How the NFC North stacks up at defensive line
Sixth in a series
In this series we rank the NFC North clubs at every position. Rankings are based on performance to date, scouting reports and evaluations from general managers, coaches and scouts around the NFL.
1. Bears B: This is the most difficult position group to rank with the Bears and Packers in base 3-4 schemes and the Vikings and Lions preferring the 4-3. But the Bears have the NFC North's best interior lineman in Akiem Hicks, the best overall talent with Pro Bowl alternate nose tackle Eddie Goldman, highly productive youngsters Bilal Nichols and Roy Robertson-Harris, both of whom continue to have much higher ceilings than they've attained so far, and solid depth in veterans Brent Urban and John Jenkins.
Hicks is one of the most disruptive players in the game, almost always requiring extra attention, and Goldman has improved in each of his five seasons in the league.
When they go to a 40 front in their nickel packages with Hicks and Goldman inside and Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn on the ends, they might have the best four-man rush in the league.
Staying healthy last season was an issue for Hicks and Nichols.
2. Minnesota Vikings B-: The Vikings would rank ahead of the Bears had they not jettisoned Pro Bowl talents Linval Joseph and Everson Griffen in a salary cap-dictated overhaul of the roster this offseason.
They still aren't far behind with Danielle Hunter, one of the best pure pass rushing right ends in the game, who at 25 has put together back-to-back 14½ sack seasons and totaled 54½ during his first five years in the league.
Another 25-year-old, Jaleel Johnson is an up-and-coming disruptive force inside, and veteran Shamar Stephen is a dependable partner inside who won't make a ton of plays but will always be in his gap.
Ifeadi Odenigbo began to emerge as a serious threat last season in his second year out of Northwestern with 7 sacks and 8 tackles for loss.
Minnesota's depth is mostly rookies and first-year players competing for roster spots.
3. Detroit Lions C+: The Lions spent a fortune on Trey Flowers last year in free agency and he played well off the end with seven sacks and 10 tackles for loss, but teams were allowed to focus on him with no other Lions much of a threat to split seams or push the pocket.
Da'Shawn Hand is a promising youngster out of Alabama on the other end, but after a solid rookie campaign in 2018, he missed 13 games last season due to hand and ankle injuries and is still a bit of an unknown at this level.
Matt Patricia decided to move on from last year's tackles, Damon "Snacks" Harrison and A'Shawn Robinson and dipped into free agency for former Browns first-round pick Danny Shelton, who resurrected his career in New England last year, and 30-year-old journeyman, Nick Williams who hung onto the bottom of rosters in Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Miami and Chicago over his first six seasons before suddenly emerging as a five technique last year in relief of the injured Akiem Hicks with six sacks and 60 tackles.
Romeo Okwara and Austin Bryant should be the first guys off the bench.
4. Green Bay Packers C: Kenny Clark is one of the best nose tackles in the league, and like the Bears, when they get to their 40 front in sub packages, with Clark inside and the "Smith Brothers" on the ends, they can really push the pocket.
But in their base 30 front with Clark on the nose, he's flanked by Dean Lowry and Tyler Lancaster and Montravious Adams sharing time, all "nice," "try hard" guys who'll make a few plays but rarely make a difference.
Treyvon Hester and Kingsley Keke will compete for playing time and offer depth.
The Packers problem on defense for several years now has been stopping the run, and part of that problem is getting pushed around at times because they're really undersized up front with Clark (314 pounds) and Lancaster (313) the only D-linemen on the team over 304 pounds.