Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

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27 Mar 2008

Four Downs: NFC North

by Ryan Wilson

Chicago Bears

Offensive Line Is Kinda Important

Any discussion about the Bears inevitably begins with the sorry state of the a) quarterbacks, b) wide receivers, or c) Cedric Benson. Which is nice if you're an offensive lineman -- at least in the sense that you can go out in public without having to don a disguise. But of all the shortcomings on this team, the offensive line may be the biggest concern. Last season, the front five ranked 30th in Adjusted Line Yards (Benson's agent will point to this as proof that his client was set up to fail) and 18th in Adjusted Sack Rate.

The line is due an overhaul; whether that happens by August is another issue. Tackle Fred Miller and guard Ruben Brown won't be back, and left tackle John Tait could move to the right side. Terrence Metcalf and John St. Clair, two backups who logged time last season, were inconsistent and could stand some competition. Unfortunately, it won't come via free agency. As it stands, the Bears' depth chart at left tackle and left guard currently reads "gaping hole."

Oddly, the team never made much of an effort to sign Alan Faneca. At 31, he's not a long-term solution, but he could still play at a high level for a few years. In fact, Chicago didn't sign one offensive lineman during free agency, ostensibly because of the inflated prices resulting from the dearth of options. Regardless, the Bears now have to rely on the draft to find at least one -- and preferably two -- starters, in addition to adding a wide receiver, franchise quarterback, running back and safety.

Free Agency Recap

Heading into the off-season, the Bears front office presumably had plans to upgrade the wide receiver position (it was on the to-do list right after "sign left guard, sign left tackle"). The team released Muhsin Muhammad last month and chose not to franchise or re-sign Bernard Berrian. Muhammad underachieved during his three years in Chicago (while that can be partly blamed on the quarterbacks, Muhammad also shares some of the responsibility), and it's not clear Berrian is a No. 1 receiver. Both moves are hardly worth mentioning on their own, but when juxtaposed against the free-agency acquisitions, Chicago's offensive goals for next season become tough to figure.

The Bears managed to bring Marty Booker back to town after a four-year stint with the Dolphins, and outbid exactly no one for the right to watch Brandon Lloyd drop passes. D.J. Hackett spent the first few weeks of free agency on his couch waiting for his phone to ring. Hackett struggled with injuries last season, but he would've been a relatively cheap option with -- wait for it -- upside. He ended up signing with the Panthers and the Bears settled for Lloyd, a relatively cheap option with absolutely no upside.

Which means Chicago is still without a No. 1 and a No. 2 receiver, although former second-round pick Mark Bradley will finally be given an opportunity to play. So there's that.

Draft Needs

It case it wasn't clear the first time: Offensive line and wide receiver are two humongous needs. Unfortunately, running back and quarterback are too. If the Bears choose to address the line, they can't go wrong drafting either a tackle or a guard. And since this is a deep draft for linemen, Chicago might be well served to take one in the first round and another a round later. The consensus is that Jake Long, Ryan Clady, Chris Williams and Jeff Otah are the top tackles, and conceivably all could be gone when Chicago picks 14th. Guard Branden Albert, who can also play tackle, could be a possibility.

The wide receiver class isn't very deep and the Bears could find Early Doucet, Mario Manningham or Andre Caldwell still on the board in the second round. Alternatively, it might make more sense to get a wideout and then a lineman. In which case, Devin Thomas and Sam Baker would be options.

Chicago could also choose to finally find a franchise quarterback in the first round (anybody but Matt Ryan could be available) or get around to replacing Benson (in all likelihood, only Darren McFadden will be gone).

The second day of the draft could be used as an opportunity to find a replacement for Adam Archuleta.

Detroit Lions

Add Kevin Jones to the List

At least it wasn't a wide receiver this time. Charles Rogers and Mike Williams are synonymous with team president Matt Millen's infatuation with big-play wideouts. That the team used three first-round picks on wide receivers in three consecutive drafts is well documented and not worth re-hashing here. But the team's second first-round pick in 2004, running back Kevin Jones, has now suffered the same fate as Rogers and Williams: Detroit sent him packing earlier this month.

To varying degrees, all three players were hampered by injuries during their time in Detroit, but Jones at least showed promise. The second half of his rookie season was encouraging (he had four 100-yard rushing games and another 99-yard effort, and scored four TDs), and he had average or close to average DVOA in 2005 and 2007.

Unlike Rogers and Williams, Jones was unlucky as opposed to unmotivated; he suffered a Lisfranc injury in December 2006 and a year later he tore his MCL. Jones leaves Detroit having carried the ball just 761 times for 3,067 yards (4.0 average).

The Lions also chose not to re-sign T.J. Duckett, but Tatum Bell will return, no doubt on the assumption that new offensive coordinator Jim Colletto will actually run the ball next season.

It's hard to divine what the running game might look like because we saw it so rarely in 2007. The Lions lost right tackle Damien Woody to the Jets and re-signed George Foster for depth, but the rest of the line returns intact, and is in relatively good shape. The unit ranked 23rd against the run, better than NFC North rivals Green Bay (26th) and Chicago (30th), but still nothing to brag about.

Free Agency Recap

The Lions aren't afraid of change. Six defensive players who saw extensive action last season won't be back with the team. Defensive tackle Shaun Rogers is now Cleveland's problem, and defensive end Kalimba Edwards was cut. Linebackers Teddy Lehman and Boss Bailey weren't re-signed, and defensive backs Fernando Bryant and Kenoy Kennedy were released.

But the secondary is arguably better now than it was when the season ended. Detroit re-signed Travis Fisher and got Leigh Bodden and a third-round pick for the trouble of unloading Rogers on the Browns. The Lions also signed Dwight Smith and Brian Kelly.

The defensive line and linebackers are still huge question marks, however. Although Rogers was known just as much for taking plays off as he was for his jaw-dropping athleticism, Detroit will miss his presence in the middle of the defense. They signed former Seahawk Chuck Darby, but he's more of a role player than someone who opposing offenses must game-plan around. At middle linebacker, Al Wilson is still a possibility, but that will be contingent on his ability to pass a physical. The Lions showed interest in Jonathan Vilma but he was traded to the Saints, and with the free agency cupboard bare, Detroit will look to fill that need through the draft.

