potential impact depth to their defensive front with D.J. Wonnum, James Lynch, and Troy Dye. The Vikings remain strong contenders to win the division despite the high percentage of personnel turnover this offseason with the strong moves they made in the draft and free agency.
Moving now to the Chicago Bears, who finished third last season. The Bears did not have a first-round pick but did receive an extra second-round selection. With their limited draft capital, they brought in notable additions in tight end Cole Kmet, cornerback Jaylon Johnson, and quarterback Nick Foles (traded from the Jaguars for a 4th rounder). They retained linebacker Danny Trevathan in free agency but saw several other starters depart. Some notable free-agent acquisitions include edge rusher Robert Quinn and tight end Jimmy Graham.
One important decision was that the Bears also declined Mitch Trubisky‘s 5th-year option. That and the Foles acquisition put pressure on the young quarterback to succeed this season. Overall, Chicago had very limited resources with which to improve their roster this offseason. They cut ties with some underperformers but weren’t able to fill most of those gaps with proven contributors. Unless they get drastically improved quarterback play, it’s fair to expect further regression from their outlier 2018 season. The defense has again gotten worse on paper and the offense didn’t gain nearly enough to counterbalance that.
Lastly, we move to the almost perennial cellar-dwellers of the NFC North, the Detroit Lions. They should get a fully healthy Matthew Stafford to start the year, which will improve the team performance dramatically. Early in the draft, the Lions filled their needs with talented players. They began by using the 3rd overall pick to replace Darius Slay with cornerback Jeffrey Okudah from Ohio State. They also, added a potential workhorse back in running back D’Andre Swift out of Georgia in the second round. In the rest of the draft, they improved the interior offensive line with guards Jonah Jackson (Ohio State) and Logan Stenberg (Kentucky) and added a high-ceiling pass rusher with Julian Okwara of Notre Dame.
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The Lions also went after veteran to help the team. They signed former Pro Bowl cornerback Desmond Trufant in free agency to operate opposite Okudah. Also, Detroit replaced Damon Harrison with Danny Shelton. They spent a substantial amount of money in free agency and had several premium picks with which to improve the roster. This is a prove-it year for head coach Matt Patricia and GM Bob Quinn, so if the Lions can’t at least show significant improvement and push for a playoff spot, expect the franchise to go in a different direction and start rebuilding.
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