Four Downs
Offseason analysis of the NFL, division by division

Four Downs: NFC North

by Scott Kacsmar

Chicago Bears

Biggest Need: Secondary

Chicago has totally revamped its wide receiver corps for Mitchell Trubisky in his second season. Not only did the Bears acquire Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel in free agency, but they also made a move in the second round to acquire Anthony Miller. The Bears also snagged another cornerstone linebacker in Roquan Smith with the No. 8 pick in the draft.

However, there continues to be a lack of playmaking ability in the secondary, and none of Chicago's seven draft picks were used on a defensive back. The Bears have a league-low 24 interceptions on defense since 2015. Cornerback Kyle Fuller has a new long-term deal through 2021, but the Bears need more production in the secondary in a division with Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, and Kirk Cousins.

Notable Undrafted Free Agents: Chicago added several defensive backs after the draft, and some have a decent shot at making the final roster since they won't have any rookie draft picks to compete with. Unfortunately, most of the players share a lack of ball-hawking production, but LSU cornerback Kevin Toliver is the most promising of the bunch. Thought to be a mid-round pick, Toliver struggled with staying healthy and only started 18 of 31 games in his career. He has the physical tools, but lacks polish and experience. Cornerback Michael Johnson comes with production with eight interceptions in 2017, but he did so at the small school of Dubuque. Safety Nick Orr picked up nine interceptions in his time at TCU.


Detroit Lions

Biggest Need: Tight End

The Lions headlined their draft by strengthening the interior of the offensive line with Frank Ragnow in the first round. They also added tackle Tyrell Crosby, who could go down as a fifth-round steal after he slipped a bit. In the second round, though, Detroit was faced with a dilemma. Athletic Penn State tight end Mike Gesicki went off the board at No. 42 to Miami. He could have been a fine replacement for an offense that let Eric Ebron go with the hopes that Luke Willson and Levine Toilolo will be more than stop-gap additions. South Dakota State tight end Dallas Goedert (drafted No. 49 by Philadelphia) was still on the board, but ultimately the Lions traded up to No. 43 to draft Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson.

Johnson is the latest candidate to try replacing the void Barry Sanders left last century. Let's hope he has better luck than Kevin Jones, Kevin Smith, Jahvid Best, and Ameer Abdullah. Injury really impacted those players, and there are concerns about Johnson's frame holding up in the NFL. Perhaps the second-round pick could have best been used on a tight end, but Detroit continues to try to put a running game around Matthew Stafford, who is entering his 10th season.

Notable Undrafted Free Agents: The Lions added Florida tight end DeAndre Goolsby, who was the highest ranked UDFA tight end at NFL Draft Scout, but he only caught 68 balls for 724 yards in his three collegiate years. Detroit also could use defensive tackle help after veteran Haloti Ngata moved on. Enter Josh Fatu, a one-year starter at USC who made six sacks last year. He could slide in as a reserve nose tackle this season. Linebacker Al-Rasheed Benton (West Virginia) has been generating some buzz after a productive college career. The Lions' release of Brandon Chubb opens the door a bit wider for Benton to make the team thanks to his work against the run and potential on special teams.


Green Bay Packers

Biggest Need: Guard

Green Bay entered this draft with significant needs at cornerback and wide receiver. The Packers certainly got the job done by starting with two corners in Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson, who should both see plenty of snaps in their rookie seasons. A wide receiver was not drafted until the fourth round, but the Packers made sure to snag three of them for Aaron Rodgers to help develop. Equanimeous St. Brown could be a sixth-round steal.

Still, the key to any Green Bay season is keeping Rodgers healthy and his jersey as clean as possible. Once Rodgers broke his collarbone last year, Green Bay's hopes were essentially dashed. The Packers did not draft an offensive lineman until the fifth round, and that was right tackle project Cole Madison. With Lane Taylor and Justin McCray as projected starters at guard, the Packers will have to wait until next offseason to improve the interior of the line.

Notable Undrafted Free Agents: Green Bay added Arizona guard Jacob Alsadek, a monster at 6-foot-7 with 46 starts at right guard. He was the team's captain last year as a senior. The Packers could still use some depth at tight end, and Damon Gibson (Minnesota State-Moorhead) was productive with 191 receptions for 3,112 yards and 26 touchdowns. He'll have to make the conversion from wideout to tight end though. The Packers didn't add much in the way of edge rushers, but Naashon Hughes played 50 games at Texas. Inside linebacker Parris Bennett led Syracuse in tackles in each of the last two years, and is the first Syracuse player to have back-to-back seasons of 100 tackles since Keith Bulluck.

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Minnesota Vikings

Biggest Need: Guard

Minnesota has one of the strongest rosters in the NFL, but cornerback was a quiet need we have identified for the team for a while now. Mike Hughes was drafted late in the first round to give the Vikings another option in the slot this season. Surprisingly, the Vikings went with Pittsburgh offensive tackle Brian O'Neill in the second round, and did not draft a guard until Colby Gossett in the sixth round. Tom Brady aside, sixth-round picks rarely pan out as starters in this league.

Guard remains the only position where the Vikings don't have a player of Pro Bowl caliber or high draft stock. Last year's starting right guard, Joe Berger, retired in the offseason. Nick Easton and Tom Compton are serviceable players with some starting experience, but this is the weakest link on a team that has serious Super Bowl aspirations.

