May 25, 2024

NFC North check-in: Most, least improved position groups post-draft

The 2024 NFL Draft is in the books, meaning teams have mostly completed their most significant roster moves for the season. With that in mind, here’s a look at the most and least upgraded position groups for each NFC North team.

Chicago Bears | Last season’s record: 7-10

Most improved position group: Quarterback

The Bears made a significant change at the most important position on the field, swapping Justin Fields for No. 1 overall pick Caleb Williams, but some might underestimate its significance. 

Regardless of the circumstances, Fields struggled as the team’s starter over his three seasons at the helm (10-28). Among the 17 QBs who made at least 38 starts from 2021 to 2023, the former No. 11 overall pick finished last in completion percentage (60.3), passer rating (82.3), yards per game (166.9) and touchdowns (40), per Stathead

Meanwhile, 2022 Heisman Trophy winner Williams is coming off a dominant collegiate career with the Trojans, earning the highest Pro Football Focus grade (93.6) among all quarterbacks over the last three seasons. Lauded for his elite arm, athleticism and incredible ability to improvise, Williams seemingly has the skill set to be an immediate game-changer, which could improve the Bears’ fortunes at quarterback from one of the worst situations in the NFL to one of the best overnight. 

Least improved position group: Defensive line 

Entering the offseason, the defensive line was high on the list of needs for the Bears. However, roughly a week after the 2024 NFL Draft, they’ve done little to improve at the position. 

After losing Justin Jones to the Arizona Cardinals in free agency, veteran nose tackle Andrew Billings and second-year tackle Gervon Dexter top the depth chart, with 2023 third-round pick Zacch Pickens possibly in line for a more prominent role. Last season, the trio combined for three sacks and 16 QB hits.

There’s still time for the Bears to add via free agency, but pickings at defensive tackle are slim, to say the least. Nevertheless, seeing the position group go unchanged between now and Week 1 would be a surprise.

Detroit Lions | Last season’s record: 12-5

Most improved position group: Cornerback 

After failing to adequately address the team’s weak secondary before the 2023 season, the Lions tried again this offseason. Only, this time, they may have pulled it off. 

First, Detroit signed free agent Amik Robertson and traded for Carlton Davis III, adding much-needed cornerback depth on the outside and in the slot. Then, at the 2024 NFL Draft, the Lions traded up for arguably the best corner on the board, selecting former Alabama standout Terrion Arnold with the No. 24 overall pick before also nabbing Missouri’s Ennis Rakestraw (No. 61 overall), who many pundits had rated as a first-round pick. 

Last year, the Lions ranked 27th in the NFL against the pas, but after replacing Cameron Sutton, Jerry Jacobs and Khalil Dorsey with Robertson, Davis III, Arnold and Rakestraw, there’s reason to believe that the position group will make a significant leap forward in 2024. 

Least improved position group: Edge-rusher 

Heading into this offseason, it seemed all but assured that the Lions would go searching for a running mate opposite elite edge-rusher Aidan Hutchinson. As the calendar hits May, though, the team’s depth at the position has gone virtually unchanged. 

Detroit did sign free agent and former first-round pick Marcus Davenport to a one-year deal, but it’s unclear how effective the 27-year-old veteran will be coming off a two-sack 2023 campaign which was cut short by an ankle injury. Meanwhile, at the 2024 draft, the Lions decided not to use one of their six picks on an edge-rusher. 

In 2023, Hutchinson accounted for 11.5 of the team’s 41 total sacks, with no other player having more than five on the year. Simply put, if Detroit wants its pass-rush along the edge to improve, Davenport isn’t likely to be the answer. 

Green Bay Packers | Last season’s record: 9-8 

Most improved: Safety 

The Packers will have a fresh start at safety in 2024 after making a major overhaul at the position this offseason, in free agency and the draft. Gone are Darnell Savage, Jonathan Owens and Rudy Ford, while Xavier McKinney and rookie Javon Bullard are in. 

Last season, the Packers’ safety trio struggled, with only Ford (69.9) graded among the top 50 safeties in the NFL by Pro Football Focus. Meanwhile, McKinney was arguably the best safety available on the market and finished with the fourth-highest grade (87.8) in 2023 after recording career highs in tackles (116) and pass defenses (11). He offers incredible versatility, with the ability to play in the box or slot while having the skill set to cover receivers deep. 

Bullard’s impact is still to be determined, but after starring for one of the country’s best defenses in Georgia, the transition to the pros shouldn’t be too difficult. While he’s not the ideal size (5-foot-10, 198 pounds) his well-rounded game and high football IQ make him an immediate upgrade for the Packers, especially with McKinney also in the mix. 

Least improved: Cornerback 

The Packers addressed most of their needs in this year’s draft, adding to the offensive line, linebacker and safety positions. The lack of changes at cornerback was a bit surprising, though.

Green Bay does have veteran Jaire Alexander and slot-defender Keisean Nixon, who are solid options. But beyond that, they’re relying on a pretty inexperienced group, including Corey Ballentine and Robert Rochell. The Packers did draft two cornerbacks in Kitan Oladapo (No. 169) and Kalen King (No. 255), but it’s unrealistic to expect either late-round pick to contribute much in 2024. 

After a reasonably solid offseason and draft, highlighting the depth at cornerback might seem like nitpicking. However, it’s not hard to imagine a scenario where an injury to one of their starters throws the whole position into chaos. 

Minnesota Vikings | Last season’s record: 7-10

Most improved: Edge-rusher 

Aside from quarterback, perhaps the Vikings’ most significant need was at pass-rusher. Not only did they address the position, but they practically knocked it out of the park. 

Along with signing former Houston Texans defensive end Jonathan Greenard and ex-Miami Dolphins linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel, the Packers drafted former Alabama standout Dallas Turner, who many rated as the best edge rusher available in the 2024 NFL Draft. 

After losing four-time Pro Bowler Danielle Hunter and former first-round pick Marcus Davenport, the Vikings seemed destined to struggle on the edges in 2024. After investing plenty of cash and a high draft pick, though, edge-rusher is now team’s most-solid positions on the team. 

Least improved: Interior offensive line 

The Vikings are seemingly set at tackle, with Christian Darrisaw on the left side and Brian O’Neill on the right, but with the 2024 NFL Draft in the rearview, Minnesota still faces questions at guard. 

For now, Ed Ingram (RG) and Blake Brandel (LG) are the team’s starters. Ingram, a 2022 second-round pick, has made 32 starts in two seasons with the Vikings and made an admirable step forward in pass protection last season – but still ranked 34th among guards, per PFF. Meanwhile, Brandel has made only five starts over three seasons with the Vikings.

The Vikings did invest two draft picks in offensive linemen, selecting Oklahoma’s Walter Rouse (No. 177 overall) and Wake Forest’s Michael Jurgens (No. 230 overall). However, Rouse is a tackle and will likely back up Darrisaw, while Jurgens is slotted to be a center, playing behind starter Garrett Bradbury.