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NFC North’s Best Players thru 11 Weeks(PFF)

The Green Bay Packers have asserted a stranglehold on the NFC North, seven months after the franchise was roasted for selecting its quarterback of the future in Jordan Love. Packers brass was supposed to select an electrifying wide receiver from the 2020 draft class as the pool was peppered with sure-fire stars. The legitimacy of the 2020 WR draft class has been affirmed early on. CeeDee Lamb, Tee Higgins, Chase Claypool, and Justin Jefferson are the showstoppers so far from the field. Even more 2020 rookie WRs will progress per “normal” development into 2021 and 2022 (Jerry Jeudy, Jalen Reagor, etc.)

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After the Packers, the Bears, Vikings, and Lions are battling subpar seasons. Chicago began the 2020 season starry-eyed with a 5-1 record but have since cratered to 5-5 by the bye week. The Vikings are arguably the most disappointing of the bunch as owners of a 4-6 record. Minnesota was slated to win 9 or 10 games per preseason Vegas odds. 

And, the Lions are the Lions.

Individually, here are the top five football players in the NFC North through 11 weeks per Pro Football Focus. 

Please note: Dalvin Cook’s exclusion is arbitrary and can be a testament to Pro Football Focus’ grading system rather than a VikingsTerritory endorsement.

5. Adam Thielen (MIN) PFF = 90.0

According to some folks, Thielen was theorized to see a drop-off in production because Stefon Diggs was traded to the Buffalo Bills. Those folks were wrong. 

Thielen has been better than ever. He leads in the NFL receiving touchdowns, ranks 19th in receptions and 21st in receiving yards, and is hauling in touchdowns that even his most loyal fans didn’t realize he could handle. 

The arrival of rookie phenom Justin Jefferson has created open space for Thielen – arguably as much as Diggs provided. If the 30-year-old Thielen continues this rate of production for a few more years, he will cement his spot as the third-best Vikings wide receiver of all-time.

4Justin Jefferson (MIN) PFF = 90.6

Who had Jefferson just-as or more prolific than Adam Thielen in their 2020 tarot cards? If you say “yes,” you’re not telling the truth. 

Jefferson has been magnificent. He ranks seventh among all WRs (not just rookies) in receiving yards. Incidentally, that also leads the lofty 2020 NFL Draft rookie class. Jefferson ranks second in the NFL behind Marquez Valdes-Scantling in yards per reception. His four receiving touchdowns rank 24th in the business. And all of these accolades are despite his relative lack of targets within the Vikings offense. Minnesota does not pass the football too much in comparison to the rest of the NFL. In fact, Jefferson has been targeted 59 times – 43rd most in the NFL.

3Khalil Mack (CHI) PFF = 91.6

On to more the familiar faces.

Although the Bears season has conducted a total nosedive, Mack remains the cream of the crop in the NFC North. His 91.6 PFF grade is second in the NFL among edge rushers. Only T.J. Watt of the Pittsburgh Steelers grades at a higher rating (92.1). Mack’s 6.5 sacks are the 12th-best leaguewide. His eight tackles-for-loss also rank 12th. Package that with two forced fumbles, and eight QB Hits, and a 91.6 grade feels spot-on. 

Mack is the poster boy [monster] for the Bears 6th-best defense in the NFL.

2Davante Adams (GB) PFF = 92.0

The Packers superstar wideout missed two games early on in 2020, but before the absence and after, Adams has been an All-Pro pass catcher. He leads the NFL in receiving yards per game (105.9). Scaled to a full and healthy season, that is 1,694 yards. With that, we enter Calvin Johnson territory. His 10 touchdowns are second in the business to only Adam Thielen. 

To be sure, Adams is his quarterback’s favorite target and the numbers illustrate the “why.” The 27-year-old has just one game that he registered south of 50 receiving yards in 2020. His production is consistent, steady, and automatic. 

Barring a total collapse for Green Bay, Adams will get another crack at the playoffs in about one month.

1Aaron Rodgers (GB) PFF = 92.6 

The author of this analysis foreshadowed an Aaron Rodgers’ decline to continue into 2020. Each year since 2015, Rodgers’ performance has dipped like clockwork. Of course, injuries did not help the descent. 

For now, all of that is wildly incorrect. Rodgers is No. 2 in the league’s MVP race – ahead of Russell Wilson, Josh Allen, and Kyler Murray but behind Patrick Mahomes. Rodgers has returned to his level of output that mirrors pre-2015. The Packers have struggled against teams with winning records (Buccaneers, Colts), but they have shellacked most other teams. The Vikings, however, did upset Green Bay in Wisconsin during Week 8.

Rodgers ranks second in the league in QBR, first in PFF grade among quarterbacks, and second in passer rating. He’s been the best player in the NFC North for 2020 by a smidgen. January will prove if it’s time for Rodgers to make one more February run – something that has not occurred for the mighty Rodgers in a decade.

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