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NFC North Roundtable: Why Justin Jefferson and Danielle Hunter are Vikings' MVPs

Picking offensive and defensive MVPs from all four NFC North teams for the 2022 season.
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The NFL is a quarterback-driven league. 

It's nearly impossible for a non-QB to win the league's MVP award; each of the last nine winners have been quarterbacks, with Vikings running back Adrian Peterson the last outlier in 2012. Going back to 2007, 14 of the past 15 winners have been QBs.

And yet, when Fan Nation's four NFC North publishers — myself, Packer Central's Bill Huber, All Lions' John Maakaron, and Bear Digest's Gene Chamberlain — were asked to name an offensive MVP for the team they cover, only one picked a quarterback.

Allow us to explain.

First, some context: this summer, we'll be running a 12-part roundtable series breaking down the state of the NFC North heading into the 2022 season. Part one is on the offensive and defensive MVPs for each team.

Without further ado, our picks and rationale:

Minnesota Vikings

Offensive MVP: Justin Jefferson

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Given the other quarterbacks on the Vikings' roster, it would be easy to go with Kirk Cousins here. But then again, it's not difficult to imagine a Baker Mayfield-type QB going 33-29-1 with this supporting cast over the past four years, like Cousins has. Instead, the answer is Jefferson, who has been arguably the best wide receiver in the NFL since entering the league in 2020.

Jefferson just turned 23 and has already established himself as a superstar. He's the only player in NFL history with 3,000 receiving yards in their first two seasons, and no one has more yards since 2020. There isn't a cornerback in the league who can cover him 1 on 1, and Jefferson has the catch radius and spectacular athleticism to make plays even with multiple defenders on him. If he were to miss time, the Vikings' offense would be dramatically less dangerous. Right tackle Brian O'Neill deserves a shoutout as an honorable mention.

Defensive MVP: Danielle Hunter

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Looking for non-Mike Zimmer reasons why the Vikings went a disappointing 15-18 over the past two years? Start with Hunter missing 26 of those 33 games. The youngest player in NFL history to reach 50 career sacks, Hunter is one of the most dominant pass rushers in the league when healthy. Unfortunately, each of his last two seasons have been cut short due to significant injuries.

Hunter has every trait you want out of an edge rusher: burst, bend, strength, size, and an array of pass rush moves and counters. He's still just 27 years old, and if he stays healthy this season, you can count on him for 15 sacks. The Vikings think Hunter and new edge partner Za'Darius Smith are going to wreak havoc all year in Ed Donatell's defense. With the secondary still a bit of a question mark, they need all of the pressure they can get. — Will Ragatz, Inside the Vikings

Green Bay Packers

Offensive MVP: Aaron Rodgers

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This is a no-brainer. Aaron Rodgers is a four-time MVP, including back-to-back wins in 2020 and 2021. More than ever, following the offseason trade of Davante Adams, Rodgers will have to show his value goes beyond his annual production.

Whether it was Donald Driver and Greg Jennings to start his career or Adams the past few seasons, Rodgers has gone into every season with at least one established, high-quality receiver. Not this season. Allen Lazard, who caught 40 passes last season, is the best receiver on the roster. He figures to be joined by Randall Cobb and Sammy Watkins, two veterans who haven’t put up big-time production in several years, as the primary receivers to start the season.

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A great quarterback is the rising tide that lifts all boats. Rodgers will have to be sharper than ever, both mentally and physically, to make the passing game go. He led the NFL with touchdown-to-interception ratios of 9.25 in 2021 and 9.60 in 2020. If he can replicate those numbers this year, he should be handed a fifth MVP.

Defensive MVP: De'Vondre Campbell

Last June, the Packers signed De’Vondre Campbell to a one-year, $2 million contract. At the time, he looked like just the latest in a long line of veteran Band-Aids at a position the team had been largely ignored. Instead, Campbell emerged with an All-Pro season – the first by a Packers off-the-ball linebacker since Hall of Famer Ray Nitschke.

Campbell was terrific in every way. He was the only linebacker in the league with 100-plus tackles and at least two sacks, two forced fumbles and two interceptions. According to Sports Info Solutions, 30 linebackers had 100-plus tackles. Campbell ranked second with 4.5 yards allowed per target in the passing game and first with a missed tackle rate of 3.3 percent. That the Packers were able to re-sign him this offseason was huge. — Bill Huber, Packer Central

Chicago Bears

Offensive MVP: David Montgomery

The popular and easy choice would be quarterback Justin Fields, but a few factors weigh against it. The wide receiver group, particularly Darnell Mooney and Byron Pringle, possess more talent than analysts say, while Velus Jones has more raw talent than either. However, Mooney's size limits his production, Pringle has never been a starter, and Jones is a rookie. More importantly, the offensive line could never give Fields enough. Fields will be fortunate if he doesn't end up taking punishment like a crash dummy or, worse yet, former Texans QB David Carr. Both tackles are totally inexperienced, while right guard Sam Mustipher struggled at center and never played his new position.

Montgomery isn't ideally suited for this running attack. He is an inside zone type of runner, but his greatest strength is an ability to adapt and persevere under adverse circumstances. He's been doing it through his Bears career, if not college. Eventually they'll get this wide zone blocking scheme going in the second half of the season. Montgomery and Khalil Herbert will look drastically improved then. It's a play-action passing game and after Montgomery flourishes, the whole offense opens up.

Defensive MVP: Roquan Smith

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Smith is going to get his pay day as highest paid Bears player, probably at camp but possibly during the prior break. Cash aside, Smith already made enough plays to rank among the league's best. Now they've put him in a real playmaking spot at weak side in the old Lovie Smith scheme, the position Lance Briggs and Derrick Brooks played. Smith tied for second in the NFL in tackles for loss in 2020 and was fifth then in solo tackles while playing a position where he was away from the ball more. Now, he'll be attacking. — Gene Chamberlain, Bear Digest

Detroit Lions

Offensive MVP: Amon-Ra St. Brown

Detroit's second-year wideout is poised to become an integral part of the Lions' offense. The additions of DJ Chark and Jameson Williams should only aid St. Brown in his efforts to meet his own personal goals. Last season, Detroit did not have that many deep threat options, thus opposing defenses clamped down and made it extremely difficult for the offense to move the football. Now, Detroit has multiple options to give new offensive coordinator Ben Johnson a chance at early success.

St. Brown is dedicated to prove other NFL teams wrong for choosing to pass on him. He has stated early in his career that he is aware of each and every wideout who was drafted ahead of him. A motivated player with something to prove oftentimes has the potential to achieve great things. Quarterback Jared Goff will benefit greatly from St. Brown's reliability and sure-handedness. 

Defensive MVP: Amani Oruwariye

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The goal is now quite clear. Detroit's coaching staff wants Oruwariye to continue to build off his breakout campaign from last year and take strides to become a true lockdown cornerback. In 2021, the talented defensive back secured a career-high six interceptions and was quite reliable when other defensive backs went down due to injury. Defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant recently shared what else he would like Oruwariye to work on in 2022.

“The only small thing that we’ve talked about is being a more efficient tackler in the open field,” Pleasant said. “I think he’s been more aggressive, and I like that side of him. I’m just really looking forward to seeing Amani grow as a professional, and that’s just more on the student side. He’s been a phenomenal student, but as a corner in this league, you can never not learn enough." — John Maakaron, All Lions

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