Draft Needs

The Lions are in the market for a right tackle, but most of their needs are along the defensive front seven. The success of the Tampa-2 scheme is dependent on a four-man pass rush and a middle linebacker who can patrol the middle of the field. Since there aren't any Patrick Willis-types in this draft, Detroit could take a defensive end with their 15th pick. Derrick Harvey and Philip Merling are possibilities, although Merling is known more as a run-stuffer. Calais Campbell and Lawrence Jackson are second-round options, and Kendall Langford is a dark-horse candidate in the third round.

Dan Connor is considered the best middle linebacker in the draft, but he may not have the athleticism to play in Detroit's scheme. Jerod Mayo and Curtis Lofton should be available in the second round, and Jo-Lonn Dunbar is an intriguing second-day option.

Running back is also a need. Although, you could argue it was a need last year too. While it might not be prudent to take a running back 15th overall, it wouldn't be altogether surprising; Millen has a fondness for taking skill-position players in the first round. Still, this draft class is relatively deep at running back -- much deeper than at defensive end or middle linebacker -- and Detroit could add depth at other positions and still land a player like Matt Forte or Kevin Smith on Day 2.

Green Bay Packers

Aaron Rodgers, This Is Not a Drill

Brett Favre has retired. After 17 NFL seasons (16 in Green Bay), 442 touchdowns, 288 interceptions, and 61,655 yards, it's over. Despite Favre's decision to call it quits, the Packers are still the favorites in the NFC North and are among the youngest teams in the league. Veteran wideout Donald Driver returns, and he'll play opposite Greg Jennings, who had a breakout sophomore season (53 receptions, 920 yards, 12 touchdowns). James Jones, who hauled in 47 passes as a rookie, will man the slot, and running back Ryan Grant will be looking to improve on an out-of-nowhere 2007 season that included 956 rushing yards and eight touchdowns in just seven starts.

Favre's understudy, Aaron Rodgers, has been waiting three years for this opportunity. He showed glimpses of an ability to handle the job last year; he was productive in the preseason and filled in nicely for Favre during a Week 13 loss to the Cowboys. Luckily, Rodgers won't be asked to do too much; Driver, Jennings, Jones and Grant should make the transition a relatively smooth one. Even more good news: The Packers were first in the league in Adjusted Sack Rate.

Although Rodgers has yet to prove himself, he's certainly in a much better situation than the quarterback taken 23 picks before him in the 2005 draft: Alex Smith. That could change, of course, but it only reinforces that the draft is more art than science.

Free Agency Recap

A team is in pretty good shape when one of their biggest off-season needs is to find a veteran backup quarterback. The Packers have yet to fill that need, but Craig Nall, the perennial clipboard-holder, could be re-signed before training camp.

The other pressing need was at linebacker, and the Packers signed Brandon Chillar earlier this week to address it. He'll battle incumbent Brady Poppinga for the strong-side job.

Green Bay franchised defensive tackle Corey Williams and then sent him to Cleveland for a second-round pick. The Packers have some depth along the defensive line and are hoping that 2007 first-rounder Justin Harrell will be a more consistent contributor next season.

The team also released its 2000 first-round pick, tight end Bubba Franks. In his eight-year career, Franks never had more than 442 receiving yards and only once caught more than 36 passes in a season.

Draft Needs

Cornerback might be the primary need, but only because the two starters, Al Harris and Charles Woodson, are each entering their 11th season in the league. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Leodis McKelvin should be long gone by the time the Packers go on the clock with the 30th pick, but Aqib Talib could be available. He's a rangy cornerback who takes risks, but he's good in press coverage and has a knack for making big plays. Another option could be Antoine Cason, who timed faster than Talib, but doesn't possess the press-coverage skills.

With Franks now with the Jets, the Packers will also be looking to add depth at tight end behind Donald Lee. Purdue's Dustin Keller is strictly a pass-catcher, but he would be an intriguing choice if he's available. If the Packers opt to use one of their two second-round picks, Fred Davis might be an alternative.

Minnesota Vikings

What Would Purple Jesus Do?

Prior to Feb. 24, the Vikings' main concern was Tarvaris Jackson and how he would fare as the starting quarterback in 2008. But that changed when left tackle Bryant McKinnie was arrested in Miami, his fourth cuffing-and-stuffing since joining the team in 2002. The Star Tribune notes that the charges were dropped in two instances, but "the multiple offenses make him a candidate for decisive punishment from the NFL if he is found guilty or accepts a plea agreement in Miami-Dade (Fla.) County Court."

The new-and-improved Minnesota Vikings don't suffer law-breakers and troublemakers well. After the sex boat scandal a few years ago, then-new owner Zygi Wilf promised to clean up the organization. Head coach Brad Childress released Koren Robinson during the 2006 preseason after an alcohol-related arrest. Dwight Smith kept his job after some hardcore PDA, but was still sanctioned by the team.

(Ed. Note: In the Wilf household, this is known as "a shonda fer de dovim.")

Minnesota's offensive line ranked just 15th in Adjusted Line Yards last season, but were 10th on runs around the left end and ninth on runs between the center and left guard. For as dangerous as Adrian Peterson was, having McKinnie, Steve Hutchinson and Matt Birk make up 60 percent of the offensive line also had a lot to do with his success.

If the Vikings are without McKinnie for any length of time, not only will it affect the running game, but it will put even more pressure on Jackson. At the end of last season, defenses were putting eight and nine players near the line of scrimmage and forcing Minnesota to pass the ball. Jackson threw for at least 220 yards in two of his final three starts, but he had three touchdowns and five interceptions, and more importantly, the Vikings were 1-2.

Free Agency Recap

McKinnie's suspension, if it comes down, will be a huge negative, but a big positive could be Minnesota's new No. 1 wide receiver, Bernard Berrian. Yes, I mentioned above that Berrian hadn't proven himself worthy of a large free-agent contract because he had been a No. 2 receiver in Chicago. That doesn't necessarily mean the Vikings were hasty in giving him a six-year, $42 million deal. For starters, the team had gobs of cap room. Second, like the Bears, they very much needed to upgrade the wideout position. Unlike the Bears, the Vikings chose to do something about it in free agency.

