Packers dominate All-NFC North team
Last week, an executive in personnel for each of the four NFC North Division teams was asked by the Journal Sentinel’s Bob McGinn to rank the players in the division at each position. They were not permitted to vote for their own players. They also couldn’t comment about their own players.
A first-place vote was worth 3 points, a second-place vote was worth 2 and a third-place vote was worth 1. At each position, there were 24 points; the maximum per player was 9 points and the minimum was 3. An asterisk denotes a unanimous selection.
NO. 1 WIDE RECEIVER: Jordy Nelson* (GB), 9 points. Others: Stefon Diggs (Minn), Alshon Jeffery (Chi) and Golden Tate (Det), 5.
Nelson was first-team No. 4 WR in 2009, unanimous No. 2 WR in 2011-’12 and unanimous No. 1 WR in ’14 before reconstructive knee surgery ended his ’15 season before it began. “This didn’t surprise me at all,” said one scout. “He’s a consummate pro. They worked through some kinks early on.” Is Nelson a product of the system? “I think a little bit, certainly, but he’s a good player,” another scout said. “Big, strong, smart. Everyone’s a product of (Aaron) Rodgers a little bit.” Tate, a unanimous pick as No. 2 WR last year, moved up to replace retired Calvin Johnson. “He started out slow but definitely picked it up,” a third scout said. “He has been their go-to guy.” Diggs missed two games with injuries and Jeffery served a four-game suspension. “Jeffery doesn’t have ideal speed but he’s big and has ball skills,” one scout said.
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LEFT TACKLE: David Bakhtiari* (GB), 9. Others: Taylor Decker (Det), 7; Charles Leno (Chi), 5; T.J. Clemmings (Minn), 3.
A last-place finisher as a rookie in ’13, Bakhtiari tied with Riley Reiff in ’14, took first in ’15 and now is unanimous for the first time. “I really like the fact that he trusts his athleticism,” said one scout. “He never loses fast. If you don’t lose fast with that quarterback, then he doesn’t really lose a lot. He really believes he can stay in front of people and die slow.” Said another scout: “I don’t know how much better he’s going to get. He’s a pretty solid left tackle. I wouldn’t rate him as elite.” Decker, a rookie first-round pick, was competitive. “Jeff Backus was really good but this guy has everything you really want,” said one scout. “He’s big, long, tough, good athlete. Needs to get a little stronger. He could be as good as Backus.” Clemmings, the Vikings’ third option after Matt Kalil and Jake Long suffered season-ending injuries, failed to impress. Leno, a two-year starter, was respectable. “You’d like better but Leno’s serviceable,” said one scout. “Long, pretty good athlete, not real strong.”
LEFT GUARD: Josh Sitton* (Chi), 9. Others: Alex Boone (Minn), 7; Graham Glasgow (Det) and Lane Taylor (GB), 4.
Sitton, a first-team pick since ’09, was unanimous for the seventh year in a row. “He’s probably like he was in Green Bay the last year or so,” said one scout. “Big, strong, doesn’t move real well anymore.” Foot and back injuries limited him to 70.9% playing time. “Had a good season,” a second scout said. “Still recovers well. He’s smart, understands how to get position on guys.” Boone, the ex-49er, was the best player on the Vikings’ injury-buffeted line. “He was like the one constant,” said one scout. “He played tough. Tried to keep the group together.” Glasgow, a rookie, moved past first-round pick Laken Tomlinson near mid-season. Taylor was promoted after Sitton was cut Sept. 3. “He’s the weak link but he held his own,” said one scout. “I thought he got better. He wasn’t a liability, which I thought he would be. He’s kind of a soft body. Not a great athlete but he fights you. He kind of wins ugly when he wins.”
CENTER: Corey Linsley (GB), 8. Others: Cody Whitehair (Chi), 7; Travis Swanson (Det), 6; Joe Berger (Minn), 3.
