Four Downs: NFC North
by Cian Fahey
Biggest Post-Draft Weakness: Secondary
Trading up for Mitchell Trubisky means the Bears failed to address a need with their first pick; they just divided their quarterback reps. Despite 57 defensive backs being taken in the draft, the Bears only took one, an injured safety. Eddie Jackson (Alabama) is considered to be a versatile player and exceptional talent when healthy, but the Bears needed to add at least one cornerback in this draft if they were going to feel comfortable with their secondary moving forward.
Prince Amukamara has starting talent, but has been let go by the Giants and Jaguars over the past two seasons because of poor play. He and Kyle Fuller, whose fifth-year option the Bears recently rejected, will be the starting tandem, while Bryce Callahan is the favorite to play the slot. The Bears don't have great starters, but those starters aren't under threat. The only real competition will take place behind Amukamara and Fuller, where Marcus Cooper and Cre'Von LeBlanc are most likely to push for playing time. Not having quality starters is bad. Not having competition for those starters is potentially disastrous.
Notable undrafted free agents: Franko House hasn't played football since high school. Instead, he spent last year averaging 13.4 points per basketball game for the Ball State Cardinals. House is a 6-foot-6, 250-pound project whom the Bears had previously worked out as a tight end prior to the draft. It's unlikely that House makes the roster this year -- it would be a surprise if he even made the practice squad -- but if he impresses he could earn opportunities down the road to eventually carve out a career like others have before him.
Placekicker Andy Phillips set a record at Utah with 84 made field goals. He made NFL.com two years ago with a nifty field goal in practice. More importantly, he nailed all four of his 50-plus-yard field goal attempts in college. In the past four years, Bears kickers have gone 11-of-17 from 50 yards or more.
Biggest Post-Draft Weakness: Defensive End
The Lions have enjoyed a smart offseason, rebuilding their offensive line in free agency and adding potential starters at different levels of the defense during the draft. Jarrad Davis should start at linebacker from Day 1, bringing an immediate upgrade to the front seven. That front seven, however, still needs to figure out who will play across from Ezekiel Ansah. Seventh-round pick Patrick O'Connor and low-level free agent Cornelius Washington were the only additions after Devin Taylor left in free agency. Taylor could still be re-signed, but in an ideal scenario the Lions would have upgraded on him this year.
Notable undrafted free agents: Running back Tion Green was reportedly given a $10,000 signing bonus to join the Lions as an undrafted free agent. The Lions have a variety of running backs who can fill different roles, but Green's size will give him a chance to carve out a role on special teams before challenging for short-yardage opportunities on offense.
Speaking of big-money UDFAs, Detroit guaranteed $36,000 to San Diego State defensive end Alex Barrett. Barrett was one of four rookie defensive linemen the Lions added after the draft, along with UNLV defensive end Jeremiah Valoaga, Mississippi State defensive tackle Nick James, and Auburn defensive tackle Maurice Swain, Jr. Valoaga only played 16 college games due to injuries and off-field troubles (he was kicked off the team last year for a violation of team rules -- what happens in Vegas, knocks you out of the draft), but had six sacks in ten games last year, and has plenty of room for growth in his 6-foot-6, 255-pound frame. James has his own off-field issues -- specifically, four arrests in his college career, most alcohol-related. But he is 6-foot-6 and 330 pounds, and athletes that size are worth the risk of a UDFA contract. Swain, meanwhile, offers almost as much size (6-foot-5, 314 pounds) and much less drama.
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Green Bay Packers
Biggest Post-Draft Weakness: Running Back
The Packers took three running backs in the 2017 draft, but none were selected before the fourth round. Ted Thompson spent his first four picks on the defensive side of the ball, passing on some top-tier running back prospects. Christine Michael's release means that the Packers will enter next season with Ty Montgomery as their only veteran running back -- and calling him a veteran is a stretch since he has been a running back for less than a year.
