Ranking the 10 Best Players in the NFC North

Eric Vincent@@IAmEricVincentCorrespondent IMay 31, 2012

Ranking the 10 Best Players in the NFC North

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    For the next several years, the NFC North will be arguably one of the toughest divisions in all of football. However, the talent and individual production of the NFC North has been on display for many years already.

    Aaron Rodgers is coming fresh off a successful MVP campaign, Calvin Johnson finally had a Megatron-type season, and Jared Allen continues to smother quarterbacks at a high rate. These are just a few of the top players after one year of work.

    So who else ranks among the elite players in the NFC North, and where do they fall? Because of the high quantity of talent, it's not an easy list to assemble.

    Here are the top 10 players in the NFC North.

10. Charles Woodson

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    After being the first-round pick by the Oakland Raiders in 1998, Charles Woodson was expected to live up to his Heisman-winning hype from Michigan. Woodson was productive but was slowed down by injuries and the decline of the Raiders late in his time with them.

    Ever since joining the Green Bay Packers in 2006, Woodson's career has been taken to another level.

    The 2009 Defensive Player of the Year  plays an unorthodox role in the Packers' defense. His football intelligence and aggressive nature lets him play anywhere on defense. He can line up as a cover corner, or play in the box like a safety defending the run.

    Woodson was injured during the Packer's Super Bowl run, but Green Bay still managed to capture the title in 2010. Even at 35 years old, Woodson still plays a vital role on the Packers' defense.

9. Brian Urlacher

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    Brian Urlacher is at the point of his career where the world continues to write him off, thinking he's on the path to decline. Twelve seasons later at the age of 34, Urlacher hasn't lost a step yet.

    Urlacher has been as effective and consistent than any other linebacker his entire career. Urlacher has solidified himself as one of the greats after eight Pro Bowl appearances, five-time All-Pro player, and the 2005 Defensive Player of the Year.

    The only thing missing from Urlacher's resume is a Super Bowl victory. With the offseason acquisitions to the Bears offense, and a healthy roster, Chicago is in position to fill that void for Urlacher.

    With Urlacher at the age of 34 however, there isn't much upside or potential growth in his performance. Not an insult to his game, but that keeps him at No. 9.

8. Jermichael Finley

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    The Green Bay Packers have a plethora of offensive weapons at their disposal, plus a top-tier quarterback like Aaron Rodgers. Even without a quarterback like Rodgers, Jermichael Finley is still one of the most biggest nightmare matchups in the NFL.

    A 6'6" 247 pound tight end with the agility, athleticism and hands of a wide receiver is the last kind of player a defensive back wants to check. Finley takes full advantage of those mismatches at every given moment.

    Finley finished last season with 55 catches for 767 yards and eight touchdowns for the Packers. Finley's 2010 knee injury shut him down for the season, and missing out on the Green Bay Super Bowl victory.

    Finley also dealt with an issue of dropped passes this past season. If this issue is cleaned up next year, Finley could find himself as the best tight end in the league.

7. Matt Forte

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    Don't let the contract disputes of Matt Forte confuse you, he's worth every penny he's asking Chicago for.

    Forte is one of the few complete dual threat running backs in the NFL. Forte can hurt you on a 20-yard burst between the tackles, or pick up chunk yardage from a screen pass. Defenses must always keep their eyes on Forte no matter where he lines up on the field.

    Forte missed the last four weeks of the Bear's season due to a MCL injury. Chicago lost their late season momentum as well as a shot in the playoffs.

    With the hiring of Mike Tice at offensive coordinator, the Bears likely will focus more on the run than force too many throws by Jay Cutler. Forte is capable of many more years like his rookie season with over 1,700 all-purpose yards and 12 touchdowns. Whether it will be as a Chicago Bear will be decided with Forte's next contract.

6. Clay Matthews

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    In the NFL today, it's vital for a defense to have an impact edge rusher that can disrupt an offense. If that edge rusher plays anything similar to Clay Matthews, that means you have a gold mine on your hands.

    Matthews took the NFL by storm with 10 sacks and the 2010 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. The USC product didn't slow down following up with a 13-sack performance in 2011.

    Matthews has made his presence felt around the NFC North, as well as the entire league. Matthews is versatile enough to rush the quarterback, aggressively shut down the run, or even drop back in coverage when needed.

