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NFC North projected starters for 2022 NFL season: Receiver wide open for Packers; Lions to contend?

With the 2022 NFL Draft and most of free agency in the rearview, Gregg Rosenthal will project starting lineups for all 32 teams because that's his idea of fun. Check out the NFC North breakdowns below.

Table inside Article
QB Justin Fields DE Robert Quinn
RB David Montgomery DT Angelo Blackson
WR Darnell Mooney DT Justin Jones
WR Byron Pringle DE Al-Quadin Muhammad
WR Velus Jones Jr. LB Roquan Smith
TE Cole Kmet LB Nicholas Morrow
LT Larry Borom CB Jaylon Johnson
LG Cody Whitehair CB Kyler Gordon
C Lucas Patrick CB Tavon Young
RG Dakota Dozier S Eddie Jackson
RT Teven Jenkins S Jaquan Brisker
  • I feel guilty dogging this receiver group because it contains Darnell Mooney, the greatest Tulane Green Wave since Matt Forte. Mooney could get 1,300 yards catching deep passes because his skill set matches up so well with Justin Fields' and there's so little competition.
  • Byron Pringle was a worthy free-agent pickup, but he makes more sense as a No. 4 than he does as a No. 2 receiver. Also, he could be subject to discipline under the NFL's personal conduct policy due to his April arrest on a reckless driving charge. Jones is an older prospect and could be more of a return man, but he's the favorite for the slot receiver role as a third-round pick of this new regime. Equanimeous St. Brown, Dazz Newsome and David Moore are other possibilities.
  • GM Ryan Poles didn't do nearly enough to support Fields' chances of success this offseason. Poles did draft four Day 3 offensive linemen, however, with the hope of hitting on a starter or two. There's playing time available at left tackle and right guard. 
  • The Bears should look for veteran help like Duane Brown at left tackle by training camp if none of the younger players are impressing. 
  • Offensive coordinator Luke Getsy has the best chance of not wasting Fields' season. If the Bears get the play-caller decision right, the personnel ambivalence won't look as bad. 
  • Bears coach Matt Eberflus' defense traditionally doesn't blitz a lot, counting on the front four to get pressure. And as much as I enjoyed the Robert Quinnaissance last year, it's hard to see this group being good enough beyond him. That's especially true on the interior. 
  • Roquan Smith, who is set to play on his fifth-year option, could use a big season heading into free agency. He should be a natural fit in Eberflus' system. 
  • The secondary is the most fully formed, promising part of the Bears' roster. That's not a huge surprise after Poles used his first two draft picks there and with Jaylon Johnson already in place. The rookies have to be ready and a return to form for Eddie Jackson would be massive, but the ceiling of this secondary is high.
Table inside Article
QB Jared Goff DE Aidan Hutchinson
RB D'Andre Swift DT Alim McNeil
WR Amon-Ra St. Brown DE Romeo Okwara
WR D.J. Chark DE Charles Harris
WR Josh Reynolds LB Alex Anzalone
TE T.J. Hockenson LB Derrick Barnes
LT Taylor Decker CB Amani Oruwariye
LG Jonah Jackson CB Mike Hughes
C Frank Ragnow CB Jeff Okudah
RG Halapoulivaati Vaitai S Tracy Walker
RT Penei Sewell S DeShon Elliott
  • Head coach Dan Campbell and general manager Brad Holmes had a vision when they took this team over. They wanted to be deep up front on both sides of the ball and prized versatility on defense. They have made enormous strides in two offseasons.
  • Josh Reynolds went from the waiver wire to a top target last season in a few weeks. Once No. 12 overall pick Jameson Williams returns from his torn ACL, Reynolds should be WR4 in Detroit. That shows the quick growth in this unit.
  • Amon-Ra St. Brown was one of the better slot receivers in football as a rookie. He thrives running the timing routes over the middle that Jared Goff likes to throw best.
  • Sewell is sticking at right tackle for this season after improving throughout his rookie year. If Vaitai stays healthy, this could be a top-three offensive line, making everyone around them look better.
  • While the Lions might have uncertainty on defense, they make for up it in flexibility. The depth of the defensive line stands out the most, but defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn can shapeshift at every position group depending on the down, distance and opponent.
  • The defensive line could be special. Here are some players that didn't even crack the group above: Michael Brockers, second-round pick Joshua Pascal, promising second-year pro Levi Onwuzurike and Romeo Okwara's brother, Julian, who improved under Glenn last year.
  • To put it another way: Aidan Hutchinson does not need to carry the group. He'll have plenty of help.
  • The weakness of the defense is off-ball linebacker. Alex Anzalone played a role in giving up a lot of big plays last year. Second-year pro Derrick Barnes will get plenty of snaps.
  • Jeff Okudah is a wild card. Heading into his third year, there's no doubt that 2019 fifth-round pick Amani Oruwariye is a more reliable player than Okudah, who was taken No. 3 overall in 2020. Okudah could be anywhere from an outside starter to nickel back to benched.
  • The lack of additions at cornerback in the draft could be a show of confidence in defensive backs/pass game coordinator Aubrey Pleasant, who is one of the best at what he does. The Lions could play with three safeties plenty, with DeShon Elliott an underrated free-agent pickup and third-round rookie Kerby Joseph in the mix.
  • The Lions still don't have a long-term quarterback, but this roster is so much better than when Campbell and Holmes arrived. They can contend for a playoff spot now and be ready for the next step in 2023.
Table inside Article
QB Aaron Rodgers DE Kenny Clark
RB Aaron Jones DT Devonte Wyatt
WR Allen Lazard DE Dean Lowry
WR Christian Watson OLB Rashan Gary
WR Amari Rodgers ILB De'Vondre Campbell
TE Robert Tonyan OLB Preston Smith
LT David Bakhtiari CB Jaire Alexander
LG Jon Runyan CB Rasul Douglas
C Josh Myers CB Eric Stokes
RG Zach Tom S Adrian Amos
