The Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings hoped to fill holes with top prospects in this year’s draft while the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions looked to add the final pieces. Here are our draft grades of the NFC North.
In many ways the Chicago Bears hosted the 2015 NFL Draft so the excitement was understandable when they were called to the clock. Most of the teams needs could be found on the defensive side of the ball but receiver Kevin White was to good to pass up with the seventh pick. White and veteran Alshon Jeffery will be a formidable tandem, though I could see a few bumps in the road for the Bears rookie wide out as he acclimates to an NFL offense. Nose tackle was a need entering the draft and the Bears got value in round two with Eddie Goldman. The Florida State junior is a big bodied lineman who occupies the gaps and moves well. He has the ability to develop into a play maker but needs to improve his entire game. Chicago had needs all over the offensive line and filled one at center with Hroniss Grasu in round three. The senior offers potential in a variety of blocking schemes and should quickly break into a starting line-up. Jeremy Langford was great value in the fourth round as he’s a versatile three down back who grinds it out on the inside, can turn the corner or catch the ball out of the backfield. He’ll be able to spell Matt Forte as a rotational back and offers insurance for the future. Adrian Amos was an interesting selection in the fifth round and offers potential as a dime back/special teams player. Final pick Tayo Fabuluje was worth a roll of the dice. He’s a big bodied tackle who flashed greatness in 2012 manning the left side of TCU’s high powered offense but was not inconsistent last season after sitting out all of 2013. At the very least Fabuluje is practice squad material with potential as a back-up swing tackle. One UDFA of note is Rice cornerback Bryce Callahan, who plays smart, athletic football. I could see Callahan making the roster should he play well on special teams.
Grade B+: On paper there’s a lot to like about this draft. The first three picks should all see starting action during their rookie campaign and Lanford was a fine addition. Its possible all of Chicago’s picks make the final roster.
The Lions entered the draft with needs on both sides of the line of scrimmage and answered the offensive side of things in round one with Laken Tomlinson. Though I was slightly surprised the Duke senior was selected in the first round he’s a big bodied blocker efficient in both pass protection and as a run blocker. I would expect him to be a starter from day one. Second round choice Ameer Abdullah is another draft pick that should get every opportunity to play as a rookie. What’s most exciting about Abdullah is he’s unlike any back on the Lions roster. Third round pick Alex Carter is another who could end up as a starter in 2015. The junior cornerback offers size, toughness and solid ball skills. He needs polish on his game but has an upside. Needs on the defensive line were finally answered in the fourth round when the team tabbed Auburn senior Gabe Wright, whose style parallels former first round pick Nick Fairley. Wright had a solid career and was very impressive during the Senior Bowl. Fullback Michael Burton was a surprise fifth round pick but could win the starting position this season by default. He’s a terrific blocker and also effective catching the ball out of the backfield but a very average athlete. Quandre Diggs was worth a roll of the dice in round six and could play in dime packages and on special teams this season. If he gets his game back on track Corey Robinson will be a steal in the seventh round. The former defensive lineman looked spectacular at left tackle as a junior in 2013 but watched his game fall off last season. He has the necessary tools to line-up as a right tackle on Sunday. Offensive lineman Al Bond, tight end Casey Pierce and safety Isaiah Johnson led an impressive class of undrafted free agents the team signed.
Grade: B+ I thought Tomlinson was a slight reach but an understandable choice. I count four potential starters from this class with a fifth waiting in the wings. Factor in two rotational players and several UDFA’s who could make the roster and this was an impressive effort by the Lions.
Green Bay Packers
Defensive back seven players were a priority for the Packers and there were several directions I thought the team could go. They flirted with taking an inside linebacker in round one and the name of Eric Rowe was often spoken about. They ultimately settled on Damarious Randall, the college safety Green Bay will move to cornerback. Back on April 6th I noted that Randall was not only being considered as a late first round choice but was listed as a corner on a number of boards. The team stayed with cornerbacks in round two selecting Quinten Rollins, the former basketball player who made the smooth transition to the gridiron last season. While Rollins still needs to polish he’s more NFL ready than most believe. Ty Montgomery was a surprise third round pick and while he was drafted primarily as a return specialist, he’s a bit of an enigma and not nearly as productive as he should be. While I like Jake Ryan I feel the fourth round was a bit early for his services. Ryan is a terrific football player and an underrated athlete but never truly developed at one position and is coming off a disappointing senior season. Conversely Brett Hundley could be a steal in the fifth round. I’m not a big believer in Hundley rather confident in the talents of head coach Mike McCarthy to develop quarterbacks and transition Hundley’s physical ability into signal caller skills. Just prior to the draft I broke the news the Packers brought Aaron Ripkowski in for a visit, a player who is a perfect fit for their offense. I’m sure the Packers will find a way to maximize Ripowki’s talents as he was often under utilized at Oklahoma. Christian Ringo was a head scratcher. The senior was very productive (11.5 sacks in 2014) but has poor size, limited upside and no true position in the NFL. If Ringo was a head scratcher Kennard Backman could be a steal. A dynamic pass catcher, it was Backman and not the highly touted JJ Nelson who led UAB in receptions last year. He’s a big, fluid athlete who gets down the seam and creates mismatches. The Packers signed three terrific receivers after the draft including Larry Pinkard, Jimmie Hunt and Ricky Collins (who I believe will be playing for the team on Sunday’s).
Grade B-: Ty Montgomery and to a lesser extent Jake Ryan pulls this grade down a bit. Randall will see significant playing time next season and Backman could be a steal.
The Vikings had a bunch of holes to fill entering the draft and ten selections to find players to plug those holes. Speculation ran high as to which direction they would go with their first pick, the eleventh overall. In the end they went with cornerback Trae Waynes. Moving towards the draft I felt Waynes was slightly overrated but there’s no denying he was one of the best press cornerbacks available and is a perfect hit for Mike Zimmer. Late in March I reported the feeling was Minnesota would select a linebacker in the early rounds and they did exactly that choosing Eric Kendricks in the second frame. The senior should quickly slide into the starting role at middle linebacker and should complete what is a terrific unit with Anthony Barr and veteran Chad Greenway. I firmly believe Danielle Hunter was a major bargain with the 88th pick and his skills and upside were more top 40 worthy. Hunter is a physical beast with the ability to disrupt the action and will only get better as he physically matures and receives more playing experience. Fourth round pick T.J. Clemmings was another steal. The athletic lineman offers starting potential at a number of positions on the line. Why did he fall so far? Immediately after the draft sources told me the stress fracture in Clemmings foot is one that could be catastrophic to his career if it breaks again. Still, he was worth a roll of the dice in round four. The team went with a pair of pass catchers in round five. Tight end/H-back MyCole Pruitt offers variety when the team lines-up two tight ends while receiver Stefon Diggs is a vertical threat with potential as a return specialist. Sixth round selection Tyrus Thompson was another value pick. I stamped the Oklahoma senior as fourth round value and he could offer the team flexibility at left tackle in the future. Their final three choices, B.J. Dubose, Austin Shepard and Edmond Robinson, may struggle to make it off the practice roster. Keep an eye on receiver Jordan Leslie, who the team signed as a UDFA. He has the size and speed to play at the next level and really developed his game in 2014.
Grade A-: I’m not a big Trae Waynes guy but understand the importance of the position he plays and also realize his upside. They selected three more potential starters through the fourth round and a pair of players who should make the two deep in the fifth frame. I was not overly impressed with their late round picks but I see a lot of production coming from this draft.