Around the NFC North: NFL Draft Edition
The 2014 NFL draft is over and the Packers have a slew of new players to work with as they try to win another Super Bowl.
Unfortunately, the Minnesota Vikings, Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions also drafted a bunch of talented new players as they try to wrestle away control of the NFC North from the Packers.
Let’s take a quick stroll around the NFC North and look closer at how the Vikings, Lions and Bears stack up after the draft.
1 (9) Anthony Barr, lb, UCLA.
1 (32) Teddy Bridgewater, qb, Louisville.
3 (72) Scott Crichton, de, Oregon State.
3 (96) Jerick McKinnon, rb, Georgia Southern.
5 (145) David Yankey, ot, Stanford.
6 (182) Antone Exum, db, Virginia Tech.
6 (184) Kendall James, db, Maine.
7 (220) Shamar Stephen, nt, UConn.
7 (223) Brandon Watts, lb, Georgia Tech.
7 (225) Jabari Price, db, North Carolina.
Without a doubt, the NFC North team that worries me most after the draft is the Vikings. Watch 10 minutes of tape on Teddy Bridgewater and you’ll see a quarterback who always looks downfield when moving around and out of the pocket. You’ll also see a highly intelligent quarterback who is asked to set protection pre-snap and progress through multiple reads on passing plays. Finally, you’ll also see a helluva competitor. Bridgewater seems like the type of who will run into a brick wall over and over again if it means winning a football game.
As you can see, I’m high on Bridgewater and was hoping he didn’t end up with the Vikings. He probably won’t start right away, but Bridgewater to Cordarrelle Patterson and Kyle Rudolph could end up being a deadly combination down the road.
With the exception of 2009 when the Vikings had Brett Favre, the Packers and Aaron Rodgers have owned Minnesota, thanks mostly to the Vikings’ incompetence at quarterback. That could be changing with Bridgewater now in the division.
A 5th round steal
Keep an eye on Stanford guard David Yankey, who somehow fell to the fifth round and was snatched up by the Vikings. He’s a mauler, and if he cleans up his technique to fix some balance issues, he’ll be road-grating paths for Adrian Peterson in no time.
Reaching for Barr?
Anthony Barr seemed like a bit of a reach at No. 9 overall, but who am I to argue with defensive genius turned Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer? Barr is raw and, like Bridgewater, might need a year or so of seasoning. But if anyone can take Barr’s pure athleticism and turn it into on-field production, it’ll be Zimmer.
5 1st round picks
Under Zimmer, it’s a new regime in Minnesota. That new regime set out on draft day to solidify arguably the two most important positions on the field: quarterback and pass rusher. Time will tell if they accomplished what they set out to do, but I like the vision and love the Bridgewater pick.
Minnesota has had five first-round picks the last two drafts. Sure, they may have sacrificed some depth, but if three of those first-rounders turn into blue-chippers — especially Bridgewater — and the others competent starters, it will pay off.
1 (14) Kyle Fuller, db, Virginia Tech.
2 (51) Ego Ferguson, dt, LSU.
3 (82) Will Sutton, dt, Arizona State.
4 (117) Ka’Deem Carey, rb, Arizona.
4 (131) Brock Vereen, db, Minnesota.
6 (183) David Fales, qb, San Jose State.
6 (191) Patrick O’Donnell, p, Miami.
7 (246) Charles Leno, ot, Boise State
Thank you, St. Louis
I was crossing my fingers that the Vikings didn’t end up with Bridgewater. I was praying to St. Vince that the Bears didn’t wind up with defensive tackle Aaron Donald. Thankfully, St. Louis picked Donald at No. 13 and the Bears took cornerback Kyle Fuller with the next pick.
If you’re in the NFC North, you can never have enough defensive backs to chase around the likes of Jordy Nelson and Calvin Johnson. Fuller was a very fundamentally sound corner at Virginia Tech. He was also a solid tackler, which will come in handy against Adrian Peterson, Eddie Lacy and Matt Forte.
I’m still happy that Donald was gone before Chicago picked, but that doesn’t mean Fuller won’t give the Packers fits down the road. He should be an adequate replacement for Peanut Tillman.
Another Micah Hyde?
Staying in the defensive backfield, the Bears picked Minnesota safety/cornerback Brock Vereen in the fourth round. Like the Packers’ Micah Hyde, Vereen is a player who can hold up well against slot receivers and slip back to play safety or shadow a tight end, if needed.
Aaron Donald…didn’t need him
Sure, the Bears might have been mad about getting so close to landing Donald, but that doesn’t mean they left the draft empty-handed at defensive tackle. Ego Ferguson out of LSU and Will Sutton from Arizona St. both need a lot of coaching, but have high ceilings. Ferguson, especially, appears to have the tools necessary to play multiple positions along the line and perhaps one day fill the shoes of the departed Julius Peppers, at least in terms of his versatility.
The Bears allowed 30 or more points seven times last season, including a combined 77 points in the final two games to miss the playoffs. Second-year head coach Marc Trestman, known as an offensive innovator, now has some defensive toys to complement his two big receivers, versatile running back and enigmatic quarterback.
Will it be enough to finally unseat the Packers atop the NFC North? If Aaron Rodgers gets injured again, it could be. Otherwise, I’ll still take the Packers.
1 (10) Eric Ebron, te, North Carolina.
2 (40) Kyle Van Noy, lb, BYU.
3 (76) Travis Swanson, c, Arkansas.
4 (133) Nevon Lawson, db, Utah St.
4 (136) Larry Webster, de, Bloomsburg.
5 (158) Caraun Reid, dt, Princeton.
6 (189) T.J. Jones, wr, Notre Dame.
7 (229) Nate Freese, k, Boston College.
A shiny new toy
Doesn’t first-round pick Eric Ebron seem like another one of those shiny new toys the Lions pick up every year? These shiny new toys look impressive and get everyone talking, but rarely lead to additional wins.
Don’t get me wrong, Ebron seems like a heck of a player, but he also seems like a typical Lion: flashy, super-talented, a bit of a headcase, frustrating.
Detroit desperately needed help in the secondary, so we’ll see if they’ll end up regretting taking Ebron so high with plenty of good defensive backs still on the board.
Stealing Van Noy
The Lions did upgrade the defense by adding Penn St. linebacker Kyle Van Noy in the second round. I was hoping Van Noy, who can rush from the outside and cover the middle from the inside, would fall to the Packers to provide some long overdue competition for A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones.
Sleeper of the draft?
One of the most intriguing players coming into the draft was “tight end” Larry Webster out of Bloomsburg. Webster is 6-foot-6, 252 pounds and played defensive end at Bloomsburg. He began playing football in 2012 after four years on the basketball team.
It sounds like Webster is going to play tight end in Detroit. If he ever figures out how to harness all that size, strength, speed and leaping ability, who knows what he could turn into.
Another new regime
Like the Vikings, Detroit also has a new coach. Jim Caldwell rarely blinked while coaching the Colts and Peyton Manning. Will he show more emotion watching Matthew Stafford try and get the Lions back into the playoffs?
I know this is a post about the 2014 NFL draft, but doesn’t the fate of the Lions still mostly rest on Stafford? If Caldwell can help Stafford become more than just a quarterback who puts up gaudy numbers, the Lions might have something.