Linsley, a third-year player, has made first team three times. “I think Linsley was better than (JC) Tretter,” said one scout. “He’s stronger than Tretter is. I just think Tretter lacks some power.” Another team gave the teammates the same grade but in the end gave a slight nod to Linsley. “Not very big but he’s tough,” said another scout. “Really athletic. Knows how to play the game. Gets overpowered by guys like Linval Joseph.” Whitehair moved from guard to center in August and had a fine rookie season. “He’ll probably pass these guys,” one scout said. “He’s an undersized guy but pretty good athlete, good leverage, light on his feet, good in pass pro. Just not very strong. In the run game he gets out-leveraged and overpowered some.” Swanson improved in his second season as a starter. “He’s a bigger guy,” said one scout. “He struggles to anchor at times because he is tall (6-5).” Berger, 34, was an adequate replacement after John Sullivan’s career all but ended because of injury. “I really like Joe,” one scout said. “The others are a little more athletic but he’s just a savvy veteran guy who’s been solid his whole career.”
RIGHT GUARD: T.J. Lang (GB), 8. Others: Kyle Long (Chi), 7; Larry Warford (Det), 6; Brandon Fusco (Minn), 3.
One personnel man said Lang, Long and Warford didn’t play as well this season as last season. “I think the injuries took their toll a little bit late on Lang,” one scout said. “He didn’t play as well late, that’s for sure. Good player. Big, tough, strong, pretty good athlete.” Lang was unanimous the past two years. “He’s always been a good player,” another scout said. “I thought this was one of his better years.” Long, a first-team pick at RG in ’13 and RT in ’15, moved back inside and played eight games before being placed on injured reserve. “Even when he was playing he wasn’t healthy,” one scout said. “If he was healthy I’d put him first.” Warford tied for first in ’13. “He’s not pretty,” said one scout. “He’s a throwback offensive lineman but he’s freaking tough, strong and can move people in the run game.”
RIGHT TACKLE: Bryan Bulaga* (GB), 9. Others: Riley Reiff (Det), 7; Bobby Massie (Chi), 5; Jeremiah Sirles (Minn), 3.
A four-time selection, Bulaga was unanimous in ’11 and ’14. “I’ve always liked him but I haven’t liked him as much the last couple years,” said one scout said. “He was hurt. He kind of bounced back this year. Not a great athlete but he’s competitive, tough, knows angles. He’s moving better. He’s not stiff but he’s not a left tackle-type guy, obviously.” Added another scout: “He’s OK. Middle of the road starting right tackle.” Reiff, who tied for first at LT in ’14, switched sides to accommodate Decker. One scout said his footwork and technique showed little improvement. “He doesn’t wow you,” said another scout. “Not a mauler, not an (expletive) kicker, but he can position you in the run game. There’s not many great right tackles. He’s certainly a solid starter.” Massie started 14 games after departing Arizona in March. “He’s the weak link of their line,” said one scout. “He’s got 35-inch arms and decent feet. But he’ll get collapsed against speed to power, and in the run game he’s just kind of soft. He doesn’t finish with any kind of strength.” Sirles replaced injured Andre Smith near midseason. Of the Vikings’ five offensive linemen, four finished last with the minimum 3 votes.
SILVERSTEIN: Week 17 picks
SILVERSTEIN: Power rankings
TIGHT END: Kyle Rudolph (Minn), 8. Others: Eric Ebron (Det) and Zach Miller (Chi), 6; Jared Cook (GB), 4.
Rudolph, the most complete player of the four, was first team by himself for the first time after tying with Jermichael Finley in ’12 and Martellus Bennett in ’13. “He’s the slowest of the bunch,” said one scout. “But you have to account for him and he is the best blocker.” Ebron, Miller and Cook are better receivers than blockers. Of Ebron, one scout said: “He just drops too many for me. He’s the best athlete but he doesn’t have the mental capacity.” Of Miller, one scout said: “He’s 32 but still pretty good. More of a possession guy but he knows how to uncover. Kind of savvy.” Of Cook, another scout said: “He’s not been a big difference-maker. He’s a big target. He can be hard to handle because he’s big and can run. He’s high-cut and doesn’t get out of his breaks real well. He’s willing (blocking), but he’s just not very good at it. I think he tried more there (Green Bay) than at his last stops.”
NO. 2 WIDE RECEIVER: Davante Adams (GB), 8. Others: Cameron Meredith (Chi) and Adam Thielen (Minn), 6; Marvin Jones (Det), 4.
