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NFC North projected starters for 2023 NFL season: Lions look like division's best; Packers a wild team

With the 2023 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 DeMarcus Walker
RB Roschon Johnson DT Andrew Billings
WR DJ Moore DT Justin Jones
WR Darnell Mooney DE Dominique Robinson
WR Chase Claypool OLB T.J. Edwards
TE Cole Kmet MLB Tremaine Edmunds
LT Braxton Jones CB Jaylon Johnson
LG Teven Jenkins CB Kyler Gordon
C Cody Whitehair CB Tyrique Stevenson
RG Nate Davis S Eddie Jackson
RT Darnell Wright S Jaquan Brisker
  • I loved the Bears' process this offseason. They believed in Justin Fields, found starters in free agency and loaded up on the lines in the draft.
  • General manager Ryan Poles showed faith in Fields and PJ Walker, who was brought in as the team's primary backup. Walker showed growth last year in Carolina.
  • I'm probably going too far projecting fourth-round rookie Roschon Johnson as the starter here, but I like his running style. It should be a wide-open competition with Khalil Herbert and D’Onta Foreman.
  • Trading what turned out to be the top pick of the second round for Chase Claypool will likely go down as a mistake by Poles. But Claypool fits better as a third option with DJ Moore on board and Darnell Mooney healthy.
  • There are a lot of deep threats in the house, with rookie Tyler Scott possibly challenging Claypool for snaps eventually. Last year's third-round pick, Velus Jones Jr., is going to struggle to find playing time outside of return duties.
  • Cole Kmet finished second among all tight ends in snaps last regular season. That number could go down with an improved backup -- Robert Tonyan -- in place. The Bears' weapons around Fields are much deeper and closer to league average this season. It reminds me of what the Patriots did in 2021.
  • The Bears found a keeper last year in fifth-round left tackle Braxton Jones. If they are also right on No. 10 overall pick Darnell Wright, this group will be set up well for years. There are still questions on the interior, but former Titans guard Nate Davis adds to yet another improved Bears unit.
  • Poles is in his second offseason. That's why he can't be expected to have overhauled every part of Chicago's roster, with the defensive line still being a clear weakness. The edge-rusher group also includes Rasheem Green and Trevis Gipson beyond the starters listed above, but it's anyone's guess who will produce.
  • I liked the process of the Bears' draft better than the specific selections of defensive tackles Gervon Dexter Sr. and Zacch Pickens in the middle rounds. Both players look like projections at a position where the Bears desperately need some hits.
  • Poles thinks differently, and that includes spending big bucks on off-ball linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and T.J. Edwards. Jack Sanborn is a nice third option at the position.
  • The new Bears regime's vision can be seen clearest in the secondary, where there should be three starters that were selected in the last two drafts. Matt Eberflus needs to show he can coach up this group after a spotty 2022. The head coach gave the team no visible schematic advantage in Year 1.
  • The Bears are better, although it would be difficult to be much worse. Despite Eberflus' background, I'm more bullish on Chicago's offense taking major strides first.
Table inside Article
QB Jared Goff DE Aidan Hutchinson
RB David Montgomery DT Alim McNeil
WR Amon-Ra St. Brown DT Isaiah Buggs
WR Marvin Jones Jr. DE Charles Harris
WR Josh Reynolds OLB Jack Campbell
TE Sam LaPorta MLB Alex Anzalone
LT Taylor Decker CB Cameron Sutton
LG Jonah Jackson CB Emmanuel Moseley
C Frank Ragnow CB/S C.J. Gardner-Johnson
RG Halapoulivaati Vaitai S Tracy Walker III
RT Penei Sewell S Kerby Joseph
  • Jameson Williams is suspended for the first six games of the season after violating the league’s gambling policy. That removes the Lions' best deep threat and makes wideout a position of relative weakness compared to the rest of the offense.
  • Signing Marvin Jones Jr. will help in the first stretch of the season. He's not as fast as he once was, but he can still make contested catches.
