The All-NFC North Defensive Team is the second installment of our look at the best players from the black-and-blue division in 2022. With five weeks to play in this NFL season, let’s look at the best defensive players from the NFC North.
Criteria: Stats Plus Impact
While statistics are important when evaluating a player’s season, one must also look at the overall impact of a player on his team. The players chosen for this list represent the best at their respective positions, relative to the other players in the NFC North specifically.
Speaking of choosing players, here’s a special shout-out to the NFC North writers at Stadium Rant. Big thanks to my colleagues who collaborated on this list with their ideas and expertise regarding the NFC North. Make sure you give these guys a follow on Twitter and then check out all of their great content on Stadium Rant.
Without further ado, here are the 11 defensive starters on our 2022 All-NFC North team. And in case you missed it, here is our All-NFC North offensive team.
NFC North Interior Defensive Line
Dalvin Tomlinson – Minnesota Vikings. Sometimes a player’s impact is felt almost more so when they are out. The Vikings have experienced this recently as Tomlinson’s four-week absence caused serious defensive problems when holding their own on the interior. Through November, Tomlinson ranked sixth in pass rush win rate for interior linemen. This is a huge stat for a team that does not like to blitz. The Vikings’ defense does have some weaknesses, but Tomlinson is not one of them.
Kenny Clark – Green Bay Packers. While he’s had some struggles during the middle of the season, Clark started the year strong and led the Packers in pressures last week against the Bears with three.
The above tweet speaks to the type of impact he is capable of having, and while he and the Packers have not been as good as advertised in the off-season, there is no doubt that he is one of the best interior defensive linemen in the NFC North. If the Packers want to make a late surge toward the playoffs, they will need Kenny Clark to return to his early season form.
NFC North EDGE Rushers
Za’Darius Smith – Minnesota Vikings. Smith has been everything the Vikings have asked of him and more in his first season in purple. While he hasn’t been fully healthy for a couple of weeks, he is just outside the top five with 9.5 sacks, and his pass-rushing ability has immensely improved this defense. In a scheme that asks the front four to create pressure on their own, Smith has once again proved he is the best EDGE in the NFC North, and near the top league-wide.
Danielle Hunter – Minnesota Vikings. We’ll stay in Minnesota for the other side of the line, as Danielle Hunter has once again become an impact player. Staying healthy has been his biggest obstacle recently, but this year he appears to be getting closer to the Danielle Hunter that finished fifth in DPOY voting in 2019. And while the Vikings’ defense has allowed a ton of yards, Hunter and Smith have been able to compensate by making big plays against opposing quarterbacks.
NFC North Linebackers
De’Vondre Campbell – Green Bay Packers. Coming into this season, Athlon Sports rated Campbell as the third-best linebacker in the league. And although he has dealt with some injuries, Campbell has 75 combined tackles and six tackles for loss in just nine games this season. He finished first-team All-Pro last season and is a big component of the Packers’ defense. We can talk ad nauseam about how the Packers’ defense has not lived up to expectations, but De’Vondre Campbell is still one of the elite linebackers in the NFC North. Simply seeing all of the tweets about his return to action in Week 13 says a lot about how much fans value his presence on the field.
Eric Kendricks – Minnesota Vikings. I am biased here, as Kendricks is my favorite current Vikings player. He is not a perfect player by any means, but his motor never stops and he makes huge plays for the Vikings’ defense. His five passes defensed may not seem like a stat that says “impact player,” but I can tell you as a Vikings fan that his pass breakups always seem to come in big moments. Whether it’s to stop third-down conversion late in the game or to end a drive and give the Vikings momentum, he will be a key reason for any playoff success the Vikings have.
NFC North Cornerbacks
Jaire Alexander – Green Bay Packers. The Packers are in the midst of a forgettable season, and some may say Alexander has not been his best, but he remains the best corner in the NFC North. He is tied for fourth in the NFL with 12 passes defensed, and he’s already recorded a career-best (four) tackles for loss. Still only 25, Alexander will be shutting down NFC North receivers for years to come.
Patrick Peterson – Minnesota Vikings. The veteran Viking has been clutch for Minnesota all year. The Vikings are running away with the NFC North, and while their defense has not been dominant, Peterson leads a group that has been opportunistic and has made big plays when it’s mattered. He also has 12 passes defensed, to go along with three clutch interceptions.
Jaylon Johnson – Chicago Bears. While his stats may not be record-breaking, Johnson was 9th overall in quarterback rating allowed through the first six weeks of the season. The Bears have not been good overall, but Johnson is leading a young and talented secondary group in Chicago. They aren’t winning games this season due to the Bears’ overall ineptitude, but rest assured, he is one of the best cornerbacks in the NFC North, and it’s only his second year.
NFC North Safeties
Eddie Jackson – FS Chicago Bears. Eddie Jackson is one of the more experienced players on the Bears’ defense and has been great once again this year. Statistically, he is in many ways out-performing his two Pro Bowl seasons, but this may be due to the amount of time he has to be on the field. Jackson has four interceptions on the season and 80 combined tackles. It’s easy to look away from Bears’ players this season, but I believe this defense would be getting much more recognition if the team had made a better effort to put an offense around Justin Fields.
Harrison Smith – SS Minnesota Vikings. Smith has been a stalwart in the Vikings’ secondary for over a decade now and continues to make impact plays nearly every week. His five interceptions are only one behind the leaders C.J. Gardner-Johnson and Tariq Woolen (6), and he also has 10 passes defensed. This season has also asked him to do some different things schematically, and so while his sack numbers are down, he remains a top-level safety in the NFC North and the NFL overall.
The Future Is Bright – Defensive Rookies Of The Year
While these guys couldn’t quite break into our starters’ list, they represent the abundance of young talent on the defensive side of the ball in the NFC North.
In a dismal season by most accounts, the Bears rank sixth overall in passing yards allowed per game. And while they’ve made their rookie mistakes, safety Jaquan Brisker and cornerback Kyler Gordon have also made some big plays. They are getting valuable game experience, and if they continue to grow into next season, this Bears’ secondary could be one of the best in the NFC North. Their fellow rookie, linebacker Jack Sanborn, has also burst on the scene with 59 combined tackles and two sacks, in just five starts. The Bears’ defense has a bright future.
Another name on the defensive side of the ball is 2022 second-overall pick Aidan Hutchinson, edge rusher for the Detroit Lions. While three of Hutchinson’s six sacks came in the same game, he also has two interceptions and a significant amount of pressures on opposing quarterbacks. He has made an immediate impact as a rookie and will be a key player for the Lions as they try to improve their defense.
Linebacker Quay Walker of the Green Bay Packers also gets a nod here, as his 100 combined tackles are the best among rookies in 2022. He is ahead of the three aforementioned Bears’ rookies, who are also all in the top ten, mind you. In the plays I’ve seen, Walker has been flying all over the defense, and already looks like a seasoned veteran. He will be a name we say a lot over the next decade or so in the NFC North.
Who’s On Your List?
I always love a good sports debate, so reach out and let us know what you think of our list! I blame myself alone for the cop-out of having five rookies mentioned, but I felt they all deserved at least a shout-out. Who is your NFC North Defensive Rookie of the Year?
Also, be sure to stay on Stadium Rant for all of your sports content, and enjoy all of the Week 14 games!