This week, the Last Word On Sports NFL department will be selecting starting lineups consisting of the best players from each division. In this article, the NFC North offense is the focus.
2017 NFC North All-Division Team: The Offense
Quarterback: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
He may be on the back nine of his career, but Aaron Rodgers is still a definitive top three passer in the NFL. Rodgers may be a top ten quarterback of all time. He certainly is the top signal caller in the NFC North. While 2015 was a down year (by his standards), and his team got off to a 4-6 start last season, he turned it around leading his team to six straight wins and an NFC North crown. The six time Pro Bowler threw 40 touchdowns last year, leading the league in both touchdowns and passing yards. Unfortunately for the rest of the division, Rodgers is still the best quarterback in the division by a wide margin.
Running Back: Jordan Howard, Chicago Bears
A fifth round pick in 2016, Jordan Howard started 13 games yet ended second in the league in rushing yards. He still has to prove that last season was no fluke, but he has the best combination of past NFL production and opportunity of any back in the division. While players like Dalvin Cook may be able to challenge Howard in terms of talent, Chicago is the only team that will rely on a single back for most of their production. Howard will likely be the focal point of a Bears offense without a proven talent at quarterback. He is the safest bet to be the best runner in the NFCN in 2017.
Wide Receiver: Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers
Call Jordy Nelson a product of Aaron Rodgers, call him interchangeable in the Green Bay offense, but he just had a 1,200 yard season at 32 years old coming off an ACL injury. Oh, and he also caught 14 touchdowns. While it is true that his numbers are inflated by his offense, he still should be credited for standing out on a team and in a league brimming with pass-catching weapons.
Wide Reciever: Stefon Diggs, Minnesota Vikings
Stefon Diggs may have not have had a 1,000 yard season, and he didn’t even lead his team in yards or touchdowns. But he is still a top receiver in the NFC North and the league. Diggs fell to the fifth round of the 2015 draft due to injuries, and unfortunately those injuries have followed him in the NFL. He was limited to 13 games last season, yet he still had over 900 receiving yards, catching 75 percent of balls thrown his way. For spans last season, he was spectacular. He had 285 yards and a score over the first two games of the season. He also set an NFL record with 13 catches in back-to-back games. If Diggs can remain healthy, gain some consistency, and score against non-division opponents, he will be a household name.
Slot Receiver: Golden Tate, Detriot Lions
Golden Tate lined up far less in the slot last season than he did in 2015 (26 percent as opposed to 51 percent), but that was mostly due to the presence of slot-specialist Anquan Boldin, who is no longer with the team. Tate had his second 1,000 yard season in 2016 and while his numbers may be lower in the slot, he can still be productive. Just ask any Vikings fan how dangerous he can be.
Tight End: Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings
This was a tough decision between Kyle Rudolph and recent Packers signing Martellus Bennett. Both are strong at the point of the catch, both can make plays after the catch, and both are some of the better blocking tight ends in the league. Ultimately, though, Rudolph’s leadership and recent history set him apart. Bennett is entering the season on his fifth team in ten seasons, while Rudolph will enter his eighth season with the team that drafted him in 2011. Bennett has been criticized as a poor locker room presence, while Rudolph is one of the most vocal leaders and positive off-field presences in Minnesota. Rudolph’s career is also on the upswing as he has increased his yardage and touchdown outputs each of the last three years, and he is in an offense which features the tight end more than any other in the division.
Left Tackle: David Bakhtiari, Green Bay Packers
One of the most underrated (and handsy) blind-side protectors in the NFL, David Bakhtiari faces the unique challenge of blocking for a quarterback who likes to hold the ball and run in circles before throwing while matching up against one of the best edge-rushing divisions in the league. He was ranked by Pro Football Focus as the best pass protector in the league in 2016.
Left Guard: Josh Sitton, Chicago Bears
Josh Sitton has played all over the line during his time in the NFL, and he would likely make this list at either guard position. Sitton made the move to Chicago last off-season after the Packers unexpectedly cut the four time Pro-Bowler. The Bears may be a bad team, but Sitton is still a great player at 31 years old.
Center: Travis Swanson, Detroit Lions
Travis Swanson may be one of the most under appreciated linemen in the league. Entering his fourth professional season, Swanson has only allowed 4.5 career sacks. He also five career penalties. Swanson disappointed in his first two seasons, and the Lions already have drafted his replacement in Graham Glasgow, but Swanson stepped up last season to be the best player at one of the weaker positions in the division.
Right Guard: T.J. Lang, Detroit Lions
Another longtime Packer guard, T.J. Lang left Green Bay for the Motor City this offseason. After an up-and-down start to his career Lang gained consistency, reducing his sacks allowed each year since 2012. Lang turns 30 at the beginning of the season, but he still should stand out as the top right guard in the division.
Right Tackle: Ricky Wagner, Detroit Lions
Ricky Wagner, brought to Detroit from Baltimore via free agency, has had an up and down career to this point. According to Pro Football Focus, Wagner was very solid last season and in 2014, but he had a down year in 2015. The Lions are hoping that 2015 was a fluke and that Wagner will remain steady in Detroit.
Now that the offense has been discussed, check out the NFC North all-division defense/special teams.