Bah, humbug: NFC North post-draft holes
April, 26, 2010
By Kevin Seifert | ESPN.com
Icon SMIMajor Wright (Chicago), Ndamukong Suh (Detroit) and Chris Cook (Minnesota) all help fill voids for their new teams.No point in the NFL year is filled with more optimism than the week after the draft, when every team is basking in what it considers undeniable across-the-board improvements. But unless the 2010 season is characterized by a rash of ties, we’re going to have the same number of losses as we did last year -- some by chance, a few by strategy and many as a result of flawed team building.
So this is my opportunity to play Scrooge. (I believe I was born for the role, but that’s another story.) We spent the past four days hyping the additions in Chicago, Detroit, Green Bay and Minnesota. Now, with the draft concluded and the top half of the free-agent market accounted for, we must acquiesce to reality and note where each team still falls short.
(A Scroogism: How shall I ever understand this world? There is nothing on which it is so hard as poverty, and yet, there is nothing it condemns with such severity as the pursuit of wealth.)
We took an in-depth look last month at Green Bay’s plans to improve its pass defense. That plan, I think we can safely say, does not include significant personnel changes. In fact, the Packers have added only one player who could impact this segment of their team: Third-round safety Morgan Burnett, and that’s if he beats out Atari Bigby for a starting job.
Richard C. Lewis/Icon SMIGeorgia Tech safety Morgan Burnett will have a chance to help improve Green Bay's pass defense.
Many of us thought the Packers would target an outside linebacker at No. 23. I can’t blame them for passing up Sergio Kindle or Jerry Hughes in favor of left tackle Bryan Bulaga, who filled what might have been the franchise’s biggest single need. But wrapping up the draft without a single player at the position means that, for now, the Packers will look to Brady Poppinga and Brad Jones at the position manned for much of last year by Aaron Kampman.
The Packers also haven’t addressed the cornerback position, putting a premium on their belief that veterans Al Harris, Will Blackmon and Pat Lee will all return healthy from major injuries this summer.
“I think we got guys that can come in and make an impact,” general manager Ted Thompson said. “I've said all along I think we have a good team. I think we have a team that's going to be competitive week in and week out. And at those positions, we have some guys that are dinged up, but we don't necessarily think that's going to be an ongoing problem.”
Thompson added that the Packers are “still doing some work at the outside linebacker spot,” but it’s uncertain if he meant adding rookie free agents or if he would target a veteran. Often a second wave of free agency occurs after the draft, and New England kicked it off Monday morning by releasing veteran Adalius Thomas.
Improving a segment of your team doesn’t necessarily mean swapping out players. Last month, coach Mike McCarthy detailed some practice changes and new priorities for his pass defense. For the most part, the Packers will do it with the same players they had last year. Take that for what it’s worth.
We have to consider Chicago’s draft in relative terms; that it sat out the first and second rounds and still got one likely starter in safety Major Wright is impressive. But the Bears weren’t able to do anything to address their personnel gap at left guard.
As you recall, the Bears have moved Frank Omiyale to right tackle and left a host of young players -- Josh Beekman and Lance Louis among them -- in the mix at left guard. But let’s face reality: The Bears tried replacing Beekman last year with Omiyale, and Louis was a seventh-round pick.
General manager Jerry Angelo acknowledged he made a run at trading for Seattle guard Rob Sims, who ultimately landed in Detroit. Angelo also left open the possibility of pursuing veteran Alan Faneca, but also touted his current depth.
“We’ll look into some things like we did before the draft,” Angelo said. “We looked into Rob Sims. We looked into a couple other guys that didn’t work out. So we’ll continue to look. [But] we do like the players that we have here. [Offensive line coach Mike Tice] has told me that. If he’s not said it publicly, he certainly has told us in our meetings that he’s comfortable with our line. But again, we’ll continue to look.”
Tice was an excellent line coach in Minnesota and developed a number of unheralded prospects into full-time starters. So I wouldn’t consider what Angelo said as merely lip service. But if the Bears are going to improve at left guard, it won’t be as a result of the first wave of free agency or in the draft.
Detroit had across-the-board concerns with its pass defense, and I appreciate the way the Lions have addressed it this offseason. Much like an episode of “Hoarders,” they began in one corner and started digging themselves out.
That “corner” turned out to be the defensive line, where they’ve improved their pass rush and overall strength by adding rookie Ndamukong Suh to go with Kyle Vanden Bosch and Corey Williams. That strategy made their secondary, well, a secondary priority.
The only starter expected to return is safety Louis Delmas, a rising star. But I think even the Lions would acknowledge their depth at cornerback -- not to mention the identity of their other starting safety -- is a concern. They acquired Atlanta cornerback Chris Houston in the offseason to start on one side, and rookie Amari Spievey could figure on the other. Free agent Adam “Pacman” Jones is still available as well.
To be clear, if I had a choice between overhauling a defensive line and revamping the secondary, I would choose the Lions’ approach every time. A playmaking front can help a weaker secondary more consistently than the reverse.
Minnesota filled what many considered its top short-term needs with its first two picks, selecting cornerback Chris Cook and tailback Toby Gerhart in the second round. I think Minnesota’s roster is relatively balanced and deep, and I think director of college scouting Scott Studwell was just being honest when he said:
“It’s going to be hard for some young players to make this football team, to be honest with you. … We’ve built this roster up to the point where it’s hard to say that five or six or seven draft picks are all going to make it.”
But if I had to pick an area of concern, I would focus on the safety position. Tyrell Johnson briefly lost his job last season to seventh-round draft pick Jamarca Sanford, and veteran Madieu Williams had some questionable moments as well. At this point, it will be up to Sanford alone to pressure Johnson and Williams in training camp.
I also think, and I’ve probably mentioned it once or twice, that the Vikings have erred by not aggressively pursuing an eventual successor to Brett Favre. With a relatively deep roster, and the apparent conviction that Favre will return for at least one more season, now would have been a perfect time to at least take a swing at starting an orderly transition process.
But as I wrote Saturday, I’ll stop banging the drum on that one. Really. I mean it.
A final Scroogism: There is no such thing as rich enough; only poor enough.