And while it's unclear if Berrian is cut out to be a No. 1, his production in Chicago last year -- under some trying circumstances, by the way -- is noteworthy. He caught 71 passes for 951 yards and five touchdowns. (Bears quarterbacks tossed just 17 scores in 2007.)

Worst-case scenario: Berrian, Bobby Wade, Sidney Rice, Robert Ferguson and Aundrae Allison combine to give the Vikings a mix of Nos. 2 and 3 wideouts to offset Peterson and Chester Taylor in the running game. On paper, it's an upgrade over last year, but this assumes Jackson plays more consistently.

It took nearly 18 months, but Minnesota finally got around to releasing Dwight Smith. The Vikings signed former Bengals safety Madieu Williams to a six-year, $34 million contract, and they also added Michael Boulware.

Minnesota featured one of the NFL's best run defenses for a second consecutive season, but the pass defense continued to be a liability. Williams and Boulware are tough in rushing situations and Williams should also improve the defense on passing downs.

Draft Needs

The Vikings signed Ellis Wyms to a one-year contract this month and he can play anywhere along the defensive line. The team will still be looking for a true defensive end to replace Kenechi Udeze, who will miss next season as he recovers from leukemia. Derrick Harvey or Phillip Merling would make sense with the 17th pick, although if Minnesota is truly concerned about McKinnie's future, they could also take a lineman.

More realistically, the team could look to the later rounds for an offensive lineman -- a center -- to eventually replace Birk. Kory Lichtensteiger might be a Day 2 option; if nothing else, he'd provide depth.

The specter of finding Jackson's replacement is forever looming, and it wouldn't be completely surprising if Minnesota used a second-day pick on a quarterback.

Posted by: P. Ryan Wilson on 27 Mar 2008

60 comments, Last at 08 Apr 2008, 1:31pm by Aaron N


by Drunkmonkey (not verified) :: Thu, 03/27/2008 - 2:53pm

Just a quick one: You first mention that Shaun Rogers is Cinncy's problem, then later correctly state that the Lions received a third and Leigh Bodden for Rogers.

by mawbrew (not verified) :: Thu, 03/27/2008 - 3:28pm

"Running back is also a need. Although, you could argue it was a need last year too."

When you never run the ball, running backs are optional.

by ammek (not verified) :: Thu, 03/27/2008 - 3:42pm

The Packers' offensive line still isn't settled, and although they may well take a DB in the first round, I'm sure they'll try to grab a lineman on the first day. The Colledge/Spitz experiment is coming to an end, and both the tackles are getting old in the tooth.

I'm not sure linebacker was truly a "pressing need" for Green Bay, though the Chillar signing reinforces what was already a pretty good crop. As that was Executive of the Year's only foray into the murky waters of free agency, we'll have to hope you and the Sporting News voters are right that the Packers have no glaring needs beyond backup QB, and sitting at your desk staring at the phone is the optimal way to spend the free-agency period.

by Tom D (not verified) :: Thu, 03/27/2008 - 3:56pm

Both starting receiver positions are up in the air for the Bears? Surely Booker is still a decent #2 option.

Also, aren't the Packers always near the top in adjusted sack rate because Favre took so few sacks? I'm not saying the line isn't good, but the sack rate numbers are probably not the best way to show it.

by mawbrew (not verified) :: Thu, 03/27/2008 - 3:59pm

Detroit is tough to figure. Why did they wait until year 3 of Marinelli's tenure to get serious about turning over the defense? And does anybody else think that Foster and Bell would be gone if they hadn't been part of the Dre Bly trade last year? Looks like Millen's just trying to save face on that one.

by Tom D (not verified) :: Thu, 03/27/2008 - 4:04pm

Does Millen have any face to save anymore?

by bubqr (not verified) :: Thu, 03/27/2008 - 4:05pm

Give Benson a OL and then judge him. For people knowing the importance of te big guys up front, I think you're giving up quickly on Cedric. Try to open him some holes, then you might see what he's worth.

by Kenneth (not verified) :: Thu, 03/27/2008 - 4:25pm

Quote: It’s hard to divine what the running game might look like because we saw it so rarely in 2007. The Lions lost right tackle Damien Woody to the Jets and re-signed George Foster for depth, but the rest of the line returns intact, and is in relatively good shape. The unit ranked 23rd against the run, better than NFC North rivals Green Bay (26th) and Chicago (30th), but still nothing to brag about.

The bolded part is almost certainly a typo, right? The offensive line doesn't get ranked "against" the run, n'est-ce pas?

by Tom D (not verified) :: Thu, 03/27/2008 - 5:04pm

Re 7:

You're right in some respects. Benson if given a decent offensive line, will be competent enough that the running game won't kill us ala Seattle. However, he brings nothing special. Good backs make plays even without a good line, like Ronnie Brown. Benson is just Anthony Thomas with better vision.

by chip (not verified) :: Thu, 03/27/2008 - 5:06pm

#8 funny, I always thought he was the A-train but slower.

by chip (not verified) :: Thu, 03/27/2008 - 5:06pm

that'd be #9

by adwred (not verified) :: Thu, 03/27/2008 - 5:25pm

I keep hearing that the Packers are one of the youngest teams in the league, but is there any evidence demonstrating that is a good thing for performance? Seems like both the CBs and tackles are kind of old. Anyway just curious if anyone has any data on age and performance (team wide)

by dbt (not verified) :: Thu, 03/27/2008 - 5:28pm

I didn't know Chicago needed a replacement for "slow white guy with no moves"

by Jordy (not verified) :: Thu, 03/27/2008 - 6:18pm

Disagreed that Brandon Lloyd has "absolutely no upside." He also has plenty to play for on a 1-year deal. It's hardly a thrilling signing, but at less than $500K against the cap, it's kinda nitpicking to rip it. Marty Booker's much better than Muhammad, and he's a good teammate instead of a jerk.

I generally agree with #9 about Benson, that I wouldn't write him off already behind a reasonable O-line, but the injuries are mounting on him and there's some rumors going that the latest one might be career-threatening (such as his career is).

