An All NFC North Defense Features a Pair of Vikings

NFL: Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Admittedly, the defense isn’t going to be as impressive as the offense. But with that word of skepticism aside, we’ll press on in an effort to assemble a tremendous defense for the division.

In the NFC North, the Vikings have the most impressive defensive coordinator: Brian Flores. Were the exercise about picking the best strategist, then Minnesota would come out on top. What about the personnel? Danielle Hunter would have been a lock if he was still around, but his departure (and Harrison Smith’s advancing age) make the team light on Vikings representation.

The NFC North Defense

Start up front with the defensive line. Currently, it’s Minnesota’s weakest position with only Harrison Phillips — a run-stuffer by trade — as the only locked-in starter. Can the rest of the division do better?

For starters, the defense is going to be a 3-4 since it’s a trendy scheme and the one Minnesota leans on. In the middle is going to be Detroit’s Alim McNeill, a massive man who can thrive as a 1T. He’s the anchor that the defense is being built around. His counterpart is going to be Kenny Clark, who is getting older but still coming off of a 7.5-sack season (16 QB hits, 9 TFLs).

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions
Jan 7, 2024; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Detroit Lions defensive tackle Alim McNeill (54) runs through the smoke during player introductions before their game against the Minnesota Vikings at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Lon Horwedel-USA TODAY Sports

Along the edge is Aidan Hutchinson and Montez Sweat. Admittedly, there’s some temptation to roll with one of the Vikings’ options — Jonathan Greenard, Andrew Van Ginkel, or Dallas Turner — but the Lion and Bear have proven to be excellent players. The front four will thus consist of Hutchinson, McNeill, Clark, and Sweat.

Not bad.

It’s at linebacker where things get a bit interesting. We need a pair since we’re in nickle, meaning five defensive backs. Chicago made a pricey investment in the position by onboarding T.J. Edwards and Tremaine Edmunds a couple of offseasons ago. Is there any buyer’s remorse? In Green Bay and Detroit, there are 1st-Round talents like Quay Walker and Jack Campbell.

Nov 12, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Jordan Hicks (58) and linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. (40) and linebacker Nick Vigil (right) gather before the game against the New Orleans Saints at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Allow me to instead insist that Ivan Pace, the UDFA sophomore, deserves a spot on the team. He’ll be lining up alongside Chicago’s Edwards, someone who piled up 155 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 3 interceptions, 7 passes defended, and 8 tackles for a loss last season. Combined, the pair are going to be an attacking, blitzing twosome that round out the front.

The back end of the defense is going to begin with Jaire Alexander and Jaylon Johnson, the two best corners in the division. Putting those two along the outside means being able to matchup with some of the NFL’s absolute best receiver tandems.

Alexander, quite possibly, remains Public Enemy No. 1 in Minnesota. Regardless, he’s a tremendous defender. The games between Minnesota and Green Bay are seasoned with salt since they feature the Jaire v. Jets battle.

Jan 1, 2023; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; Green Bay Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander does the Griddy after breaking up a pass intended for Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Tork Mason-USA TODAY Sports

The tricky part comes when it’s time to get the rest of the defenders tossed into the mix. We need a pair of safeties and someone for the slot. Allow me to propose the versatile Brian Branch as the slot/safety hybrid. He’ll be joined by Josh Metellus and Xavier McKinney to form a trio of safeties who can be deployed in all sorts of different spots.

Flores, the fictional DC for this made up defense, would have a tremendous time moving these players around.

Syndication: Stevens Point Journal
Minnesota Vikings safety Josh Metellus (44) does a Thriller zombie dance after intercepting a pass against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, October 29, 2023, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. The Vikings won the game, 24-10.

So, to recap, there are three Lions, three Packers, three Bears, and two Vikings. Very neat, tidy, and balanced. The NFC North defense looks like this:

Hutchinson (DET)McNeill (DET)Clark (GB)Sweat (CHI)

Pace (MIN)Edwards (CHI)

Johnson (CHI)Metellus (MIN)McKinney (GB) Branch (DET)Alexander (GB)

Disagree? Let me know on social media.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference and PFF helped with this piece.

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K. Joudry is the Senior Editor for Vikings Territory and PurplePTSD. He has been covering the Vikings full time since the summer of 2021. He can be found on Twitter and as a co-host for Notes from the North, a humble Vikings podcast.