NFC North: Five rookies who can make an impact Week 1

Posted Aug 29, 2012

The NFC North might be the toughest division in all of football with the Packers, Lions and Bears all entering the regular season as potential playoff teams.

The division also features three players in quarterback Aaron Rodgers (Packers), receiver Calvin Johnson (Lions) and running back Adrian Peterson (Vikings) who are the best in the league at what they do.

The NFC North got a lot better in April, too, when a new crop of 32 draft picks joined the division. With the preseason winding to a close and the regular season just over a week away, a number of those rookie draft picks have a chance to make an immediate impact Week 1.

Here are five likely candidates

Nick Perry, DE, first-round pick, Packers:
Perry generated a lot of buzz in spring workouts and has kept it going through training camp and the preseason. In just his second play of the preseason, Perry knocked Chargers right tackle Jeromey Clary back five yards, shoved him out of the way, and sacked quarterback Philip Rivers. His power and speed have been impressive.

NFC North quarterbacks are being put on notice. Perry is strong and fast and looks to have acclimated himself nicely from a hand-in-the-dirt defensive end in the 4-3 scheme he ran at USC to a stand-up outside linebacker in the Packers 3-4 scheme.

Bill Bentley, CB, third-round pick, Lions:
It was only his third play as a professional in his first preseason game that Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden picked on Bentley deep down the left sideline for a 34-yard gain. The acclimation period for rookie corners in the NFL is a lot shorter than most positions, as Bentley found out. After that, though, Bentley showed his play-making ability against the Browns. He intercepted Weeden two series later and nearly had another in the game.

Bentley is likely to play a major role in the Lions secondary this season as long as the shoulder injury he suffered against the Raiders last week isn’t too serious. He’s started two games at RCB this preseason and was the starting nickel corner in the other. The team traded for veteran cornerback Kevin Barnes on Monday, but Bentley still looks to be the only Lions rookie with a chance to to start Week 1.

Alshon Jeffery, WR, second-round pick, Bears:
Bears coaches and fans have to love looking in the preseason stat book and seeing receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery at the top of their receiving stats. The Bears haven’t had a legitimate No. 1 receiving threat in more than a decade and now they might have two.

Jeffrey has eight catches for 106 yards with a 13.3 average per reception in the preseason. He’s shown he can stretch the field and is a big body at 6-foot-3, 220 pounds. If Jeffery continues to produce come the regular season, the Bears offense has the potential to be explosive if their offensive line holds up.

Blair Walsh, K, sixth-round pick, Vikings:
The Vikings selected the strong-legged kicker out of Georgia in the sixth round and quickly made him their man when they released long-time kicker Ryan Longwell, who spent the last six years with the team.

Walsh has converted on 8 of his 10 field goal attempts this preseason. In the team’s second preseason game against the Bills, he was 5-of-6 on field goal attempts and made all three extra points, accounting for half of the team’s points in a 36-14 victory.

Matt Kalil, LT, first-round pick, Vikings:
The Vikings are rebuilding and could start as many as five or six rookies this season. The most important of whom could be Kalil. The fourth-overall pick has been a starter at left tackle since Day 1 of arriving in Minneapolis.

He’s struggled a bit against speed rushers this preseason, having a particularly difficult time with Chargers linebacker Larry English in a recent preseason game, according to Tom Pelissero of 1500 ESPN. But Kalil looks like he’s going to be a very good player despite his troubles the other night. He'll need to be for the Vikings to improve on offense.

Around the NFC North
Three-way race heats up for starting right cornerback spot
Pete Dougherty –Press-Gazette

Neal prepares for four-game suspension
Rob Demovsky – Press-Gazette

Packers WR Jones shapes up for season
Tyler Dunne – Journal Sentinel

Rashied Davis released by Bears
Vaughn McClure – Tribune

Smith optimistic Urlacher will be on the field next week
Vaughn McClure – Tribune

Devin Hester is in a happy place
Mark Potash – Sun-Times

Podlesh hasn't given up on facing Colts
Jeff Dickerson –

Thin secondary still a Vikings concern
Mark Craig – Star Tribune

Peterson sees first contact in practice
Kent Youngblood – Star Tribune

NFL to use replacement officials for Week 1
Barry Wilner – Associated Press

Vikings quarterback Sage Rosenfels still waiting, still believing
Bruce Brothers – Pioneer Press