I'm hoping Angelo has an idea of some O-line help from cap casualties. He did OK with Garza, for example. I'm fine with them not overpaying Faneca, but I wish they'd have at least craftily targeted one of the cheaper, less-proven options in free agency to start filling some of the holes.

by Quentin (not verified) :: Thu, 03/27/2008 - 6:27pm

I keep hearing that the Packers are one of the youngest teams in the league, but is there any evidence demonstrating that is a good thing for performance?

I think the point it comes down to two things:

1. The players they have are likely to get better.

2. Even if they don't they should at least be able to maintain their current production for several years.

I think ideally you'd have a team made up of 27 years olds. Still in their prime physically, but with enough years in the league to also have veteran savy.

by Aaron Boden (not verified) :: Thu, 03/27/2008 - 6:48pm

On the Oline front, the Bears Coaches are said to be very high on Josh Beekman, and expect him to compete for a starting job

by brasilbear (not verified) :: Thu, 03/27/2008 - 7:39pm

I just love being a Bears fan and hoping that the other teams in the division get worse so we have a better chance at the playoffs.

by register_allocation (not verified) :: Thu, 03/27/2008 - 7:46pm

[Aaron Rodgers] filled in nicely for Favre during the Thanksgiving Day game against the Cowboys.
Nit: the Packers played the Cowboys a week after Thanksgiving.

by lionsbob (not verified) :: Thu, 03/27/2008 - 9:11pm

The Bears OL was the same one that blocked for Thomas Jones the year before were they not?

Lions had been cap-strapped because of bombing out on 1st round picks and giving big money to average players...so the rebuilding has been slow. I will say the idea last was that a really, really good DL would make up for an average LBers and a bad secondary. That did not happen as the DL was either injured or inconsistent and the secondary was just really, really bad.

As far as Bell and Foster. 1 year deals each with a new OC who is putting in a zone blocking scheme. Of course Foster never fit the scheme in Denver either, but they think that Bell will work there.

The Lions are going RB early I think. Bell and Cason are only signed for a year and they like Calhoun, but he has not been healthy the last 2 seasons. If Mendenhall is sitting at 15, they take him.

by Tom D (not verified) :: Thu, 03/27/2008 - 9:20pm

"The Bears OL was the same one that blocked for Thomas Jones the year before were they not?"

The same players, but they were a year older, and more injured. Fred Miller in particular fell off a cliff so steep, it was hard to remember him being useful. Benson also had 17.9 DPAR and 15% DVOA in 2006.

by admin :: Thu, 03/27/2008 - 9:37pm

Sorry, mistakes fixed. My brain must have been somewhere else when I was editing this...

by Dice (not verified) :: Thu, 03/27/2008 - 9:56pm

The Bears have a potential #1 WR on their practice squad, Mike Hass, the sole Biletnikoff Award winner to not be drafted in the first or second rounds of the draft in years. I wonder why.

#13: the league might benefit from more of those players instead of 'affletes who don't know how to pass/catch/tackle' for a change.

by lionsbob (not verified) :: Thu, 03/27/2008 - 11:25pm

I love the lumping of Archuleta outside of "affletes" when he is more of an athlete than a football player.

by Alex (not verified) :: Fri, 03/28/2008 - 1:43am

Even more good news: The Packers were first in the league in Adjusted Sack Rate.

But that's just because of Brett Favre, who had a sack rate of 2.7% last year due to his insanely quick release, decent mobility, and generally good pocket awareness. Not because of their O-line. Aaron Rodgers had a sack rate of 9.7% behind that same line. And while his three year career is the very definition of a small sample, with only 68 pass plays, he's already been sacked 9 times. Over those three years, Favre was sacked 9 times every 270 or so pass plays, on average. So, unless Rodgers just had a few really bad days, or was just not ready yet (which is possible), Green Bay's Adjusted Sack Rate is going to skyrocket next year with Rodgers taking all the snaps.

I mean, even with a relatively small sample, 9 sacks is a ton. To put it this way, if Rodgers' "true" adjusted sack rate were only about 7% (twice as high as Favre's), then the probability of him being sacked 9 times in 68 pass plays is less than 5%. So, based on that, his "true" adjusted sack rate is probably somewhere around 9%, maybe higher.

Now, maybe he just needed to get some experience, and he had some bad luck, faced some defenses he matched up poorly against, etc. But if he doesn't get a lot better at avoiding sacks than he is now, he's going to get pounded into the ground/turf/frozen tundra. And given that he's been injured, what, twice already in his NFL career, and that Green Bay's offense is fairly pass heavy, he's probably going to spend some of next year on the bench due to injury.

An era has ended, Green Bay finally needs their backup QB to do something other than warm the bench, hold a clipboard, and leave Green Bay to become some other team's starter. *shudder*

by mawbrew (not verified) :: Fri, 03/28/2008 - 7:34am

Re: 19

It's hard to imagine with the lack of above average talent on their roster that the Lions would have cap problems but that's what makes bad franchises bad, I guess. Having said that, they could have taken their cap medicine early and given Marinelli a better chance.

If guys like Edwards, Rogers, Kennedy didn't have the right attitude for Marinelli they whould have been gone two years ago. If it was a matter of performance the Lions should have seen enough to dump them at least a year ago.

This still seems to me like a situation where the coach and GM are just not on the same page. For example, for a team that claims they want to run the ball like the Cowher Steelers they still have a ton of cap space devoted to wide receivers. And it's really limiting Marinelli's chances of being successful.

If their schedule is tougher than last year (and it almost has to be)it really doesn't look good for them for next year.

by dryheat (not verified) :: Fri, 03/28/2008 - 8:51am

Minnesota and Chicago ask: Is it better to have a left tackle in jail, or no left tackle at all?

