Led by Mack and Quinn, Bears have best starting linebackers in NFC North
Seventh 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 A-: The Bears will be the only team in the NFL this season with two former NFL Defensive Players of the Year at linebacker with Khalil Mack (2016) and Robert Quinn (2013).
Mack is the complete package, pass rusher extraordinaire, run stuffer and solid dropping into coverage. Quinn is really more of a pure pass rusher, who prefers to play with a hand on the ground but at the end of the day the Bears have game-wreckers at both outside linebacker positions.
What makes that particularly troublesome is the Bears also have one of the league's best pairs of inside linebackers in Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith, both smaller, quicker run stuffers who are four-down guys and roam sideline to sideline.
The only reason for the A-minus is depth is an issue inside with both of last year's backups, Nick Kwiatkoski and Kevin Pierre-Louis gone due to free agency. Also, Trevathan and Smith both lost time to injuries last year.
Barkevious Mingo, Isaiah Irving and rookie Trevis Gipson offer plenty of backup outside.
2. Green Bay Packers B-: The Pack doled out over $100 million in contracts last year to the "Smith Brothers," Preston and Za'Darius, and if they play the way they did last year, they could be the next best pair outside in the league after Mack and Quinn.
Like Quinn, Za'Darius Smith is pretty much a pure pass rusher, but Preston is effective against the run although neither is likely to drop in coverage very often.
Green Bay used the 12th pick in the 2019 draft on Rashan Gary, so the depth behind the Smiths should be outstanding although Gary didn't show much as a rookie.
The Packers have had issues inside for several seasons now and some were surprised they allowed their leading run-stuffer and tackler, Blake Martinez to leave via free agency.
They added the Browns' Christian Kirksey who had big seasons in 2016 and 2017 before playing just seven games in '18 and two last year due to injury.
The Pack hopes Oren Burks will emerge next to him although he hasn't done much his first two seasons and also missed four games to injuries last year. Other than that young prospects, like Ty Summers, will have to step up.
3. Detroit Lions C+: The Lions invested heavily inside over the last three seasons using the 21st pick in the 2017 draft on Jarrad Davis and the 43rd pick last year on Jahlani Tavai.
Davis was solid if not special his first two seasons before missing five games last year due to injury. Tavai had a nice rookie season after many thought the Lions reached a bit for him.
We have to assume Matt Patricia wasn't completely sold on his young pair since Detroit went shopping in free agency and brought back veterans Jamie Collins, coming off a highly productive year in New England and Reggie Ragland from Kansas City. It's assumed they will be the starters outside with Tavai getting reps at all three spots.
Christian Jones, a starter the last two years in Detroit after spending his first four seasons with the Bears and Jalen Reeves-Maybin offer solid depth.
4. Minnesota Vikings C: Anthony Barr is the show pony of the Vikings linebacker group, but in six seasons since they used the ninth pick in the draft on him, he's never become the dominant force they hoped he would.
Barr is a great athlete with exceptional size at 6-5, 255 pounds and he is a four-down guy who threatened to leave for the Jets in free agency before deciding to stay in Minneapolis.
Eric Kendricks has been the Vikings' leading tackler most often since they drafted him in the second round in 2015. But he is undersized at 6-0, 230 pounds and can get pushed around at times.
Eric Wilson is also small at 6-1, 230 pounds, but is penciled in as the starter on the weak side and he won't hurt you, but he won't win a lot of games for you either.
Ben Gedeon, Cameron Smith and rookie Troy Dye will provide depth but this is a pretty nondescript group.