Well it’s the true offseason. Let’s take a look at the updated positional ranking in the NFC North. We’ll start with QB and Running Back.
1A: Green Bay
Packers are tied in first with Aaron Rodgers, Brett Hundley and Joe Callahan at QB. Rodgers had an MVP type year with a great 7 game finish. Rodgers might regress some with some offensive line and run game problems but he should still be a very good QB in 2017. Rodgers is still a top 5 QB but his production may slip a little if he doesn’t get his usual support.
Lions also have the best QB situation with Matt Stafford, Jake Rudock and rookie Brad Kaaya. Stafford was having a great season in 2016 before his finger injury (100.7 rating) and has tossed 44 TDs with only 14 interceptions with Jim Bob Cooter. Stafford is a top 5 QB and should have a very good 2017 season with improved blocking and run threat from his offensive support. The backups have no experience but have potential as 6th round picks from 2016 and 2017. Stafford’s rating pre injury and 2015 rating over Rodgers with less support (run game, pass pro, drops, defensive turnovers, short fields) earned Stafford the tie.
The Vikings are third in the North with Sam Bradford, Teddy Bridgewater and Case Keenum. Bradford had a 99 QB rating but dink and dunked his way behind a shabby offensive line and run game. Bradford did really well considering his lack of support but needs to make one or two more plays a game to carry his team.
The Vikings added Riley Reiff, Mike Remmers and rookie center Pat Efflein on the offensive line; plus Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray at running back to help Bradford. Bradford is in a contract year and must be worth that first round pick this season. Teddy Bridgewater is a solid young QB but recovering from a gruesome injury. If Bridgewater returns, the Vikings depth gets a huge boost and Bridgewater could regain the starting job over Bradford eventually. Case Keenum is also an experienced backup QB from the Rams. Minnesota is in a crucial year to decide on QBs for the future.
Chicago finally ended the Jay Cutler era and Brian Hoyer is now the starter for the 49ers. Mike Glennon was given a surprising big contract after being a backup for several years for Tampa Bay and Chicago traded up to pick 2 (from pick 3) for Mitch Trubisky from UNC. Trubisky only has one year of college starting experience. GM Ryan Pace also added Mark Sanchez who is very experienced and a former 1st round draft choice from 2009. The Bears are hopeful one of these three moves will pan out. Chicago still lags behind the others in the division but has an influx of new talent; but lacks experience other than Sanchez.
Many moves were made at running back in the NFC North.
Chicago has the best running back in the division with Jordan Howard. Howard had 5.2 YPC for 1,313 yards on over 252 carries with 6 TDs as a rookie in 2016. He is a monster running back and went unnoticed since the Bears were awful and Ezekiel Elliot dominated for the Cowboys. Jeremy Langford was a high pick and has a nose for the end zone with 6 TDs and 4 TDs in 2015/2016. Ka’Deem Carey has some experience but is mainly a 3rd back only. Michael Burton was added from Detroit at full back. The Bears have the best run game in the North due to Howard and a strong interior offensive line.
Detroit will get Ameer Abdullah back which puts them tied at second in the NFC North. Ameer was playing really well the first two games of 2016 before injury and had 4.2 YPC on 143 carries his rookie season. Abdullah is a good receiving threat and Theo Riddick is a great receiving threat.
Riddick proved more in the run game at 3.9 YPC in 2016 and Zenner showed some flashes at the end of the year (3.8 YPC). Matt Asiata has a good nose for the end zone and was added by Detroit this spring. Dwayne Washington had a bad rookie year at 2.9 YPC but has good size and speed for year 2 with some experience. The Lions should be an average running team at least in 2017 now that they get their top two backs healthy with improved run blocking.
Minnesota made big changes at running back after dumping franchise RB Adrian Peterson (Saints). Peterson was injured most of 2016 and Jerrick McKinnon struggled behind some bad blocking. McKinnon has two good years in 2014 and 2015 and is a receiving threat.
Minnesota added rookie Dalvin Cook in Round 2. Cook was a beast at Florida State and has good size and game speed despite some shoulder concerns and some measurable concerns. Latavius Murray was added in free agency after averaging 4 YPC on 195 carries in 2016. Murray had 12 TDs for the Raiders and knows how to find that end zone. Murray and Cook could be a dangerous combination if they get some good blocking. Murray had 4 YPC on 266 carries with 6 TDs in 2015 with Oakland. Murray injured his knee and underwent surgery in April, however.
Cook, Murray and McKinnon are tied for second in the division with Detroit. Cook has potential as a high pick rookie and Murray can give them a steady 4.0 YPC as a workhorse back. McKinnon has some good seasons, is a good receiving running back and has experience.
4: Green Bay
Green Bay lost Eddie Lacy in free agency after he missed 11 games plus the playoffs in 2016. Lacy had been a beast for the Packers in 2013 and 2014 but had a down year in 2015. Lacy did have 5.1 YPC on 71 carries in 2016 before the injury ended his season. Lacy was having a very good year again and Seattle picked him up in free agency with weight incentives.
The Packers opted to stick with Ty Montgomery and add three rookie running backs. Montgomery had a very nice 77 carries for a whopping 5.9 YPC and 3 TDS. Ty must prove he can handle 150+ carries though as he will be their top back now with Lacy, Michael and Starks gone. Rookies Jamaal Williams, Aaron Jones and Devante Mays will need to play well early. Even if Montgomery has 150 carries, there is still plenty of carries needed to match the 374 carries or more from 2016. One or two of the rookies must step up and take on Lacy’s 71 carries, Starks 63 carries and Michaels’ 31 carries. Montgomery could take 80 of them but that still leaves 90 carries or more for the rookies.
The good news is those three backs (Lacy 5.1, Starks 2.3, Michael 3.7) averaged 3.75 YPC due to Starks being terrible (2.3 YPC) and Michael at 3.7 YPC.
Williams, Jones and Mays have a nice low bar to match. Rodgers can scramble as well to boost the YPC and full back Aaron Ripkowski showed flashes with 4.4 YPC on 34 carries (which may go to rookies in 2016). However, Green Bay still has unknown day 3 rookies and Ty hasn’t proven he can hit 150 carries. Therefore, Green Bay gets last place in the North for running back.
In the next article, we will look at WR and Tight End.