Is that the follow-up question to whether no cornerback is better than Jason David?

by justanothersteve (not verified) :: Fri, 03/28/2008 - 10:09am

24 - While I agree that Rodgers is more likely to be sacked more often than Favre, much of AR's playing time has been in two games against very good defenses when the Packers were behind. Along with last year's Cowboys game, his other significant playing time came the previous year against NE with the Packers already down 21-0. So his sack percentage should improve. Assuming he can stay healthy.

by Mike W (not verified) :: Fri, 03/28/2008 - 10:17am

I fully expect Ted Thopson to realize that the Packers need an OL upgrade, especially because they no longer have Favre to bail out the pass protection. Not only did Favre avoid the rush better than Rodgers will, he progressed through his reads very quickly, which Rodgers, without that much full-speed experience, is still learning to do. This is where the GB passing game will fall off next year. Aside from CB, the Packers have no real pressing needs, although a versatile LB that cna be trusted - that allowing Hawk or Barnett to blitz more often -would be nice. Hopefully Chillar can be that guy.

So look for a tackle early, and a guard or center or two middle-late.

by chip (not verified) :: Fri, 03/28/2008 - 10:34am

#22 Hass? I hope you're joking. He only made the practice squad b/c of a one-handed catch in the endzone in the 4th preseason game before final roster cuts.

by lionsbob (not verified) :: Fri, 03/28/2008 - 10:34am


They pretty much had to eat the contracts of Charles Rogers, Joey Harrington, and Mike Williams the last couple of off-seasons-as long as paying 2 other top 10 picks. Plus giving out big deals to average dudes like Redding and Woody did not help. They had decent cap space, but not enough to go too far out of the box (hence the former Bucs).

by James, London (not verified) :: Fri, 03/28/2008 - 11:22am

I just hope that the Lions draft a Receiver. Because that would be cool.

by lionsbob (not verified) :: Fri, 03/28/2008 - 11:28am

The sad thing is that both Roy and McDonald are free agents after the 2008 season leaving them with Johnson and Furrey possibly...its not outside the realm.

by mawbrew (not verified) :: Fri, 03/28/2008 - 12:07pm

Re: 30

I don't think their situation was fundementally any worse than what the Browns had when Savage & Crennel were hired. Cleveland had to dump Garcia, Warren, Courtney Brown, Willie Green, Faine, Lang (I'm sure I'm forgetting some others) and take the associated cap pain. Four 1st rounders and 2 high priced free agents.

If the Lions had followed a similar model they could have taken their cap hit two years ago and given Marinelli more time to build 'his' team. As it is, they're really just starting and it's very possible this is Martinelli's last year.

by lionsbob (not verified) :: Fri, 03/28/2008 - 12:16pm

I am not sure what you mean by "his" team. The Joey and Charles Rogers cap hits were hitting him his 1st season there, Joey and BMW the 2nd offseason. It was still hitting them this offseason. This off-season the cap space was limited for whatever reason (I am not a cap expert, this is from reading others). Cleveland had to dump 3 top three pick bust, but Green and Faine were lower than 15-making them a whole lot cheaper and they were bad for the four seasons after the bad draft choices.
The Lions belief it seemed was that:
Edwards-Redding-Rogers-White-would be a solid enough DL. They had a young secondary and wanted to see what it could do. What free agents were there that he should have signed? Maranelli has pretty much said that he is willing to only spend on guys he knows.

by lionsbob (not verified) :: Fri, 03/28/2008 - 12:18pm

and its funny you mention Crennel. It was believed that last season was going to be his last year as well (entering his 3rd season).

Not saying Detroit is going 10-6 (schedule wise-they lose the weaker AFC West for the tougher AFC South, but lose the tougher NFC East for the softer NFC South).

by TomC (not verified) :: Fri, 03/28/2008 - 2:11pm

#19 & #20: Benson also had 17.9 DPAR and 15% DVOA in 2006.

What's more, T. Jones had only 25.5 DPAR with twice as many carries behind that same line that year (for 5.5% DVOA). And Benson had better receiving numbers. That's why I think that the vast majority of the "I always knew Benson sucked" crowd is full of it.

#23 & #29 - post #22 is racially motivated trolling. Respond at your own peril.

#16 - On the Oline front, the Bears Coaches are said to be very high on Josh Beekman, and expect him to compete for a starting job

Very interesting -- where have you heard that? When Beekman didn't even get a sniff of the field during last year's OL disaster, I figured that meant the coaches had already decided he was dog meat.

by Tom D (not verified) :: Fri, 03/28/2008 - 4:14pm

Re 36:

I actually thought Benson was going to be good this year, but that durability would be an issue. I was at least half right. You shouldn't read too much into those receiving numbers, Turner refused to use Jones properly in the receiving game. Probably because he was such a good blocker, he wanted him doing that. Benson's problem is that he doesn't have the acceleration or cutting ability to avoid defensive penetration, and that's what Jones's strength was. With a good o-line he should look at least average because he has good vision, and goes right for the first hole he sees. Of course, Benson still has yet to reach 200 carries in a season without getting hurt, that has to be worrisome.

by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 03/28/2008 - 4:24pm

Disagreed that Brandon Lloyd has “absolutely no upside.” He also has plenty to play for on a 1-year deal.

Wait, so Lloyd has more to play for this year, when he's earning peanuts, rather than last year, when playing well would've kept him on a team that was paying him probably a factor of five more? He had plenty to play for last year, and couldn't deliver.

The reason Lloyd has no upside is because he's just not a starting-level NFL receiver. I don't think he's even a backup-level NFL receiver. There's been plenty of evidence to support that so far.

by chip (not verified) :: Fri, 03/28/2008 - 4:31pm

#36 Thanks for the heads up. I didn't identify the trolling aspect of #22.

Agree on both Benson and Beekman. Cedric had better FO numbers and it made sense to trade TJ while he still had pick value and get your money out of the #4 pick overall. As far as Beekman, Biggs/Haugh reported at one point that he was in the coach's doghouse (I don't remember the full details), which made sense in light of his lack of playing time last year.

by Jordy (not verified) :: Fri, 03/28/2008 - 5:28pm

Wait, so Lloyd has more to play for this year, when he's earning peanuts, rather than last year, when playing well would've kept him on a team that was paying him probably a factor of five more?

Wait, when did I say he has more to play for this year than last year? I said he has plenty to play for -- with a decent year, he may be able to stay in the NFL instead of playing the rest out in Arena ball.

