Lots of things to look at in the NFC North. Things are rather hot for the coldest weather division in the NFL. Are DA BEARS ready to move on from MITCH TRUBISKY? Did the Packers draft AARON RODGERS eventual successor? Have the Lions turned the corner at all? Exercising an NFL record 15 Picks in one draft, did the Vikings shore up their roster depth enough?
CHICAGO BEARS The big news for DA BEARS this off-season was the trade to bring in vet NICK FOLES to compete with MITCH TRUBISKY for the starting QB job. Word on the street around the NFL is that HC MIKE NAGY is not happy with the “progress” of TRUBISKY as his starting QB. As I write this, the “word” has turned into fact, as the BEARS have declined the 5th year option on TRUBISKY. So given this symbolically ominous mood, what QB did they draft to develop/compete? The answer is none. However, after paying off their debt to the Raiders for KHALIL MACK with their first round pick (again), DA BEARS used their Round 2 Pick at #43 to take TE COLE KMET of Notre Dame. Fighting Irish players are usually popular to a lot of their fans in the Chicago area. KMET, a big bruiser (6’6/262) that can block and catch is a good value at this Pick, but why PACE/NAGY felt that they needed to add a 9th TE to their roster here is somewhat of a mystery. Clearly, PACE likes the concept of having a cluster of guys at positions of needed improvement on his rosters. Last year at this time, DA BEARS had 4 Kickers on their roster to battle things out. The team also added one of the true speed receivers of this Draft Class in Round 5, in DARNELL MOONEY, probably a slot receiver from Tulane. The slight 5’10/176 guy has surprisingly big hands (9 5/8″), and clocked a 4.38/40 at the Combine. Looks like a slot guy to me. With a replacement needed for KYLE LONG, and a general need for more talent along their OL. the team drafted OL help in Round 7. Honestly, I have never heard of ARLINGTON HAMBRIGHT/Colorado and LACHAVIOUS SIMMONS of Tennessee State was buried deep in most prospect rankings. I believe the team did better with their 3 defensive players selected. TREVIS GIPSON, Round 5, is a pass-rushing DE with some athleticism and upside. He came into the Senior Bowl late and flashed at times. Their secondary got the most help with physical CB JAYLON JOHNSON, CB, Utah in Round 3 and KINDLE VILDOR/CB from Georgia Southern. Neither is a speedster, but they both are physical in their playing style and have some above average ball instincts. Despite being 5’10, VILDOR has 32 1/4″ arms and a 39.5″ Vertical, both as measured at the Combine. This is a pretty blah Draft for DA BEARS to me. KMET and JOHNSON have starter’s potential and some of the others should fill spot roles.
DETROIT LIONS It has been a busy off-season, again, for LIONS GM BOB QUINN and HC MATT PATRICIA. Players have been flying on and off of the Lions roster like flies at an outdoor meat market. QUINN is still trying to find PATRICIA the kind of players he wants for his system, whatever that means. Despite a lot of cheap bar talk to the contrary, it looks as though the team is indeed counting on MATTHEW STAFFORD to be their man at QB in 2020. That’s certainly not all bad, as long as their medical people are correct about the condition of his back, and if he can play full seasons in the League. The team brought in a couple of big, physical guys to solidify their Interior OL. JONAH JACKSON (Round 3) at 6’4/306, and LOGAN STENBERG (Round 4) at 6’6/317 will both get a shot to unseat some fairly pedestrian vets at their OG spots. Some definite speed and explosion was added to their RB group. D’ANDRE SWIFT in Round 2 is likely to share carries with vet KERRYON JOHNSON, who shows flashes, but seems unable to carry a heavy workload alone. In Round 5, they added explosive, but little, JASON HUNTLEY from New Mexico State, who might show most as a Return Man in 2020. Also in Round 5, the team added QUINTEZ CEPHUS/WR from Wisconsin. CEPHUS is lacking in