Packers Searching for LBs; Bears, Lions Need WRs

Chicago Bears RB David Montgomery
Chicago Bears RB David Montgomery
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

For this May round of Four Downs, we will be looking at each team's biggest remaining need as well as notable undrafted free agents who will be going to camp with each franchise.


Biggest Need: Wide Receiver

The Bears addressed their two biggest shortcomings with appropriate fanfare when they drafted quarterback Justin Fields and offensive tackle Teven Jenkins early in the first and second round, but the trade-ups those selections required exhausted Chicago's supply of Round 3 and 4 picks and left the Bears with a handful of roster holes, none more apparent than at wide receiver. Allen Robinson is a star—he overcame uneven quarterback play in 2020 to produce an above-average receiving DVOA—but he has just one year of team control remaining on a franchise tag, and the receivers behind him range from inefficient to unproven. Fifth-round sophomore Darnell Mooney offers the most hope with 4.38s speed and coming off a breakout Week 17 with 11 catches and 93 yards before an ankle injury precluded him from playing in the team's playoff loss, but he is out of developmental runway as the Bears' expected No. 2 receiver. And while sixth-round rookie Dazz Newsome might outplay his draft position with a skill set that fits perfectly in the slot, an opportunity there would likely have to make up for the loss of Anthony Miller, whose rookie deal runs out after 2021 and whom the Bears have aimed to trade this offseason.

Notable Undrafted Free Agents

It's almost impossible to back up an historically great season like the Bears had on defense in 2018 (-25.4% DVOA, first), but they've done well with 10th- and eighth-place DVOA finishes the last two seasons and have the star power among their defensive starters to continue that success. The one position they would likely prefer to upgrade is at outside linebacker across from Khalil Mack, and Virginia product Charles Snowden could be that piece despite his undrafted status. Snowden has a basketball pedigree and size but still developed into a productive college player with 11 sacks and 21 tackles for losses in his junior and senior seasons. He might have been a Day 2 selection but for the broken ankle that precluded his participation in the Senior Bowl in a year when the pandemic made uncertain medicals a non-starter for a bunch of drafting teams. In addition, Stanford defensive lineman Thomas Schaffer has a unique background as an Austrian native. Running back C.J. Marable may be too small at 5-foot-10 and 200 pounds to continue his workhorse role at the next level, but he caught 84 passes for 703 yards in three seasons at Coastal Carolina and could in time fill the Tarik Cohen role for his new team.


Biggest Need: Wide Receiver

The Lions likely won't be ready to compete for the playoffs in 2021, and they showed great discipline in drafting offensive and defensive linemen with their first three picks when they had obvious deficiencies at the flashier skill positions. That said, for the Lions to reach their goal of Super Bowl contention, they will eventually need to address their receiver group. None of Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, Danny Amendola, Marvin Hall, or Mohamed Sanu will return to the team in 2021. Tyrell Williams and Breshad Perriman are perfect placeholder signings, but on one-year deals and playing this season at 29 and 28 years old, respectively, they are unlikely to be part of the next Lions contender. Fourth-round rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown has the body control and route-running savvy to at least contribute from the slot, but he will likely need a bigger or faster running mate on the outside to stretch the defense and create space for him in the middle of the field.

Notable Undrafted Free Agents

As one would expect of a rebuilding team, the Lions inked a bunch of undrafted free agents, and three of their 13 post-draft additions play wide receiver. Sage Surratt—Chazz's brother—from Wake Forest is the standout according to Playmaker Score. He rated 12th at the position, ahead of the team's fourth-round selection St. Brown as well as other notable mid-round picks Nico Collins, Anthony Schwartz, Amari Rodgers, and Dez Fitzpatrick. Despite his 6-foot-3 and 209-pound frame, Surratt may fit best in the slot because of his difficulties with press man coverage and lack of top-end speed. Jonathan Adams from Arkansas State and Javon McKinley from Notre Dame have higher ceilings with their superior athletic traits, but neither player matches Surratt for soft hands, and the latter has suffered from injuries and off-field issues. Among the team's additions at other positions, center Drake Jackson stands out as pro-ready after spearheading Kentucky's exceptional pass- and run-blocking for the past three and a half seasons, but he lacks the size or length of a typical NFL lineman. He may have to switch to guard to crack the Lions' lineup with star lineman Frank Ragnow entrenched at center.