Some Redskins players actually lobbied for him to get some playing time, but he'd already fallen out of favor with the coaches, it sounds like rightly so.

I reckon it depends on what your definition of upside is. He'd be a bargain signing for the Bears if were to play to the level he already did in SF a few years ago. I wouldn't call that likely, I am simply disagreeing that it's "absolutely" impossible.

by Peder (not verified) :: Fri, 03/28/2008 - 7:12pm

Viking fans, if Brohm is still there at 17, should they take him? I know that there are other pressing positions (DE, DE, DE) but I can't help but think that he might be a real steal. Am I alone in this?

by bravehoptoad (not verified) :: Fri, 03/28/2008 - 9:03pm

No, you're not crazy. But don't the Vikings want to win right now?

B Lloyd is the strangest receiver. He's made the most beautiful catches I've ever seen, bar none, and I'm a 49er fan. We've had a few good receivers.

I've also never seen a guy who was more afraid of getting hit.

by Mr Shush (not verified) :: Fri, 03/28/2008 - 9:11pm

I'm not a Viking fan, but in my opinion, yes, they absolutely should. They won't, of course, so failing that they should bite the bullet and trade for Rosenfels.

by Alex (not verified) :: Fri, 03/28/2008 - 11:55pm

27: I agree, Rodgers' sack rate should go down, if only because it could hardly go up. And once he's got some experience, I could definitely see him bringing it down to about 7% or so, which wouldn't be too bad. However, it'd still be more than twice as high as Favre's, so the difference is going to be big.

Still, if he can stay healthy, I'm sure he'll be a solid player, and that team's got a lot of young talent, so they could easily get back to the playoffs and be in good shape for a run at the Super Bowl.

by Tim (not verified) :: Sat, 03/29/2008 - 10:08am

Personally I think the vikes should jump on brohm at 17. I have no idea why the scouts aren't high on him because he has the arm to be successful, can be a leader, is smart, and doesn't have the interception problem of Matty Ice. Idealy the Vikes would have Harvey fall to them at 17 and get the pass rusher they need, then be able to pick up Flacco in the second round. Flacco has the biggest arm in this draft, he knows how to win, has prototypical size, with the only question being can he compete with the big dogs.

Personally I would like to see the vikes call up Parcels and get a deal done for Jason Taylor. Julius Peppers was also non existent last year in Carolina and a change of scenery might help him out. If they could land one of those guys they should pull the trigger on Brohm, but if he's gone it might be smart to draft another DE and really upgrade the pass rush. A Taylor, Williams, Williams, Harvey line would make the entire defense that much better, and the young secondary would be that much better. THAT would be a dream. If Harvey was available and when they draft in the second round and Flacco and Brohm are gone, call up Houston and get Sage. Vikes offered a 3 and houston wants a second, if they could take care of the pass rush, pull the trigger on Rosy.

by Jimmy (not verified) :: Sat, 03/29/2008 - 12:45pm

I meant to post something along these lines a few days ago when the article went up, but have been a bit busy.

If the Bears have a gaping hole at LT next year then at least half of the teams in the league must have 'the horrible torture pit of doom' at LT on their depth chart. Tait may be getting on a bit, but he was very good for the Bears last year. There are runours that he could slide to RT if an upgrade at LT is found, but that leaves the Bears with a hole at RT, not LT. If the Bears can't find a tackle (and is there anyone who doesn't think they can get one in the draft) Tait would play LT, and play it well. I guess it looks less dramatic on the page though. I am not saying that the Bears don't have issues on the offensive line, I was probably one of their most vocal critics during the season. The Bears do still have 3 of the linemen who pretty much carried the offense all season long when they got to the Superbowl, they might have gaps to fill, but they have some good pieces to build around.

As for the replacement for Archuleta, it'll be Mike Brown until he gets hurt, then Kevin Payne. Appartently Payne was due to start last year before he broke an arm.

And is anyone actually expecting Lloyd to make the team? The only reason they signed him was as a favor to a guy who Turner used to coach. I suspect that he is only going to get his training camp money, he won't be getting a full salary unless he makes the team.

by BadgerT1000 (not verified) :: Sun, 03/30/2008 - 8:39pm

I am shocked that nobody stated the obvious about Green Bay. The team needs a cornerback and safety help. Or was I the only who witnessed Al Harris getting old overnight and Atari Bigby having scorch marks on his uniform?

Good grief. This team needs help in the secondary. And a pass rusher but that goes for every NFL team.

If GB counts on Harris to rebound they are wishcasting in the extreme.

by Alex (not verified) :: Mon, 03/31/2008 - 1:33am

This team needs help in the secondary. And a pass rusher but that goes for every NFL team.

Honestly, if they found some good players for the secondary, they'd have enough pass rushers. Kampman and KGB are both good pass rushers at DE, and Hawk would have plenty of sacks if he wasn't always in coverage. Getting good safeties would have a ripple effect, giving them better coverage and a better pass rush in one fell swoop. And a CB to take over for Harris if he continues his decline would also be a good idea.

by croxall (not verified) :: Mon, 03/31/2008 - 7:38am

On Al Harris – I think it’s wishful thinking that he’s going to play at the level of 2 or 3 years ago, but I don’t think he needs replacing as a starter just yet. He’s no longer the team’s best corner, but he can still do a solid job. You have to be slightly concerned that his production might fall off a cliff, but personally I would bet against it happening this year.

The team needs to draft a long term replacement this year, and ideally in the first round (I wouldn’t rule out a trade up personally), but I think they are OK there for another year, although of course you want a first round pick to push the incumbent starter. And out of Will Blackmon, Jarret Bush and Tramon Williams I think the team can expect one of them at least to take a step forwards in becoming a solid sub defensive back.

Similarly at safety, there are issues with both starters, with Bigby’s tendency to play out of control and Collins’ failure to produce big plays. There’s no doubt the team could stand to improve there, although I am sceptical that there’s anyone in this draft that’s going to provide an immediate and significant upgrade. Once again, I think the team can get by just fine with what it has; I don’t think they are elite safeties by any means, but I also think they are no worse than average, and both could be above average if they can improve in certain areas. Likely? Probably not, but certainly not beyond the pale. Below average was Marquand Manuel – and both the starting safeties are a LOT better than that.

