Could Aaron Rodgers turn late-round selection Charles Johnson into a star? (Credit)
By the numbers, the NFC North was the strongest division in the NFL last year. Its teams combined to win 35 games, more than any other division. It was also the only division that boasted three teams with a winning record. So, how would the best (plus the Detroit Lions) get better? Below are recaps of each NFC North team’s drafts, with projected 2013 starters and potential late round bloomers.
In the middle of the last decade, the Lions made drafting wide receivers in the first round their specialty. From 2003 to 2005, they drafted Charles Rogers, Roy Williams, and Mike Williams. Rogers and Mike Williams never found success, and Roy Williams had one 1,000-yard season in four and a half years in Detroit.
The story isn’t entirely bad for Detroit; the Lions finally picked a winner in 2007, grabbing Calvin Johnson. Now, they’ve been on a mini-run of defensive linemen, one that’s worked out far better up to this point. After drafting Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley in 2010 and 2011, respectively, the Lions took Ezekiel Ansah with the fifth pick in this year’s draft. The three can and should form a strong line in Detroit for years to come.
Outside of that, though, their draft was hit and miss. Cornerback Darius Slay fits a need, but probably wasn’t worth an early second round pick. Larry Warford, on the other hand, was a good pick one round later, but the Lions could’ve used a tackle more than a guard. Selecting a punter in the fifth round was interesting as well. Sam Martin better be ready to win Detroit all kinds of field position battles.
Projected Starters: DE Ezekiel Ansah, CB Darius Slay, G Larry Warford
Surprising Impact Player: TE Michael Williams – Williams is a good blocking tight end with decent upside in the passing game. Calvin Johnson can take the top off the defense by himself, but Matthew Stafford will need someone like Williams to take advantage of the open space underneath. Fellow tight ends Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler are set to be free agents after this season, so Williams’ time may come sooner rather than later.
I understand the Bears’ predicament: they had only six picks to work with, and protecting Jay Cutler has to be a concern. However, at some point you also have to get him a weapon other than Brandon Marshall. They already addressed the line issue to an extent by bringing in tackle Jermon Bushrod from New Orleans. To then take two more tackles in the draft, and not grab a pass catcher until the last round, is failure on their part.
That’s not to spite Kyle Long and Jordan Mills, both of whom have the potential to turn into fine players. I also liked their pick of John Bostic, a possible long-term replacement for Brian Urlacher. Still, they should’ve looked for a playmaker earlier, especially in the first round, when guys like Tyler Eifert, Cordarrelle Patterson, and DeAndre Hopkins were available. Looking ahead to next season, the offense is still going to rely much too heavily on Brandon Marshall, which will be their downfall.
Projected Starter: LB John Bostic
Surprising Impact Player: LB Khaseem Greene – This was a great get for the Bears in the fourth round. A former safety, Greene excels at making plays in coverage and flying to the ball carrier. He may need to work on his quick twitch muscles, as his instincts aren’t quite up to speed yet. In a best case scenario, though, he and Bostic could team up to produce an inside out linebacker combo that rivals what Urlacher and Lance Briggs once had in Chicago.
In a vacuum, Minnesota giving up picks in the second, third, fourth, and seventh for New England’s first round choice (29 overall) seems ridiculous. At first, I thought Bill Belichick pulled some sort of Jedi mind trick (“this is the draft pick you’re looking for…now give me all of yours”). But the bigger picture reveals a different story. After the trade, the Vikings still ended up with nine picks in the draft, including three in the first round, plus the original seventh round pick they gave to New England, which they received in a trade with Tampa Bay.
Obviously, investing that much into the first round of this draft means a lot is on the shoulders of these three players, but I like their chances of working out. Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, whom we once had as a top ten pick, is a steal at 23, and should be a fine replacement for the aging Kevin Williams. Corner Xavier Rhodes, whose combination of length and speed I love, was another great choice two spots later. Wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson will have to match his physical talent with a strong work ethic, but if he does so, he and Greg Jennings will more than make up for the loss of Percy Harvin.
The trade with the Patriots left the Vikings with no picks on day two of the draft, but they added serious depth on day three, grabbing two linebackers, two guards, and another defensive tackle (plus a punter…seriously, what is it with this division and punters?). Overall, this was a strong draft for the Vikings; they filled a lot of holes and added a decent amount of potential to their roster.
Projected Starters: CB Xavier Rhodes, WR Cordarrelle Patterson
Surprising Impact Player: LB Gerald Hodges – Like Greene for the Bears, Hodges is a fourth round safety-turned-linebacker who can step up once the old guard, in Hodges’ case, Chad Greenway, retires. He’ll help the Vikings in pass protection, where Greenway and Erin Henderson aren’t as strong, and could be solid a three down linebacker in the future. Where he needs to improve is his upper body strength, which will allow him to disengage blockers more easily.
Green Bay Packers
With the Darrelle Revis trade, Steve discussed how a bad team stays bad. A look at the Packers’ draft shows you how a good team stays good. No team had more picks than Green Bay’s 11, and they used all of them to their advantage. First round pick Datone Jones should fit in just fine with B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett on the defensive line in their 3-4 defense.
I thought running back Eddie Lacy would be a great fit in Green Bay, and he fell to them in the second round. That was mostly due to injury concerns, but they got insurance in the form of Jonathan Franklin in the fourth round. They spent their two other fourth round selections on offensive linemen, grabbing tackle David Bakhtiari and center JC Tretter.
The Packers used the end of the draft to grab two linebackers (as if they need any more) and two receivers. And if you doubt Green Bay’s ability to develop either Charles Johnson or Kevin Dorsey into legitimate pass catchers, tell that to fellow seventh round choice Donald Driver, who just finished a nice 14-year career in Green Bay.
If I had to pick nits with the Packers' draft, it’d be that they didn’t address their secondary needs enough, selecting only cornerback Micah Hyde in the fifth round. They could’ve used more help, particularly a safety.
Projected Starters: DE Datone Jones, RB Eddie Lacy
Surprising Impact Player: WR Charles Johnson – The Packers should be able to withstand the loss of Greg Jennings with Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb still in the fold. Then again, it doesn’t matter as much who’s catching passes when you have Aaron Rodgers throwing it. Imagine what he could do with Johnson, a 6’2” receiver who recorded not one, but two sub 4.4 40-times at his pro day. With time to sharpen his route running and learn how to read NFL defenses, he could be the next cog in Rodgers' passing machine.
By: Joe Diglio