The NFC North has plenty of new blood looking to showcase their talents this year
The 2019 NFL season marks the league's 100th anniversary and with that comes a new group of players looking to make professional football's centennial campaign a memorable one. The rugged NFC North division possesses a few of these players who are looking to break out in their rookie seasons. You can expect this division to be very competitive again, and here are four members of the latest draft class to keep an eye on.
Chicago Bears: David Montgomery, RB
While Tarik Cohen and Mike Davis will get most of the focus, Montgomery could wind up being the dark horse in the Bears' backfield. He became Chicago's top draft pick (third round, 73rd overall) after he posted 3,507 yards from scrimmage with 26 total touchdowns in three seasons at Iowa State. Even with Davis in the mix, Montgomery should get his chances considering the Bears traded Jordan Howard to Philadelphia before the draft. Montgomery's combination of speed, power, and youth, along with a skill set that could make him an asset in the passing game, should serve Matt Nagy's offense well.
Green Bay Packers: Jace Sternberger, TE
Aaron Rodgers is a tough matchup for any defense, but the Packers could be even more formidable this season. Not only has Matt LaFleur replaced Mike McCarthy as head coach, meaning Green Bay's offense will have a new look, but the team also drafted Stenernberger, who was an All-American in his one season at Texas A&M (following a year at a junior college). He caught 48 passes for the Aggies for 832 yards and 10 touchdowns, averaging an impressive 17 yards per catch. Sternberger has appealing size (6-4, 251) that should make him a target in the red zone but he also has the ability to stretch the field. If he and Rodgers get on the same page quickly, it will make the Packers' passing game even more potent.
Detroit Lions: T.J. Hockenson, TE
Lions fans have been pushing for the team to justify the big contract given to quarterback Matthew Stafford two years ago due to the team's shortcomings at other positions in recent years. After trading Golden Tate in the middle of last season, Detroit needed to provide Stafford with another weapon to throw to and the team did just that taking Hockenson with the eighth overall pick in the draft. The John Mackey Award winner as the nation's top tight end last season, Hockenson finished his Iowa career with 73 catches for 1,060 yards and nine touchdowns. Hockenson also is pretty well versed in run blocking thanks to the Hawkeyes' pro-style offense. With ideal size (6-5, 247) and more than enough athleticism for the position, don't be surprised if Stafford looks for Hockenson early and often.
Minnesota Vikings: Cameron Smith, LB
If it weren't for the Bears, the Vikings would be able to claim the title of the NFC North's top defense. Despite missing out on the postseason in 2018, Minnesota finished in the top 10 in the NFL in both total and scoring defense. While the Vikings have plenty of Pro Bowl-caliber players at each level of their defense, the team used this year's draft to add depth to a couple of positions.
Smith was taken in the fifth round after leaving his mark at USC. The Trojans' leader in tackles in each of the past three seasons, Smith recorded 354 total stops in his collegiate career to go along with 26.5 tackles for a loss, 3.5 sacks, and four interceptions. In Minnesota, Smith joins a linebacking corps with established starters Anthony Barr and Eric Hendricks, but he should get plenty of opportunity in training camp and the preseason to stake his claim for the third spot in the Vikings scheme.
— 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.chicagobears.com)