Our NFC North reporters take a look at which rising star could make the biggest impact in the division.
Rob Demovsky, Green Bay Packers reporter: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. He quietly made his first Pro Bowl last season. I say quietly because he did it despite playing on a defense that was criticized -- and rightly so -- for its shaky pass coverage. The Packers ranked 31st in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game, but they believe they have a cornerstone piece to build around in Clinton-Dix, who tied for the NFL lead in interceptions by a safety last season with five. The 2014 first-round pick could be one of the next Packers in line for a big-money contract extension, but in the meantime they picked up the fifth-year option on his rookie deal.
Jeff Dickerson, Chicago Bears reporter: Jordan Howard. Chicago’s tailback finished second in the league in rushing yards as a rookie. Honestly, Howard probably could’ve run for 2,000 yards last year had he been in better shape. With so much uncertainty at quarterback and wide receiver, the Bears have to run the football in 2017. Howard should get a heavy workload during games. Anything less than 1,200 rushing yards would be a disappointment.
Ben Goessling, Minnesota Vikings reporter: I'll stay home for this one and name a pass-rusher whom NFC North quarterbacks will worry about for years: Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter. The 22-year-old tied for third in the league last year with 12.5 sacks -- despite only playing 578 snaps -- and he could be in line to do even more damage this year. He'll line up at left end, with teams already worrying about Everson Griffen on the right side, and Hunter will match up against a number of right tackles who simply can't handle his combination of speed and power. The 6-foot-5 end was outrunning defensive backs while training with Adrian Peterson last summer, and his 34 1/2-inch arms allow him to put offensive linemen on skates pretty quickly. He didn't go to the Pro Bowl a year ago, but he's attracting enough attention to be in line to make the team this year.
Michael Rothstein, Detroit Lions reporter: He's not a household name yet -- and it’s sometimes hard for safeties to pull that off -- but Packers safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is a player who could continue to ascend to stardom. He made his first Pro Bowl last year and was a second-team All-Pro. He plays on the most well-known team in the division, is a high-caliber player who could be a perennial Pro Bowler and has a name that’s catchy and can stick with people. That is what makes a star, although it will all begin with his play. If he builds off his 2016 season, he has a chance to be one of the league’s breakout stars in 2017.