Biggest Need: Inside Linebacker

Wide receiver seemed a virtual lock to be the Packers' biggest post-draft need given the recent history of their front office, but lo and behold, in Amari Rodgers the team drafted the perfect receiver to complement their roster just in time for star quarterback Aaron Rodgers to demand a trade. That drama will likely dominate the discussion of their franchise for the time being, but much more quietly, the Packers placed a lot of trust in undrafted and fifth-round sophomores Krys Barnes and Kamal Martin with their eschewal of a linebacker selection on Day 1 or 2 of the draft. With veteran Christian Kirksey released and now in Houston, Barnes and Martin are Plans A, B, and C at the position. Sixth-round rookie Isaiah McDuffie could help in time. He has an excellent motor and great instincts as a coach's son, but he's also undersized, much like Barnes. The Packers frequently rely on dime defenses with the defensive back depth to support that decision, so the Packers may ask less of their interior linebackers than most teams do, but they still carry a major risk with their inexperience at the position that could bite them when they face run-oriented teams such as the division-rival Vikings.

Notable Undrafted Free Agents

The Packers' early-draft pivot toward offense made defense a priority for the team in undrafted free agency, and not just at linebacker. The team made a pair of additions at defensive tackle and one at safety to try to complement star veterans Kenny Clark and Adrian Amos. At the former position, Carlo Kemp brings experience and leadership qualities as a Michigan team captain but lacks ideal size, and Jack Heflin offers potential with prototypical tools and excellent work ethic but is more of a mystery—he was a walk-on at Northern Illinois with just one year of Power Five experience as a graduate transfer to Iowa. At the latter, Christian Uphoff from Illinois State is versatile with a physical approach that could be ideal for the Packers' defensive back-heavy lineups that in 2020 struggled to stop the run (24th in adjusted line yards).


Biggest Need: Safety

The Vikings' need at safety is relative since they still have five-time Pro Bowler Harrison Smith at the position, but Smith is now 32 years old and on the back nine of his career. And free-agent addition Xavier Woods signed the one-year, $1.8-million contract of a placeholder as the team now starts its search for a long-term replacement for Anthony Harris, who left for the Eagles in free agency. The Vikings likely view fourth-round rookie cornerback Camryn Bynum as a safety prospect. His lack of athleticism may make it difficult for him to play the press-man coverage required by a cornerback in head coach Mike Zimmer's defensive scheme, but unlike his predecessor Harris, Bynum has no college experience at his new position. Things would have to develop perfectly for him to start in 2022 and possibly even anchor the team's defensive secondary with Smith a risk to retire after his current contract expires as the end of this season.

Notable Undrafted Free Agents

More even than at safety, the Vikings' 2020 statistics suggest a need in the front seven, where the team finished in the bottom five in adjusted line yards, adjusted sack rate, and defensive pressure rate. Free-agent additions Dalvin Tomlinson and Stephen Weatherly, opt-out returnee Michael Pierce, and injury returnees Danielle Hunter and Anthony Barr will hopefully fix those deficiencies, but the team still did well to create depth and plan for the future with their undrafted free agent signings of defensive tackles Jordon Scott and Zeandae Johnson and linebacker Tuf Borland. Borland is the biggest name of that trio after a productive career at Ohio State, but his small stature and lack of speed may sabotage his tremendous instincts at the next level. Scott and Johnson are better athletic fits for the NFL at their position and even enjoyed some success rushing the passer from the interior of their college lines. Meanwhile, the team added kicker Riley Patterson and long snapper Turner Bernard to take another swing at fixing their seemingly cursed special teams unit. Patterson made 64 of his 83 field goal attempts at Memphis, a 77.1% rate that would have bested Dan Bailey's accuracy in two of the last three seasons.

Portions of this article previously appeared on ESPN+.


14 comments, Last at 03 Jun 2021, 3:59pm

1 Jared Goff and the Lions are…

Jared Goff and the Lions are the worst possible marriage in my opinion. Goff is like the photo negative of Ryan Fitzpatrick, who will arrive at roughly the same results with a good team or a bad team. Instead, Goff will look like a hero on a good team and a zero on a bad team. Too bad the state of the lions' roster, courtesy of Belicheck's scion, is like post war Europe or Japan.