RT Yosh Nijman S Darnell Savage
  • There's understandably a lot of concern about Aaron Rodgers' pass-catching weapons. There is a lot less concern about the rest of the roster, especially the loaded defense.
  • It's weird to think of the Packers as a defense-and-running team when they have the back-to-back MVP at quarterback, but that's how this roster shapes up. Backup running back AJ Dillon is a stone-cold weapon. Aaron Jones and Dillon are ready to surpass Cleveland's Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt as the best duo in football.
  • At receiver, the Packers make up in quantity what they lack in obvious quality. In a perfect world, second-round pick Christian Watson steps right into a Marquez Valdes-Scantling-plus role. In the real world, it's possible free-agent addition Sammy Watkins is a better player if healthy.
  • In another perfect world, the team signs Odell Beckham Jr.
  • Development from second-year pro Amari Rodgers would help this team a great deal. It would also put Randall Cobb's roster spot in jeopardy.
  • It's extremely weird that Allen Lazard is the surest thing catching the ball, especially with tight end Robert Tonyan coming off a torn ACL. After Lazard, spots two through six are wide open. The excellently named fourth-rounder Romeo Doubs could compete for early snaps.
  • The right side of the offensive line has two starting jobs open in camp, but it's not that concerning. Pro Bowler Elgton Jenkins is coming off a torn ACL and will eventually step in at one of the guard spots or right tackle.
  • I'm not worried about the O-line because the team has so many options. It wouldn't surprise me if rookie Zach Tom won the right tackle job. Third-round pick Sean Rhyan will compete at guard, while Royce Newman and Yosh Nijman got quality experience last year.
  • The defense has far fewer question marks. That starting unit is loaded and there's not a lot of competition beyond free-agent pickup Jarran Reed mixing in with the defensive line starters.
  • The larger question on the Packers' defense is whether De’Vondre Campbell and Rasul Douglas can do it again. They both had career-best seasons under defensive coordinator Joe Barry and were rewarded for it.
  • If I was going to pick nits, there isn't a ton of depth throughout the defense, especially in the secondary. The Packers could be more vulnerable to a few injuries than most top teams.
  • First-round linebacker Quay Walker wasn't even listed above because he might not play as much as the team's third cornerback or second defensive end. About 500 snaps is probably a fair estimate and that's just fine for a front seven that will rotate plenty.
  • Rashan Gary improved so much in his third season that an All-Pro type of campaign can't be ruled out.
  • Let's not act like the Packers are in retreat because one position on the roster (wideout) is weird. Aaron Rodgers earns his money, in part, by making those guys better and the Packers remain one of the NFC favorites.
Table inside Article
QB Kirk Cousins DE Danielle Hunter
RB Dalvin Cook DT Dalvin Tomlinson
WR Justin Jefferson DT Harrison Phillips
WR Adam Thielen DE Za'Darius Smith
WR K.J. Osborn LB Eric Kendricks
TE Irv Smith Jr. LB Jordan Hicks
LT Christian Darrisaw CB Patrick Peterson
LG Ezra Cleveland CB Andrew Booth Jr.
C Garrett Bradbury S Harrison Smith
RG Ed Ingram S Lewis Cine
RT Brian O'Neill S Camryn Bynum
  • The offense is virtually unchanged. The Vikings do not look like a squad in Year 1 of a regime change at coach and GM after seasons of mediocrity.
  • Continuity is usually a great thing, but I have mixed feelings here. The Vikings are counting on new coach Kevin O'Connell to change this attack.
  • The biggest turning point of the Vikings' offseason came when they traded down from the 12th overall pick in the draft, passing on a chance to select Jameson Williams. After another trade down in Round 2, the extra pick turned into Ed Ingram (No. 59 overall), whom I've projected to start at guard. 
  • It's not a surprise the Vikings addressed their interior offensive line. That remains the biggest question mark on the team and should concern anyone who doesn't like watching Kirk Cousins throw passes into the ground because of quick pressure up the middle. 
  • Adding Williams would have made this skill position group loaded. It's still quite good. K.J. Osborn was a revelation last year as a No. 3 receiver, making almost as many big plays as Adam Thielen.
  • Irv Smith Jr. could put this group on another level. He missed all of last season with a knee injury and has gained just 676 yards in his career, yet his movement and ball skills give him the potential to be a top tight end. 
  • That's a fine-looking defense on paper and a better indication of where the organization is headed under new GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah.
  • The secondary should be extremely versatile and able to mix and match against any offense. Chandon Sullivan is projected as the starting slot cornerback, although I listed three safeties getting the most snaps as a nod to Camryn Bynum's terrific rookie season.
  • Andrew Booth Jr., a second-round pick, struggled to stay healthy at Clemson and underwent surgery on a sports hernia in March. He might not be a full participant until training camp, so Cameron Dantzler could have the early inside track to start opposite Patrick Peterson.
  • That's a good-looking defensive line and linebacker group. Third-round pick Brian Asamoah will try to take some of Jordan Hicks' snaps.
  • Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith are the biggest boom-or-bust part of this roster. If healthy, they could be one of the best tandems in football. Hunter has played just 384 snaps in the last two years combined, however, and Smith missed nearly all of last season with back issues. 
  • In the AFC, this roster would get lost in the shuffle. In the NFC, the Vikings have a chance to get back to the playoffs if a few variables break right. (Most notably: Was O'Connell a good hire?)

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