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2018 NFC North preview: Ranking the defensive lines

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Are the Lions last?

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Minnesota Vikings v Washington Redskins Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

We’re halfway through our NFC North positional rankings and thus far, teams have been all over the place. While the Packers rank atop everyone at quarterback and tight end, they’re dead-last at wide receiver and running backs. The Lions reign supreme at receiver and are second in the division at quarterback and offensive line, but are stuck at the bottom at tight end. To catch up on the offensive rankings, click below.

Now it’s time to move onto the defense. Let’s start with the backbone of every good defense: The defensive line.

Note: Each team’s top six defensive linemen were listed, but their entire depth was considered in these rankings.

1. Minnesota Vikings (Everson Griffen, Sheldon Richardson, Linval Joseph, Danielle Hunter, Brian Robison, Jaleel Johnson)

The Vikings don’t only possess the best defensive line in the NFC North, but it’s one of the best in the entire league. Led by one of the most feared defensive ends, Everson Griffen, the Vikings defense has been a top unit for several years running now. They ranked second in defensive DVOA last year, eighth in 2016 and 14th in 2015.

While Griffen (13.0 sacks last year) and Hunter (7.0) bring the stats, don’t sleep on the interior of that line. Linval Joseph is a beast who earned PFF’s 11th-highest grade among interior defenders, and now the Vikings added another physical monster in Sheldon Richardson (27th in PFF grade).

2. Green Bay Packers (Mike Daniels, Kenny Clark, Muhammad Wilkerson, Montravius Adams, Dean Lowry, James Looney)

As a 3-4 defense, the Packers won’t value their defensive line quite as much as some other teams, but their starting lineup is top-notch. Daniels-Clark-Wilkerson is a dream lineup for the Packers’ scheme and could be a nightmare for any team trying to establish the run in 2018.

The problem with this unit is the depth. Last year’s third-round pick Montravius Adams didn’t do much of anything his rookie year after entering the season with a stress fracture in his foot. Dean Lowry started 11 games last year, but was mostly ineffective. And Looney is a seventh-round rookie, so expectations are low.

In other words, if the Packers suffer any injuries along the defensive line, they could be in trouble. But to start the season, that starting lineup is seriously scary.

3. Chicago Bears (Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Jonathan Bullard, Roy Robertson-Harris, Bilal Nichols, John Jenkins)

The Bears suffer from the same issues as the Packers. A pretty solid lineup of starters, but a bunch of unproven or lackluster options in depth.

Starting with the first-team, Akiem Hicks is one of the more underrated players defensive linemen in the league. Hicks started the 2017 season with 7.0 sacks in his first eight games, but as the injury bug hit the rest of the Bears’ defensive line, his production went down.

Eddie Goldman is also an above-average nose tackle, though his game is anything but flashy.

The rest of the Bears’ defensive line hopes rely on 2016 undrafted free agent Roy Robertson-Harris, John Jenkins (who they didn’t decide to re-sign until April) and fifth-round pick Bilal Nichols.

4. Detroit Lions (Ezekiel Ansah, Anthony Zettel, A’Shawn Robinson, Sylvester Williams, Kerry Hyder, Da’Shawn Hand)

The Lions have the opposite problem of the Bears and Packers. They have players that could be decent depth contributors, but their starting lineup is uninspired. All of this unit’s hopes rely on the health of Ansah, which has been anything but reliable thus far. Though Ziggy is in a contract year, the injury issues have already begun to show, as he was limited in participation during minicamp.

Elsewhere, the Lions just don’t have that strong of a showing among their starters. A’Shawn Robinson and Anthony Zettel have potential, but both have been underwhelming at times, too. Slyvester Williams, Kerry Hyder and Da’Shawn Hand will all provide solid rotational play, but in a way, it looks like the Lions’ roster is just full of rotational players, not players they can rely on when the game is on the line.

There’s a good chance the Lions know this and will run a deeper rotation than any other team in the division, in the hopes to keep each player fresh and at their most effective. But this unit is still lacking the reliable playmakers that every other team in the division boasts.

Poll

Where do you rank the Lions’ defensive line in the division?

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    1st
    (20 votes)
  • 9%
    2nd
    (65 votes)
  • 26%
    3rd
    (184 votes)
  • 60%
    4th
    (420 votes)
689 votes total Vote Now