8 Yea, I said in another…

Yea, I said in another thread that I always thought of Goff as rich man's 2010's Andy Dalton....heavily dependent on supporting cast.  The Lions have a pretty good offensive line (Goff's main weakness is dealing with/mitigating pressure), but the wide receiver room looks pretty bleak.

9 Not to be too much of a…

Not to be too much of a downer, but it's not like the Lions could make it really work with Stafford, so really, Goff's skill is, well... completely immaterial. The Lions will be fine, long term, if they can actually start scouting, drafting, acquiring, and holding on to talent while having enough patience to allow the coaching staff/team to work through the rough spots. If they start to do any amount of "we need a quick fix now," you already know they're doomed because they're just going to fall into bad habits.

And in fact that might be most helpful for Goff, too, as it had to suck that for some inane reason McVay benched him for a player who was clearly worse.

That being said, the Lions haven't been mentioned in the Julio Jones situation, which is pretty damn impressive patience, actually.

10 "the Lions haven't been…

"the Lions haven't been mentioned in the Julio Jones situation, which is pretty damn impressive patience, actually."

Yea, if they made any serious attempt to trade draft capital for an expensive player on the wrong side of 30, I would have immediately been out on this regime.  Hell, the fact that Todd Gurley and what remains of his knees came for a visit last week is already making me nervous.

Amusing soundbites aside, I like their process so far.  Although I wasn't crazy about the Goff restructure, it didn't really move the needle much financially.  They had (on paper) a good draft, and most of their FA signings were 1-2 year flyers on buy-low players coming off down years, with potential upside.  They're also set up to have a ton of draft capital (between the Stafford trade and comp picks) and gobs of cap room in 2022-23.

It is the Lions, however, so a bit of healthy skepticism remains.  And you're not being too much of a downer, since I'm fully prepared for 2021 to look pretty ugly (both because the team will be bad, and schedule looks to be brutal).  If they have a 5 or 6 win season, but look reasonably competitive, and some of the younger players show promise, I'd consider 2021 to be a smashing success.

11 I'm... less optimistic about…

I'm... less optimistic about their cap situation. Realistically they've got like ~$15M to play with next year (yes they technically have more cap space now, but only 41 players actually on the roster). I mean it's not bad, but it's definitely not "gobs." They'll be able to bring like, maybe one significant free agent in. Maybe 2 if they let someone go.

But that being said, that money's all dedicated to younger guys so there's potential. It's just... those guys were there last year too and, uh, yeah, defense was a problem.

12 According to Spotrac, they…

According to Spotrac, they should have about 180 mil of salary (counting the 50 mil of dead money that comes off), and the cap be well north of 200 mil.  And that's not counting rollover.  But maybe I'm doing my math wrong.

13 I'll be interested to see…

I'll be interested to see what the Lions do as a franchise if Goff turns out to be a true tier 3 player. In that, they have a positive at QB and so they don't need to go the low and slow bbq approach to team building. 

14 I'm assuming tier 3 is a…

I'm assuming tier 3 is a Cousins-level player?  The only problem with Cousins is his cost, so if Goff ends up in that tier, hopefully they wouldn't do something silly like give him an expensive extension.

2 Dont forget:

Packers 3rd year LB Ty Summers who had his role on defense and ST increased this past year. Was on the field for their final, nightmare inducing play in the playoffs. So...that might mean something.

Oh and Oren Burks...but I wouldnt be surprised if he was cut. Although I'd give him one final shot under a new DC. 

The only notable UDFA Uphoff is also the only UDFA that got guaranteed money. Might be the only one to make it in a down year for them. 

3 Darnell Mooney offers the…

Darnell Mooney offers the most hope with 4.38s speed and coming off a breakout Week 17 with 11 catches and 93 yards before an ankle injury precluded him from playing in the team's playoff loss, but he is out of developmental runway as the Bears' expected No. 2 receiver.

Apologies for being dense, but what does "out of developmental runway" mean?

7 Confusing comment on Mooney to say the least

The round in which a player is drafted, is often the approximate number of years it takes for the player to become a starter.   A 3rd rounder is depth piece for at least the first two years.   A 5th rounder like Mooney should take 3-5 yrs.  

He has nice upside as a rich man’s Taylor Gabriel in Nagy’s offense.   He should continue to develop nicely.