Jamaal Williams (BYU) was the highest selected running back of the rookie trio, so he will be the favorite to back up Montgomery. In theory, Williams will be a good complement to Montgomery because he is a big-bodied ballcarrier. The concern is that he lacks the vision and dynamism to be more than just a sporadic contributor. The Packers might be able to get the most out of Montgomery and Williams by using them in specific situations, but the lack of versatility and experience at that spot remains a major concern.
Notable undrafted free agents: The interior of the offensive line for the Packers is going to be a focal point during the leadup to the season. With Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang now playing elsewhere, there are opportunities for younger players to win jobs. Adam Pankey (West Virginia) isn't going to be a starter, but he was a surprise UDFA. Pankey lacks lateral athleticism, but has impressive size and power. A good training camp could see him earn a roster spot.
Miami punter Justin Vogel could challenge incumbent Jake Schum, who failed to make the top 20 in either gross or net average last season. The Packers also have one of the nation's best underdog stories in BYU quarterback Taysom Hill. Hill was often injured in his time in Provo, and after spending five full years with the Cougars and two more on a Mormon mission to Australia, he turns 27 in August. He is one day younger than Randall Cobb, who just finished his sixth season with the Packers. Hill completed less than 60 percent of his collegiate passes, but he ran for more than 2,800 yards.
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Biggest Post-Draft Weakness: Wide Receiver
Dalvin Cook was a somewhat surprising selection for the Minnesota Vikings in second round of the draft. Cook's value at that spot must have appealed to the Vikings, because they could have easily waited on the running back position with Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon on the roster. Cook was the only skill-position player the Vikings took before the fifth round, when they added two rookie receivers. Those two rookies will join a crowded receiver depth chart that lacks a true third option to rely on. Ideally, the Vikings would bring in an established veteran to compete with Laquon Treadwell for that spot. Anquan Boldin is still available.
Notable undrafted free agents: The quarterback depth chart is always a focal point for every team, but that is especially true for the Minnesota Vikings. As Teddy Bridgewater's status remains unknown, the Vikings will be searching for a backup for Sam Bradford. Case Keenum is the favorite, but he shouldn't be guaranteed his job. Wes Lunt (Illinois) should get plenty of opportunities through the offseason and into the preseason. According to Lance Zierlein of NFL.com, Lunt possesses an NFL arm and can make all the throws with a quick release. His time in college and in high school was marred by constant health issues.
The Vikings guaranteed at least $20,000 each to a trio of defensive free agents: SMU cornerback Horace Richardson, LSU defensive end Tashawn Bower, and Southern Miss defensive tackle Dylan Bradley. Richardson's NCAA career was marred by a pair of ACL tears. Bower only had 5.5 sacks in his career, but three of them came in his final game against Louisville's Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson in the Citrus Bowl. He was recruited to LSU in part by Danielle Hunter, who also played a role in convincing Bower to join the Vikings. Bradley, the nephew of 10-year NFL vet Jason Hatcher, led the Golden Eagles with 15.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks last season.
(Portions of this article originally appeared on ESPN Insider.)
42 comments, Last at 20 May 2017, 1:00pm
#7 by MilkmanDanimal // May 16, 2017 - 3:25pm
I'd bet replacing Kalil with Remmers is a pretty depressing wash; neither is good, but Remmers is getting a LOT less money, so I guess the Vikings win. Neither is good, but Kalil is bad at a much higher rate of pay. Reily Reiff seems like an improvement at least, so it should be better. Honestly, the Vikings should improve just because it's basically inevitable they have better injury luck this year.
#28 by Steve in WI // May 17, 2017 - 4:23pm
According to Spotrac, the bonus for the last pick of the 7th round was $64,270.
Do teams have a limited pool of money they can spend on signing bonuses for UDFAs or are they just limited by how much they want to spend in general? Because frankly I'm a little surprised that you don't hear about guys getting even more. You'd think there would be a couple guys in every UDFA class getting $100k or something like that, because a team wants them badly enough to risk what is still a small amount of money even if they don't make the team.
That said, I wonder how much the amount of the signing bonus factors in versus perceived fit with the team's scheme/coaches, as well as likelihood of making the team. $20k is twice as much as $10k, of course, but if I'm an undrafted player I would gladly take the $10k if it's from a team that I think I can make the roster and have a shot at a career. Even one hypothetical extra year on a practice squad is worth way more than any difference in signing bonus.
