NFC North: Calvin Pryor

Nelson's big day powers Packers again

September, 14, 2014
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- At some point, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers might need to start spreading the ball around.

But not if Jordy Nelson keeps this up.

One game after he was targeted 14 times, Nelson saw 16 passes come his way in Sunday's 31-24 comeback win over the New York Jets. And it did not matter for a second that the Packers made no effort to hide the fact they were going to force-feed him the ball.

[+] EnlargeJordy Nelson
AP Photo/Mike RoemerJordy Nelson has been targeted a whopping 30 times (18 receptions) through two games.
Nelson, fresh off his four-year, $39 million contract extension this summer, torched the Jets for a career-high 209 yards on nine catches, including an 80-yard touchdown in the third quarter that turned out to be the game winner.

"Jordy spoils us," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "He plays that way all the time. He practices the same way. He's just a clutch, clutch player."

With the Jets focused on taking away the Packers' running game, they kept their base defense on the field even when McCarthy went to his standard three-receiver set -- a personnel group that usually causes defensive coordinators to use their nickel package to get another cornerback on the field.

That not only left Randall Cobb with a favorable matchup in the slot, either against a safety or a linebacker, but it gave Nelson more one-on-one coverage than usual on the outside.

That's exactly the coverage Nelson saw when he lined up wide to the right on first down from his own 20-yard line with 2:21 left in the third quarter. That time, he was the only receiver in what looked like a clear run formation. With the Jets in a one-high safety man coverage, Nelson ran a 10-yard out and when Jets cornerback Dee Milliner broke on the out route, Nelson turned it up the field.

"At that point in time, I was pretty confident we were going to hit it," Nelson said. "Just didn't know where the safety would be, if he'd be playing over the top or what."

By the time safety Calvin Pryor came over, it was too late. Nelson already caught the ball at midfield and did the rest himself.

"Jordy gives you those opportunities to really make some special plays," said Rodgers, who threw for 346 yards, three touchdowns and registered the largest comeback (from down 18) of his career.

It can be habit-forming to rely on one player, even one as good as Nelson. Sure, Cobb caught a pair of touchdowns, but he totaled just 39 yards on his five catches. Rookie Davante Adams had something of a breakout game with five catches for 50 yards after getting shut out in the opener against the Seahawks.

"Everybody needs help," Adams said. "Otherwise, if you've just got one guy, then you just double that guy and you can shut a team down."

The Seahawks did that to a degree -- holding Nelson to 83 yards despite nine receptions in the Packers' Week 1 blowout loss -- but the Jets could not. It was all Nelson, whose 209 yards was the biggest day by a Packers receiver since Don Beebe posted 220 in an overtime game against the San Francisco 49ers on Oct. 14, 1996.

At this rate, Nelson is on a 144-catch pace, which is about as realistic as the Packers throwing him to an average of 15 times per game. Before Sunday, Rodgers had never targeted one receiver 16 times in a game, according to ESPN Stats & Information, perhaps leaving it open to wonder whether the Packers have enough other options.

But as Sunday's game was winding down, there was Nelson with 194 yards receiving to his name, something Cobb reminded him. And when the Packers needed one more first down to complete the comeback, Rodgers, of course, went to Nelson, who came up with 15 more yards.

"One-ninety is good, 199 is great but 200 just sounds better," Nelson said.
Part of the reason the Detroit Lions essentially ignored addressing the secondary in the 2014 draft was because of the faith general manager Martin Mayhew had in the potential of his young cornerbacks.

That trust is sure to be tested now.

The Lions have released their top cornerback, Chris Houston, after an inconsistent 2013 and offseason surgery for a toe that just wouldn't heal. Darius Slay and Rashean Mathis would now likely be the team's opening day starters at cornerback and the move increases the pressure on an untested group of players.

Houston
Houston
Bill Bentley has experience in the slot and is probably best suited there instead of on the outside. Jonte Green started games the past two seasons when players went down to injury, but has not been consistent. Chris Greenwood can't stay healthy and has minimal experience. Cassius Vaughn had a good spring, but was used to primarily used to provide depth at cornerback in Indianapolis.