  • Both the running back and tight end positions are more explosive this season. Jahmyr Gibbs was a surprising pick so high in the draft, but he can break the big plays Dan Campbell craves. David Montgomery won't. I don't see him as a significant upgrade over Jamaal Williams.
  • Considering the money Montgomery received from the Lions, it won't surprise me if he plays more snaps than Gibbs this season.
  • The offensive line continuity is what every team craves. Veteran Graham Glasgow is in place if Halapoulivaati Vaitai can't stay healthy, but this group is nasty and versatile.
  • I loved tight end Sam LaPorta coming out of Iowa. Look for him to have a few game-changing plays when offensive coordinator Ben Johnson gets him the ball in space.
  • Johnson showed last season he is one of the NFL's most creative young minds. Building on that success when the league knows what's coming will be a great test of his staying power.
  • The Lions needed to upgrade their backup quarterback situation and did so with third-round pick Hendon Hooker. Give Hooker a year before he's challenging Jared Goff for playing time.
  • The defensive depth is where the Lions show the most growth. James Houston was a revelation as a rookie pass rusher and isn't even listed as a starter here. Romeo Okwara, John Cominsky and 2022 second-rounder Josh Paschal are also part of an Eagles-like rotation of bodies up front.
  • That said, the Lions are definitely deeper on the edge than at defensive tackle.
  • Jack Campbell was drafted to start right away, presumably at the expense of Hard Knocks hero Malcolm Rodriguez.
  • Safety Brian Branch can do a little bit of everything, making him a natural successor to C.J. Gardner-Johnson, who is on a one-year contract. In the meantime, the Lions should find a role for Branch in a suddenly-deep secondary.
  • This is still not a great cornerback group, but it's better.
  • I can't remember a Detroit team with a better roster or higher expectations. The Lions should be favorites in the NFC North because they have the best line play and did well to address their biggest weaknesses.
Table inside Article
QB Jordan Love Edge Rashan Gary
RB Aaron Jones DE Kenny Clark
RB AJ Dillon DT Devonte Wyatt
WR Christian Watson Edge Preston Smith
WR Romeo Doubs OLB Quay Walker
TE Tucker Kraft MLB De'Vondre Campbell
LT David Bakhtiari CB Jaire Alexander
LG Elgton Jenkins CB Rasul Douglas
C Josh Myers CB Keisean Nixon
RG Jon Runyan S Darnell Savage
RT Yosh Nijman S Rudy Ford
  • The Packers need another quarterback. Not a starting quarterback, but it would be malpractice to go into the season with either Danny Etling or rookie Sean Clifford as the primary backup to Jordan Love.
  • I'm excited to watch Love. The highs figure to be very high and the lows could include a lot of turnovers.
  • Love is typical of this offense. There is a lot of potential for this group to grow together and be better earlier than expected. But it's a high-wire act with so many young players and a boom-or-bust offensive line.
  • The offense will go as far as the O-line takes it. The ceiling is quite high for this group, but that assumes David Bakhtiari can play to his old level. There are six good linemen, with Zach Tom a good option at center or right tackle.
  • I'm projecting Tucker Kraft to beat out fellow rookie Luke Musgrave despite Kraft going a round later because I loved Kraft's college tape. Musgrave could be more of a project, although that's what I mistakenly thought about Christian Watson, too.
  • Kraft and Musgrave should both see plenty of playing time, just like Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon will each take plenty of snaps at running back. The Packers will try to protect Love with a lot of running and two-TE sets.
  • The favorite for the No. 3 receiver spot is rookie Jayden Reed, although he could pass Romeo Doubs for No. 2. If the young players are not developing fast enough in training camp, a veteran pickup like Jarvis Landry makes sense.
  • The defense has underperformed relative to its talent for years. I'm stunned Matt LaFleur didn't change defensive coordinators.
  • I'm leaving Rashan Gary in the starting lineup coming off a torn ACL. Drafting Lukas Van Ness, however, gives the Packers a rotation piece to ease Gary back into the lineup.
  • Van Ness also figures to line up as an inside pass rusher plenty. He's closer to the next Preston Smith, however, than another version of Gary.
