The 10 most important players on every NFC North team
- Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford can't do it alone. Who are the most valuable non-QBs in the NFC North?
A quality quarterback can carry a team a long way in the NFL, but teams carry 53 players for a reason—QBs can’t do it alone. So, with the draft and the heart of free agency in the rearview mirror, we’re asking the question: Who are the 10 most important non-quarterbacks on each NFL roster?
We polled writers from SI and The MMQB to find some answers. Each writer was assigned to a conference and asked to rank each roster’s most important players, 1 through 10. Those players then were given points consistent with their positioning—a first-place vote was worth 10 points, second-place was worth nine and so on. Then we circled back to hear the writers out when their ballots went against the grain.
The next division up is the NFC North, with the following pollsters weighing in: Jacob Feldman, Emily Kaplan, Jonathan Jones, Eric Single and Jenny Vrentas.
The 10 most important players on the Chicago Bears
T-1. RB Jordan Howard (45 votes)
T-1. WR Kevin White (45)
T-3. DE Akiem Hicks (28)
T-3. LB Leonard Floyd (28)
5. T Charles Leno (27)
6. G Kyle Long (13)
T-7. TE Zach Miller (12)
T-7. C Cody Whitehair (12)
T-10. CB Kyle Fuller (10)
T-10. LB Danny Trevathan (10)
T-10. LB Pernell McPhee (10)
In terms of perceived importance to his team, Jordan Howard’s vote total is right up there with Ezekiel Elliott (47 points) and LeSean McCoy (45), from our East division ballots. Three pollsters had Howard slotted in at No. 1 (Jones, Kaplan, Single), with a fourth (Feldman) placing him second behind White.
The lone ballot on which Howard was not the first- or second-place player was Vrentas’s. He landed fifth there, with the top spot occupied by Floyd; White checked in at No. 2. Also above Howard on the Vrentas ballot: Leno and Whitehair, and the overall voting hit on how important Chicago’s O-line will be this season—those two linemen plus Kyle Long landed in the top 10.
An unexpected development came in the lack of love for Cameron Meredith. The Bears’ leading receiver a year ago placed on just two ballots (Single and Feldman), no higher than sixth.
Jenny Vrentas defends her first-place vote for Leonard Floyd: Leonard Floyd has the chance to be the strength of a Bears roster that's in transition. We saw glimpses of Floyd's talent last year, but the key to how well the Bears defense plays—and, perhaps, the future of the Bears coaching staff—is whether or not he can take a big step forward as a second-year pass rusher.
Other Bears receiving votes: CB Prince Amukamara (nine votes), G Josh Sitton (seven), WR Cameron Meredith (six), LB Willie Young (four), S Adrian Amos (three), S Quintin Demps (three), LB Lamarr Houston (three)
The 10 most important players on the Detroit Lions
1. Ziggy Ansah (39 votes)
2. Golden Tate (33)
3. Taylor Decker (30)
T-4. Ameer Abdullah (29)
T-4. Darius Slay (29)
6. Ricky Wagner (27)
7. Jarrad Davis (18)
8. Eric Ebron (16)
T-10. D.J. Hayden (11)
T-10. T.J. Lang (11)
Jim Caldwell broke the news Tuesday that Taylor Decker required shoulder surgery due to an injury suffered in OTAs, and is out indefinitely. The voting shows how big a blow that could be—Decker placed second on two ballots (Jones and Vrentas), and there’s an argument to be made that he deserves to be even higher than his third-place overall finish.
Ansah was the only Lion to claim multiple first-place votes (Feldman, Kaplan, Vrentas); the others went to Slay (Single) and Tate (Jones). Abdullah climbed as high as No. 2, by Kaplan, and he was included on every ballot.
What’s telling about the Lions’ linebacking corps: that rookie Jarrad Davis landed squarely within the top 10? Or that no other LB, like Tahir Whitehead, garnered so much as a 10th-place vote?
