Skip to main content

NFC North: Potential Breakout Star for Each Team

NFC North: Potential Breakout Star for Each Team

NFC North: Potential Breakout Star for Each Team

The NFC North pulled in another impressive haul in the 2020 NFL Draft back in April, just as they did the year before. Each team addressed some of their major needs, potentially securing those positions for the future. All four NFC North teams have plenty of rookies that will make plays for seasons to come, but here players from each team that have the potential to stand out head and shoulders above the rest.

Chicago Bears: Jaylon Johnson, CB

Tight end Cole Kmet, the first tight end chosen in this year's draft, was the top pick of the Bears' 2020 draft class, but Johnson might wind up being the big steal of this group. He was primarily a cornerback during his three seasons at Utah, but he was also used in nickel and dime packages and even lined up at safety. Johnson stood his ground against both the pass and the run, as he totaled 102 tackles, three tackles for a loss, one sack, 21 pass deflections, seven interceptions, and two touchdowns.

Johnson made plays all over the field for the Utes and now he looks to do the same for the Bears. And with Tre Roberson released at the start of training camp, Artie Burns tearing his ACL, and Jordan Lucas opting out due to COVID-19, Johnson will get ample opportunities to find his spot within this team.

Green Bay Packers: AJ Dillon, RB

Aaron Jones last year became the first Packers running back to reach 1,000 rushing yards in a season since Eddie Lacy in '14. The running back position has been a revolving door in Green Bay for the most part over the last decade. In order to bring more stability to the backfield, the Packers used this year's 62nd overall pick on Boston College's Dillon. In three seasons in Chestnut Hill (2017-19), Dillon ran for more than 1,500 yards twice (2017, '19), posted double-digit touchdown runs in all three years (38 total), and averaged five yards per rushing attempt every season as well.

Dillon is a durable, powerful runner who easily breaks tackles and can wear defenses down. Dillon can take immense pressure off of the passing game, which will certainly help Aaron Rodgers who isn't exactly getting any younger (will be 37 this season). He also sets up the team well for the future if they choose not to retain Jones, who hits free agency next year.

Detroit Lions: D'Andre Swift, RB

The running back position may be a revolving door in Green Bay, but it's been a lonely abyss in Detroit since Barry Sanders' retirement after the 1998 season. Since then, the Lions have only had three backs reach the 1,000-yard mark (James Stewart in 2000 and '02, Kevin Jones in '04, Reggie Bush in '13). Injuries at the position certainly haven't helped, and also complicating matters is the heavy investments that the Lions front office has made in the passing game through the years. But Georgia's D'Andre Swift, the 35th overall pick this year, could finally be the player to change all of that.

Swift was ranked in the top five at his position in the 2020 draft, and some even had him ranked as the top running back overall. In three years as a Bulldog (2017-19), Swift ran for 2,885 yards, added 666 receiving yards, and scored 25 combined touchdowns. Swift brings plenty of speed and athleticism to the table, and despite his smaller stature (5-9, 215), he's able to run through tackles and overpower defenders. Not only will Swift take a huge load off of Matthew Stafford's plate, he'll also be a nice complement to Kenny Golladay in the passing game.

Minnesota Vikings: Ezra Cleveland, OT

This second-round selection (58th overall) out of Boise State has the potential to be a Week 1 starter, as he's looking to push veterans such as Riley Reiff, Rashod Hill, and Brian O'Neill in training camp. The Vikings made the much-needed investment in the offensive line again this season after Kirk Cousins took 68 total sacks over the last two seasons. This is the third straight season the Vikings have spent one of their first two picks on an offensive lineman after nabbing O'Neill in the second round of the 2018 draft and center Garrett Bradbury in the first round in '19.

Cleveland was one of the top 10 offensive tackles in this year's draft and had quite the college career. He started 40 games for the Broncos from 2017-19 and was a two-time All-Mountain West Conference honoree in the process (2018-19).

— 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 Evan Siegle, courtesy of