One Breakout Candidate on Defense for Each NFC North Opponent

Here's one name on defense to keep an eye on for each division rival. 

Plenty of talent was added around the NFC North this offseason, both in free agency and the draft. Today, we’re going to look at one possible breakout candidate on defense for each of Green Bay’s division rivals, whether these players were already on the roster or just signed this offseason. If you missed last week’s piece on breakout candidates on offense, you can read that here

Jeff Okudah, CB, Detroit Lions

This might feel too obvious as a first-round pick, but Okudah had a tough rookie season in Detroit. Expectations were high for the third overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, but most of the struggles the Lions faced were out of Okudah’s control, as he not only dealt with injuries his rookie year, but Detroit also boasted the league’s worst defense. The Lions ranked 32nd overall in points against allowing an average of 32.4 points per game. Okudah himself had one interception and two passes defensed with 47 total tackles in his nine games (six starts) for the Lions. 

At only 21 years old, there’s plenty of time for him to develop into the first-round selection draftniks know he can be, and having a new head coach and defensive coordinator will only aid in his development. New defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn has worked with defensive backs his entire career. With Okudah playing only 41% of snaps on defense in 2020, that number should more than double this season as he competes for (and claims) a starting boundary role. 

Jaylon Johnson, CB, Chicago Bears

Chicago’s second-round pick in 2020, Jaylon Johnson, put together a strong rookie season for the Bears playing in and starting 13 games. While he didn’t have any interceptions, he finished the year with 15 passes defensed, good for first on the Bears and sixth in the league. With Kyle Fuller now a Denver Bronco, Johnson looks to be the leader in the cornerback room. While veteran Desmond Trufant was added to Chicago’s secondary in free agency, he only played in six games for the Lions in 2020 and has struggled with injuries his last few seasons. 

Defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano retired after the 2020 season, and new coordinator Sean Desai has been with Chicago since entering the NFL in 2013. Though he’s worked primarily with the safety group his last few seasons with the Bears, he’s been around quality defensive backs like Eddie Jackson. Expect Johnson to take a leap in year two with Chicago as the new face of the cornerback group. 

D.J. Wonnum, DE, Minnesota Vikings

While he only made two starts in 14 games for the Vikings, Wonnum put together some impressive numbers as a rookie. The fourth-rounder finished his first season with three sacks, nine quarterback hits, five tackles for loss, and 24 total tackles playing 44% of defensive snaps. Packers fans may also remember him as the defensive lineman who hit Aaron Rodgers on his last pass attempt of the Week 8 loss at home to the Vikings. 

The Vikings defense regressed significantly between 2019 and 2020, going from 5th in the league in points against (18.9 points per game) to 29th (29.7 points per game). Of course, Minnesota was also missing some key pieces on defense like former All-Pro and Pro Bowl defensive end Danielle Hunter, which paved the way for players like Wonnum to get into the rotation. 

Wonnum finds himself in a crowded position group with Hunter returning, Stephen Weatherly signing in free agency, and the Vikings drafting both Patrick Jones II and Janarius Robinson in the 2021 NFL Draft, but he’ll have his opportunities after a strong performance his rookie year. 

 

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Maggie Loney is a writer for Cheesehead TV and podcaster for the Pack-A-Day Podcast and Pack's What She Said. Find her on Twitter at @MaggieJLoney.

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Comments (2)

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splitpea1's picture

June 22, 2021 at 08:14 pm

So lonely here....

The Lions are hoping for a lot of breakout players after fielding abysmal defenses for the past few years. There's nowhere to go but up, and their progress should be easy to chart since we play them the second and last games of the season. Trey Flowers will be an OLB in their new defense, a role in which he was somewhat utilized in New England. I'm a little surprised they didn't try to trade him (or maybe they did), as he is an awfully expensive player to keep on a rebuilding team.

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Savage57's picture

June 23, 2021 at 05:57 am

Johnson replacing Fuller for the Bears and Wonnum replacing Hunter for the Vikings is indeed good news for the Packers.

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