Jonathan Jones defends why he ranked Travis Swanson at No. 3: Reilly Reiff and Larry Warford left in free agency and Detroit filled those holes with T.J. Lang and Rick Wagner. Swanson is vital to getting the new additions on the same page and protecting Stafford like they did with a three-year-low sack total.
Other Lions receiving votes: Travis Swanson (eight votes), Cornelius Washington (five), Glover Quin (five), Theo Riddick (four), A'Shawn Robinson (four), Marvin Jones (two), Haloti Ngata (two), Kerry Hyder (one), Sam Martin (one)
The 10 most important players on the Green Bay Packers
1. WR Jordy Nelson (46 votes)
2. DT Mike Daniels (35)
T-3. LB Clay Matthews (31)
T-3. T David Bakhtiari (31)
5. T Bryan Bulaga (22)
6. RB Ty Montgomery (21)
7. S HaHa Clinton-Dix (19)
T-8. WR Randall Cobb (15)
T-8. TE Martellus Bennett (15)
10. LB Nick Perry (13)
Aaron Rodgers tends to rely on Jordy Nelson more than any other player on his team, so no shock that he cleared the field by a significant margin. He was the No. 1-most important Packers player on three ballots (Kaplan, Single, Vrentas).
There was not much of a consensus elsewhere on Green Bay’s offense. Cobb landed between spots Nos. 6 and 10 on four ballots, but completely off the fifth (Feldman); Montgomery ranked as high as No. 3 (Jones) but also missed Feldman’s top 10; Bakhtiari claimed a first-place vote (Jones) and a second-place vote (Single) but didn’t crack the top five elsewhere. The as-yet-unmentioned fifth and final first-place vote belonged to Daniels (Feldman).
Jacob Feldman defends his vote to exclude Montgomery from his top-10 ranking: Montgomery only got 10+ carries once over the Packers' final six regular season games (all of which were wins), and even if the team expects him to improve now that he's a full-time runner, the decision to draft three more runners shows it isn't fully committed to the idea.
Other Packers receiving votes: DE Kenny Clark (12 votes), CB Damarious Randall (six), G Lane Taylor (four), CB Kevin King (three), RB Jamaal Williams (one), WR Davante Adams (one)
The 10 most important players on the Minnesota Vikings
1. T Riley Reiff (44)
2. S Harrison Smith (35)
T-3. T Mike Remmers (25)
T-3. RB Stefon Diggs (25)
5. LB Anthony Barr (21)
6. DE Everson Griffen (20)
T-7. CB Xavier Rhodes (17)
T-7. RB Latavius Murray (17)
9. G Alex Boone (14)
T-10. RB Dalvin Cook (13)
T-10. NT Linval Joseph(13)
The Vikings’ offensive line has been a sore spot for several seasons now, hence their move to add Riley Reiff this off-season and the votes skewing toward the Reiff/Remmers duo. Reiff ranked No. 1 on three ballots (Kaplan, Jones, Vrentas), and both Kaplan and Vrentas placed Reiff and Remmers 1–2, respectively. Smith cruised into the second spot on the strength of two No. 1 votes (Feldman and Single).
Mixed opinions on the importance of Minnesota’s RB tandem. Murray finished with a second-place vote (Jones), but that same ballot also left Cook outside the top 10. Both backs missed out on two ballots in total. They also placed 3–4, with Cook in the higher position, on Kaplan’s ballot.
Emily Kaplan defends her decision to put both Murray and Cook in her top-five: I have a hard time differentiating Cook and Murray. The veteran should get the starting role once he returns from ankle surgery, but Cook could shine before then—and I wouldn't be shocked if the rookie shoulders a bulk of carries this season. Either way, this is a Vikings offense that can only thrive if the running game is strong, and that's why I have both running backs ranked this high.
Other Vikings who received votes: TE Kyle Rudolph (11 votes), LB Eric Kendricks (nine), CB Terence Newman (seven), DE Danielle Hunter (two), WR Laquon Treadwell (two)