Unanimous as No. 3 WR in ’14, Adams moved up a category this year. “The guy has 10 touchdowns,” said one scout. “He’s got size, he can run. The guy’s talented. His biggest negatives are he drops balls and he doesn’t always run the right routes.” Meredith and Thielen elevated their games immensely. Of Meredith, one scout said: “That’s a good get. Between him and Adams it’s a tough call. He’s got some twitch for a guy his height (6-3½). He’s big and he’s fast. Not terrible after the catch. He does have a lot of drops. The kid’s got a chance.” Of Thielen, another scout said: “He’s just so consistent and so sound in what he does. When you throw the ball up you know he’s going to be in the right spot. Does a good job fighting for the ball and fighting for yardage after the catch. They did a good job trusting him and allowing his role to advance.” Jones started fast before fading when foes had success pressing him. “He’s done a nice job when he does get free releases,” one scout said. “Really athletic kid.”
QUARTERBACK: Aaron Rodgers* (GB), 9. Others: Matthew Stafford (Det), 7; Sam Bradford (Minn) and Jay Cutler (Chi), 4.
After an inauspicious start Rodgers regained his impeccable form down the stretch. “He looks like the old Aaron Rodgers for the last however many weeks,” said one scout. “Five, six. It’s hard to pin it (the Packers’ 4-6 start) just on him because you know his talent. The cast around him kind of improved as the season went on.” A nine-year starter, he has been unanimous eight times and shared the top spot with Brett Favre in ’09. “He’s probably the best to ever do it,” another scout said. Stafford finished second for the sixth straight year. “He had a hell of a year,” said one scout. “The guy’s a winner. The guy just keeps getting better. They didn’t run the ball real well so a lot of it was on him. He’s grown up. He used to throw a lot of picks. He doesn’t have the big breakdown at the wrong time.” Bradford ranks seventh in passer rating with a career-best 98.3. “His shortcomings showed up when the line didn’t protect him,” one scout said. “When he has time he can throw with the best of them.” Cutler, 33, was limited to five starts by injury. “Maybe I’m a man on an island,” said one scout. “But I think Jay Cutler, if you coach him right, can be a really good player for you.”
RUNNING BACK: Jordan Howard* (Chi), 9. Others: Ty Montgomery (GB), 7; Theo Riddick (Det), 5; Jerick McKinnon (Minn), 3.
Injuries reduced Adrian Peterson, a seven-time unanimous pick, and Eddie Lacy, who supplanted the suspended Peterson in ’14. In stepped Howard, the first unanimous pick as a rookie at the position since Peterson in ’07. “Eddie Lacy 2.0,” said one scout. “I say that jokingly but he’s a big back that runs hard. I don’t think he has the feet that Eddie does but he is a good, productive player.” Montgomery shifted from WR early. “I’m not convinced he’s a full-time running back but he’s done a hell of a job for them,” said one scout. “He’s got size, he can run. Better on the perimeter, obviously. He limits you because he can’t pass protect, as they found out the other day (against Minnesota).” Riddick and McKinnon were better receivers than runners. “Except for Howard they’re not every-down running backs,” one scout said.
FULLBACK: Aaron Ripkowski (GB), 8. Others: Michael Burton (Det), 7; Zach Line (Minn), 5; Paul Lasike (Chi), 4.
Ripkowski replaced John Kuhn, a first-team choice in 2011, ’14 and ’15. “He’s bigger, I think, than Kuhn,” one scout said. “Neither can block very well. He might be a better runner than Kuhn. Kuhn had his day but Ripkowski might be a little stronger. He’s not a good blocker. At all.” Burton was the best blocker. “A throwback player you want to have in an I backfield and run 20 lead iso’s with,” one scout said. “He’ll run all 20 of them; he’ll run through a brick wall if you ask him.” Of Line, another scout said: “He’s not an overpowering old-school, 260-pound fullback. But he’s got good ability to get on blocks, sustain and finish.”
NO. 3 WIDE RECEIVER: Randall Cobb* (GB), 9. Others: Anquan Boldin (Det), 7; Cordarrelle Patterson (Minn) and Eddie Royal (Chi), 4.
Cobb also was unanimous at No. 2 WR in ’14. “He doesn’t strike the fear in you that he used to but he’s still solid,” said one scout. “He’s a good No. 3, a good slot.” Boldin, 36, kept on rolling. “He brought a level of toughness to Detroit and their receiver room,” another scout said. “He’s not a top speed guy anymore but he just knows how to play the game.” Patterson, with just two catches in ’15, posted a career-high 51. “He’s really came on this year as a receiver,” one scout said.
