We finished the offensive rankings for the NFC North and move on to defense. We start with examining the defensive lines.
The Vikings have a very good defensive line. They are led by Everson Griffen who is a consistent pass rusher. Griffen has 8 sacks, 10.5 sacks and 12.0 sacks the last three seasons. Danielle Hunter has been strong his first two seasons and notched 12.5 sacks in 2016. Brian Robison is a savvy veteran with 7.5 sacks in 2016. Minnesota is very strong at defensive end. Stephen Weatherly and 7th round pick Ifeadi Odenigbo round out the depth for the Vikings. Minnesota has two good defensive ends, one solid veteran left end but lack a good 4th defensive end.
The Lions get Ziggy Ansah back healthy. Ansah is a beast and incredibly athletic when not battling an ankle injury. Ansah had 14.5 sacks in 2015 but only 2 in 2016 due to the injury. Ansah notched two more sacks in the playoffs. He defends the run well and is a nightmare for opposing QBs when healthy.
Kerry Hyder had a nice 8 sack season out of nowhere for Detroit. Hyder can set the edge at left end and slide inside on passing downs. Cornelius Washington was added from the Bears. Washington can play end or DT as well and finally enters a scheme that he fits. Washington did not fit the 3-4 scheme in Chicago. Washington had the 4th highest in pass rush productivity in the league last year for interior defenders (4-3 DTS and 3-4 DEs). Washington gives the Lions a lot of upside and athleticism at left end on a two year deal. Washington should add some run defense as Hyder was below average in that department.
Armonty Bryant was re-signed to a one year deal. Bryant showed flashes for Detroit with 3 sacks in 5 games. His season was marred but a suspension and injury but Bryant can be a pass rush specialist. Anthony Zettel should develop in year 2 as 6th round pick from 2016. Rookie 6th round pick Jeremiah Ledbetter can play end or tackle as well and Pat O’Connor was drafted in Round 7. Detroit has a good right end and solid left ends with good depth.
2B Green Bay
Mike Daniels is an absolute beast in Dom Capers 3-4 defense. He rushes the passer well and is stout in run defense. Ricky Jean Francois is average but an experienced veteran. Letroy Guion can play DE or NT but just got in trouble with a DUI. Guion can log some snaps for the Packers and is average in the run game.
Montravius Adams was drafted in Round 3 and Dean Lowry in Round 4 in 2017 and 2016 respectively. Both have upside to grow into contributing defensive ends for the Packers. Christian Ringo has a little bit of experience but may not make the final roster. The Packers have one stud but only potential at the other end spot.
We need to consider 3-4 OLBs in this group as well. Nick Perry had a big year in a contract year despite a hand injury. Perry was a consistent pass rusher and logged 11 sacks in 2016. Perry finally hit his first round pick potential. Clay Matthews on the other hand only had 5 sacks and had a terrible grade. Matthews is oft-injured and just hasn’t been the same player for the Packers.
Green Bay lost Julius Peppers and Datone Jones who played many snaps in 2016. Kyle Fackrell was average as a 3rd round pick in 170 snaps. Jayrone Elliot had a terrible grade but must step up as the experienced backup. Vince Biegel was drafted in Round 4 to play OLB.
The Packers have a good player in Perry but Matthews is regressing big time. Green Bay has some potential with Fackrell and Biegel but their pass rush depth is very questionable. Plus we will see how Fackrell and Biegel play in run defense and coverage. Matthews struggled in run defense and coverage as well in 2016.
The Bears run a 3-4 and are finally finishing up their defense. Akiem Hicks had a nice season in 2017 with 7 sacks for Chicago. Jaye Howard has an injury history but was a good 3-4 DE for the Chiefs in 2015 and prior. Mitch Unrein is experienced depth and Jonathan Bullard is a 3rd round pick from 2016 that has potential. The Bears don’t have a stud player like the other three teams but can get solid defensive end play from Hicks, Howard and maybe Bullard.