speed, but runs great routes and fights like hell for contested catches. CEPHUS showed explosion and strength at the Combine with a 38 1/2″ vertical and was the Bench Press leader of the wideouts with 23 reps. They, of course, took JEFF OKUDAH in Round 1, and he is expected to replace DARIUS SLAY at a starting CB slot. The former S is a tough and physical Corner. They reunited the OKWARA brothers with the selection of JULIAN in Round 3. ROMEO is projected to win a starting DE spot, while Rookie JULIAN has shown some edge-rushing skills during his college days in South Bend. JULIAN is coming off of a broken leg that cost him most of the 2019 college season. However, in 2018 in 13 games, he recorded 12.5 TFL, and 8 Sacks for the Irish. He also recorded 21 QB Hurries, an astounding number. That is what MATT PATRICIA will be looking for from OKWARA, who is expected to get lots of playing time on passing downs. The team selected two space eaters for their DL in Rounds 6 & 7. JOHN PENISINI/Utah was 6’1/318 at the Combine and weighed even more during the 2019 college season. He’s a smart kid who was rated as very coachable by the Utah staff. Round 7 Pick JASHON CORNELL from Ohio State will be trying to prove that he is a talented player that got caught in a talent logjam for the Buckeyes. That’s what the Lions are hoping they see. Some nice pieces in this group, but I don’t really see any game changers beyond OKUDAH and SWIFT.
GREEN BAY PACKERS After some rumors of GM BRIAN GUTEKUNST thinking long term about his QB position with AARON RODGERS moving thru his mid-30’s, the team indeed traded up in Round 1 and selected JORDAN LOVE from Utah State. LOVE had a down 2019 season at Utah State, after another coaching change and the loss of 9 out of 10 starters surrounding him in the starting offensive line-up. Personnel evaluators around the league seem split on LOVE’s potential, but more than a few believe his upside is tremendous. He will likely get 2 years to learn from RODGERS, at which point it becomes possible to let RODGERS move on from the un-guaranteed last 2 years of his contract extension. Two things struck me about the Packers Draft and neither of them are positive. With 9 Picks in a WR heavy draft, the team never felt they could get value at the Pick from the WR group, and failed to draft any new quality receivers for RODGERS. Pretty damn strange to me. Other than LOVE in Round 1, they seemed to pick players a round or two early on Day 2 of the Draft. A.J. DILLON is a power runner and a much better athlete than you might expect from a guy that’s 6’0/247. His 4.47/40 at the Combine is excellent at his size, but most draft followers had him as a Round 3-4 Pick, not 2. The team also needed help at TE and FB, after letting VITALE and GRAHAM go. Round 3 Pick JOSIAH DEGUARA/Cincinnati fills a bit of both of those roles, but his talent is rated more like Round 5/6, than 3. He should fill both roles as needed, but he was over-drafted based on talent. On Day 3, GM GUTEKUNST seemed to come out of his daze, getting better value at most Picks and filling some needs for Training Camp competition. He drafted 3 OL, though none of them are legit OT’s. JON RUNYAN, JAKE HANSON and SIMON STEPANIAK will battle it out for back-up jobs, but I don’t see any of them playing at OT. I thought their best value Pick on Day 3 was KAMAL MARTIN, LB, Minnesota. MARTIN plays the run and underneath zone coverage well, delivering some big blows at 6’3/240. He may also provide some serious help for their Special Teams unit. Their best upside value at the Pick may have come in Round 7, in the form of JONATHAN GARVIN/DE/Miami. He’s 6’4/263 with 34″ arms and can bring heat to the pocket. His long striding frame makes up ground in pursuit, and he may be able to add enough weight to set the edge in a 3-point stance at DE. Besides not working at all to supplement the receivers group, the lack of overall speed in their Draft class is surprising for today’s NFL.