NO. 4 WIDE RECEIVER: Charles Johnson (Minn), Andre Roberts (Det) and Deonte Thompson (Chi), 7. Others: Geronimo Allison (GB), 3.
Johnson, the Packers’ seventh-round draft choice in 2013, also was unanimous a year ago. “He is what he is,” said one scout, calling Johnson an outside-the-numbers deep threat. “That’s his role going forward.” As for Allison, one scout said, “I just haven’t seen enough of Allison to really rank him above those other guys now.”
NO. 2 TIGHT END: Richard Rodgers (GB), 8. Others: Rhett Ellison (Minn), 7; Matthew Mulligan (Det), 6; Logan Paulsen (Chi), 3.
Several scouts said Rodgers was better suited as backup than starter. “His redeeming qualities are natural hands and size,” one scout said. “Not a great run blocker, can’t really run, doesn’t have a lot of twitch, not real physical. Pretty good athlete but he’s a plodder. More of a pass catcher.” Ellison, Mulligan and Paulsen all were better blockers than receivers. Of Mulligan, one scout said: “Can block defensive ends. Now he doesn’t give you anything in the passing game, but that’s OK. The way he blocks makes up for it.”
NO. 6 OFFENSIVE LINEMAN: Ted Larsen (Chi) and Laken Tomlinson (Det), 7. Others: Jason Spriggs (GB), 6; Nick Easton (Minn), 4.
Larsen, a former Buccaneer-Cardinal, started seven games at RG for an injured Long. “He has toughness and strength,” said one scout. “He gets a little bit overwhelmed with lack of length and he’s not a top athlete.” Despite being benched, Tomlinson was admired by another scout. “He’s a starting-caliber player,” he said. “He was better than Glasgow when he played.” Spriggs, a second-round pick, played 234 snaps at three positions. “He has a lot of up side if he figures it out and gets a little stronger,” another scout said.
NO. 2 QUARTERBACK: Matt Barkley* (Chi), 9. Others: Shaun Hill (Minn), 6; Brett Hundley (GB), 5; Dan Orlovsky (Det), 4.
The well-traveled Barkley played 362 snaps compared to 314 for Brian Hoyer and 274 for Jay Cutler. Each made five starts. “He looks good in stretches and then he just falls apart,” one scout said. “Not real mobile. His arm’s gotten better. Really struggles against pressure. He cannot escape. He throws it better than I thought he could. He can place it in tight spots and throws a decent deep ball. He’s helter-skelter.” Hill, 36, led the Vikings to an opening-day victory at Tennessee. “You can tell his players really love him,” another scout said. “He’s old but he has the savviness.” Of Hundley, one scout said: “You see these glimpses in the preseason, but for me to make an accurate evaluation … I have not seen enough.”
NO. 2 RUNNING BACK: Matt Asiata (Minn), 8. Others: Jeremy Langford (Chi), 7; Zach Zenner (Det), 5; James Starks (GB), 4.
Langford got hurt early, lost his job to Howard and became the forgotten man. “He’s obviously not as good as the guy they have,” said one scout. “He’s a good receiver.” Asiata pounded away inside. “Short-yardage, physical, power,” another scout said. Zenner, a rookie free agent, took over as the No. 1 back last week. “He’s a tough kid,” one scout said. Starks, 30, averaged a career-low 2.3 in 63 rushes before suffering a concussion Dec. 12 in a collision with a semitrailer truck. “He hasn’t done (expletive),” one scout said. “Been hurt. He’s probably done.”
LEFT END: Akiem Hicks (Chi), 8. Others: Brian Robison (Minn) and Devin Taylor (Det), 6; Datone Jones (GB), 4.
Hicks, an unrestricted free-agent signee March 13 from New England ($5.5 million guaranteed), even got a vote for defensive player of the year. “He’s close to it (Pro Bowl),” one scout said. “Really good athlete. He can penetrate. Slippery. Pretty good rusher. High effort.” Robison, a six-year starter, was solid again. “There’s no question his presence has made (Danielle) Hunter and (Everson) Griffen better,” another scout said. “He’s just smart. Versatile enough to play inside and outside.” Taylor is tall (6-7) and long-armed. “He brings good length and power,” one scout said. “He has 36-inch arms, which is Alonzo Spellmanish. He’s (hard to block) because he’s so strong.” Jones played most of his snaps at outside linebacker but started the last half of the season at 5-technique when the Packers were in their 3-4. “I thought he did (improve) early but he kind of fell off,” said one scout. “As an inside rusher he can be active. I don’t think he rushes very good outside.”
