The Draft Scout Roster Grades: NFC North

Our team-by-team look at every division in the NFL continues with the NFC North—a division that hinges on the future of Aaron Rodgers. If the Green Bay Packers’ superstar quarterback returns to Lambeau, the Packers remain the team to beat in the North. But if Rodgers doesn’t return due to a trade or sitting out the season, who will step up in their place? We take a look at both situations and evaluate which team has the best roster in the NFC North.

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Chicago Bears

2020 Record: 8-8

Free Agent Additions:
QB Andy Dalton, OLB Jeremiah Attaochu, DE Angelo Blackson

Draft Class:
QB Justin Fields (Round 1, Pick 11)
OT Teven Jenkings (Rd 2, Pick 7)
OT Larry Borom (Rd 5, Pick 7)
RB Khalil Herbert (Rd 6, Pick 33)
WR Dazz Newsome (Rd 6, Pick 37)
CB Thomas Graham, Jr. (Rd 6, Pick 44)
DT Khyiris Tonga (Rd 7, Pick 23)

Subtractions:
DT Roy Robertson-Harris, CB Kyle Fuller, LT Charles Leno, RB Cordarrelle Patterson, QB Mitchell Trubisky

Overall Roster Grade: C+

There are a lot of questions marks here but the Bears’ roster is overall a solid one. Rookie quarterback Justin Fields was my No. 2 ranked passer in the class and was a steal where they selected him. Second-rounder Teven Jenkins will ideally replace Charles Leno, Jr. and is a potential upgrade based on his pre-draft grade. The biggest questions come on defense, where the secondary was hit hard by the loss of Kyle Fuller but has a promising up-and-comer in cornerback Jaylon Johnson.

The Bears will once again be a tough team up-front on defense and we know Allen Robinson II will be a threat in the passing game. The ability to return as a playoff team will hinge on the play at quarterback with Fields or Andy Dalton under center.

Detroit Lions

2020 Record: 5-11

Free Agent Additions:
QB Jared Goff (trade), RB Jamaal Williams, WR Tyrell Williams, WR Breshad Perriman, QB Tim Boyle

Draft Class:
OT Penei Sewell (Round 1, Pick 7)
DT Levi Onwuzurike (Rd 2, Pick 9)
DT Alim McNeill (Rd 3, Pick 8)
CB Ifeatu Melifonwu (Rd 3, Pick 38)
WR Amon-Ra St. Brown (Rd 4, Pick 7)
LB Derrick Barnes (Rd 4, Pick 8)
RB Jermar Jefferson (Rd 7, Pick 30)

Subtractions:
QB Matthew Stafford (trade), WR Kenny Golladay, WR Jamal Agnew, WR Marvin Jones, LB Jarrad Davis

Overall Roster Grade: D

The Lions traded Matthew Stafford and Kenny Golladay for a lighter salary load and a lot of future draft picks, but now the new regime led by Brad Holmes must use those picks to turn this roster around. The Lions have no identity on offense despite having promising young players like D’Andre Swift, T.J. Hockenson and Taylor Decker to go along with first-rounder Penei Sewell. That has to change with new head coach Dan Campbell and forgive us if believing in Jared Goff is something we aren’t ready to do.

Defensively, the Lions need a difference-maker. Trey Flowers was brought in to be that player before the 2019 season and must step up after notching just two sacks last year. Similarly, second-year cornerback Jeff Okudah has to start playing like a top five pick. Back-to-back picks of defensive tackles Onwuzurike and McNeill could be the answer to the team’s problems in the middle.

The Lions’ roster is incomplete, with multiple first-round picks coming from the Los Angeles Rams in the next two drafts, which might have fans hoping the team “tanks” for better draft positioning. The roster is primed for it, if so.

Green Bay Packers

2020 Record: 13-3

Free Agent Additions:
OLB De’Vondre Campbell

Draft Class:
CB Eric Stokes (Round 1, Pick 29)
C Josh Myers (Rd 2, Pick 30)
WR Amari Rodgers (Rd 3, Pick 22)
OG Royce Newman (Rd 4, Pick 37)
DT Tedarrell Slaton (Rd 5, Pick 29)
CB Shemar Jean-Charles (Rd 5, Pick 34)
OT Cole Van Lanen (Rd 6, Pick 30)
LB Isaiah McDuffie (Rd 6, Pick 36)
RB Kylin Hill (Rd 7, Pick 29)

Subtractions:
C Corey Linsley, RB Jamaal Williams, LB Christian Kirksey

Overall Roster Grade with Rodgers: A
Overall Roster Grade without Rodgers: B-

The Packers with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback are one of the two or three best teams in the NFC.

The Packers without Rodgers at quarterback? It’s unlikely first-time starter Jordan Love would elevate the talent around him like Rodgers does, which is notable as the team breaks in a rookie center (Myers) and rookie slot receiver (Rodgers). Love may ultimately be a great quarterback, but if he’s starting Week 1 for the Packers, it’s fair to assume that roster isn’t as talented at the most important position in sports and that Love won’t be ready to make the players around him better at the rate Rodgers does.

Defensively, this team is built to play with a lead. They have a big-time pass-rush and emerging players like Rashan Gary to be excited about. The cornerback position opposite superstar Jaire Alexander is important, but first-rounder Eric Stokes has all the tools to be a good player in due time. Safety Darnell Savage, Jr. could be a breakout player this year—he has the tools to do it.

With Rodgers? Pencil the Packers into the NFC title game. Without? In a weak NFC North they could still win it.

Minnesota Vikings

2020 Record: 7-9

Free Agent Additions:
DT Dalvin Tomlinson, CB Patrick Peterson, CB Bashaud Breeland

Draft Class:
OT Christian Darrisaw (Round 1, Pick 23)
QB Kellen Mond (Rd 3, Pick 2)
LB Chazz Surratt (Rd 3, Pick 15)
OG Wyatt Davis (Rd 3, Pick 23)
DE Patrick Jones II (Rd 3, Pick 27)
RB Kene Nwangwu (Rd 4, Pick 14)
CB Camryn Bynum (Rd 4, Pick 20)
DE Janarius Robinson (Rd 4, Pick 29)
WR Ihmir Smith-Marsette (Rd 5, Pick 13)
TE Zach Davidson (Rd 5, Pick 24)
DT Jaylen Twyman (Rd 6, Pick 15)

Subtractions:
TE Kyle Rudolph, OT Riley Reiff, S Anthony Harris

Overall Roster Grade: B

The Minnesota Vikings lost little in free agency—I do like Anthony Harris, but his play dropped off in 2020—and added 11 draft picks while still trading back and acquiring more picks for 2022. General manager Rick Spielman maybe doesn’t get the credit he deserves, but after a really good ‘21 draft class he has his team prepped for a re-load at quarterback and addressed big holes on the offensive line early in this draft. Spielman and head coach Mike Zimmer also drafted for future need at linebacker (Surratt to replace Anthony Barr) and defensive end (Jones to replace Danielle Hunter if needed).

The Vikings have stability at quarterback, playmakers at running back and wide receiver and a serviceable defense that is veteran-laden and stout. If the Packers slip in 2021, the Vikings are positioned to pick up the slack.