Ranking every NFC North defense in 2024: Packers can reach next level

Green Bay Packers edge rusher Rashan Gary
Green Bay Packers edge rusher Rashan Gary / Patrick McDermott/GettyImages

Offense leads the way in the NFC North, but what about the defenses?

The Chicago Bears were the only team in the division to rank inside the top half of the league for total defense last season, finishing 12th. The other three teams ended up between 16th and 19th.

Both the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions attacked their biggest defensive needs during the offseason. Green Bay signed Xavier McKinney and drafted three safeties, and they also used two Day 2 picks at linebacker. Detroit needed help at cornerback so traded for Carlton Davis before using its top two draft picks at the position.

Will it lead to better defensive results? Which NFC North team has the best defense entering the 2024 season?

Every NFC North defense in 2024, ranked

4. Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings have plenty of talent on offense, but their biggest concern is on the other side of the ball. They have lost four-time Pro Bowl pass rusher Danielle Hunter, who had 16.5 sacks and 22 quarterbacks last season.

Minnesota's strength is at safety with the starting combination of Harrison Smith and Camryn Bynum, but a lack of depth at cornerback could quickly become an issue against the other three offenses in the NFC North.

Brian Flores will get the best out of this group, and they are far from one of the league's worst, but the Vikings have plenty of questions on defense.

3. Detroit Lions

Detroit's defense has the potential to quickly move into first place. The top three are all close in these rankings.

Let's start with the good. The Lions had the No. 2 rushing defense last season and should remain near the top in that category. Their pass defense was the concern in 2023, but Detroit addressed the secondary by adding Carlton Davis, Terrion Arnold, and Ennis Rakestraw Jr.

However, with Brian Branch playing most of his snaps at slot corner, the Lions are thin at safety. More concerning is their lack of pass-rush depth behind superstar Aidan Hutchinson. The former first-round pick had 11.5 sacks last season, with only one other Lions defender (Alim McNeill with five sacks) making more than three.

An improved secondary will help Detroit's defense take a step forward, but the pass rush remains a question, especially if Hutchinson misses any time.

2. Chicago Bears

Trading for Montez Sweat proved to be a turning point for the Bears' defense last season. Sweat made six sacks in nine games, with Chicago allowing just 17.9 points per game during that stretch. The Bears also had the league's No. 1-ranked rushing defense in 2023.

Chicago has the top linebacker duo in the NFC North, while cornerback Jaylon Johnson is one of the best in the league at his position.

The Bears still need more pass-rushing options outside of Sweat—he led the team in sacks last year despite only playing nine games. They also didn't do enough to address the interior defensive line. With only five draft picks and offense the priority, it's understandable.

Chicago should comfortably have a top-15 defense. If all goes well, it could finish in the top 10.

1. Green Bay Packers

There isn't much to separate the top three defenses in the NFC North, but the Packers take top spot due to having the highest upside. Green Bay has good depth at the most important positions and used the draft to address its biggest areas of need. With Jeff Hafley running the show and bringing in a more aggressive scheme, the Packers could take a massive step forward defensively.

Green Bay's defense is far from perfect, but there are star players at every level. Three-time Pro Bowler Kenny Clark is one of the league's best interior pass rushers and should thrive in Hafley's system. A pass-rush trio of Rashan Gary, Preston Smith, and Lukas Van Ness gives the Packers plenty of options up front. All-Pro Jaire Alexander and star free-agent signing Xavier McKinney lead an improved secondary.

The Packers are relying on rookies—including second-round picks Edgerrin Cooper and Javon Bullard—to play significant roles immediately, which isn't guaranteed to work out this season. Until proven otherwise, linebacker and safety depth remains a question mark.

Then there is the unknown of Hafley's system. Being more aggressive doesn't guarantee better success. This unit has struggled to stop the run in recent years—will that change in 2024?

This group has top-10 potential, but like the Bears and Lions, they have a lot to prove.

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