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Thursday, June 6, 2013
Williamson: NFC North offseason grades

By Kevin Seifert

Matt Williamson scouts the NFL for ESPN.com, and this week he revealed his offseason grades for all 32 teams. You'll need an Insider subscription to view the full file, but I've been authorized by high-level executives to leak a few NFC North snippets:

Chicago Bears
Williamson grade: B+
Williamson snippet: "Upgrading the offensive line, getting younger and better at linebacker and adding another weapon in the passing game were the Bears' top priorities this offseason -- and they accomplished all three."
Seifert comment: The Bears' offseason performance is particularly notable when you remember they entered the draft with only five selections. (They acquired a sixth via trade). The offensive line remains fluid, but has been addressed more aggressively than in years. Getting younger at linebacker was the first step in what will be a multi-part process of filling in behind 30-something starters Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings and Julius Peppers. (Jennings turns 30 in December).

Detroit Lions
Williamson grade: B
Williamson snippet: "Expect the Lions' pass defense to be significantly improved. … But another area of weakness was created this offseason for the Lions. Their offensive line played quite well overall last year but lost three starters to retirement and free agency."
Seifert comment: The signing of safety Glover Quin and the decision to (finally) draft a cornerback at a high position (second-rounder Darius Slay) bodes well for the pass defense. Even without a new receiver opposite Calvin Johnson, the Lions have plenty of skill position players on offense. The significance of an offensive-line overhaul is not to be underestimated, however. The Lions will be counting on as many as three untested linemen to come through.

Green Bay Packers
Williamson grade: B
Williamson snippet: "The Packers are the only team for which I didn't list a veteran 'key addition,' and their 'key losses' are rather extensive. Still, they remain one of the very best teams in football."
Seifert comment: It's not unusual for the Packers to avoid key veteran additions. But they certainly added some important pieces in running backs Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin, along with defensive lineman Datone Jones. In minicamp this week, Jones was working both as a defensive end in base defenses, and inside at tackle in the nickel. Once he learns the scheme, Jones is going to be a difference-maker.

Minnesota Vikings
Williamson grade: B-
Williamson snippet: "Minnesota brought in some big-time prospects in the draft, but the losses of two great players' contributions on game day will be hard to replace this season."
Seifert comment: Williamson was referring to the trade of receiver Percy Harvin and the release for cornerback Antoine Winfield. Both players wound up with the Seattle Seahawks. They also failed to find a replacement at middle linebacker, requiring the shift of Erin Henderson from the outside. The team's biggest personnel question mark, other than the continued development of quarterback Christian Ponder, is whether they can replace Winfield's presence in the slot.