The 2017 season for the NFC North went through Minnesota, who had a miracle run with their third string quarterback Case Keenum. After second stringer Sam Bradford went down with injury and star rookie Dalvin Cook was also lost, it was Keenum who steered the Vikings to a NFC Championship appearance.
And after all that, the Vikings still moved on from Keenum…and Bradford for that matter, and even Teddy Bridgewater, who before a gruesome knee injury was viewed as a franchise quarterback for them. Instead, they went out and signed Kirk Cousins. A signal to all that the Vikings are ready to win now.
Despite going 9-7, the Lions fired their head coach and brought in New England Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia to lead the team. It’s not a rebuild as much as it is a re-envisioning. The Bears also tabbed a first time head coach to lead them in Matt Nagy, the former Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator.
But for all this hope springing around the division, the Green Bay Packers are still the sleeping giants. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers only made it seven games before a broken clavicle ended his season. The Pack also made a mini shift in Brian Gutekunst taking over the GM position from longtime leader Ted Thompson.
So, how did Gutekunst and the rest of the new look NFC North due this weekend? Here’s the breakdown…
Chicago Bears: B+
1.) Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia
2.) James Daniels, C, Iowa
2.) Anthony Miller, WR, Memphis
4.) Joel Iyiegbuniwe, LB, Western Kentucky
5.) Bilal Nichols, DT, Delaware
6.) Kylie Fitts, OLB, Utah
7.) Javon Wims, WR, Georgia
The Bears did a stellar job. Their first three picks could all start as rookies. Smith, is the defensive leader the Bears have needed for a long time. With veterans Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathan injury prone, Smith could wrestle a starting spot for himself sooner than later. Some may find Daniels selection curious with a quality guard in Cody Whitehair already in place. Whitehair’s best position is guard, so by selecting Daniels (a potential Day One starter), the Bears now can shift Whitehair back to left guard and suddenly the Bears offensive line is a real strength. With the healthy duo of Allen Robinson and Kevin White, the Bears needed someone to work the middle of the field and that’s Miller. His last two years he totaled 191 catches for 2,896 yards and 32 touchdowns. Fitts and Wims are quality late round additions with who could grow into serviceable players.
Detroit Lions: B-
1.) Frank Ragnow, C, Arkansas
2.) Kerryon Johnson, RB, Auburn
3.) Tracy Walker, S, Louisiana-Lafayette
4.) Da’shawn Hand, DT, Alabama
5.) Tyrell Crosby, OT, Oregon
7.) Nick Bawden, RB, San Diego St.
The Lions were aggressive in first time head coach Matt Patricia’s first draft. If there is one consistent thread through all of these picks it’s that all the players are big and physical. Ragnow, should start Day One (if healthy) and man the pivot. He’ll bring some nastiness to the trenches and that’s always a plus. Bringing in Crosby later in the draft continues to bring depth and nastiness. Like Ragnow, Crosby is a road grader. A right tackle by nature, but may kick inside to guard. He has starter upside. Johnson, in Round 2, is an intriguing pick. He is a massive running back who just ran all over the SEC last year, racking up 1,391 yards and 18 touchdowns, while flashing the ability to be a playmaker in the passing game as well. The only downside there is injuries. With a big back, you also get a big target. Hand and Walker help bolster depth along the defense.
Green Bay Packers: B
1.) Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville
2.) Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa
3.) Oren Burks, LB, Vanderbilt
4.) J’mon Moore, WR, Missouri
5.) Cole Madison, OG, Washington St.
5.) JK Scott, P, Alabama
5.) Marquez Valdes-Scantling, WR, USF
6.) Equanimeous St. Brown, WR, Notre Dame
7.) James Looney, DT, Cal
7.) Hunter Bradley, LS, Mississippi St.
7.) Kendall Donnerson, OLB, Southeast Missouri
Last season the Packers drafted a cornerback and a safety with their first two picks. And as you can see this year, brought in two more cornerbacks at the top of the draft. That is an incredible amount of capital spent on the secondary. Alexander, is a playmaker, who make work best in the slot while Jackson and Kevin King (last year’s top pick) work on the outside. Burks, was a bit of a reach, but should contribute on special teams and sub packages. He’s a bit of a Swiss army knife. The wide receiver additions is most interesting. All are well over six feet tall. Moore had the best college career, posting back to back 1,000 yard seasons and 18 touchdowns over the past two seasons. St. Brown, is raw but has the size to be a factor in the red zone. Valdes-Scantling, is the most intriguing. He is fast and can fly down field. If he continues to work on better route running, he could be a factor. The Scott addition is also worth noting. In a division that is becoming more and more contentious, a punter who can flip the field is a big asset.
Minnesota Vikings: B
1.) Mike Hughes, CB, UCF
2.) Brian O’Neill, OT, Pitt
4.) Jalyn Holmes, DE, Ohio St.
5.) Tyler Conklin, TE, Central Michigan
5.) Daniel Carson, K, Auburn
6.) Colby Gossett, OG, Appalachian St.
6.) Ade Aruna, DE, Tulane
7.) Devante Downs, LB, Cal
The Vikings really fleshed out their roster with this draft. Hughes, is a classisc Mike Zimmer cornerback. He should make his way onto the field sooner than later. He has off the field concerns, but should he keep things in line, he’ll be a factor. O’Neill, offers great versatility. He could start at right tackle, he could be kicked inside to guard. Either way, they needed help in the trenches and they got some. Holmes, didn’t do much in college, but that could be more of a result of having such tremendous depth at defensive end at Ohio State. He has upside and could develop into something special. Remember that time the Vikings missed a field goal in the playoffs against the Seahawks? So does every Minnesotan. Hopefully Carson can become a steady contributor. He’s got the leg, the accuracy is the question.