MINNESOTA VIKINGS Due in a large degree to Salary Cap restraints, the Vikings had to move on from a long list of their veteran players, including STEFON DIGGS, EVERSON GRIFFEN, XAVIER RHODES, LINVAL JOSEPH, TRAE WAYNES, LAQUON TREADWELL, and a host of others. By the time the Draft was over, GM RICK SPIELMAN had used a record 15 Picks to try to replenish the depth chart for another run at an NFC North title. DIGGS forced his way out of town by seeking to be traded, and SPIELMAN shipped him off to Buffalo. Now the question becomes, which draftees are likely to fit some holes with key roles on the depth chart. Most of us will be surprised if JUSTIN JEFFERSON/WR/LSU, their top pick @ 22, doesn’t win the No.2-Receiver job in Camp. JEFFERSON compiled a stat sheet showing 111 catches last season, including 18 TD’s for the National Champion Bayou Bengals. He was thought to be a possession receiver until 2019. He runs good routes and explodes off of his cuts. The team also added wideout K.J. OSBORN from Miami. SPIELMAN added 3 OL, spread out throughout the Draft. Round 2 Pick, EZRA CLEVELAND of Boise State is projected to take over an OT job, but maybe not until 2021. BLAKE BRANDEL/Oregon State and KYLE HINTON/Washburn are both OG projections, one of whom likely wins a Practice Squad spot. QB NATHAN STANLEY from Iowa was taken in Round 7 and is certainly a long shot. However, he started 3 seasons for the Hawkeyes and rates as a developmental QB that also seems destined for a Practice Squad assignment. By sheer numbers, SPIELMAN really loaded up on DB’s for Coach ZIMMER. Round 1, Pick 31, JEFF GLADNEY/CB/TCU is the guy being counted on to help right away. He’s a tad short at 5’10/191, but has good quicks. He started 3 seasons for TCU and has experience in off coverage in zone and press-cover. He recorded 1 INT and 14 PBU’s last season. In Round 3, the team took CAMERON DANTZLER from Miss State, who lacks speed but is very physical. He likes to blitz off the Corner, which Coach ZIMMER also likes to do on occasion. If his speed fails him as a CB, he may have potential at a S spot. Temple CB HARRISON HAND, as well as S JOSH METELLUS/Michigan and S/LB BRIAN COLE/Miss State, will battle for back-up work and Special Teams units. That’s 5 DB Picks. JAMES LYNCH was taken in Round 4. The slightly undersized DT (289) shows relentless work ethic and some pass rush moves. He led the Big 12 with 13.5 sacks in 2019. MICHIGAN STATE DE/KENNY WILLEKES lasted until ROUND 7, but might be a very nice surprise. He added strength and weighed 264 at the Combine, while still running a 4.89/40. The former walk-on also recorded 16 TFL and 10.5 Sacks in 2019. The VIKES DE group looks pretty thin right now. Look for this guy to win himself a job. Another defender that might surprise many is D.J. WONNUM a DE/LB from South Carolina. He’s 6’5/258 with 10 1/2″ hands and 34 1/8″ arms. He flashed more than a few times during Senior Bowl week. He does a bit of everything and only needs to be more consistent from game to game, snap to snap. ZIMMER and DC GEORGE EDWARDS will reward him with multiple roles if he can show more often. Finally, in Round 4, the team selected TROY DYE, a hard hitting athletic LB from Oregon. He played the end of the 2019 season with a club-cast on his right hand to protect a broken thumb. He still recorded 84 tackles, which allowed him to lead the team in tackles for the 4th straight season. He has nice size, 6’3/231, and plays inside most of the time. This guy can hit a ton, and has blitzing ability as well. He looks like a long range starter to me, and they can use more talent in their LB unit right now. This group should provide some very heated competition for roster spots and a few starting jobs during 2020 Training Camp.
There are mixed results here for everyone except the Vikings, IMO. We are likely to see a whole bunch of Rookies on that Vikings roster. Long range, the most impactful Pick could be JORDAN LOVE for the Packers. He could be the next double-digit season starting QB for the Pack if he takes over for RODGERS in a couple of seasons.