  • The Packers will want more out of their two first-round picks from a year ago. Devonte Wyatt will get more snaps with Dean Lowry and Jarran Reed gone. Linebacker Quay Walker made a lot of impressive plays, but he also gave up big plays on missed assignments.
  • There is high variance at linebacker, which is a trend of this team. De’Vondre Campbell had a career year in 2021 and couldn't quite back it up last season. He and Walker are a fun tandem.
  • Rudy Ford is a placeholder at safety. I'd expect the Packers to bring back free agent Adrian Amos or another veteran at some point.
  • 2021 first-round pick Eric Stokes is an X-factor. Coming off a poor season and a serious ankle injury, he's fourth on the depth chart entering camp. The Packers love Keisean Nixon. Everyone loves Keisean Nixon.
  • This is a wild team, incredibly young at the skill positions and talented on defense. Green Bay might have the highest variance of any NFL squad, with anything between 6-12 wins sounding reasonable. Just don't ignore the upside or assume the Packers are staying down for long.
Table inside Article
QB Kirk Cousins DE Danielle Hunter
RB Alexander Mattison DT Harrison Phillips
WR Justin Jefferson DT Dean Lowry
WR Jordan Addison DE Marcus Davenport
WR K.J. Osborn OLB Jordan Hicks
TE T.J. Hockenson MLB Brian Asamoah II
LT Christian Darrisaw CB Byron Murphy Jr.
LG Ezra Cleveland CB Andrew Booth Jr.
C Garrett Bradbury CB Akayleb Evans
RG Ed Ingram S Harrison Smith
RT Brian O'Neill S Camryn Bynum
  • Za’Darius Smith's departure was all but decided when Minnesota signed Marcus Davenport. It's still disappointing the Vikings only received two moves up on Day 3 of the draft in exchange for him.
  • Davenport is a mercurial talent playing on a one-year deal. The Vikings almost have to sign Danielle Hunter long-term now, otherwise the position is incredibly thin.
  • Even with Smith and Dalvin Tomlinson gone, the defensive line is the strength of an undermanned defense. This unit was 27th in efficiency last season and looks worse on paper this year.
  • Opponents figure to attack the Vikings in coverage at cornerback and the linebacker level. There's a reason two teams have moved on from Jordan Hicks. Brian Asamoah II, who barely played last season, will replace Eric Kendricks.
  • The top four Vikings cornerbacks from last season (Patrick Peterson, Cameron Dantzler, Chandon Sullivan, Duke Shelley) are all gone. It's not like it was a great group, but Minnesota will be asking a lot of unproven second-year pros Andrew Booth Jr. and Akayleb Evans, as well as rookie Mekhi Blackmon. It's a big test of new defensive coordinator Brian Flores' ability to develop players.
  • Booth and 2022 first-round pick Lewis Cine combined for 107 defensive snaps last season. Cine is coming off a compound fracture in his leg.
  • At least the defensive coaching will be better. Combine Flores with Kevin O'Connell, and the Vikings are in good hands.
  • This team will need to be carried by its offense. Kirk Cousins has the tools to be better in his second year under O'Connell.
  • I love how easily Jordan Addison gets open. He'll be asked to do more than most rookie wideouts this year as the clear No. 2 in Minnesota. I believe he'll be a definite upgrade from post-prime Adam Thielen.
  • Dalvin Cook's future remains up in the air. The Vikings could trade him in training camp or work out a contract where he takes a pay cut. Like the Za'Darius Smith situation, this one feels like a protracted divorce.
  • The Vikings re-signed Alexander Mattison so they'll be covered if they don't keep Cook.
  • K.J. Osborn is an excellent No. 3 and T.J. Hockenson fit well as a possession receiver in this offense.
  • For the first time in a long time, Minnesota's offensive line can be a strength. The tackle combination is excellent and there is continuity on the inside.
  • The Vikings will have to come out on top in shootouts -- like last year -- to win again. The defense looks further away, aside from the coaching. While Minnesota could finish anywhere from first to last in the division, at least building around offense makes sense.

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