NFL Draft Review/Grade: NFC North

Now that we’ve examined the drafts of every team in the AFC, it’s time to do the same in the NFC, starting with the NFC North. Since this division features three teams in win now mode (Bears, Packers, Vikings) and a team that should be extremely competitive (Lions), the draft could be the difference maker on how this division shapes up. Which team put themselves in the best position to come out on top? Let’s discuss.

Chicago Bears

montgomery bears
Photo Cred: Chicago Tribune

Full Draft (With Grade)

Round 3, Pick 73: RB David Montgomery, Iowa State (B)

Round 4, Pick 126: WR Riley Ridley, Georgia (A)

Round 6, Pick 205: CB Duke Shelley, Kansas State (B+)

Round 7, Pick 222: RB Kerrith Whyte, Florida (C+)

Round 7, Pick 238: CB Stephen Denmark, Valdosta State (B)

Grade: B

The Bears are coming off a surprising season in which they won the division, but that came at a high price. They were without a first-round pick due to the Khalil Mack trade, but also didn’t possess a second-round pick after trading up for receiver Anthony Miller last season. Therefore, it was unlikely that the team was going to significantly improve in the draft, but they still came away with a decent haul. Once again, the team aggressively moved up to acquire a coveted player; they moved up 14 spots, surrendering their fifth-round pick and a 2020 fourth-round pick, in addition to their original third-round pick, in order to select Iowa State running back David Montgomery. There was a need for a starting caliber running back after trading Jordan Howard, since Tarik Cohen is more of a change of pace running back, especially since the team got inconsistent production through the air from quarterback Mitch Trubisky last season. Montgomery could very well be the player they needed to complete their offense, although the price paid to move up wasn’t minimal.

Chicago then made one of the best value selections in the fourth round, drafting Georgia receiver Riley Ridley. Ridley wasn’t productive in college, but he was featured in a run-heavy offense and is the best route runner in this entire draft class. He should come in and start right away and be an instrumental part of this offense. They then added depth in the secondary with the selections of cornerbacks Duke Shelley and Stephan Denmark. Shelley is a solid slot corner, and could eventually start for this team as their nickel corner. Denmark, on the other hand, is worth a seventh-round flyer as a converted receiver with tremendous length (6’3”) for a defensive back. Running back Kerrith Whyte seems like an unnecessary selection since his skills match with Tarik Cohen, but at least he could provide insurance in case Cohen is sidelined with an injury.

The Bears didn’t have many draft picks but still managed to come away with two impact offensive players in addition to some depth in the secondary. Credit general manager Ryan Pace for making the most of his available resources.

Detroit Lions

tj hockenson
Photo Cred: Pride of Detroit

Full Draft (With Grade)

Round 1, Pick 8: TE TJ Hockenson, Iowa (B+)

Round 2, Pick 43: LB Jahlani Tavai, Hawaii (D)

Round 3, Pick 81: S Will Harris, Boston College (B)

Round 4, Pick 117: DE Austin Bryant, Clemson (A-)

Round 5, Pick 146: CB Armani Oruwariye, Penn State (A)

Round 6, Pick 184: WR Travis Fulham, Old Dominion (B-)

Round 6, Pick 186: RB Ty Johnson, Maryland (B+)

Round 7, Pick 224: TE Issac Nauta, Georgia (A)

Round 7, Pick 229: DT PJ Johnson, Arizona (B+)

Grade: B

Considered the inferior team in this division, the Lions definitely had the most work to do in order to have a legitimate shot at coming out on top. In their perspective, the best way to do so was to upgrade the offense by drafting Iowa tight end TJ Hockenson with the 8th overall pick. Hockenson is an elite tight end prospect; he is an outstanding blocker, is a dynamic receiving threat, and should immediately be one of the best players at his position. Usually, selecting a tight end in not a good idea, but in the case of Hockenson, he is a unique type of talent that will help Detroit establish the run with his blocking ability and gives Matthew Stafford the threat down the seam that he didn’t have last year. This a perfect fit for one of the most well-rounded prospects in this draft.

