The end of July is upon us. All 32 teams across the NFL are beginning to open up their training camps to prepare for the 2023 season.
Set to conclude one of the most noteworthy offseasons in recent memory, the landscape of the NFC North has changed dramatically. This was after the departure of Aaron Rodgers to the New York Jets after the four-time MVP was traded for multiple draft picks.
The Chicago Bears also acquired a much-needed weapon for Justin Fields by trading the number one overall pick in April’s draft to the Carolina Panthers in exchange for wide receiver D.J. Moore and multiple high-end selections.
Following a disappointing loss to the New York Giants in the wild-card round of the playoffs, the Minnesota Vikings choose to part ways with pass rusher Za’Darius Smith and pro bowl running back Dalvin Cook. With the division open for the taking for the first time in nearly two decades, here are the ten best players in the NFC North.
NFC North: Ranking the 10 Best Players in the Division
10. Aidan Hutchinson
The reigning No. 2 overall pick from the 2022 NFL Draft, Hutchinson burst onto the scene during his rookie season. Quickly becoming a disruptive force on Lions’ defensive front, the University of Michigan product started all 17 games for the team while leading all rookies with 9.5 sacks. Along with this, he also posted 15 quarterback hits, 14 hurries, and three interceptions.
This led the 22-year-old to finish runner-up in the Defensive Rookie of the Year voting to New York Jets cornerback Ahmad Garnder. A versatile pass rusher with the size and length to play all over the defensive line, the 2019 First-team All-Big Ten member is an explosive player that looks to be a long-term building block for Dan Campbell‘s group as they look to take hold of the NFC North.
9. D.J. Moore
One of the most significant off-season acquisitions, the Bears landed Moore from the Panthers in the No. 1 overall draft pick trade. With sky-high expectations surrounding the former first-round pick in his first year in the NFC North, he has remained one of the most underrated receivers around the league during his short career.
The Maryland product already has three 1,000-yard campaigns in just five years in the NFL despite a revolving door of quarterbacks in Carolina. He has also posted at least four touchdown receptions in four of the last five seasons. An ideal fit for Chicago’s run-heavy play-action system, Moore can fake out opposing defensive backs while using his speed and acceleration to create easy throwing windows for his quarterback.
Back healthy after appearing in just 13 games over the last two seasons, Bahktiari made 11 starts for Green Bay a year ago. The San Mateo, Calif. native began to return to his all-pro form by not allowing a single sack or quarterback hit. He also surrendered just 10 hurries on 597 pass-blocking snaps, leading to a grade of 79.8 from Pro Football Focus.
Penciled in as the blindside protector for Jordan Love throughout the offseason, durability issues will remain a concern with the three-time pro bowler set to turn 32 years old in September. However, if the former fourth-round pick can stay healthy next year, look for him to be one of the elite left tackles across the NFC North.
A first-round pick of the Vikings in the 2021 NFL Draft, Darrisaw broke out in his second season in the league after a solid rookie campaign. Appearing in 14 games for Minnesota, the Virginia Tech alumnus allowed just five sacks, six hits, and 12 hurries on 312 pass-blocking snaps. He also committed just two penalties while posting an 80.5 percent run block win rate, the second-highest at his position.
Set to become one of the highest-paid offensive tackles across the league next season, he is a natural athlete with the feet and technique to neutralize the top pass rushers in the game. Paired with standout right tackle Brian O’ Neil the duo appears primed to be among the best both in the NFC North and across the league for the foreseeable future.
After a strong rookie campaign, St. Brown made a significant leap in his second year in the league. Emerging as one of the NFL’s elite playmakers, the 23-year-old earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl. He led the Lions with 106 receptions for 1,161 yards and six touchdowns.
Additionally, the California native had just a 3.6 percent drop percentage while being one of five wide receivers to earn a grade of over 90 from Pro Football Focus. Now the undisputed number-one target for Jared Goff, expect the USC product to put together another monster season in Ben Johnson’s offense as a volume slot target.
5. Rashan Gary
Gary jumped out to a strong start in 2022 after he was once again cast into a full-time role following the departure of Zadarius Smith. The 25-year-old was in the running for the NFL’s Defensive Player of The Year award through nine weeks. He posted 32 tackles, six sacks, one forced fumble, and 12 quarterback hits before a torn ACL knocked him out for the season’s final two months.
As a result, the Packers fell from second in pressure percentage to 28th in the league without the Michigan product in the lineup. With his status for week one remaining up in the air, the two-time First-team All-Big Ten member will reportedly begin training camp on the Physically Unable to Perform list.
One of the most versatile offensive linemen in the NFC North: Ranking the 10 Best Players in the Division since his arrival in the league in 2019, Jenkins has played all five positions for the Packers. Returning from a torn ACL a year ago, the 27-year-old began the season at right tackle, allowing two sacks across five starts, according to Pro Football Focus. Ultimately returning to his best position of left guard, the former second-round pick provided an instant boost to a struggling Green Bay interior.
He gave up just five total pressures in 10 games, leading him to earn his second Pro Bowl nomination. Rewarded with a four-year $68 million deal in December, Jenkins will remain with the franchise through his age 31 season, giving them much-needed stability with the ongoing questions surrounding the health of Bakhtiari.
3. Penei Sewell
Already one of the top players at his position, Sewell has quickly become the gold standard at the right tackle spot. A member of the Pro Bowl team a year ago in just his second season in the league, the 22-year-old made 17 starts for the Lions. He allowed just two sacks on over 500 pass-blocking snaps while committing just two penalties.
The Oregon product also finished with the fourth-highest run-blocking grade in the NFL (83.0). Sewell offers substantial size at 6’5 with a 331-pound frame. He has the athleticism and range to to beat speed rushers to the spot on the edge. Moreover, the former Morris Trophy winner also has heavy hands, allowing him to latch onto opposing defenders and finish with authority.
The top cornerback in the NFC North, Alexander was back healthy in 2022. The former 18th overall pick appeared in just five games the year before after a shoulder injury in week 4 forced him to miss the rest of the regular season. Reminding everyone across the league how good he is, the 26-year-old earned second-team All-Pro and Pro Bowl nominations. He finished with 56 tackles, 14 pass breakups, and a career-high five interceptions. Additionally, the Philadelphia native allowed just a 59.8 percent completion percentage when targeted in coverage.
Rarely asked to shadow the opposing team’s top wide receiver by defensive coordinator Joe Barry, Alexander put together the finest performance of his season in week 17. Matched up with Justin Jefferson, he held the star wide receiver to just one catch in a 41-17 victory.
With Rodgers no longer a part of the NFC North, Jefferson earns the nod as the top overall player in the division. The reigning Offensive Player of the Year, the LSU product remains on a historic pace heading into just his fourth season in the league. He already has 324 catches, 4,825 receiving yards and 25 touchdowns. Furthermore, the 23-year-old also leads the NFL in explosive plays over the past three years (126) while trailing only Davante Adams in yards per route run (2.62).
The undisputed No. 1 target in the Viking’s passing game, expect Jefferson to surpass the 184 targets he received in 2022 next year, putting Calvin Johnson‘s single-season receiving yards record in jeopardy.