#3 by andrew // May 16, 2017 - 1:05pm
For wide receiver, the Vikings just spent a first round pick on Treadwell, while he didn't pan out yet think its too soon to say. They let Patterson (another 1st round WR) go and he had kind of come on last year after being mostly a special teams contributer earlier.
So right now they have Diggs, Thielen, Treadwell as the projected starting 3. They added Michael Floyd who might be interesting. and they still have last year's 6th round pick Böhringer whom I have heard next to nothing about since training camp last year. Is that a need position? I would argue Offensive line, even after the efforts this year, is a greater concern, along with whoever they plug in at the 3rd linebacker spot.
#8 by MilkmanDanimal // May 16, 2017 - 3:34pm
Treadwell was utterly abysmal last year, and couldn't see the field even with a bad WR corps around. As for Patterson, yeah, he had 52 catches, but that went for all of 453 yards, giving him a grand total of 8.7 ypc. Patterson is what he's always been, a taller and even poorer man's Tavon Austin, and he's never showed the ability to do anything other than run gimmick plays, basic routes, and WR screen after WR screen.
Floyd is likely to face a long suspension, and Diggs and Thielen both feel like guys who need to operate with some space in single coverage to succeed. Bohringer lived on the practice squad, so is basically just potential.
The Vikings at least attempted to upgrade the offensive line by picking up Remmers and Reiff, plus they drafted a center in the 3rd. The WR depth chart is basically emptier than it was when the season ended, and it wasn't that good when the season ended.
#4 by Dan // May 16, 2017 - 1:15pm
Trading up for Mitchell Trubisky means the Bears failed to address a need with their first pick; they just divided their quarterback reps.
I don't see how "starting quarterback Mike Glennon" and "quarterback was not a need" can describe the same team. It's fair to criticize the Bears' first pick because Trubisky doesn't seem like that great a prospect, and because they traded away a lot to move up 1 spot when they probably didn't need to. (And, while you're at it, you can criticize their free agency for handing $18.5M guaranteed and at least $15M per year to Mike Glennon.) But I think it's wrong to say that they failed to address a need with the Trubisky pick.
#5 by Raiderjoe // May 16, 2017 - 3:11pm
cook coing to minneosta was weird. but mckinnon not ,long term answer. so cook will probably be #2 runner right off bat. McKinnon mostly speicla teams. cook porbbaly even good enogu h to be starter right away btu who knows
nfc borth uniform rankings
remember Loins have new ones which are upgrade over last year's ones. no black trim anymore. shoulder lines/designs better.
if V ikes would just make the numbers boring like packers, they wiould rank higher. actually kind of find it annoying to see guys with unfiromns 11, 22, 33, 44, 55, 66, 77, 88, and 99 with two differwent font styles.
#26 by JoeyHarringtonsPiano // May 17, 2017 - 1:14pm
I don't completely agree about the orange (do you really long for the days of Buccaneer Bruce?), but I do agree that TB unis are secretly underrated. Despite other people complaining, I like the larger logo (making the skull the actual logo, and the flag a sort of "trim" surrounding it). The chrome facemasks are sweet, too. It's such a shame the digital clock number font ruins it all. It's like putting spinner rims on an Aston Martin.
#14 by JoeyHarringtonsPiano // May 16, 2017 - 5:30pm
Totally agree that the Loins needed to get rid of the black trim and facemasks (which were the final leftover vestige from the Matt Millen regime). The center helmet stripes are little too wide/busy. Would also like to see them update the logo (like a sleeker leaping lion, or something). Not crazy about the gimmicky number font.
I actually like the Vikings unis (the matte purple helmets are cool). I agree that the number font is weird. Simpler is always better.
Bears are nice and simple, but I would have ranked the Packers over them (maybe I'm too much of a traditionalist?)
#15 by Vincent Verhei // May 16, 2017 - 6:48pm
Totally agree that the Loins needed to get rid of the black trim and facemasks (which were the final leftover vestige from the Matt Millen regime).
