Putting Together an NFC North Team: Who Makes the Cut for Vikings?
What kind of team could we have if we assembled the best talent from the NFC North?
Admittedly, the exercise is one that’s far from clear cut. Different people will have different opinions. I won’t pretend that I don’t look at things with purple goggles on. There is bias from your humble author. Even still, I’ll do my best to be objective.
The criteria is simple: assemble the team that offers the best possible chance of winning in the upcoming season. Building a sustainable winner both now and in the future? Leave that to Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and his false-dichotomy-defying competitive rebuild.
The cap doesn’t matter, so put that out of your thinking. All we care about is talent, not what that talent costs.
The goal here is simply to put together a star-studded team capable of winning against the very best the NFL has to offer (whether real teams or other divisional all-star teams).
The players in bold are the picks with the main substitute being in brackets. Given the NFL’s propensity for passing, the offense is in 11 personnel and the defense in nickel. With all that said, the highly-debatable NFC North team.
The NFC North Offense
QB: Kirk Cousins (Justin Fields)
RB: Aaron Jones (Jahmyr Gibbs)
TE: T.J. Hockenson (Cole Kmet)
WR: Justin Jefferson (Christian Watson)
WR: Amon-Ra St. Brown (K.J. Osborn)
WR: D.J. Moore (Jordan Addison)
LT: Christian Darrisaw (David Bakhtiari)
LG: Elgton Jenkins (Ezra Cleveland)
C: Frank Ragnow (Garrett Bradbury)
RG: Nate Davis (Teven Jenkins)
RT: Penei Sewell (Brian O’Neill)
Let the other NFL divisions put together their best team. Will any be able to matchup with Jefferson, St. Brown, and Moore?
There’s an excellent case to be made that Jefferson and St. Brown are top-5 WRs in the NFL. Detroit’s young receiver is among the most underrated players in the NFL. If he played for, say, the Cowboys, the entire world would know how sensational he is. Jefferson is better, but the difference between the pair isn’t as large as people think.
Putting Cousins at the top spot will be controversial for some, but it really shouldn’t be. He’s the division’s best QB right now. The highest ceiling? No, of course not; that title belongs to Mr. Fields. As of the publishing of this piece, though, Cousins is the best QB and it isn’t particularly close. Lay aside your concerns about his contract – many of which are very legitimate – and simply acknowledge what’s plain to see: his talent alone puts him in the top-12 at the position.
Dalvin Cook is missing from the list. League insiders – both on the national and local level – have hinted that #4 is heading elsewhere in 2023. More importantly, general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah is fairly lukewarm with his star RB. As a result, the nod went to Mr. Jones and the recently-drafted Gibbs.
Finally, a word on the OL. The RG spot was a bit tricky to forecast. Nate Davis is a recent addition to the division. I’ll give him the nod over Jenkens, who did excellently in the PFF grades for his 576 snaps at RG in 2022. One final thought: can you imagine the destruction that would happen with Darrisaw and Jenkins working together?
The NFC North Defense
EDGE: Danielle Hunter (Aidan Hutchinson)
DT: Kenny Clark (DeMarcus Walker)
DT: Alim McNeill (Harrison Phillips)
EDGE: Rashan Gary (Preston Smith)
LB: De’Vondre Campbell (T.J. Edwards)
LB: Tremaine Edmunds (Malcolm Rodriguez)
CB: Jaire Alexander (Jaylon Johnson)
CB: Cam Sutton (Rasul Douglas)
CB: Byron Murphy (Brian Branch)
S: Harrison Smith (Eddie Jackson)
S: C.J. Gardner-Johnson (Darnell Savage)
A talented defense, to be sure, but not a group that’s as impressive as the offense.
Many of the inclusions are of players who have recently been brought into the division. Edmunds, Sutton, Murphy, and Gardner-Johnson (a player Rick Spielman wanted) are all newcomers. It’s very possible they don’t end up working out with their new teams even though their talent is obvious.
The secondary is likely where there would be the most disagreement. There was debate about whether Murphy should get the nod over Johnson, a talented young corner in Chicago. In the end, I opted for Murphy due to his versatility. The imaginary team would feature Mr. Murphy handling slot duties (with Branch being the main backup).
The DT spot is a bit of a jumble. McNeill and Phillips are run stuffers. Clarke is a penetrating defensive lineman capable of wreaking havoc from the inside (he’s a nightmare when Minnesota plays him). Walker is more of a 3/5T given his size (or lack thereof). If the goal was simply to create chaos on passing downs – after all, the defense is in nickel – then Walker likely should get in there alongside GB’s Clarke.
On paper, the defense looks very good but not quite as intimidating as the offense. There’s a sliver of uncertainty up front and on the backend.
Editor’s Note: Shout out to PFF for providing some very helpful info on the rosters in the North.