Can Mitchell Trubisky and Chicago take a step forward this year? Scouts give their takes on the Bears, Lions, Packers and Vikings
Minnesota dominated the NFC North last season, as defending division champion Green Bay was without Aaron Rodgers for nine games. Quarterback is once again the focus, with the Vikings pinning their Super Bowl hopes on Kirk Cousins, while the Packers' fortunes are tied directly to the health of their MVP signal-caller.
Detroit has a new head coach but the Lions' will only go as far Matthew Stafford can carry them; and Chicago has gone all-in on Mitchell Trubisky, surrounding the second-year quarterback with an offensive-minded head coach and plenty of new weapons.
With so much attention on the signal-callers, it should be pointed out that Minnesota had the NFL's No. 1 defense last season, Green Bay hired a new defensive coordinator, the Lions hired former New England DC Matt Patricia as their new head coach, and the Bears selected Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith eighth overall in this year's draft.
In order to get an accurate assessment of how the four NFC North teams are shaping up heading into the 2018 season, Athlon asked NFL scouts to talk anonymously about the Bears, Lions, Packers and Vikings.
Note: These scouting reports come directly from NFL scouts and do not necessarily reflect the views of Athlon's editorial staff.
"Once GM Ryan Pace moved up one spot [in 2017] to take Mitchell Trubisky and John Fox didn’t know it was going to happen, you knew the end was near for this marriage."
"The ill-fated Mike Glennon era didn’t last long, but his offensive teammates did not provide much help, except for [tackle] Charles Leno, who played surprisingly well, and [guard] Josh Sitton, who signed with the Dolphins during free agency."
"When Trubisky entered the lineup, he flashed his potential, so everything in 2018 is geared to help him."
"The Bears added Allen Robinson from Jacksonville and Trey Burton from Philadelphia, but Robinson is coming off an ACL, and Burton is seen around the league as more of a versatile niche player than front-line tight end."
"Word has it that Kevin White has looked great in offseason workouts, but he has only appeared in five career games over three years."
"Jordan Howard needs a bounce-back year, and the right side of their line could be much improved if Kyle Long can make it back from multiple maladies."
"Akiem Hicks, Danny Trevathan, Kyle Fuller and Adrian Amos all played winning football in 2017."
"Fuller was transition tagged, signed an offer sheet from Green Bay, but the Bears matched their $56 million deal."
"Pace chose Roquan Smith, arguably the best defensive player in the entire draft, at No. 8, and he should continue the incredible history of inside linebacker play for this organization."
"On paper, this is a more talented roster, but the question will be: Can first-year head coach Matt Nagy get Trubisky to play better and turn this into a better team?"
"Jim Caldwell didn’t do a bad job for the Lions, but after consecutive 9-7 seasons, GM Bob Quinn felt they could do better with his own coach. Drawing on his New England background, he waited on defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, and now he and Quinn will march forward together."
"Quinn has been active in free agency and has had success with Marvin Jones, T.J. Lang and Ricky Wagner. Jones is a consistent target for Matthew Stafford, and the Lang/Wagner combination on the right side of the offensive line proved to be effective."
"Detroit must address two major flaws -- their run game and pass rush."
"In the draft, they selected center Frank Ragnow in the first round, running back Kerryon Johnson in the second round and fullback Nick Bawden in the seventh round, and all three of these prospects should elevate the team’s rushing attack."
"They franchised Ezekiel Ansah, signed defensive tackle Sylvester Williams and also grabbed linebackers Devon Kennard and Christian Jones to help their defense."
"Glover Quin is one of the most underappreciated players in the entire league; all he does is show up and play week in and week out. Darius Slay has amazing pure ability but will still blow a fuse on occasion."
"Is this team better? Maybe, maybe not. It all really depends on their ability to run the ball and stop the run, both factors in taking some pressure off Stafford, but I like the shared philosophical approach taken this offseason by Quinn and Patricia."
"Aaron Rodgers was sacked 19 times in the Packers’ first five games and then suffered a fractured clavicle that essentially ruined Green Bay’s season."
"After sustaining free-agent losses in the offensive line, that unit took a huge step backwards and is the weakest link on the entire team, which is a scary proposition for A-Rod."
"Ty Montgomery sustained wrist and rib injuries at running back, so look for Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams, both of whom flashed as rookies, to combine for most of the work."
"Long-time GM Ted Thompson was quietly transitioned to a support role, while Brian Gutekunst takes over as the top decision-maker. He made a splash by signing Jimmy Graham on offense and Mo Wilkerson for the defense, which is a major departure from how Green Bay typically conducts business."
"With Jordy Nelson in Oakland, Davante Adams and Randall Cobb will head up the receiving corps in 2018. Adams made solid progress, despite the growing pains of working with Brett Hundley, who was extremely uneven in his nine starts."
"Kenny Clark and Mike Daniels are both underrated players who performed well last year, so along with Wilkerson, they should be better against the run."
"For as bad as the OL was in 2017, the defensive secondary was in the same boat."
"At corner, Tramon Williams, who returns as a free agent, and last year’s second-round pick, Kevin King, will get their respective shots, but the Packers still added Jaire Alexander as their top draft choice and Josh Jackson in the second round."
"With Minnesota the clear favorite in the division, the Packers will be fortunate to compete for a Wild Card berth and will have to hold their breaths every time Rodgers drops back to pass."
"In what proved to be an unpredictable 2017 season, QB Case Keenum saved the day for the Vikings after Sam Bradford went down in the second game. Keenum had a career year, but GM Rick Spielman did not believe he was the long-term answer, so they opted to pay huge dollars to acquire Kirk Cousins. Cousins is a quality NFL QB but is not dynamic as an athlete, nor does he possess a big arm."
"With that said, he should make this team an annual contender for the NFC title game, but anything less than the Super Bowl will be considered a failure by most."
"The offensive line is the weakest part of their roster, but they did add Pittsburgh [tackle] Brian O’Neill and Appalachian State [guard] Colby Gossett in the draft, and both have potential starter upsides."
"Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen complement each other well and make for a nice mix of differing styles. With his lack of legit speed, not sure Laquon Treadwell will ever be more than a decent No. 3, if that."
"The strength of this team is their defensive line. Everson Griffen, Linval Joseph and Danielle Hunter have combined to set the table for their linebackers and secondary to play well."
"Plus, they added Sheldon Richardson in free agency, so this might be the best defensive line in the game."
"With Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes manning the cornerback spots with length and speed and the addition of Mike Hughes in the first round, the Vikings have plenty of cornerback depth."
"Harrison Smith is playing at a superstar level, so if Cousins can deliver at any level above Keenum, the Super Bowl is a distinct possibility."