Who are the best players to come out of the NFC North division over the past 10 seasons?
ESPN took a look at just that this week, delving into all four teams and assembling one all-decade squad from the division. ESPN's NFC North reporters voted on the lineups, which included two current Vikings: tight end Kyle Rudolph and safety Harrison Smith.
On offense, Rudolph was joined by two former teammates in RB Adrian Peterson and C John Sullivan. The Bears (G Kyle Long) and Lions (WR Calvin Johnson) each had one representative; the Packers carried the rest of the group, led by QB Aaron Rodgers.
In addition to Smith, three former Vikings – DT Linval Joseph, DE Jared Allen and LB Chad Greenway – made the all-decade defensive unit. Minnesota had the most representatives on defense, followed by the Lions (DT Ndamukong Suh, CB Darius Slay, S Glover Quin). LB Clay Matthews was the lone Packer in the group.
Former Viking Cordarrelle Patterson was highlighted as the division's best kickoff/punt returner on special teams. Packers K Mason Crosby and Lions P Sam Martin were tabbed at the other specialist positions.
And how about each team's overall best player of the decade?
For Minnesota, Peterson was the favorite. ESPN's Courtney Cronin wrote:
This was about as unanimous a decision as there is. Peterson was the only non-quarterback to win the NFL MVP award during the past decade and holds countless titles and awards from his time with the Vikings. He was the league's Offensive Player of the Year (2012), a two-time First-Team All-Pro selection (2012, 2015), went to the Pro Bowl four times and led the NFL in rushing in 2012 with 2,097 yards and again in 2015. Peterson ended his time in Minnesota as the franchise's all-time rushing leader and will go down as one of the best running backs in NFL history.
Cronin called Smith and Patterson honorable mentions.
Smith was another easy choice. His 13 career sacks are the most by any defensive back since 2013. The five-time Pro Bowler and 2017 All-Pro notched 23 interceptions and set a franchise record with four of those being returned for touchdowns.
RB Matt Forte was selected to represent the Bears, Johnson for the Lions and Rodgers for the Packers. The ESPN reporters also chose an NFC North Coach of the Year; they selected on former Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy, who is at the helm in Dallas for the 2020 season.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer was the honorable mention selection.
Zimmer led the Vikings to the playoffs in three out of his six seasons and got Minnesota as far as the NFC Championship Game after the 2017 season. The Vikings have been consistently good under Zimmer, who has battled just about every abnormal circumstance you could imagine, from losing quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to a freak knee injury days before the start of the 2016 season to having eight eye surgeries and working with four different offensive coordinators in five years.
Dennis Green among Sessler's 10 favorite coaches
Plenty of discussions crop up around which NFL coaches are the best in league history.
NFL.com's Marc Sessler took a different approach recently, simply selecting his personal 10 favorite coaches. He included the disclaimer that he only qualified coaches he's watched during his lifetime.
Among Sessler's 10 favorites was the late Dennis Green, who served as the Vikings head coach from 1992-2001 and as the Cardinals head coach from 2004-06. Green became the second African-American head coach in the modern NFL and third overall when he was hired by Minnesota. He was inducted posthumously into the Vikings Ring of Honor in 2018, joining legendary coaches Bud Grant and Jerry Burns.
Sessler wrote the following of Green:
Green is happily remembered for one of the juiciest outbursts in football lore, howling at a room of Cardinals beat writers after a loss to Chicago in 2006: "The Bears are who we thought they were! ... If you want to crown them, then crown their ass! But they are who we thought they were. And we let them off the hook." Green should be recalled for much more, though, winning 113 games over 13 seasons and overseeing one of the NFL's friskiest squads in the '98 Vikings. What he accomplished should have ushered in new waves of black head coaches, but that unjust aspect of the sport remains unsolved.
The other nine coaches on Sessler's list were Zimmer's friend and mentor Bill Parcells, Marty Schottenheimer, Jerry Glanville, Sam Wyche, Bill Walsh, Joe Walton, Marv Levy, Jimmy Johnson and Bill Belichick.