Notable Undrafted Free Agents: Wide receiver depth is one of the Vikings' main needs. While finding a gem like Adam Thielen is unlikely to happen again any time soon, here's one with a good story at the very least. Chad Beebe (Northern Illinois), son of NFL receiver Don Beebe, was given Randy Moss' No. 84 jersey this week. Now if only Leon Lett had a son who Beebe could chase down to make a gritty tackle against. Wide receivers Korey Robertson (Southern Mississippi) and Jake Wieneke (South Dakota State) were thought to be late-round picks, but both went undrafted. Robertson has the size, but there are concerns about his speed and separation. Minnesota already has that problem with former first-round pick Laquon Treadwell.

Texas cornerback Holton Hill had the fifth-highest grade of any undrafted rookie on, and he was ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay's No. 1 UDFA. Some thought Hill could have been a fourth-round pick, but there are character concerns that undoubtedly caused his slide. Hill was suspended for the final three games in 2017 for violating a team rule. Hill has denied the report that he failed a drug test at the combine, and Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer has said the team has done its due diligence on Hill.

Portions of this article originally appeared on ESPN Insider.


17 comments, Last at 11 May 2018, 10:38am

1 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

Now if only Leon Lett had a son who Beebe could chase down to make a gritty tackle against.

Hopefully not. Buffalo was trailing 52-17 with 5 minutes left when that happened.

9 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

But think about how many people's heads would explode if the little Beebe and Lett Jr. even got into a situation where such a repetition was possible, regardless of the score. I put the over/under at 12 billion, and the "under" bet is for suckers.

3 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

I'd say Green Bay needs edge rushers far more than guards. Lane Taylor is a decent (not great, but at least competent) guard and fits their needs for a pass-blocking guard more than run blocker. McCray is more a road grader than pass blocker and may grade a bit below average at both, but Rodgers can adjust for it and he's dealt with worse. They also drafted guard Cole Madison in the fifth round. He may not pan out, but they've had good luck with mid-round guards. (Sitton and Lang were both fourth round picks. Taylor was an UDFA.) It's a huge drop from Sitton and Lang, but they was a nice luxury that I'm not counting on repeating.

OTOH, CM3 is average at best. Nick Perry is their best threat and Kyler Fackrell hasn't shown me anything to think he's more than a reserve. Vince Biegel is an unknown quantity after being injured for most of last year but you don't count on fourth round picks to save your pass rush. They should get a good interior pass rush from DTs Daniels, Wilkerson, and Clark, but I can only hope their young CBs can cover for a while or it's going to be a lot of shootouts again.

10 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

The Packers OL have perpetually been overrated because Aaron Rodgers. At one point scrub Evan Dietrich-Smith became starting caliber by goading Suh into getting ejected from a game. Where is he now?

17 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

EDS may not be a good starter. But he's an adequate backup at all three interior line positions. Suh was PO'ed because EDS allegedly kept untying Suh's shoelaces during the game, not a bad strategy (though very bad sportsmanship) against a much better opponent known to have anger issues.

7 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

I would've put OLB as the Bears' biggest need. They lost Pernell McPhee, Willie Young, and Lamarr Houston (though all 3 of those guys also missed a ton of time last year) and only replaced them with Aaron Lynch and a 6th rounder. So now their depth chart for the 2 OLB spots contains Leonard Floyd, Sam Acho, Aaron Lynch, and 2 guys named Kylie Fitts and Isaiah Irving. I guess they're hoping that Lynch will stay healthy and be able to take on something bigger than the modest rotational role he had in SF, or else they'll be stuck throwing rotational journeyman Acho back out there for a whole bunch of snaps. Meanwhile Floyd hasn't lived up to his draft position yet.

Their secondary looks okay to me. Kyle Fuller & Prince Amukamara on the outside, Adrian Amos & Eddie Jackson at safety, Bryce Callahan as the nickel. Not the best DBs in the league, but it seems like this could do. Biggest concerns are regression (after a few of these guys had career years last season), lack of depth, and FS where Jackson still seems raw.

13 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

Concur on the likely Bear's need for OLB help. Help at the DE opposite Hicks would also be useful. They have guys with plausible upsides to try but who knows. I like the idea of moving some of the talent at ILB to OLB, at least on pass-likely downs. The ILBs are a little light but seem to have some pass rush potential.

If I had to name a weakness though, I say 'depth.' Excepting TE and ILB the Bears seem to have little proven depth anywhere. Maybe nobody will get hurt :\

15 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

Agree with all of this. The front-line secondary is fine. Depth is an issue there, but (as stated earlier) so it is everywhere. Edge rusher seems bereft, to the point where people are talking about trading with Denver for Shane Ray.

The thing that scares me most is OT depth. Leno goes down and we are hosed.

16 Re: Four Downs: NFC North

Most teams don't have a backup LT. If they are good enough to play LT, teams usually find another place for the player elsewhere on the line. E.g., in 2015, Packers LT Bakhtiari was injured and it was a disaster until they finally put former starting center JC Tretter there. He's now a good starting center in Cleveland. Last year when Bakhtiari was injured again they didn't have a handy replacement and the line was horrible while he was out. The Pack's OL will be in deep doodoo again if Bakhtiari is injured this year.