When it comes to the NFL, fans know who the star players of their teams are and aren’t afraid to express their appreciation for said players. But if history has taught us anything, it’s that every successful franchise has at least one player that’s not exactly a household name that becomes a major contributor. Every team in the NFC North has players with the potential to be “that guy”. And in many cases it is the unsung hero type that decides how successful their teams can be. So here are the potential breakout stars for the NFC North in 2018.
Chicago Bears: Tarik Cohen, RB
As a rookie under John Fox the former North Carolina A&T standout (above, right) ran for 370 yards, added 353 receiving yards, had three total touchdowns and was the Bears' featured return man. With Matt Nagy taking over as head coach, Cohen’s skill set is being compared to Kareem Hunt, the running back Nagy had at his disposal in Kansas City. Jordan Howard is the Bears’ featured back but at some point he’ll need a breather. And when he does, Cohen’s speed and elusiveness will be an excellent complement for Howard’s power running style. Nagy’s offense will make the best use of Cohen’s abilities.
Detroit Lions: Kenny Golladay, WR
Coming out of Northern Illinois last year, the 24-year-old rookie made the most of his opportunities. He recorded 28 receptions for 477 yards and three touchdowns. This year the Chicago native looks to become more of a feature in the Lions' offense. And doing so could make a huge difference for a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2016. Golladay could be one of the NFL’s top receivers when given the chance.
Green Bay Packers: Blake Martinez, LB
Heading into this third professional season, Martinez has already proven that he can compete with the NFL’s best. Last year alone the Stanford alum collected 144 total tackles, a sack, a forced fumble, two fumble recoveries, an interception, and broke up eight passes. But with Jake Ryan expected to miss this season with a torn ACL, Martinez has the chance to take on more of a leadership role. This will be his chance to anchor the interior of the Packers' linebacking corps and help keep the continuity intact so the defense doesn’t skip a beat.
Minnesota Vikings: Dalvin Cook, RB
After just 74 carries as a rookie in 2017, the Florida State product suffered a season-ending knee injury and left Vikings fans wondering what might have been. Now that he’s healthy again, Cook is returning at the perfect time. Kirk Cousins is now the team’s $84 million quarterback, there are plenty of weapons for him to throw to and Minnesota boasts one of the league's stingiest defenses. With all of the pieces in place, it’s time for Cook to pick up where he left things off. And he'll need to since the Vikings are focused on one goal -- making it to the Super Bowl.
-- 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 courtesy of www.vikings.com)