NOSE TACKLE: Linval Joseph (Minn), 8. Others: Haloti Ngata (Det), 7; Eddie Goldman (Chi), 5; Letroy Guion (GB), 4.
Joseph, with three first-team berths in three seasons, was an extraordinary unrestricted free-agent signing in March 2014. “He’s really stout in the run game,” said one scout. “He anchors that defense. He always gives you some push on the pass rush.” Ngata, 32, probably played better than last season, his first in Detroit. “Picks and chooses his spots,” said another scout. “When he wants to be dominant he can be dominant still. He’s just longer in the tooth.” Goldman battled injuries all season. “He’s going to be the No. 1 at some time if he just stays healthy,” said one scout. Guion has finished last at his position each of his three seasons in Green Bay. As a Viking, he finished second at NT in ’12. “He wasn’t very good,” said one scout. “Yeah, he’s strong. He can run for his size. I see him getting blocked more than he should. He’s done.” Added another scout: “They got the best out of him. I’m sure at some point they’ll try to replace him.”
THREE-TECHNIQUE TACKLE: Mike Daniels* (GB), 9. Others: Tom Johnson (Minn) and Tyrunn Walker (Det), 6; Cornelius Washington (Chi), 3.
Daniels has been unanimous two straight years after finishing as the top No. 3 DT in ’13. “He’s violent,” said one scout. “Plays his (expletive) off every snap. I love watching him play.” Another scout thinks losing some weight might help Daniels. “He’s still a really good player,” he said. “I just didn’t see as much quickness this year.” Johnson was described as a “crafty pass rusher” by one scout. Walker, a former Saint, rotated in Detroit. “He’s got some quickness off the ball,” said one scout. “He can get the outside edge but he also can get covered up and blocked.”
RIGHT END: Everson Griffen* (Minn), 9. Others: Clay Matthews (GB), 6; Ziggy Ansah (Det), 5; Leonard Floyd (Chi), 4.
“Good players here,” one scout said admiringly. Voters deliberated before going for Griffen, a unanimous choice as well in ’14. “He’s powerful,” one said. “He gets better every year refining his pass-rush techniques.” It was close between Matthews and Ansah. “He and Ansah are both hurt,” one scout said. “It’s hard to really grade them. They’re both really good players. Both hard to handle. Neither was what they were. Matthews is coming on.” Floyd, the ninth pick, came on fast after a sluggish start. “He’s on the come,” said one scout. “He just needs to get stronger. He was difficult to deal with but the strength thing limited him a little bit.”
STRONG-SIDE LINEBACKER: Anthony Barr (Minn), 8. Others: Nick Perry (GB), 7; Willie Young (Chi), 6; Josh Bynes (Det), 3.
Barr, a unanimous pick last year, probably wasn’t quite as effective. “I don’t think he had his best year but he’s a really versatile guy with his size,” said one scout. “He can cover, he can rush, he can play the run.” Perry was having a career year before undergoing hand surgery after the 12th game. “He was good early,” one scout said. “He’s not a dynamic rusher. More of a power guy.” Young, 31, tied for first at No. 3 DE as a Lion in ’13. “He was OK,” said one scout. “Looked like he might be fading a little bit.” Bynes ended up starting the last eight games after being re-signed Oct. 25. “More of a backup-special teamer,” said one scout. “He does some serviceable things as far as making the plays he’s designed to make. Just not a great athlete.”
MIDDLE LINEBACKER: Eric Kendricks (Minn), 8. Others: Tahir Whitehead (Det), 7; Jerrell Freeman (Chi), 6; Jake Ryan (GB), 3.
