Over the course of two weeks here at CBSSports.com, we're unveiling our annual preseason All-Division teams. We began last week with the AFC, cycling through the, , , and . Starting Monday, we began our run through the NFC, beginning with the NFC East. We'll continue on through the NFC North (below) and NFC South (Aug. 15) before finishing up with the NFC West (Aug. 16). Enjoy.
The NFC North is one of the NFL's most competitive divisions pretty much every year now. They're always in the mix to send a couple teams to the playoffs, and 2018 should be no different. The Vikings are among the overall favorites not just in the NFC, but in the whole league. The Packers are always a threat to make and go deep in the playoffs, given the presence of arguably the game's best quarterback. The Lions and Bears both have new coaches who should spur great improvement on their respective weaker sides of the ball.
There's a whole lot of talent in this division, and it's pretty equally spread out with elite players at each position coming from all different teams. Let's run through the all-division roster.
Aaron Rodgers, Packers
There isn't a quarterback in the NFL whose ceiling is higher than that of Rodgers. Even during a relatively down season last year, he managed to throw 16 touchdowns with six interceptions in seven games. He averaged 4,200 yards, 36 touchdowns and seven picks over the three prior seasons. He has arguably the strongest arm in the league. He can throw it from nearly any launch angle. He is the best quarterback in the league when he breaks the pocket. He makes impossible throws look easy. He makes easy throws look impossibly easy. He is quite possibly the most talented quarterback to ever play the game. And he's still going strong.
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Howard took a step backward during Year 2 as the Bears struggled to do much of anything offensively in the final season of the John Fox era. With former Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy taking over, Howard should be able to do far better work within a much more advantageous system. He is not quite as good in the passing game as the Chiefs' Kareem Hunt, but he has the decisive, north-south running style that Hunt used to such great success last season. He's going to be a foundational player for their offense, and when you're a foundational running back in an Andy Reid-style offense, you have a monster year.
Cook was running nearly pace for pace with Hunt through the early part of last season before he tore his ACL. He's healthy now, though, and Latavius Murray is a year older, so Cook should have an even firmer hold on the backfield work this year than he did before he was injured. He's an explosive back who also happens to be a strong receiver, and he should benefit from the presence of Kirk Cousins and the continued excellence of Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs.
Davante Adams, Packers; Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, Vikings
Adams emerged as Rodgers' clear No. 1 target in the passing game over the past two years, and with Jordy Nelson gone, he should be even more of the unquestioned top option. His 22 receiving touchdowns over those two seasons are second-most in the NFL. Adams has yet to crack 1,000 receiving yards in a season but he's gotten his catch rate into the mid-60s and he's a touchdown machine. With Nelson leaving, he should see higher target volume and finally crack the 1,000-yard mark.
Thielen and Diggs, meanwhile, might be the best receiving duo in the league. Thielen finally had his true breakout season at age 27, exploding for 1,276 yards on 91 catches. He has great size and body control, and his work as a bigger slot receiver should fit well with Cousins' ability to throw over the middle. Diggs is the more explosive player of the two, but also somewhat more inconsistent. Still, he has a penchant for spectacular plays and he's a quality deep threat on an offense that needs that skill set.
The Seahawks finally figured out last year that whenever they get near the goal line, they should just split Graham out wide and throw him the damn ball. Rodgers likely does not need to be told about that -- it's what he used to do with Jordy Nelson. Graham will not be as high-volume a target as Nelson but he should be just as effective a red-zone target. With Rodgers throwing him pinpoint passes on the regular, he should more than make up for not necessarily being the top option on the offense.
Rudolph has been a solid contributor for Minnesota for a while, and with Cousins' propensity for throwing to tight ends, he should continue to be one. He can flex out into the slot or play as a regular ol' in-line tight end, and that kind of versatility is incredibly valuable these days. His size-agility combination allows him to work equally well against tight ends and linebackers.
Pitch Perfect 2 stars Bakhtiari and Bulaga form one of the NFL's better tackle duos. Bakhtiari missed a few games due to injury last year but he'd been a Pro Bowler the year before, and he's played at an above-average level or better while missing just six total games over his five NFL seasons. Bulaga is coming off an injury-shortened campaign during which he was limited to just five games, but when he's at his best, he's a damn good right tackle. He was very much at his best during the three seasons prior to last year, and if he's healthy, we should expect strong play once again.
Kyle Long, Bears; T.J. Lang, Lions
The Bears have moved Long around their offensive line a bit during his career and injuries have limited him to just 19 games over the last two seasons. But he was a Pro Bowler during each of his first three years in the NFL, and if the Bears offense makes the forward leap that is expected this season under Nagy, he should be so recognized again.