    The Packers added more depth on the 3-4 defensive front drafting tackle Jerel Worthy and outside linebacker Nick Perry. With the emergence of B.J. Raji, and if the two rookies develop correctly, more one-on-one opportunities will open up for Matthews. More matchups like that will create a bad outcome for opposing offenses.

5. Matthew Stafford

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    Quite the coming out party in 2011 for Matthew Stafford?

    After dealing with numerous injuries his first couple of seasons, the Lion's franchise quarterback finally showed why he was drafted No. 1 overall in 2009.

    Stafford displayed his talents as he threw for 5038 yards and 41 touchdowns, plus leading the Lions to 10 wins in his first full season as a starter. Stafford made plenty of eye-popping throws, and created arguably the most dangerous tandem in the NFL with wide receiver Calvin Johnson.

    With one healthy and productive season under his belt, Stafford must keep riding this wave. This young Lions team will go as far as Stafford takes them. At only 23 years old, Stafford has plenty of time to continue guiding his team down the right path. 

4. Jared Allen

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    Jared Allen is the perfect example of a "football junkie." Allen isn't just extremely good at his job, he also loves it with a passion.

    Allen is the kind of player that doesn't mind doing the dirty work necessary to help his team. His aggressive and rugged style of play makes him one of the best defensive ends in the NFL.

    Allen has had double digit sack totals in every year as a Minnesota Viking, including a league high of 22 last season. Regardless of the Viking's struggles last year, Allen still made his presence felt as one of the best defensive players in the league.

    The Viking edge rusher is the kind of player you hate to play against, but would love to have on your team. He may have a reputation of an agitator, and he's done his fair share of trash talking on the field, but the production validates it all.

3. Adrian Peterson

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    Adrian Peterson has dominated the NFL since breaking the single-game rushing record as a rookie in 2007. Peterson's scary combination of strength and speed separates himself as one of the best running backs in the entire league.

    Peterson can break a game open with a long run between the tackles, or bouncing a long home-run touchdown on the outside corner. Since fixing his early fumbling issue, defenders are still struggling on how to stop the Minnesota freight train.

    Peterson's punishing downhill running style has been a gift and curse to himself, as well as his opponents. Peterson dominates defenders as absorbs their contact, but continues to run through it. It has been a curse because it continues to keep him on the sideline due to injury.

    Granted his last injury was an ACL tear, not a result of a contact accident. However, the wear and tear on his body could catch up to him in time of his career. Until then, Peterson continues to make his claim as one of the best running backs in NFL history.

2. Calvin Johnson

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    In the next couple years, Calvin Johnson could find himself at the top of this list. But for now, he'll have to settle as the runner-up No. 2 player in the NFC North.

    Since his days at Georgia Tech, the NFL potential circled heavily around Johnson. After a few years of not completing maximizing his abilities, Johnson stated his claim on the field as the best receiver in the league in 2011.

    Megatron terrorized secondaries catching 96 passes for 1681 yards and 16 touchdowns. For his first few seasons, Johnson dealt with a revolving door of quarterbacks that couldn't get him the ball as much as they should have. With Matthew Stafford now under center, Johnson was finally able to break out and show the world what he's made of.

    Johnson is arguably the most dominant receiver in the league at 6'5", 240 pounds and runs a 4.3 40-yard dash. After more seasons similar to 2011, Megatron could transform into the best all-around player in the entire NFL.

1. Aaron Rodgers

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    Aaron Rodgers is currently on an island on his own.

    With the pressure of taking place of Brett Favre, Rodgers has answered the challenge and guided Green Bay back down the path of glory. Because of Rodgers' ability to make his team that much better, the Packers are built for the future and the present more than any other team in the NFL.

    Rodgers was crowned the league MVP last season with 4,643 yards, 45 touchdowns, and only six interceptions. The Packers quarterback also lead Green Bay passed the Pittsburgh Steelers to win Super Bowl XLV.

    Rodgers and the Packers were one loss away from an undefeated record last season. Green Bay also fell short to the New York Giants in the second round of the playoffs. Despite those downfalls, it's still not wise to bet against this team.

    Rodgers is a quarterback with very few weaknesses, if any. With an arsenal of dangerous offensive weapons to throw to, Rodgers keeps his whole team involved and productive. As long as No. 12 is under center, the Packers should be favored to win the whole thing.