Detroit followed up their solid round-one selection by absolutely botching the second-round. With high impact players available, such as cornerback Greedy Williams, receiver AJ Brown, guard/center Erik McCoy, amongst others, the team selected Hawaii linebacker Jahlani Tavai. Tavai was seen as a day three pick at best, and although he is the type of linebacker that should fit in head coach Matt Patricia’s Patriots-esque defensive scheme, this is about three rounds too early and is inexcusable. Will Harris wasn’t a well-known prospect, but he’s a known leader and a solid all-around safety; he is a solid pick, although Chauncey Gardner Johnson was a better fit.

Day three was where Detroit did their best work. Clemson defensive lineman Austin Bryant has outstanding length and can play inside and outside; he could easily emerge as a future starter. So could cornerback Armani Oruwariye, whom the team selected in the fifth round and was considered a second-round talent. Securing both of these players on day three is outstanding value, and really make up for a lackluster day two. It didn’t stop there; running back Ty Johnson (sixth round) is an excellent option as a change of pace back and a return specialist, Issac Nauta is a well above average blocking tight end despite limited receiving abilities, and defensive tackle PJ Johnson provides insurance as a nose tackle in case Damon Harrison needs rest or is injured.

Outside of the Tavai selection, the Lions may have nailed this draft, landing possibly four future starters. However, that selection was so poor, that it prevents them from earning a draft grade any higher than a “B”, though that grade still demonstrates the depth of this class.

Green Bay Packers

Syndication: PackersNews
Photo Cred: packerswire.usatoday.com

Full Draft (With Grade)

Round 1, Pick 12: DL Rashan Gary, Michigan (B-)

Round 1, Pick 21: S Darnell Savage, Maryland (B+)

Round 2, Pick 44: C Elgton Jenkins, Mississippi State (B+)

Round 3, Pick 75: TE Jace Sternberger, Texas A&M (A)

Round 5, Pick 150: DT Kingsley Keke, Texas A&M (B+)

Round 6, Pick 185; CB Ka’dar Hollman, Toledo (B)

Round 6, Pick 194: RB Dexter Williams, Notre Dame (B)

Round 7, Pick 226: LB Ty Summers, TCU (B+)

Grade: B

Armed with two first-round picks, the Packers were in the best position to make necessary reinforcements in the draft. They attacked the defense in round one; they selected Michigan defensive end Rashan Gary with the 12th overall pick and traded up to select Maryland safety Darnell Savage with the 21st overall pick. Gary is a versatile player with a high ceiling as a pass rusher due to elite athleticism, so getting him right outside the top ten is fine value. However, it’s unclear where he fits in on Green Bay’s defensive line; recently-signed Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith are set on the edges, while Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark are set on the interior. Gary could challenge Kyle Fackrell, who had 10.5 sacks, for a starting spot, but clearly adding another pass rusher probably should not have been the Packers’ priority. With Savage, he’s another versatile player in the back-end of the secondary and is aggressive as a ball hawk and a run supporter. His aggressiveness fits perfectly with the recently signed Adrian Amos, who is much more conservative and excels at preventing big plays, at the back-end of the defense. However, they had to trade a pair of fourth-round selections to move up nine spots to get him, which perhaps was a tad too aggressive. Still, I love the fit, and this was a huge acquisition for the defense.

In the second-round, Green Bay shifted their focus to the offense and drafted center Elgton Jenkins. Jenkins is another versatile player that can either play center or guard. He’ll likely fill in at the latter position, since they previously lacked two starting guards, but have a solid starter in Corey Lindsley at center. That was a smart move to add a key piece to support Aaron Rodgers, but so was the selection of tight end Jace Sternberger in the third-round; Sternberger projects to be an excellent vertical threat and a Red Zone threat with his 6’4” frame, and could even supplant Jimmy Graham as the starting tight end. The Packers did a solid job in the first round of the draft, but these two picks on day two definitely rounded out this draft class as an above average one.

Since they didn’t have a fourth-round pick due to the Savage trade-up, the Packers’ next pick came in the fifth round, where they selected interior defensive lineman Kingsley Keke. Though Keke won’t make an immediate impact, he has potential as an athletic and versatile piece on the defensive line, and could at least turn into a depth piece for the team down the road. Cornerback Ka’dar Hollman is another player that won’t contribute right away, but is a solid developmental cornerback with a 4.39 40-yard-dash, and is an alright gamble in the sixth round. Green Bay definitely needed running back depth after Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams, so it was a good idea to draft Notre Dame running back Dexter Williams; he is productive when on the field, despite his off the field issues. The team wrapped up their draft with another solid investment in the seventh-round; they added much-needed linebacker depth with a very athletic linebacker in Ty Summers.

