Lions rookie running back D'Andre Swift could be the key to changing Detroit's fortunes
If there's one thing that's constant about the NFL, it's the degree of unpredictably that the beginning of a new season brings. With the 2020 season on the horizon, each NFC North franchise has some form of unpredictability on the roster. The four teams used the offseason to try and address team needs, but there's no guarantee that those corresponding transactions will produce positive results on the field. These "wild cards" could play a role in deciding if their respective teams have success this season. Here is the biggest wild card for each NFC North team.
Chicago Bears' tight ends
The Bears retooled this position during the offseason by releasing Trey Burton, cutting Ben Braunecker, and trading Adam Shaheen. They also drafted rookie Cole Kmet and signed Jimmy Graham and Demetrius Harris in free agency, while Jesper Horsted, J.P. Holtz, and Eric Saubert are the only holdovers. Now, while there's some optimism for this group heading into the season, there are also some concerns.
Kmet is a rookie who won't have the benefit of preseason games this year, Graham's numbers have been down in recent years due to injuries, and Harris isn't fully proven as a receiver. Meanwhile, Horsted is still learning the position after converting from wide receiver last year, and Holtz and Saubert don't have much game experience. Bears head coach Matt Nagy likes to use tight ends in a variety of ways, and if the Bears want to get back to the playoffs this year, Nagy needs both health and production from this position.
Detroit Lions' running backs
D'Andre Swift was considered by many to be the top running back in this year's draft. His college career at Georgia speaks for itself, and he certainly could have been selected in the first round. Now while the Lions have plenty of reason for optimism with Swift in the backfield, he'll also be under intense pressure once he takes the field. Swift will have to inject new life into a position that's only produced three single-season 1,000-yard rushers since Barry Sanders retired in 1999, with the last one coming back in 2013 (Reggie Bush).
That's quite the task to ask of a rookie, but Swift has the ability and skillset to complete that task. If he can reach 1,000 yards as a rookie, then the Lions will be well on their way to filling a void that had been somewhat neglected for far too long. If he falls short of that mark, Kerryon Johnson still has promise after rushing for 641 yards in 10 games as a rookie in 2018, but injuries have prevented him from truly breaking out.
Green Bay Packers quarterback Jordan Love
With Aaron Rodgers getting older (he turns 37 in December), you knew the Packers would have to start thinking about his successor at some point. Well, the Packers decided to make this a priority, as they traded up to get Love with the 26th overall pick. He recorded 6,969 passing yards and 59 touchdowns over his final two seasons at Utah State, and his dual-threat abilities helped him move up everyone's draft boards during the pre-draft process.
But with preseason games being canceled this year, it will be hard for Love to get in-game reps this season barring an injury or blowout. It could make sense, considering that he is the signal-caller of the future in Green Bay, to get Love some regular season reps. And it wouldn't hurt to see what he can do at this level in the early stages. I don't see Love standing on the sidelines for a full season, so this will be something to keep an eye on.
Minnesota Vikings' wide receivers
Stefon Diggs (Buffalo) and Laquon Treadwell (Atlanta) found new homes during the offseason, and they took their combined 1,314 receiving yards and seven touchdowns from last season with him. Adam Thielen, Chad Beebe, Bisi Johnson, and Alexander Hollins are returning from last season. But in 2019, they combined for 828 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. Beebe (3 games) and Hollins (5 games) saw limited playing time, while Thielen was limited to 10 games because of injury.
Minnesota also drafted LSU standout Justin Jefferson in the first round (No. 22 overall), along with K.J. Osborn (5th round). Other wideouts in training camp include Dillon Mitchell (practice squad last season), and Tajae Sharpe (1,167 career receiving yards), and undrafted free agents Quartney Davis and Dan Chisena. With so much production from last year elsewhere, the Vikings' success on offense this season could come down to how this group comes together and performs.
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.
(Top photo by Jeff Nguyen/Detroit Lions, courtesy of detroitlions.com)