Third a year ago behind Shea McClellin and Stephen Tulloch, Kendricks moved up two notches this year. “I wouldn’t say he’s really, really good,” one scout said. “He’s solid. He’s a little bit stiff in coverage but he’s fast enough where he can cover ground.” Whitehead, a three-year starter who was in the doghouse early last season, enjoyed a break-through campaign. “He made a big splash this year,” one scout said. “Kendricks did as well. Those are two good young linebackers. Whitehead has done more for his team than Kendricks has for his team. Tough kid, can run, athletic, physical.” Freeman, a big-money signee ($6 million guaranteed) from Indianapolis, was suspended for Games 11-14. “Just OK,” said one scout. “Early in the year you saw some snap and power. I think he wore down as the year went.” Ryan held his job when healthy. “Steady Eddie,” one scout said. “Got good size, tough, instinctive. Not a great athlete. Gets exposed in space and in coverage. Not real physical, either.”
WEAK-SIDE LINEBACKER: Danny Trevathan* (Chi), 9. Others: Chad Greenway (Minn) and Joe Thomas (GB), 6; DeAndre Levy (Det), 3.
Trevathan, an ex-Bronco, was limited to 62.8% playing time after suffering a ruptured patellar tendon in Game 11. “He showed some good things,” one scout said. “He can run. He’s a leader. Physical. But he’s more of a piece than a centerpiece.” Received $12 million guaranteed to join the Bears. “Not worth the money they paid him,” said another scout. “Short, small, instinctive, tough, got injured.” Greenway, 33, had just 39% playing time. “He’s declined as a player but he’s still so smart,” said one scout. “Very good athlete. Understands offenses. You just like the way he plays.” Thomas, a dime LB in ’15, expanded his role and played 64.1%. “He was better than what I would have expected,” one scout said. “He’s definitely a backup-level player that got forced into starting duties, but he was respectable. That’s a credit to their staff getting that guy ready to play.” Levy, 29, hurt his thigh in the opener, sat out 11 games and has played more and more each of the last three weeks. “He’s played finesse,” one scout said. “I don’t think he’s attacking the ball. Kind of picking his spots. He’s coming back from an injury and just doesn’t look like the same guy. He looks really light.”
LEFT CORNERBACK: Darius Slay* (Det), 9. Others: Terence Newman (Minn) and Tracy Porter (Chi), 6; Damarious Randall (GB), 3.
Slay has been unanimous the last three years. Before him, the last unanimous pick among Lion CBs was Dre’ Bly in ’03. “Elite corner,” one scout said. “Can take over a game. You saw that against Philadelphia (Oct. 9). He did some big-time things. Best corner in the division.” Newman, 38, held off 2015 top pick Trae Waynes and logged 73.3% playing time. “He’s an ageless wonder who has great eyes and plays the game the way it’s supposed to be played,” said one scout. Of the 30-year-old Porter, one scout said: “He’d be a guy you’d want to sign in the middle of the season because of injuries. Just a veteran backup guy.” Randall had 7 points last year to finish a strong No. 2 to Slay but fell to last place with 3 this year. “He lost all confidence,” said one scout. “They don’t have one corner.”
RIGHT CORNERBACK: Xavier Rhodes* (Minn), 9. Others: Nevin Lawson (Det), 6; LaDarius Gunter (GB), 5; Cre’Von LeBlanc (Chi), 4.
Rhodes, unanimous for the first time, also tied for first in ’14 and was first-team No. 3 CB as a rookie in ’13. “He’s one of the best corners in the league,” said one scout. “He’s physical, big, long, strong. He’s going to hold you until he gets a penalty, then he’s going to hold you again because they’re not going to call it.” Lawson is undersized. “Not a starter,” another scout said. “He lacks size and length. He can cover. He’s scrappy.” Gunter played 82.3% after Sam Shields suffered a season-ending concussion in Game 1. “You love his size,” said one scout. “He just doesn’t have great man-to-man type skills. He’s speed deficient. We got him at 4.57. More of a zone guy.” LeBlanc, a rookie free agent claimed from New England, played 55.4%. “You like the fight,” said one scout. “There’s still a question mark there.”
STRONG SAFETY: Morgan Burnett* (GB), 9. Others: Tavon Wilson (Det), 6; Andrew Sendejo (Minn), 5; Adrian Amos (Chi), 4.
