The 2021 NFL season is on the horizon, and few divisions are as intriguing entering the new year as the NFC North. The Bears have a shiny new quarterback in Justin Fields. The Vikings are entering somewhat of a critical year with Kirk Cousins. The Lions are kicking off a new era under coach Dan Campbell. The Packers, meanwhile, are easily the juiciest of all. Fresh off two straight NFC Championship Game appearances, they may or may not have reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers on the field when the season kicks off.
What's new and what's familiar about the entire team entering 2021? Here's a full rundown of their depth chart heading into OTAs and training camp, including projected Week 1 starters at every position on both sides of the ball:
Note: Asterisks denote rookies.
Cole Van Lanen*
There's a reason this team has made it to two straight NFC title games: This is is very much a playoff-caliber lineup. Jones is a steady play-maker at running back, Adams remains one of the game's craftiest No. 1 receivers, Tonyan emerged as a true safety valve in 2020, and the O-line -- even with key departures in center Corey Linsley and right tackle Rick Wagner -- has the potential to be a top-10 unit, with Bakhtiari offering Pro Bowl pass blocking, Jenkins on the rise on the inside and Myers set to start right away in the middle.
All those pieces don't mean nearly as much, however, if the man touching the ball every play isn't there. Rodgers remains one of the NFL's top three QBs but is clearly not a lock to suit up for Green Bay this year as he skips offseason work amid a feud with the front office. Even if the Packers refuse to trade the reigning MVP, a temporary retirement doesn't seem impossible. In any of those doomsday scenarios come to fruition for Green Bay, Love -- the 2020 first-round pick with a big arm but bare resume -- could be thrust into some mighty big shoes. That or the Pack could try to tread water with a more experienced, albeit less enticing, arm like Bortles. An emergency replacement would still have the gift of a great supporting cast, but there's no matching Rodgers' poise and precision.
Green Bay's defense is pretty equivalent to the offense in that it's locked and loaded for another postseason run, save for a spot or two of questionable depth (and minus the major cloud that is the Rodgers situation). Preston Smith's numbers took a dip opposite Za'Darius Smith in 2020, but that's still a top-end pass-rushing duo. They could stand to get more help on the inside at linebacker, where the oft-injured Christian Kirksey no longer resides. But otherwise, staples like Clark and Alexander give the Packers Pro Bowl talents at key spots up front and in the back end, and other youngsters like Gary and Savage still have room to improve.
The biggest issue may be at corner, where Alexander is a stud but King is back mostly because he's familiar with the role and system. The Packers acknowledged their need here by spending a high pick on Stokes, who at least offers intriguing athleticism, but rookie corners can't often be counted on to deliver immediate results. Again, these issues are more nitpicks if Rodgers is in tow and Green Bay is once again barreling toward another potential NFC championship. But let's say Jordan Love is struggling to string together wins; the secondary might be a more pressing issue if that's the case.