The Chicago Bears are building around Justin Fields, the Detroit Lions are entering the season as betting favorites to win the division, the Green Bay Packers are transitioning from Aaron Rodgers to Jordan Love and the Minnesota Vikings are attempting to repeat as division champs for the first time since 2008-09.
There’s a lot going on in the NFC North this season.
In the second of a series of posts previewing the division ahead of the 2023 season, Alyssa Barbieri of Bears Wire, Jeff Risdon of Lions Wire, Zach Kruse of Packers Wire and Tyler Forness of Vikings Wire answered the question: Which rookie will create the biggest impact for each team?
Chicago Bears: RT Darnell Wright
The Bears have several draft picks who could serve as impact players as rookies, but it’s 10th overall pick Darnell Wright who should have the biggest impact in his first season. Wright should start immediately at right tackle for the Bears, helping shore up an offensive line that allowed 55 sacks on Justin Fields in 15 games last season. Wright was reliable in pass protection at Tennessee, not allowing a sack in 19 consecutive games. He’s also an excellent fit for the wide zone scheme that Chicago runs. Wright will have his share of ups and downs as he acclimates to the NFL, but he also has the benefit of working with offensive line coach Chris Morgan. Last season, fifth-rounder Braxton Jones emerged as a potential long-term starter at left tackle, starting every snap as a rookie. Can the Bears strike gold for a second consecutive season with Wright?
Detroit Lions: LB Jack Campbell
With four rookies selected in the first 45 picks, the Lions have quite a few candidates. Running back Jahmyr Gibbs, the Lions’ top pick, will certainly make an impact while sharing the RB role with veteran David Montgomery. However, the biggest impact is likely to come from Detroit’s second first-round pick, linebacker Jack Campbell.
For far too long, Detroit has been devoid of an off-ball LB who can proactively make things happen in both the run and pass defense. Campbell projects to start right away in the middle of the Lions’ base 4-2-5 defense. With help from underappreciated vet Alex Anzalone next to him, Campbell should be on the field a ton. He could very well lead the Lions in tackles as a rookie. Campbell’s versatile skillset and outstanding football IQ figures to be more impactful than the other rookies like Gibbs, DB Brian Branch and TE Sam LaPorta, who are more apt to split time as rookies with other players at their respective positions.
Green Bay Packers: TE Luke Musgrave
First-round pick Lukas Van Ness has the versatility to be an inside-outside pass-rusher and could play a lot of snaps early on while Rashan Gary gets healthy, but the pick here is Musgrave, the favorite to be the top pass-catching option at tight end in the new-look Packers offense. The former Oregon State star is an explosive, smooth athlete who could stretch the field and be a security blanket of sorts for Jordan Love. Rookie tight ends rarely make a big impact, but opportunity won’t be limited for Musgrave, who is talented enough to play starter snaps right away. Can Musgrave become just the seventh rookie tight end to produce over 500 receiving yards since 2017? Although the rookie learning curve is steep at tight end, Musgrave could be the tight end version of Christian Watson for the Packers in 2023.
Minnesota Vikings: CB Mekhi Blackmon
Even though Mekhi Blackmon is a third-round pick, the Vikings seem to have some big plans for him this season. In the last open OTA practice to the media, the Vikings were playing Blackmon in the slot. Considering he only has 261 snaps on the slot at the division one level, that’s somewhat of a surprise. His frame (5-11, 178) does suggest that a move into the slot could end up working best for him. When you pair that factor with Andrew Booth Jr. and Akayleb Evans not being a fit on the inside, this makes even more sense. Plus, defensive coordinator Brian Flores prioritizes versatility and he loves utilizing players everywhere on the field.