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Wednesday, May 29, 2013
ChatWrap: Dueling defensive lines

By Kevin Seifert

Tuesday's SportsNation chat included a completely random discussion about the state of defensive lines in the NFC North. The relevant exchanges:

Rich (Philly)

Jared, Kevin and Brian are all playing for contracts this year while Sharif is playing for respect. Do you think the Vikings will have the best D Line in the North?

Kevin Seifert (2:16 PM)

The Lions might argue with that assessment. Suh and Fairley both have All-Pro talent and Ansah will get plenty of one-on-one opportunities as a result.

Paul (Denver)

Shouldn't the Bears D-line be in the discussion of the best in the north? Great mix of youth and veterans.

Kevin Seifert (2:55 PM)

I'm not sure I can put them there yet. Peppers is obviously elite and Melton is a good interior pass-rusher, but the other two spots? Not sure yet.

As Rich noted, three of the Minnesota Vikings' four starters -- tackle Kevin Williams along with ends Jared Allen and Brian Robison -- are in the final years of their contracts. (The same is true for backup nose tackle Fred Evans and emerging pass-rusher Everson Griffen.) The Vikings also have high hopes for an immediate contribution from rookie Sharrif Floyd.

Projecting productive years from veterans in contract years is generally a sound approach, but the Vikings' trio already has been good for several years. The bigger question for the Vikings is whether age -- Williams will be 33 in August, Allen is 31 and Robison is 30 -- will factor in. And while Floyd's impact seems likely given his pre-draft hype, we have to remember he is a rookie.

The Bears, meanwhile, have arguably the NFL's best all-around 4-3 defensive end in Julius Peppers along with a Pro Bowl playmaker at defensive tackle in Henry Melton. After Peppers and Melton, however, there is a drop-off that neither the Vikings nor Detroit Lions can be tagged with.

Nose tackle Stephen Paea is strong and athletic but he has totaled 38 tackles in 26 career games. Defensive end Corey Wootton displayed some promise opposite Peppers last season, finishing with seven sacks, but you wonder what will happen on his side as the Bears look for ways to use 2012 first-round pick Shea McClellin.

So at this point in the spring, it's difficult to look past the three dynamic players the Lions have and a fourth -- free agent Jason Jones -- who can be a versatile outside-inside threat. We discussed the pairing of tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley earlier this month, and rookie Ziggy Ansah would seem to be in position to capitalize on the attention they'll bring.

And lest I hear from Green Bay Packers fans, we'll head this off at the pass: Over the past few years, the Packers have used their nickel formation more often than any other. Usually that means two defensive linemen on the field. It's not a fair comparison.

I don't think the NFC North will be won by defensive line play, but I think we can all agree there will be some dynamic individual performances that will impact the outcome of games.