NFC North Players You Should Watch In 2009

Matt ShervingtonCorrespondent IIAugust 3, 2009

LAKE FOREST, IL - MAY 20: Jay Cutler #6 of the Chicago Bears watches during an organized team activity (OTA) practice on May 20, 2009 at Halas Hall in Lake Forest, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears

Was Jay Cutler a product of the Broncos’ system? That’s the question looming over his head this season. I personally feel as if, though talented, Cutler owes the majority of his success to the offensive talent he was surrounded by, rather than his own ability.

However, Cutler can prove me and everyone else that feels this way wrong simply by having a great statistical season this year. Additional to this is whether or not he can finally have a winning season. As a starter Cutler is 17-20 and has been a part of two late season collapses keeping him from experiencing the post-season. Can Cutler reach the post-season this year? Just another reason to watch Jay.

Matt Forte, Chicago Bears

Now that Jay Cutler is in town, the expectation is that Matt Forte won’t have to face the fronts that he faced last year. Bears fans say that it’s because Kyle Orton couldn’t push the safeties out of the box and I agree with them.

Whether you feel he’s a great quarterback or not you have to respect Jay Cutler’s arm strength which will undoubtedly have Forte seeing fewer seven and eight-man fronts next season, which should then see the only unimpressive statistic of his last season—his 3.8 yards per carry—raise to well over four yards per carry. But the question still can be asked of whether or not he is truly an all-purpose back or if last season was a fluke. I think he has the potential to be the best back in the league.


Aaron Kampman, Green Bay Packers

Can he transition into the 3-4? When he was a 4-3 defensive end I didn’t think he was ever truly elite, and now he’s being moved to a position in which he’ll have to compete with some pretty elite company. Can he play standing up? Can he rush the passer well while doing so? What about playing the run? Most importantly, now he’ll be asked to cover occasionally. how will he do during those instances?

B.J. Raji, Green Bay Packers

I only put Raji up here because he’s a rookie. He’s got it tougher than a lot of the other rookies this year not named Matt Stafford or Michael Crabtree. Raji is the face of a defensive transition up there in Green Bay and is the most important part in said defense and is such as a rookie.

Being responsible for both A-Gaps is tough enough in the NFL, but when your team is facing Adrian Peterson (twice), Matt Forte (twice), Steven Jackson, Earnest Graham, Derrick Ward, and Frank Gore it gets a whole lot tougher. If the Packers field a strong defense next year maybe Raji should get some votes for Defensive Rookie of The Year.

Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions

This comes with the caveat of whether or not he actually gets playing time next season. Every intelligent bone in my body tells me that he will because the Lions are looking for immediate improvement, which comes to the tune of only winning one game for an infinite increase in wins from the 2008 season.

If he does play because of this, watch him due to the recent string of successful rookie quarterbacks this decade. Now players aren’t expected to come in and put up mediocre, at best, numbers in losing efforts. Nope, now rookie quarterbacks are expected to put up decent numbers and win as rookies, so look to see if Stafford can live up to that pressure.

Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions

Calvin Johnson doesn’t get enough respect. Sure he gets respect from the stat junkies out there, but even they don’t know his greatness. So sit down and watch a Lions game next season and watch Calvin play.

He single-handedly willed the Lions into games they had no business being in last season and I expect him to do that again this year. That is a trait that only four or five wideouts in the NFL have, and Johnson has it in just his second year in the league. Perhaps he will live up to the immense billing he had as a draft prospect after all.

E.J. Henderson, Minnesota Vikings

E.J. Henderson is one of the best linebackers in the NFL at navigating traffic at the line of scrimmage. Or at least he was before going down with injury. However, when stating such a thing one has to take into account the fact that he plays in front of the Williams wall.

If they ever to eventually get punished for the starcaps incident this season, how will it affect Henderson?

But more importantly how is his recent season-ending injury going to affect him?

Will he return close to full strength and continue to be a masher at the line, or is that ability hampered thus making him ineffective?

Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings

Brett Favre originally held this position, but as you know a few days ago he decided that he would stay retired, so I had to frantically hurry for another Vikings player. I could have chosen Ray Edwards, but unlike Vikings fans I do not feel that he’s ever going to break out.

So I chose Peterson whom many feel is a candidate for a 2,000 yard season this year. The sad thing is that I honestly believe it. With the way they treated their stable of quarterbacks this offseason, look for them to not play up to par and for Peterson to will this team into games, hence a high rushing total. I think it is very possible he could run for 2,000 yards.