The most notable pass rusher in the division, Jared Allen, switched teams as a free agent this season, but remains in the division with an improved Bears’ defensive line. Allen and the other projected starting defensive end, Lamarr Houston, are new to the Bears organization.
While adding Allen and Houston, the Bears released Julius Peppers. Peppers also stays in the division with a new team. He is tasked with giving the Packers a pass rusher opposite Clay Matthews.
The Vikings are replacing Allen with Everson Griffen, their fourth round draft choice in the 2010 draft. He and veteran Brian Robison form a solid combination.
The Lions have a similar set up to the Vikings. Second-year fifth overall draft pick Ezekiel Ansah is still raw, but is big and highly athletic. He is joined by Jason Jones, a big and stout versatile defensive end, on the Lions’ defensive line.
Here is a ranking of the top five pass rushers in the NFC North.
No. 1 - Jared Allen, Chicago Bears
Allen was a prized free agent signing by the Bears. No one in the NFL has more sacks than Allen (85.5) - two ahead of Demarcus Ware and 16.5 more than third place Robert Mathis. He is just five behind active career leader John Abraham, who has played four more seasons in the NFL. Allen is a big pass rusher that forces opposing offenses to game plan around him.
No. 2 - Clay Matthews, Green Bay Packers
Matthews might be the best one-dimensional player in the league. All he does is rush the passer, but does it as well as anyone. Matthews can speed rush around the edge and run down scrambling quarterbacks. He is at his best when coming off the left side - facing the right offensive tackle. While excelling as a pass rusher, he is a liability in run support and in pass coverage. He also is an injury concern after playing less than 13 games in each of the last two seasons.
No. 3 - Julius Peppers, Green Bay Packers
Peppers has had one of the best careers of any defensive end in the league. His production has decreased. He has not reached 12 sacks in a season since recording 14.5 in 2008. The Packers have gotten little to no production from anyone other than Matthews in recent seasons, so anything Peppers can give them is a help.
No. 4 - Everson Griffen, Minnesota Vikings
Now is the time for Griffen. He signed a big contract after proving capable of making big plays as a backup. He has 17.5 sacks while making just one start in four NFL seasons. His athleticism allowed him to play in coverage and as a gunner on the punt coverage team while weighing at or above 260 pounds for the Vikings.
No. 5 - Ezekiel Ansah, Detroit Lions
Ansah has little football experience. Not just in the NFL - second season in 2014, but in general. He first played football as a sophomore at BYU in 2010. He had been cut from the basketball team twice and ran the 100 and 200-yard dashes as a walk-on track athlete. He played sparingly his first season, but played 12 games or more his final two seasons for the Cougars. His combination of size and athleticism led the Lions to take a chance on his raw ability.