PFF: Young, Smith, Cook join Jennings as NFC North 'secret superstars'

796712.png

PFF: Young, Smith, Cook join Jennings as NFC North 'secret superstars'

Pro Football Focus is currently running a series on the "Secret Superstars" of the NFL. Players who performed better than the media or even the numbers said were dubbed as the secret stars of their respective teams. Last week the NFC North was broken down, and Bears Insider John Mullin wrote his story on cornerback Tim Jennings being named the Bears unknown star.

Here is a look at the rest of the division, and who Pro Football Focus named as each team's behind-the-scenes superstar.

Detroit Lions: Willie Young, DE

With all the star power on the Lions' defensive line, Willie Young had to fight to even make a roster spot in 2010. The sixth round draft pick was inactive for all but two games his rookie season, but Turk McBride's off-season departure bumped Young up to the No. 4 defensive end in 2011, behind Kyle Vanden Bosch, Cliff Avril and Lawrence Jackson.

And Young made the most of his time on the field, as PFF notes "of all 4-3 defensive ends with at least 100 pass rushes, Young had the fourth highest Pass Rushing Productivity Rating (13.4)." In other words, Young knows how to get to the quarterback. He recorded 3.0 sacks in 2011, and could be in line for an even bigger role in 2012 alongside defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley.

Green Bay Packers: D.J. Smith, ILB

Packers' inside linebacker A.J. Hawk has been one of the few draft busts under Ted Thompson, but the general manager, like the Lions,also may have struck gold in the sixth round.

The 5-foot-11 linebacker was considered undersized coming out of Appalachian State last year, and was assumed to play a role on special teams more than anything defensively for the Packers. With starters Desmond Bishop and Hawk manning the 3-4 defense, the rookie Smith played zero defensive snaps until Week 12 against the Lions on Thanksgiving Day. Including that Week 12 game, Smith recorded 33 tackles and an interception in four consecutive starts.

Thompson and the Packers have been reluctant to part ways with Hawk, but Smith's impressive showing last year could force Green Bay's hand to insert him in the starting lineup.

Minnesota Vikings: Chris Cook, CB

Knee injuries cost the 2010 second round draft pick a decent amount of his rookie season, but Cook came back strong in 2011. PFF noted one play in particular, when Cook broke up a Matthew Stafford pass intended for Calvin Johnson late in the fourth quarter. That contest, which PFF called Cook's "coming out party," saw the second year cornerback allow just three catches on six targets, and two passes defended.

Cook was arrested for domestic assault during the year and was dismissed by the team, but he seems to have his legal troubles behind him. He is expected to enter the season as one of two Vikings' starting cornerbacks, and at 6-foot-2 will be valuable in defending the likes of Calvin Johnson, Jordy Nelson and Brandon Marshall.

Teammates see Mike Glennon taking command of Bears offense

Teammates see Mike Glennon taking command of Bears offense

The Bears are expected to add a quarterback this week, possibly as soon as the third overall pick. But the starting quarterback the team already has in place is beginning to take control of the Bears' offense. 

With the Bears' nine-week offseason program getting underway last week, Mike Glennon has had his first opportunity to work with coaches and teammates here at Halas Hall, largely in conditioning drills. And the early evaluations of the 27-year-old have been positive. 

"(What) I've seen from Mike is just him taking command," receiver Josh Bellamy, this year's veteran recipient of the Piccolo Award, said. "He's taking command and he's willing to take all responsibility of what's going on, and that's what you want in a leader. And I'm willing to follow. And I know everybody else in the locker room is too."

Jordan Howard, the Bears' rookie recipient of the 2016 Piccolo Award, echoed Bellamy's praise of Glennon.

"He's a hard worker," Howard said. "He's been trying to motivate guys to push through things."

Having three different starting quarterbacks (Jay Cutler, Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley) last year was part of why the Bears sunk to a 3-13 record. Even if the Bears pick their quarterback of the future in two days, having consistent leadership from Glennon could be a positive for this group in 2017. 

"There's not a whole lot of teams that go through that (having three starting QBs) that have success," coach John Fox said last month. "That's over a 16-game regular season schedule. In Mike's case, he's been steady, he's been consistent, he just hasn't had a lot of opportunity. But everybody that I've known that's been around him both in college football and pro football people that I respect and know pretty well feel really good about him moving forward."

And that leadership would come from a guy who last started in 2014 and only attempted 11 passes in the last two seasons. But the Bears lauded Glennon's leadership abilities in signing him last month, and so far, the front office has been proven right in their assessment. 

"He's first out," Bellamy said. "He wants everybody on time, he's demanding everything, what a quarterback should do, he's showing leadership with the whole team. And he interacts with the players, with his guys. He'll call us, hey, you guys want to go to the game or just stuff, just building camaraderie and building a brotherhood. And that's all it's about."

Report: Jay Cutler's agent says QB has no plans to retire

Report: Jay Cutler's agent says QB has no plans to retire

Jay Cutler has no plans to retire, according to a report from ESPN's Adam Schefter.

Quoting Cutler's agent, Bus Cook, the former Bears quarterback "wants to play football. He has never mentioned retirement to me. Jay Cutler, as far as I know, is ready to play and wants to play, and his skill set is as good as any quarterback in the league."

The Bears parted ways with Cutler this offseason after eight seasons. They were reportedly shopping him as part of a trade but nothing surfaced, leading them to cut the 33-year-old.

NFL Network's Ian Rapoport said in March that the Jets had interest in Cutler, and the quarterback has been linked to the Texans as well.

Quarterbacks needs around the league will gain more clarity following next week's draft, but Cutler may have to wait until a potential training camp injury to find a spot in the league in 2017.