Lang is a former Packer who made the jump to Detroit last offseason, and he continued his excellence with the Lions. A Pro Bowl season during his final year in Green Bay was bookended by another during his first year in Detroit. If the Lions can ever run the ball effectively (they haven't had a 100-yard rusher since 2013), maybe he'll get even more recognition.
Corey Linsley, Packers
Linsley has blossomed into one of the NFL's better centers over the last several seasons. The Packers seemingly just have this ability to draft an offensive lineman anywhere in the middle rounds, slot him into the starting lineup immediately, and see him have success. Linsley was like that. As long as he remains the starter in front of Rodgers, we should expect him to continue playing at a high level.
The Vikings just gave Hunter a new big-money deal, and with good reason. He's got 25.5 sacks in three seasons, the first two of those as just a part-time player. He had 49 hurries during his first year as a full-time starter, and he's still 23 years old for a few more months. Playing on a strong defensive line, for one of the NFL's best defensive coaches, and with elite talent surrounding him, he should continue to progress in 2018.
Ansah bounced back with a huge year in 2017 after notching just two sacks a couple years ago. The Lions franchise-tagged him and we'll see what he looks like in Matt Patricia's system, but the elite talent is there with this guy. He's explosive off the edge -- so much so that he can get to the quarterback with relative ease despite a paucity of talent around him.
Interior Defensive Lineman
Daniels is the most underrated player in the league, in this writer's opinion. He moves all around the interior of Green Bay's defensive line and just mucks things up for the opposing offense. Every snap. Against the run. Against the pass. Taking on blockers. Knifing through gaps. Everything. He's awesome.
Richardson has the luxury of playing on a defensive line with Hunter, Everson Griffen, and Linval Joseph, and he should benefit from having all that talent around him and Mike Zimmer putting him in position to succeed. We know Joseph is going to be solid up the middle, but Richardson has the talent to really be a game-breaker if he's at his best.
The Packers have had to move Matthews around over the past few seasons thanks to injuries to several inside linebackers, but he was back outside full time last season and he resumed getting after the quarterback on the regular. He's not a guaranteed double-digit sack producer like he was during the early part of his career, but the fear he inspires in opposing offenses is up there with the league's best pass-rush specialists. With a new defensive coordinator in Mike Pettine, Matthews should be invigorated in 2018.
Barr is probably next up on the Vikings' extension tour of 2018, and his elite combination of versatility and athleticism is the main reason why. He seemed an odd fit for Minnesota's 4-3 base defense when the Vikes first selected him out of UCLA, but he's made it make perfect sense. Zimmer knows exactly how to use him, and his considerable athletic gifts allow him to succeed even beyond what Zimmer puts him in position to do.
Eric Kendricks, Vikings; Roquan Smith, Bears
Kendricks just got his big-money extension, and it's well worth it at five years, $50 million. (Note: This piece previously mistakenly stated that Kendricks had not yet signed his extension.) Kendricks is an excellent coverage linebacker in a league where linebackers absolutely need to have coverage skills in order to stay on the field. Smith finally signed his rookie deal earlier this week. He has even more athleticism than Kendricks, and he uses is to make plays from one end of the field to the other. If a linebacker could ever be described as explosive, it's this guy.
Rhodes just stays solid, season after season. Zimmer loves tall, long cornerbacks and Rhodes fits that bill perfectly. He's an excellent system fit, but he's more than just a system player. He's tracking No. 1 receivers across the field these days, and he's gotten his hands on double-digit passes in every season of his career. It's not the most important skill for a corner, but it helps that he's also quite a good tackler.
Slay remains underrated, even while he made the All-Pro first team last season. He just doesn't get quite as much public recognition for his elite status as the other players of his caliber. He tracks No. 1's, prevents easy throws, generates turnovers (NFL-high eight picks last season), and consistently breaks up passes intended for his receiver, which he did an incredible 26 times last year.
Fuller being on this list a year ago would have seemed crazy. The Bears declined to pick up his fifth-year option because he'd struggled in Year 2 and 3 of his career, but then he was fantastic last year and he went out and got paid as a restricted free agent. The Bears matched the deal so he'll return to Vic Fangio's defense, where he had a ton of success a year ago.
Smith is the NFL's best safety not named Earl Thomas. Next.
Amos became a starter early last season when Quentin Demps went down, and he took advantage of the opportunity. He displayed excellent coverage skills on the back end, and he came up and tackled extremely well in both the run game and on short passes in front of his zone. Just 25 years old, he should be in line for another strong season.
The Lions have strong kicking game options in Martin and Prater, who both have huge legs. Prater's a little less consistent than you'd like in a kicker but he has the range to make up for it. Davis has been among the league's leaders in average yards per return for the last several seasons.