Once upon a time, the NFC North was known as a running division. With the cold weather at every venue in the division (save the domed Vikings), the common sentiment was you needed a good run game to win in the division when it counted in December.
Oh, how things have changed. There are still great running backs here, but it’s all about the long ball.
With that in mind, here are the best wide receiver corps in the NFC North.
We start, as it seems we so often do, with the Minnesota Vikings at No. 4. Adding Greg Childs and Jarius Wright should help clear Percy Harvin of coverage, but the two rookies join an unimpressive group consisting of Jerome Simpson, who is suspended; Michael Jenkins, who is underwhelming; and Devin Aromashodu, who is just plain uninspiring. If the rookies can’t step in quickly, this may not be enough for Christian Ponder to work with.
We have an up-and-comer at #3: the Chicago Bears. It’s an intriguing group, led by Brandon Marshall now reunited with his Bronco-crush Jay Cutler to hopefully reignite their production together. Earl Bennett is a good-but-not-great receiver who is a dependable target for Cutler, while Alshon Jeffery has the potential to walk right in and contribute if he stays focused and keeps his weight down. After that there are a lot of question marks. Devin Hester has never been more than OK as a receiver, and Johnny Knox is still coming back from a bad spine injury. Both Eric Weems and Devin Thomas are special teams guys, and we don’t know how much Dane Sanzenbacher can really do. There are tons of potential here—and tons of question marks as well.
The second and first groups would be where this gets fun. I’ve stirred up a hornets' nest before saying Detroit is the most potent offense in the division, and I stand by that. An offense is more than the sum of its parts, and I still believe together, the Lions are a nose better. I’m trying to make time this week to take a closer look at both the Lions and Packers’ games in 2011 for an article, but that’s a long-term goal. So let’s put a pin in that debate and get back to it soon.
Short term, I find myself back in the same spot I was just a week ago. I think both groups are tremendous and the Lions can put up as many yards and points as the Pack on any given Sunday.
That said, they are a whisker behind the Packers at the position.
Calvin Johnson is the best receiver in the division while Nate Burleson and Titus Young are very good back-ups. After that though, it’s shaky as rookie Ryan Broyles is still recovering from an ACL injury, and everyone else on the roster is average at best. The top three are rock solid—it’s the rest who have something to prove.
All this while the Packers have a group that includes up-and-coming Randall Cobb, inconsistent but deadly James Jones and veteran Donald Driver. Greg Jennings may not be as good as Megatron but he’s no slouch, and if Jordy Nelson replicates his 2011, he’s the best No. 2 in the division, bar none. I don’t think they’re very far ahead, but they ARE ahead.
This could change quickly if Nelson regresses, Jones has a bad year and Driver doesn’t see the field. As it stands now though, the Packers have the better overall group due to depth.
We can revisit this closer to the season when the Vikings have a chance to catch up.
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