I had to chuckle at Alex’s notion that Rodgers is going to take a ton of sacks this year. Not because I am sure that it won’t happen – it could, but because I think the games he has played in so far are no basis whatever for judging his future play.

For one thing the sample size is a big issue. You note that yourself, of course, but it has to be mentioned again. For another, let’s take a look at the games involved here. From memory Rodgers has seen playing time of any meaning in only 3 regular season games. The first was the 4th quarter of the Ravens game in December 2005, a blowout the Packers lost 52-3 (iirc). The second was after Favre got knocked out of the Patriots game in 2006, the score was 21-0 at the time and the game wound up as a 35-0 embarrassment. The third was the Dallas game from this past season.

Now, I contend that the 05 Ravens, 06 Pats and 07 Cowboys all had well above average pass rushes, and in all three games the Packers’ offensive line was getting whipped. In two of the three, the opposing defence had already knocked the starting quarterback out of the game, and as ESPN has all made us well aware (in case we hadn’t noticed already), Favre is not exactly made of balsawood. Two of the three games were already blowouts by the time he hit the field… so making the comparison to Favre’s season long sack rate is harsh in the extreme.

Clearly Rodgers’ overall level of play (and whether he can stay healthy) is going to be a massive factor in how the Packers’ fare this season, and he probably will take some sacks that Favre would have avoided. However, I see nothing so far from Rodgers though that makes me think there’s going to be a huge discrepancy in terms of getting sacked; far from it, I was hugely encouraged by his mobility and awareness against the Cowboys.

by Jimmy (not verified) :: Mon, 03/31/2008 - 10:06am

Put me in the camp who believe that Harris needs replacing (although I am sure that in Wisconsin the phrase should be that he needs to be put out to pasture). When your man-cover corner loses his speed he is pretty much finished. Harris has never played zone coverage adequately, and if he is struggling in the Packers' system I am not sure that there are any others he could play in. Blitzing more often would leave him exposed on an island, which after last year looks like an unappealing option. Also the NFC North may not have the greatest WRs in football, but there are plenty of quick ones. Harris simply can't keep up with players like Berrian, Williams and Hester, which means that you have to play Woodson on them leaving little flexibilty available to the defensive scheme. The Pack won't get one of the premium corners in the draft where they pick, it might be an idea to trade for Sheppard. He would give them a corner that fits the scheme, he can return punts and the Pack have plenty of cap room. It might be wiser than gambling in the draft.

I wouldn't be suprised if the offensive line played worse than last year, mainly due to teams not having to worry about Favre when they design the game plan. Worrying about coralling No4 probably opened up more running lanes than a pair of Pro Bowl guards. Similarly Favre's quick release and ability to find hot receivers must have helped ease the pressure on the line when pass blocking.

Next season might be an interesting one to watch the Packers. As far as I can tell the whole starting offense apart from the QB seems set to return. Will we finally get an indication of how much offensive production is driven by the player under center?

by BadgerT1000 (not verified) :: Mon, 03/31/2008 - 10:32am

I will reiterate that Harris needs to be replaced, period. He never had a stretch this season where he was playing well over a series of games, he was embarrassed by guys who he used to manhandle, and as a pure man cover corner he is utterly lost in any other setup. Meaning as long as he is playing well you can tolerate the penalties and the lack of zone abilities but when he is NOT he is a huge millstone on the defense.

Woodson will likely need replacing in two-three years. Does GB really want to be in a postion of having to replace BOTH guys in the same offseason? I doubt it.

It's a difficult issue in that Harris is tight with Woodson so cutting Al might have a ripple effect on Charles play, at least early in a season. But Thompson has never let sentiment get in the way of his decision-making. I would hate for him to start now.

Cutting Harris in the offseason would be easier than benching him mid-season. THAT would be a sticky wicket. At least now the team has time to develop a succession plan.

Seriously, Al is done. It's over. The team needs to move on.

by Alex (not verified) :: Tue, 04/01/2008 - 2:26am

I had to chuckle at Alex’s notion that Rodgers is going to take a ton of sacks this year. Not because I am sure that it won’t happen – it could, but because I think the games he has played in so far are no basis whatever for judging his future play.

They're not much, as I noted, and I also said that it might have just been that he had a few bad days against good defenses. And I'm not sure that he is going to take a ton of sacks, but I am very confident that he won't take as few as Favre, not by a long shot.

For one thing the sample size is a big issue. You note that yourself, of course, but it has to be mentioned again.

Ok. Duly noted. Again.

For another, let’s take a look at the games involved here. From memory Rodgers has seen playing time of any meaning in only 3 regular season games.

Yes, and in those three games, he had 62 pass plays, and was sacked 9 times, for a sack rate of 14.5%. Favre, playing behind the same O-line, against the same defenses (albeit not always in the same score/time remaining situation), had 60 pass plays, including 2 sacks, for a sack rate of 3.3%. So, it wasn't just the defenses. Yeah, he was put in tough spots, and obviously he won't have a sack rate of 14.5% next year, but still, he was sacked 9 times in 62 passes. When's the last time Favre had 9 sacks in the span of 62 consecutive passes? The early 90s, maybe? And Favre's had plenty of occasions where he was facing great pass rushes while trailing by a lot.

Now, I contend that the 05 Ravens, 06 Pats and 07 Cowboys all had well above average pass rushes, and in all three games the Packers’ offensive line was getting whipped.

I agree that they have very good pass rushes. And maybe the Packers' line was getting whipped, but if they were, it wasn't getting Favre sacked much, given that his sack rate in those games was about the same as it was the rest of the time. And my main point was not that Rodgers will be the next David Carr, it was just that this statement made little sense:

Luckily, Rodgers won’t be asked to do too much; Driver, Jennings, Jones and Grant should make the transition a relatively smooth one. Even more good news: The Packers were first in the league in Adjusted Sack Rate.

Ryan is saying that the Packers' low Adjusted Sack Rate will help them going forward by making Rodgers' job easier, ignoring the fact that their low sack rate was caused by Favre, not by the Packers' O-line. The implication was that Rodgers would have plenty of time to pass because Green Bay had great pass blocking, when that's just not the case.