Good news: They did!
#22 by Eyeguy81 // May 17, 2017 - 11:24am
You are joking with this ranking, right? I agree, maybe the serif numbers are a bit over the top, but they represent the appearance of wind sails on a Viking boat. But, generally, the Vikings overall uniforms, especially the color schemes, are not only the best in the division but a top two best in the league accord8ng to most. The NFL network did a nationwide fan uniform contest a year or so ago and only the Raiders beat out the Vikings. In the division? Vikings, Lions, Packers (who, btw, were voted as one of the top 10 worst. Probably because grown men aren't supposed to wear piss yellow pants) and the Bears. Sorry, but Halloween colors? Really? Ugly!!!
#25 by Raiderjoe // May 17, 2017 - 1:14pm
divison opvrall good. if vikes went back TO MID 1970s look for purple unis, would vault high atop my personal rankings. was not huge fan of them with shoulder loops on white unsi though. dikd not find thatto be "uniform".
know why they have serifs on numbers . juist do not find it appealing to eyes.
#27 by jtr // May 17, 2017 - 1:46pm
Packers deserve to be in the bottom just to punish them for these insanely awful throwback unis. How could anyone with eyes think it would be a good idea to wear these?
#38 by justanothersteve // May 18, 2017 - 4:42pm
I think the Packers look is a classic. If it's old and uninspiring, so be it. I wouldn't mind if they changed it to something like this though. Actual green-and-gold vs the yellow. I also like this, a more traditional look down to the old-time khaki-colored pants but still with some gold-colored highlights rather than just yellow.
#40 by dryheat // May 19, 2017 - 11:22am
Bears definitely have the best in the division, and a top 6 or so in the NFL. After that, it gets a little interesting. I don't like the Lions black trim, or the Vikings font. Packers are kind of ugly schematically, by they have a classic cachet.
I think, top-to-bottom, I agree with RJ.
#23 by Eyeguy81 // May 17, 2017 - 11:47am
@TomC...LMAO, In a NFL Network uniform contest a year or so ago, the Bears, just like the Packers, were in the bottom 10. Sorry, but Halloween colors and no imagination when it comes to the helmet does not a great looking uniform make.
#20 by Willsy // May 17, 2017 - 6:47am
On the back of a good NFC North article another great string of comments. While Remmers won't make you think of an All Pro when compared to a turnstile he is a massive upgrade.
Also it really isn't fair for RJ to rank uniforms given the Black Gamblers have the best uniforms in the league. That said he has given me a new nickname, the Bikings, what is there not to like, and so the sipper of Sierra does it again. Quite like the Pakcers as well.
When some temas wear the solid colour outfits they do have a Rolllerball feel to them which is never good.
Also totally agree the Goldilocks crew from Chicago have great outfits but that first round draft pick was weird. Sort of Matt Millen weird.
One study I would like to do is to see if years with lots of good prospects in one position, DBs this year, have a higher marginal cost ? So do a higher proportion fail or are the assessments correct and so ratios subject to the sample even out.
Cheers to all,
#30 by SuperDackMorph // May 18, 2017 - 1:33am
Lions commitment to Tion Green is likely why they didn't sign Blount. And I'm happy about that. The black trim on the unis should've been put in the repository of failed Millen achievements a long time ago.
The Vikings are gonna pound the rock this year. Which is good in theory but not when you have a horrendous offensive line. Which btw is surprising considering they have Matt Khalil and Alex Boone.
Bridgewater is back but kneeds help. See what I did there. What an injury to sustain for a qb that kneeds his legs to make plays, unlike Palmer or Bradford who are statue pocket passers.
If Montgomery is the starting RB in GB does he have to change his number? Hard to believe how bad their RBS have been and than Ty seemlessly averages 6 yards a carry. Hopefully he's converted.
Bears decision to trade up for Trubisky is even more laughable when you consider he will be signed to.an 18 miionn dollar contract. That's 36 million and change to their qb tandem.
