Wednesday, September 06, 2023

2023 preseason All-NFC North Team


We take a look at the best players at each position in the NFC North



September 6, 2023

The 2023 NFL season is rapidly approaching, which means it is once again time for us to unveil our preseason All-Division teams. We've done this exercise for the past several years, and the point is to preview which players at each position, in each division, we expect to put forth the best performance this coming season. 

We began last week with the AFC, starting with the AFC East, continuing to the AFC North and AFC South, and finally finishing up with the AFC West. This week, it's on to the NFC. We began Tuesday with the NFC East, continue today with the NFC North, and will work our way through the remainder of the conference over the next couple days. 

Without further ado ...

Offensive skill positions

QB: Kirk Cousins (MIN)
RB: Aaron Jones (GB)
WR: Justin Jefferson (MIN), Amon-Ra St. Brown (DET), D.J. Moore (CHI)
TE: T.J. Hockenson (MIN)
FLEX: Christian Watson (GB)

Choosing the quarterback for this division was tough. Do you want consistency (Cousins, Jared Goff), explosiveness (Justin Fields), or the unknown (Jordan Love)? In the end we went with Cousins, who consistently throws for 4,000-plus yards and around 30 touchdowns. If the Lions had given Goff a premier outside receiver to complement Amon-Ra St. Brown, that might have tipped the scales in his direction. 

There's been a lot of turnover at running back in this division. Dalvin Cook is gone, supplanted by Alexander MattisonJamaal Williams and D'Andre Swift are out of Detroit, replaced by David Montgomery (who used to be in Chicago) and Jahmyr GibbsKhalil Herbert is the lead back for the Bears, likely sharing time with some combination of D'Onta Foreman and Roschon Johnson. But Jones is still here, and he is coming off a wildly productive season during which he averaged 5.3 yards per carry and set a career high in receptions (59). He'll turn 29 years old in December so this pick is a little shaky, but his talent is still there and he's yet to show signs of a drop-off.

Jefferson is the current belt holder as the best receiver in football. Not much more needs to be said. The Sun God is a target vacuum who should continue seeing a ton of looks from Goff in Ben Johnson's offense, and could reach something like 120 receptions if he stays healthy. Moore might not have the same effect on Fields that, say, Stefon Diggs did on Josh Allen or A.J. Brown did on Jalen Hurts, but he's such an enormous upgrade over what Fields had last year that he can't help but bring his QB along with him. Watson's ridiculous speed and explosiveness was on display throughout last season. Now, he needs to be more consistent. As the clear-cut top option for Love, we're betting he shows out. And Hockenson emerged as a true No. 2 threat alongside Jefferson last season, and with Jordan Addison and K.J. Osborn also there, it's difficult to devote extra attention to everyone. 

Offensive line

OT: Christian Darrisaw (MIN), Penei Sewell (DET)
G: Elgton Jenkins (GB), Jonah Jackson (DET)
C: Frank Ragnow (DET)

Darrisaw ranked in the top 10 of Pro Football Focus' pass-blocking grades last season, and showed massive improvement year over year as both a pass and run blocker. He's only in his third season and should still be getting better. It was hard to leave David Bakhtiari off this list, but Sewell is such a rare athlete for his position that I can't help but bet on his untapped upside. He's already really good and he could be a consistent All-Pro type of player if he puts it all together. 

Jenkins took a slight step backward last season as he had to play multiple positions due to injuries, but locked back in at guard he should be able to recapture his prior form. And while Jackson also took a slight step back, he's headed into his physical prime as part of a unit that should be able to jell into one of the league's best. Playing alongside Ragnow doesn't hurt.

Defensive front

EDGE: Rashan Gary (GB), Danielle Hunter (MIN)
IDL: Kenny Clark (GB), Devonte Wyatt (GB)
LB: Tremaine Edmunds (CHI), De'Vondre Campbell (GB)
FLEX: Aidan Hutchinson (DET)

Gary is coming off a torn ACL but should be ready to go to start the year, and in just half a season had collected 6 sacks, 7 tackles for loss, and 12 quarterback hits a year ago. The year before, he totaled a career-best 9.5 sacks and and ranked third in the NFL with 81 total pressures, according to TruMedia. A breakout could be coming soon. And Hunter got his raise to stay in Minnesota, and last year showed he still has the double-digit sack upside he'd consistently reached in the earlier portion of his career. He turns 29 in October but has plenty left in the tank. Hutchinson collected 9.5 sacks, nine tackles for loss, and 15 QB hits as a rookie. His pressure rate wasn't as high as you'd like it to be for a player of his pedigree, but he showed he can hold his own and should get better as he gets more used to the league.

Outside of Clark, who is a consistent force in the middle of Green Bay's defense but has just not had much help in there over the past few years, the interior defensive line talent in this division is pretty lacking. So, we're betting on Wyatt breaking out in his second NFL season after not making much of an impact in Year 1. Edmunds is still incredibly young for a player of his experience level, and his athleticism on the second level of the defense is rare. Last year was the best of his career and Matt Eberflus identified him as a guy the Bears needed to sign. A former linebacker coach, he can potentially help Edmunds get to the next level. Campbell didn't come all that close to hitting the All-Pro level he achieved in 2021, but he was still a solid player for Green Bay and should continue to be one for the next few years, even as he hits his 30s. 

Defensive backfield

CB: Jaire Alexander (GB), Jaylon Johnson (CHI), Cameron Sutton (DET)
SAF: Harrison Smith (MIN), Jaquan Brisker (CHI)

Alexander picked off five passes and got his hands on eight more last season, and he nearly matched his elite performance from 2020 by yielding a passer rating of only 66.2 on throws in his direction. (It was 54.3 a few years ago.) He's in his prime and has the prototypical size-strength-speed combination to remain an elite corner. Johnson is a pretty underrated player because he's been on an awful Bears defense, but he's never allowed more than 59% of passes thrown in his direction to be completed and last year he ranked right on the CB1 borderline in coverage snaps per reception (12.2), per PFF. Sutton is a really solid player who should help a Detroit secondary that desperately needs it. 

Smith is getting up there in age now and showed a slight sign of drop-off last season, but other elite safeties have been able to maintain a high level of play into their mid-30s and his versatility makes him a strong bet to contribute at a high level. Brisker played really well as a full-season starter in his first NFL action a year ago, racking up tackles, collecting four sacks, and holding his own in coverage. With more talent in front of him and on the outside (draft pick Tyrique Stevenson seems like a locked-in starter), he should be freer to roam around and make even more plays in Year 2.


K: Cairo Santos (CHI)
P: Jack Fox (DET)
RET: Keisean Nixon (GB)

Santos has made 84.5% of his career kicks and has been over 86.7% during each of his three seasons in Chicago. He also made four kicks of 50-plus yards a year ago. Fox owns a career punting average of 49.0 yards and has reduced his touchback rate in each NFL season. Nixon led the NFL in kick return yardage last year and was named a first-team All-Pro. He might have a bit more responsibility as a corner this year but he should still be a major factor in the return game.


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