Adjusted Sack Rate depends on the QB, not the O-line, and Green Bay just lost the league's best at avoiding sacks. So even if Rodgers is average at avoiding sacks, the Packers will still see their ASR go up significantly, because Rodgers definitely isn't the best in the league at avoiding sacks.

Look, this isn't a criticism of Rodgers. I think he'll do just fine, especially with the WRs he'll be throwing to. But he's not going to have a 3% sack rate right off the bat. I guarantee it.

by humor (not verified) :: Tue, 04/01/2008 - 11:00am

neckbeard! - linked

(I figured this was most applicable to the nfc north)

by Cyrus (not verified) :: Wed, 04/02/2008 - 3:49pm

RE: 24 and Aaron Rodgers sack rate...

I think the sample size is wayyyy too skewed to do anything with.

In 2005, Rodgers was sacked three times in 15 attempts-- against Baltimore, who won the game 48-3.

In 2006, Rodgers was sacked 3 times in 12 attempts-- against New England, who won the game 35-0.

In 2007, Rodgers was sacked 3 times in 18 attempts-- against Dallas, who won the game 37-27.

So against Baltimore, New England and Dallas, each in the top 5 for defenses in their respective year, Rodgers was sacked 9 times.

Way too skewed to make any judgments on.

by Alex (not verified) :: Wed, 04/02/2008 - 11:35pm

RE: 24 and Aaron Rodgers sack rate…

I think the sample size is wayyyy too skewed to do anything with.

I just went through this in #52 above, but I'll summarize. Yes, it's too small of a sample size to know much of anything about Rodgers' sack rate. Yes, they were great defenses, and the Packers were getting killed. Still, Favre was only sacked 2 times in those games despite having about as many attempts as Rodgers, so it wasn't impossible to have a low sack rate while facing those defenses, in those games, behind that O-line.

But even if we completely ignore Rodgers' sacks in those games, chalk them up to small sample size and bad situations, my original point still stands: The fact that Green Bay had a low sack rate this year, with Brett Favre at QB, doesn't imply that Rodgers will have an easier time next year, because sack rate is dependent almost entirely on the QB, not the O-line. So unless Rodgers is the best in the league at avoiding sacks, Green Bay's sack rate will go up next year, because the guy he's replacing was the best in the league at avoiding sacks.

by Cyrus (not verified) :: Thu, 04/03/2008 - 10:32am

I think we're agreeing that Favre gets rid of the ball quickly, but disagreeing on the other stuff.

Lets compare three things:
Favre in those three games
Rodgers in the first two
Rodgers in those three games

You'll see a trend...

So... if you are worried about sacks, are you worried about Favre's extra 3 interceptions?

I see it like this-- Favre threw the ball away in a hurry if he saw trouble. This caused his completion percentage to be horrible and the liklihood of him throwing interceptions to be double or even quadruple Rodgers.

You'd prefer they throw it out of bounds, rather than take a sack, but I would prefer they take a sack than throw an interception.

I guess the phrase was all wrong, in saying Rodgers would be blessed with the #1 adjusted sack rate O-line, but I think he will be fine. Even if he gets a lot more sacks, he should make up for it with a better completion percentage and fewer interceptions.

by Alex (not verified) :: Thu, 04/03/2008 - 11:13am

So… if you are worried about sacks, are you worried about Favre’s extra 3 interceptions?

Yes, because it's an effect of the Packers' pass blocking deficiencies. Instead of taking a lot of sacks, Favre threw more interceptions/incompletions.

I see it like this– Favre threw the ball away in a hurry if he saw trouble. This caused his completion percentage to be horrible and the liklihood of him throwing interceptions to be double or even quadruple Rodgers.

Exactly. The poor pass blocking manifested itself in Favre's interception% and completion%, not his sack rate. Based on what little we've seen of Rodgers, it seems likely that the poor pass blocking will manifest itself more in his sack rate than in his interception% and completion%.

I guess the phrase was all wrong, in saying Rodgers would be blessed with the #1 adjusted sack rate O-line, but I think he will be fine.

I also think he'll be fine, but not due great pass blocking, because the Packers don't have it. Rodgers has plenty of other things going for him, but the Packers' #1 adjusted sack rate isn't one of them, because it retired with Brett Favre. Rodgers is going to have to overcome the Packers' pass blocking, not benefit from it.

Even if he gets a lot more sacks, he should make up for it with a better completion percentage and fewer interceptions.

Sure, but still, with more sacks comes a greater chance of getting injured, so the Packers need to have a decent backup QB. This is one reason Favre was able to start so many consecutive games, because he avoided a lot of sacks and the injuries that come with them. However, he also had an above average interception%, for much the same reason, so there's a tradeoff. Still, I think it was worth it to sacrifice a low interception% for a healthier QB.

by BadgerT1000 (not verified) :: Thu, 04/03/2008 - 1:23pm

Now wait a minute, Mark Tauscher and Chad Clifton are good pass-blockers. Scott Wells the center is ok. It's the guards that are erratic to poor.

Just so we are clear about the distinction.

by Alex (not verified) :: Fri, 04/04/2008 - 1:11am

#58: I should have been a bit more careful with how I put that. Yes, the tackles are both good, and Wells is a solid C. But still, the guards were very erratic. I seem to recall Mike McCarthy pulling out some crazy formations with two RBs on one side of Favre while he was in the shotgun, one of them closer to the LOS than Favre, just to compensate for the guards getting beat so quickly by pass rushers. But I get your point. The Packers do have 3 average or better pass blockers. If they can get better performance out of their guards, pass blocking could be a position of strength for them. But it isn't there yet.

by Aaron N (not verified) :: Tue, 04/08/2008 - 1:31pm

Don't forget about Coston. He was far better than either Spitz or Colledge before he got hurt. Still erratic, but better. I'm also interested to see how Barbre looks, for all the pup the coaching staff is giving him. He was touted as a great pass blocker and then looked horrible last preseason, but will supposedly compete for a starting job.

I think Thompson will let his board do the picking for him and not any perceived positions of need.