The Packers had a clear strategy in this draft. They attacked the defense on day one with versatile pieces and filled out the offense in round two. A wide receiver, such as Marquise Brown or even Riley Ridley would have been a critical acquisition for the team, but nonetheless, there’s no doubt the roster is in significantly better shape post-draft than it was pre-draft.

Minnesota Vikings

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Photo Cred: Winona Daily News

Full Draft (With Grade)

Round 1, Pick 18: C Garrett Bradbury, NC State (A)

Round 2, Pick 50: TE Irv Smith Jr., Alabama (A)

Round 3, Pick 102: RB Alexander Mattison, Boise State (B)

Round 4, Pick 114: G Dru Samia, Oklahoma (A)

Round 5, Pick 162: LB Cameron Smith, USC (B)

Round 6, Pick 190: DT Armon Watts, Arkansas (B)

Round 6, Pick 191: S Marcus Epps, Wyoming (B-)

Round 6, Pick 193: OT Olisaemeka Udoh, Elon (B+)

Round 7, Pick 217: CB Kris Boyd, Texas (A)

Round 7, Pick 239: WR Dillon Mitchell, Oregon (B)

Round 7, Pick 247: WR Olabisi Johnson, Colorado State (B+)

Round 7, Pick 250: LS Austin Cutting, Air Force (C)

Grade: A-

Despite finishing at just 8-7-1 and not making the playoffs, the Vikings still quietly have one of the most talented rosters in football, though they had serious holes that needed to be filled through the draft. The main one was the offensive line; $84 million investment Kirk Cousins needs better protection if he is going to lead this team to the playoffs. By selecting NC State center Garrett Bradbury with their first-round pick, the team is getting a major upgrade on the offensive trenches, but now center Pat Elflein can move to his more natural position as a guard. Bradbury will make an immediate impact and is a perfect fit for the Vikings; this was an amazing selection.

In round two, Minnesota made a savvy move to build towards the future by drafting tight end Irv Smith Jr. Smith Jr. is a super athletic offensive playmaker that can be utilized in a variety of ways, and his upside is tremendous. He’s not a polished player, but with the Vikings, he can be the #2 tight end behind Kyle Rudolph this season, and can take over the following season. Continuing to improve the offense, the team also picked up Boise State running back Alexander Mattison at the end of the third round. After losing Latavius Murray to the Saints in free agency, they desperately needed to find a complement and insurance to the often injured Dalvin Cook, and Mattison will fill that role for them.

The Vikings their offensive spree in the fourth round; they selected Oklahoma guard Dru Samia. Samia was a productive starter on a dominant offensive line in college, and fits in Minnesota’s zone-blocking scheme. He could start from day one, or be insurance in case of injuries, which is very valuable in the fourth round. Cameron Smith in the fifth round was the team’s first defensive selection, but with the overall linebacker depth thin, he was another solid pickup. Defensive tackle Armon Watts is a bit of a wildcard, but he has upside with ideal length and athleticism, and is worth taking a risk on in the sixth round. Safety depth was needed, so drafting one makes sense; though it’s unclear if he’ll turn out to be much at the NFL level, selecting safety Marcus Epps makes some sense. Possibly a home-run move came with the Vikings selecting Olisaemeka Udoh in the sixth round; he is a huge presence at 6’5” and 323 pounds, is athletic, and works perfect in their offensive scheme. There is a chance he could be groomed to take over at one of the tackle spots in the future. Speaking of outstanding picks, Texas cornerback Kris Boyd was projected to be a mid-round pick; getting a NFL-caliber defensive back who is an excellent run defender and could flourish as a safety is incredible value. A pair of wide recievers were also taken in the seventh round: Oregon’s Dillon Mitchell and Colorado State’s Olabisi Johnson. Both will proivde reciever depth, though Johnson is a better overall prospect as a solid route runner; he could even be the team’s #3 reciever next season. There’s not much to write about them selecting a long snapper with their last selection, though it was puzzling considering they have Kevin McDermott, a solid long snapper, under contract through the 2020 season.

The Vikings did a tremendous job complementing their strong defense with an improved offense through the draft. They made the most of their twelve picks, and brought in a lot of young talent on high-value picks. They definitely “won” the draft as far as the NFC North is concerned.

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