#31 by jtr // May 18, 2017 - 7:45am
>"[the Vikings] have a horrendous offensive line. Which btw is surprising considering they have Matt Khalil and Alex Boone."
They actually don't have Kalil anymore, he signed this offseason with Carolina. He was a big part of the problem in Minnesota anyways; after a good rookie year, he spent most of his Vikes career oscillating between barely adequate and embarrassingly bad.
#32 by MilkmanDanimal // May 18, 2017 - 12:07pm
Also, the Vikings had historically bad injury luck on the offensive line last year, meaning a probably not-good offensive line became utterly horrible.
57.2 AGL for the offensive line alone. Second place was Houston, at 33.2. Minnesota might be the only team where signing Mike Remmers is actually an improvement. I mean, maybe "improvement" isn't the word to use. Remmers and Kalil effectively switched places, it's just that Remmers is getting $4 million less per year to play badly as compared to Kalil.
#39 by Will Allen // May 18, 2017 - 6:09pm
If you had given me their injury profile last June, o-line, Bridgewater, Peterson, Floyd, etc., and told me how badly Blair Walsh stunk, I would have said 8 wins was wildly optimistic. I think it just demonstrates how sound they are in the defensive backfield and at edge rusher. Also, how wildy underrated Bradford's play was. I've never been a big fan, ever since the Rams chose him over Suh, but for him to be 17th by DYAR and DVOA, behind that disaster at offensive line, nothing at running back, and middling at best receiver play, was really remarkable. No, he isn't great, but he can help a team win a championship every bit as much as a Flacco, or even Matt Ryan.
#33 by justanothersteve // May 18, 2017 - 1:49pm
I liked the Packers strategy of attacking the RB problem with multiple low draft picks. Teams can usually find a serviceable running back with a low pick and it wouldn't surprise me if they went completely RB-by-committee to the frustration of fantasy players everywhere. Multiple picks means a better chance of finding one that fits for the Packers system. Other than Lacy, TT has a horrible history in picking RBs (Brandon Jackson, Alex Green). I'm also expecting a lot of 2 TE, 2WR sets with Montgomery in the backfield with a lot of passing.
I think it could be reasonably argued that ILB is the weakest position after the draft. The current players there could best be described as adequate and they didn't draft a single ILB. There are rumors that Matthews may be playing a lot of ILB which shows how little confidence the team has in the current crew of Ryan, Martinez, and Thomas. Considering the Packers play nickel anyway without one of the middle LBs, not addressing it may not be that important.
#35 by TacticalSledgehammer // May 18, 2017 - 1:59pm
To be fair to Ted, he also drafted Franklin, who looked like he could be something before he got hurt, Starks, who was a solid contributor for several years, and stole Ryan Grant from the Giants for only a 6th round pick. I think his RB history is solidly adequate.
#37 by justanothersteve // May 18, 2017 - 4:34pm
I agree he's had better luck with later round picks. Lacy, Green, and Jackson were all rounds 2-3. Franklin (who I loved more than Lacy) and Starks were later round picks. Another reason I was fine with his "let's just throw a bunch of picks at the problem and hope one works" strategy.
#42 by ChrisLong // May 20, 2017 - 1:00pm
I think ILB is where Matthews belongs at this point. He's not a dominant rusher any more. But he could certainly be effective as a blitzer, he's always had a good instinct for twists and stunts and rushing from odd positions. I think you'll see the Packers use Fackrell, Biegel, and Matthews outside on passing downs opposite Perry. Fackrell was quite effective in limited action last year, per PFF (https://www.profootballfocus.com/pro-young-options-will-be-key-for-packers-defense/). But Matthews is the only one of those players who could conceivably play ILB. Rotating Matthews is also smart from an injury standpoint, his hamstrings are a constant worry.
Jake Ryan is nothing special, Blake Martinez has more potential IMO. Putting Matthews at ILB maximizes the talent on the field for the Packers.
I agree with you that RBBC is the Packers likely plan, with Montgomery the top option by far. People discount him because he started last year as a WR, but that's the way the position was trending anyway and he was quite effective as a runner last year (17.4% DVOA on 77 runs).