This was Burnett’s fourth first-team berth; the last two were unanimous. “He’s best in the box,” said one scout. “Good tackler. I think he has some coverage limitations in the deep part of the field. He’s not great in man (coverage). He’s best underneath. That’s why he’s a strong (safety).” Added another scout: “He keeps that Green Bay defense together. Just a smart guy.” The others also are better playing run than pass. “(Wilson) comes in, smacks guys around,” said one scout. “Amos had a good rookie year but I just haven’t seen the same things from him this year. He lacks difference-making speed.” Sendejo started for the third season in the last four. “He plays (expletive) to the wall, hair-on-fire every snap,” another scout said.
FREE SAFETY: Harrison Smith (Minn), 8. Others: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (GB), 7; Glover Quin (Det), 6; Deon Bush (Chi), 3.
Smith claimed a tight race over Clinton-Dix and Quin. “The top two are close,” said one scout. “This guy (Smith) is not the best athlete at safety in the league but he’s always in the right spot and he’s a sure tackler.” Smith tied for first in ’12 and ’13 and was unanimous last year. Clinton-Dix has improved from third as a rookie to tied for second and now to second. “He doesn’t have the name the other two guys have had in the past but he’s playing the best football right now,” said one scout. “He’s one of the main reasons why Green Bay is doing so well.” Said another scout: “He’s been productive but still has some of the same issues. Still inconsistent angles. Does have speed and range but late to react at times. Doesn’t always find the ball. Misses some tackles.” Quin was unanimous in ’14 after taking first at SS in ’13. “He’s just a sound veteran who keeps everybody calm and lined up right,” said one scout. “He will turn the ball over if you pick on him.”
NO. 3 DEFENSIVE END: Danielle Hunter* (Minn), 9. Others: Julius Peppers (GB), 6; Kerry Hyder (Det), 5; Pernell McPhee (Chi), 4.
Playing 57.7%, Hunter led the NFC North in sacks with 12. He tied for first-team as a rookie. “He’s a strong, long, athletic kid,” said one scout. “That’s a real football player.” The other three players helped comprise one of the best positions on defense. Peppers, who will be 37 in three weeks, was first team four times from 2010-’14. “He has to be fresh,” said one scout. “Then he can kind of use his length, which always is hard to deal with no matter how old he is.” Hyder dropped 30 pounds in the off-season to play DE and posted a team-high 8 sacks. “I love Hyder,” said one scout. “Just a football player. Active, productive.” McPhee didn’t play until Game 7 because of a bad knee. “If he was healthy he’d be better than what he’s shown,” said one scout.
NO. 3 DEFENSIVE TACKLE: Shamar Stephen (Minn), 7. Others: Kenny Clark (GB) and Mitch Unrein (Chi), 6; Stefan Charles (Det), 5.
Stephen played a career-high 52.6% when a knee injury limited DT Sharrif Floyd to one game. “He’s not as flashy as other guys in that defense but he plays well in the run game,” said one scout. Clark, a first-round pick, probably played better late than early. “He’s quick,” said one scout. “He just gets overpowered a lot. Motor wasn’t always there. I liked him coming out. When you draft 20-year-olds it’s hard. Different ball game.” Unrein and Charles were energetic street-fighters.
UTILITY DEFENSIVE LINEMAN: A’Shawn Robinson* (Det), 9. Others: Jonathan Bullard (Chi) and Dean Lowry (GB), 6; Justin Trattou (Minn), 3.
Robinson, a second-round pick, became a starter alongside Ngata about a month ago. “He got better as the year went along,” said one scout. “Playing the run a lot better. Big kid.” Lowry played more after Mike Pennel was suspended for a second time. “Classic overachiever,” another scout said. “Not a great athlete. Wins with effort. Short arms.” Bullard, a third-round selection, was the least successful of the Bears’ top five draft choices. “I liked him coming out but he didn’t really didn’t do much this year,” said one scout.
NO. 4 LINEBACKER: Blake Martinez (GB), 8. Others: Nick Kwiatkoski (Chi), 7; Antwione Williams (Det), 6; Audie Cole (Minn), 3.
Martinez was starting before suffering a sprained knee in Game 10. “Not real heavy-handed,” said one scout. “Gets stuck on blocks. He can run OK. Kind of a flow backer. Best in pursuit. Pretty good in coverage. Pretty good athlete.” Kwiatkoski, another rookie drafted in the fourth round (18 picks before Martinez), started the last five games. “Tough, physical, instinctive,” said one scout. “He can be a starter.”
