2014 PFF All-NFC North Team
For the second year in a row the Green Bay Packers had to win the NFC North on the last game of the season, this time against the Detroit Lions who looked like a threat to stick around. The two contenders logically send strong contingents to the All-Division team: the Packers dominated the offensive side, landing eight of the 12 spots, and the Lions’ impressive defensive unit is well represented as well. While they were head and shoulders above Minnesota and Chicago this season, the Vikings and Bears managed to crack the lineup with a few of their own.
2014’s best at each position from the NFC North:
Quarterback: Aaron Rodgers (GB)
No surprises here as the best quarterback in the league is the NFC North division quarterback of the year.
Running back: Eddie Lacy (GB)
Lacy has become one of the best all-around running backs in the game; a threat in both the passing game and running game. The second-year player was the No. 2 graded running back in the passing game this season.
Fullback: Jerome Felton (MIN)
While the fullback position has been used less and less, Felton shows that there is still value when you have a dependable fullback leading the way.
Tight End: Martellus Bennett (CHI)
The Chicago Bears’ offense may have struggled last season, but that did not stop Bennett from showing well, logging the most catches and third-best yardage total for tight ends this season.
Wide Receiver: Jordy Nelson (GB) Calvin Johnson (DET)
The NFC North had three of the Top 10-graded wide receivers this season. Nelson broke the 1,500-yard barrier for the first time and Johnson graded at +16.5 despite dealing with an injury early in the season that caused him to miss three games.
Slot Receiver: Randall Cobb (GB)
Randall Cobb ran the most routes from the slot in the league, where he also led the league in catches, yards and touchdowns, posting a strong 2.13 Yards Per Pass Route Run along the way.
Tackles: Riley Reiff (DET) and Bryan Bulaga (GB)
In a year that most tackles struggled in the NFC North, both Reiff and Bulaga stood out. Reiff didn’t excel in any area, but put up a solid season in every facet of the game. Bulaga, on the other hand, was the second-best pass blocking right tackle in the game.
Guards: Josh Sitton (GB) and T.J. Lang (GB)
The Packers had one of the top two guard pairings (the other being the Ravens) in Sitton and Lang. Sitton was outstanding all season in the pass game, leading the league in Pass Blocking Efficiency at 98.7 (allowed 10 total pressures) while Lang shined in the running game.
Center: Corey Linsley (GB)
The fourth member of the Packer offensive line to make the team is Corey Linsley. The fifth-round rookie was meant to struggle this season stepping in for an injured J.C. Tretter, however, Linsley performed way above his draft status and ended the year as the fifth graded center and the anchor on our All-Rookie team.
Edge Defenders: Julius Peppers (GB) and Ezekiel Ansah (DET)
The old and new to collide with Peppers and Ansah getting the nod on the edge. Peppers gave the Packers another edge rusher they where desperately needing, while Ansah made a second-year leap to the point where we can just wonder where his ceiling will be.
Defensive Interior – Ends: Mike Daniels (GB) and Ndamukong Suh (DET)
Ndamukong Suh has been one of the league’s best interior pass rushers, but this season he produced his best all-around performance. Daniels has pushed his way into the conversation as one of the better 3-4 ends in the league, his balanced play landing him in the Top 10 of the group for the second straight season.
Defensive Interior – Nose: Jay Ratliff (CHI)
After struggling to even get on the field for the last couple seasons, Ratliff showed when he is healthy he can still preform at a high level. His usual self as a force in the passing game, he had the third-best Pass Rush Productivity for defensive tackles at 9.5 (33 total pressures), but also produced his best work as a run defender.
Linebackers: DeAndre Levy (DET) and Anthony Barr (MIN)
DeAndre Levy had a great season in his role as a traditional 4-3 OLB, where he produced 49 stops in the run game and only missing seven tackles. With Barr still learning to become a 4-3 OLB, he was never a liability as a run defender or in coverage and when given the opportunity to rush the passer, he was able to show the athletic ability that got him drafted so high.
Cornerbacks: Rashean Mathis (DET) and Xavier Rhodes (MIN)
Since coming to the Lions, Mathis has shown he can still play, this season finishing as the 12th-highest-graded corner and giving up just 0.86 yards per cover snap. Rhodes’ excellent work in coverage (+7.3, 14th) made up for the work he needs against the run (-4.5, 107th).
Slot Cornerback: Casey Hayward (GB)
Casey Hayward has become one of the premier slot corners in the league. On 225 coverage snaps in the slot, Hayward allowed just 16 catches on 25 targets for 168 yards.
Safeties: Harrison Smith (MIN) and Glover Quin (DET)
The NFC North gives us two of the best safeties last season. Smith was excellent as a run defender, able to come up from his safety spot and act as an added linebacker in the box while Quin was one of the league’s best cover safeties, leading the NFL in interceptions.
Kicker: Blair Walsh (MIN)
Blair Walsh was easily the best kicker in the NFC North thanks in part to his good work on kickoffs and connecting on five FGs from 50+ yards.
Punter: Sam Martin (DET)
The No. 3 punter last season, had no competition as the second-year pro is getting better and better, he is on his way to become one of the leagues best specialists.
Returner: Marcus Sherels (MIN)
Sherels only had four kickoff returns, but he led the division with 297 yards as a punt returner to get him on to the division team.
Special Teamer: Adam Thielen (MIN)
Adam Thielen made the PFF All-Pro Special Teams team thanks to his blocking on kickoffs and the 10 tackles he recorded.
Follow Michael on Twitter: @PFF_MikeM