The NFC North is one of the toughest divisions in the NFL because it has some of the best talent in the league. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Lions receiver
Here’s one player from each of the four NFC North teams who could have breakout seasons:
Michael Bush, RB
Bush, who signed with the Bears via free agency this offseason, is coming off his best NFL season. In his fourth year with the Raiders last year, Bush started nine games and ran for 977 yards and seven touchdowns.
Bears starting running back Matt Forte has missed the entire offseason seeking a long-term contract instead of the franchise tag the Bears designated for him.
Bush has been able to take all of the first-team reps this offseason in Forte's absence and looks to be a good fit in new offensive coordinator Mike Tice’s scheme. Bush will take some carries away from Forte whenever he returns and could help form a terrific one-two punch in Chicago.
In the first quarter of last year's Week 13 game against the Saints, Fairley had three tackles, two for loss and a sack. He also blew up two more plays that set up tackles for teammates. It should be noted that the Saints had two Pro Bowl guards in Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks last season.
Fairley played in only 10 games in 2011 because of a broken foot, which he re-aggravated in the second quarter of that Saints game.
He entered the offseason in tremendous shape and Lions general manager Martin Mayhew singled him out as one of three players that have impressed him the most this offseason. Fairley is facing a possible suspension by the NFL after being arrested for possession of marijuana and DUI this offseason, but when he gets back -- offenses beware.
Randall Cobb, WR/KR
Cobb had himself a pretty good NFL debut last season against the Saints when he caught a touchdown pass and returned a kickoff 108 yards for a touchdown.
Cobb made his biggest impact on special teams as a rookie. He averaged 11.7 yards per punt return, which ranked second in the league among players with at least 20 returns. His 27.7 average on kickoff was seventh among all players with at least 20 returns.
Cobb had 25 catches for 375 yards and a touchdown as a receiver. He is expected to play a bigger role in the offense this year as the Packers look to utilize his speed and quickness.
Kyle Rudolph, TE
A young quarterback’s best friends on the football field are a reliable left tackle, star receiver and a big-target tight end. Rodgers and Lions quarterback
Rudolph showed great hands last year and was a steady target with 26 catches for 249 yards and three touchdowns. Expect those numbers to more than double this season as quarterback Christian Ponder gets more comfortable with the Vikings’ system and the team has added some more weapons on the outside.
Rudolph is a huge target (6-foot-6, 260 pounds) who has excellent hands and should be a good red zone target all year.
Around the NFC North:
Smith: This Bears team compares to Super Bowl team Brad Biggs – Tribune
Bears unfinished business: offensive line Brad Biggs – Tribune
Believe it or not, Bears' receiving corps has multiple weapons Neil Hayes – Sun Times
Jay Cutler couldn't be happier with offense built for him Neil Hayes – Sun Times
Bears minicamp notebook Michael Wright and Jeff Dickerson – ESPNChicago.com
D.J Moore continuing to make impact on defense Larry Mayer – chicagobears.com
LB Hawk knuckles down to regain big-play production Rob Demovsky – Press-Gazette
Packers minicamp notebook Pete Dougherty – Press-Gazette
Undrafted LB Dezman Moses impresses Packers Tyler Dunne – Journal Sentinel
Packers' Matthews voted 27th on top 100 players list Bob Wolfley – Journal Sentinel
Packers close minicamp with an eye on youth Vic Ketchman – packers.com
Vikings stadium panel set; big tasks lie ahead Richard Meryhew – Star Tribune
With OTAs drawing to a close, Leslie Frazier evaluates several key players Dan Wiederer – Star Tribune
Vikings' Erin Henderson ready to move out of brother's shadow Brian Murphy – Pioneer Press
Vikings counting on last year's draft class Tom Pelissero – 1500ESPN.com