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Sunday, April 26, 2009
NFC North draft analysis

By Kevin Seifert
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

The 2009 draft began early in the NFC North. The arrival of new Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler raised the stakes in the Black and Blue, and in some ways the rest of the division spent the weekend trying to catch up.

NFC North Draft Picks
• Chicago Bears
• Detroit Lions
Green Bay Packers
• Minnesota Vikings

Detroit drafted Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford, a strong-armed passer whose physical skills have been compared to Cutler. Minnesota attempted to improve the players around its own shaky quarterback situation, drafting receiver Percy Harvin and offensive tackle Phil Loadholt. And Green Bay devoted a pair of first-round draft picks to improving a defense that will face three improved offenses in division play.

The Cutler trade left the Bears with a shallow class, but they had a four-week head start. Let's take a look at the highs and lows of the weekend from a Black and Blue perspective.

Best move

In a rare marriage of need and talent level, Green Bay managed to select the best defensive lineman in the draft when it took Boston College nose tackle B.J. Raji with the No. 9 overall pick.

 
  Cliff Welch/Icon SMI
  B.J. Raji gives the Packers some flexibility along the defensive line.

Need-based fanatics could point out that the Packers already had a starting nose tackle in Ryan Pickett. They could also document greater needs at defensive end, linebacker and offensive tackle. Fantasy football players, meanwhile, were probably drooling at the possibility of receiver Michael Crabtree joining an offense that already includes quarterback Aaron Rodgers and receivers Greg Jennings and Donald Driver.

But you don't pass over a player of Raji's caliber because you have Ryan Pickett on your roster. You don't grab the fourth-best offensive tackle ahead of the top defensive lineman. And you don't turn greedy with your offense when it was your defense that largely put you in a 6-10 hole last season.

And so Thompson pounced on Raji, who figures to start immediately. Pickett could move to end, or defensive coordinator Dom Capers could find other innovative ways to keep both players on the field. If you're the Packers, it's a great problem to have.

Riskiest move

The Vikings might have drafted the NFL's 2009 rookie of the year, or they could have the league's latest embarrassment. The spectrum is that wide for Harvin, whose resume of questionable behavior dates far beyond a reported positive drug test at the annual scouting combine.

Harvin's competitiveness has sometimes gotten the best of him, resulting in multiple suspensions during high school competition in Virginia. Harvin attributed most of his mistakes to "growing up," but it's pretty clear the Vikings have a live wire on their hands.

Should he keep himself in check, Harvin will get an opportunity to excel against defenses that will be focused on tailback Adrian Peterson. Harvin's open-field running ability is unparalleled for receivers, and he could also help in the short term as a kick returner.

The Vikings, however, aren't that far removed from an era of relative lawlessness highlighted by the exploits of receiver Randy Moss and a 2005 sex party aboard a cruise ship on Lake Minnetonka. They have made a great public showing of their internal crackdown on misbehavior, and as a result they have a lot riding on Harvin's future.

Most surprising move

In his first four drafts as the Packers' general manager, Ted Thompson executed 14 draft-day trades. All but one of them were to move down. It was a volume approach to roster-building: The more players you draft, the better your chances are of building quality depth. So I'm sure a few people fell out of their seats Saturday when Thompson gave up a second-round choice and a pair of third-round picks to move up from No. 41 overall to No. 26 in order to grab USC linebacker Clay Matthews III.

Matthews intrigues the Packers on a number of levels, but let's be honest: They faced urgency to start addressing the transitional holes revealed by their shift to the 3-4 defense. The team has been vague about who might start at outside linebacker opposite Aaron Kampman, and in retrospect it seems clear Thompson has planned to address the issue during the draft. When you target a position, and especially when you extend it to one particular player, you must be willing to wheel and deal. Surprisingly, Thompson was.

File it away

In a few years, we'll all be able to look back and determine whether Chicago general manager Jerry Angelo was right to trade himself out of the second round of this draft. The Bears had the No. 49 overall pick and were in position to draft Georgia receiver Mohamed Massaquoi or Alabama safety Rashad Johnson, but Angelo instead gave up the spot to acquire picks in the third and fourth rounds.

Reportedly, that decis
ion came after Angelo was unable to trade for Arizona receiver Anquan Boldin. The Bears also were hoping that Ohio safety Michael Mitchell would be available at No. 49, but Oakland grabbed him at No. 47.

In the end, Angelo addressed his defensive line with those choices -- selecting San Jose State defensive end Jarron Gilbert and Texas defensive end Henry Melton, respectively. Will Gilbert and Melton prove a better grab than anyone the Bears might have selected at No. 49? We'll file that one away for later.