NO. 3 CORNERBACK: Trae Waynes (Minn), 8. Others: Quinten Rollins (GB), 7; Quandre Diggs (Det), 5; Bryce Callahan (Chi), 4.
Waynes played 54.9% of the snaps, an increase from 18.2% as a rookie. Still, he failed to unseat Newman or nickel back Captain Munnerlyn. In fact, one scout said he preferred Munnerlyn to Waynes. “Ups and downs,” said one scout. “Very athletic. Has speed. Just really inconsistent making plays on the ball. Had too many penalties. Plays small at times.” Rollins’ playing time in his second season went up to 70.5%. “We liked him better last year,” said one scout. “He had more breakdowns, for whatever reason. We kind of liked his size and his up side. Just didn’t play as physical or as aggressive this year. We were lukewarm on him this year.” Diggs suffered a season-ending chest injury in Game 12. As for Callahan, one scout said: “Had some struggles this season but I think he can still be a legitimate starter. He’s a very athletic kid.”
NO. 3 SAFETY: Micah Hyde* (GB), 9. Others: Rafael Bush (Det), 6; Anthony Harris (Minn), 5; Harold Jones-Quartey (Chi), 4.
Hyde was a three-time pick here, including two unanimous. “He’s valuable because he played everywhere,” said one scout. “Nickel, safety, corner. He’s a Swiss Army knife. Smart and ready to go.” Bush, an ex-Saint, is a hard hitter. So is Jones-Quartey, but he can’t cover.
KICKER: Matt Prater* (Det), 9. Others: Mason Crosby (GB), 7; Connor Barth (Chi), 5; Kai Forbath (Minn), 3.
Robbie Gould, a four-time pick, was cut Sept. 3 by the Bears. Blair Walsh, a three-time pick, was cut Nov. 15 by the Vikings. That left the door open for Prater, who hit 30 of 34 field goals (88.2%). “He won several games this year,” said one scout. “He’s money in the clutch.” Crosby, a first-teamer in ’11 and ’14, hit 86.2%. “Does a really good job,” said another scout. “He can kick off. He’s still accurate. Really consistent pro in bad conditions.”
PUNTER: Jeff Locke (Minn) and Sam Martin (Det), 8. Others: Pat O’Donnell (Chi) and Jacob Schum (GB), 4.
Locke (39.2 net) tied with Martin in ’14. “He has inconsistencies when he’s outside but overall he’s strong-legged,” one scout said. “He just had an average year as opposed to the exceptional years he’s had.” Martin (44.1) was first last year. O’Donnell’s net was 38.7 whereas Schum, who replaced two-time selection Tim Masthay, averaged 39.3.
PUNT RETURNER: Andre Roberts (Det) and Marcus Sherels (Minn), 8. Others: Eddie Royal (Chi), 5; Trevor Davis (GB), 3.
Sherels was the choice in ’15. “Sherels is just a tough guy,” one scout said. “He can return kicks and cover them. That’s kind of rare. Roberts is probably leading the league in dual returns.”
KICKOFF RETURNER: Cordarrelle Patterson* (Minn), 9. Others: Andre Roberts (Det), 7; Ty Montgomery (GB), 5; Deonte Thompson (Chi), 3.
Patterson was unanimous for the fourth straight year. Percy Harvin, his predecessor in Minnesota, was a unanimous pick three times and a first-teamer four times from 2009-’12. “(Patterson) is a threat to run one back every time he touches it,” said one scout. As for Montgomery, one scout said: “He’s not special in that (returning), but he’s consistent.”
SPECIAL TEAMS ACE: CB Sherrick McManis (Chi), 5. Others: WR Joshua Bellamy (Chi), S Miles Killebrew (Det) and CB Marcus Sherels (Minn), 3; CB Johnson Bademosi (Det), S Don Carey (Det) and LB Jayrone Elliott (GB), 2; S Kentrell Brice (GB), LB Audie Cole (Minn), S Anthony Harris (Minn) and WR Jeff Janis (GB), 1.
McManis, a seven-year veteran, tied for second last year. “He’s No. 1, for sure,” said one scout. Killebrew, a rookie, impressed another scout. “Tough kid who is going to get better,” he said. “He brings aggressiveness.”