Considering, 3-4 OLBs really boosts Chicago’s ranking. Leonard Floyd is a first round pick that showed some good pass rush flashes in 2016 (7.0 sacks). Pernell McPhee can be a good pass rushing OLB but only had 4 sacks in 2016 after missing the first six games. McPhee only had 6 sacks in 2015 but was a very consistent pass rusher for Chicago.
Willie Young is a very good backup OLB with pass rush skills and speed (7.5 sacks in 2016). Finally, Lamar Houston is an experienced but oft-injured OLB for Chicago. Sam Acho is the 5th OLB and provides a ton of experience as well with below average results. Chicago should have a strong pass rush but McPhee (some injury) and Floyd must progress from their 2016 performance.
Linval Joseph is a very good nose tackle. He was a top 15 interior defender in the league. Shariff Floyd is hurt and may never play again. He was a top 10 DT in the league in 2015 prior to the injury. The Vikings hope Floyd can comeback at some point.
Tom Johnson has been an excellent backup providing a pass rush. Datone Jones is a former 1st round pick from the Packers that will try to be a pass rushing 3-technique for Minnesota. Jaleel Johnson was drafted in Round 4 of the draft and Shamar Stephen is a very experienced 5th defensive tackle. The Vikings have good depth and a strong nose tackle. The major injury to Floyd hurts them this season though.
The Lions are solid and deep at defensive tackle. Haloti Ngata is 33 but still a solid nose tackle in this league with a strong bull rush. Ngata is a beast holding stout in the run game as well. A’Shawn Robinson improved at DT as his rookie year went on and is very stout against the run. Robinson is also very good at deflecting passes the line of scrimmage. A’Shawn was a 2nd round pick and should take a nice step forward in year 2 of his career.
Jordan Hill is a good pass rusher if he can stay healthy. Hill is a former 3rd round pick by Seattle and has a 5.5 sack season in his career but struggled in 2016 on Seattle and the Jaguars. Akeem Spence is an average experienced backup. He doesn’t do anything well but played well enough to earn playing time for the Buccaneers over the years. A change to an attacking scheme may help the former 4th round pick in Spence and 3rd round pick in Hill. Both of these guys are very experienced and Hill has upside in pass rush.
The Lions can get interior pass rush from Kerry Hyder or Cornelius Washington sliding inside as well on passing downs due to Washington, Bryant and Hyder all being on the roster. Kyrhi Thornton or Jeremiah Ledbetter (rookie 6th round pick) will be the 5th DT. Thornton won’t be on the roster until Week 8 because of a suspension (PEDs).
3 Green Bay
Kenny Clark has some promise in his second year for Green Bay. Clark earned an average grade in his rookie year but has promise to be a good starting nose tackle in this league as a former 1st round pick from 2016. The Packers lack a true nose tackle backup but Guion could fit the bill if he doesn’t get suspended. Clark has promise like Goldman but the Packers lack depth. Even considering, 3-4 defensive ends as interior defenders, the Packers stay at this ranking. Daniels and Francois/Adams gives Green Bay the edge over Chicago (Hicks and Howard/Bullard).
Eddie Goldman is a good young nose tackle but has some injury concerns. John Jenkins in average backup but has size and experience. Goldman earned a good grade but only played 197 snaps in 2016 and missed some time in 2015 too. The Bears need the 2nd round pick from 2015 to stay healthy and limit Jenkins snaps at nose tackle. Even considering, 3-4 defensive ends as interior defenders, the Bears stay at this ranking. However, Goldman, Jaye Howard and Hicks have some potential to be good players if they stay healthy.
The Vikings have the best defensive line in the division with monster ends and good defensive tackles even with Floyd’s injury. The Lions have a solid defensive line with plenty of depth and Ansah can be a playmaker and Hyder is a solid pass rusher. The Packers and Bears can provide a good pass rush with their 3-4 OLBs and have one playmaking DE each (Daniels and Hicks). Green Bay and Chicago have young nose tackles (Clark and Goldman) that could develop into good players in their second and third year respectively, but Goldman must finally stay healthy. Chicago and Green Bay lack some defensive line depth and Green Bay has potential but lacks OLB depth experience earning them the 3rd ranking.