The one pick the Lions did use on the secondary, corner Nevin Lawson in the fourth round, should have been more of a developmental selection.

At least one of those players will need to be counted on this fall. The early guess would be Vaughn, who has some experience and had moments where he looked extremely sharp in the spring. He likely won't be a starter, but he at least feels like part of the reason the team could have felt comfortable releasing Houston without even seeing him in training camp.

Now, unless the Lions sign a cornerback before camp, they will have to use this group to forge a cornerback corps. It is a unit with some talent, but short on experience. In a division with receivers like Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, that is not the type of situation you want to have.

Yet this is where Detroit is in the middle of June.

Something like this -- and Detroit had to have an inkling of concern here considering Houston did not play well in 2013 and had surgery -- was part of why it was so confusing how the Lions handled the secondary in the draft. Yes, Justin Gilbert was off the board when Detroit picked, but the team wasted little time before drafting tight end Eric Ebron, who the team opened up money to sign by cutting Houston.

They didn't seem to consider either selecting or trying to trade down to nab cornerbacks Kyle Fuller, Darqueze Dennard or even Jason Verrett from TCU or Bradley Roby from Ohio State. Or the team could have drafted Ha Ha Clinton-Dix from Alabama or Calvin Pryor from Louisville at safety and moved Don Carey, the team's third safety, to cornerback -- a position he previously played.

After Ebron, the team went with an interior lineman, Travis Swanson, in the third round and traded their fourth round pick to move up for Kyle Van Noy. The move possibly cost them one of the litany of defensive backs who went off the board before the team took Lawson with a supplemental pick in the fourth round.

Any of those first three picks could have been used on a secondary player that could have helped.

Of course all of this is hindsight now. Yet the Lions knew this possibility existed because of Houston's past few months. And that possibility became reality Friday -- even if it was somewhat predictable after Houston was excused from mandatory minicamp.

It leaves Detroit either hunting on the free agent wire or sticking with what they have – a group of young cornerbacks that could end up deciding Mayhew's future.

This is a sequence -- between the draft strategy, how's Houston's injury and eventual release was handled -- that should be used to judge Mayhew if Detroit struggles this season.

Mayhew put his faith with a group of young cornerbacks early. With Houston gone, Mayhew will now need them to prove he was right all along.
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Ted Thompson ignored the safety position last year.

He did not make the same mistake again.

A year after the Green Bay Packers general manager watched 22 safeties come off the board in the draft without making a move at the position, Thompson let only one go by before he pounced on Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix at No. 21 in Thursday's first round.

In all, there were four safeties taken in the first round and Thompson had his choice of all but Louisville's Calvin Pryor, who went three picks earlier to the New York Jets.

In taking Clinton-Dix, the 6-foot-1 3/8 junior entrant, Thompson passed on Washington State's Deone Bucannon (who went 27th to the Arizona Cardinals) and Northern Illinois' Jimmie Ward (who went 30th to the San Francisco 49ers).

[+] EnlargeHa Ha Clinton-Dix
AP Photo/Butch DillThe addition of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is sure to boost a Packers safety spot that didn't record an interception last season.
After watching three of their likely defensive targets -- Pryor and inside linebackers Ryan Shazier and C.J. Mosley -- get snatched up, nerves had to be high in the Packers' draft room. Had Clinton-Dix not been there, perhaps Thompson would have gone in a different direction -- another position or a trade down. Or maybe he would have taken one of the other safeties.

Instead, he did not have to change his strategy or make a reach pick.

He handed defensive coordinator Dom Capers and safeties coach Darren Perry the chance to make up for the ills of last season, when the Packers were the only NFL team that did not get a single interception from the safety position.

"We have to be better," Perry said shortly after the Packers made their pick. "We weren't good enough, and that starts right here with me. That starts with our coaching staff, and we recognize that. We don't shy away from that. It's going to be a great challenge, and we will be better, no question in my mind. I'm looking forward to it."

Clinton-Dix should make Perry's job easier. He combined to intercept seven passes in his final two seasons at Alabama, including five as a sophomore when he played more free safety. As a junior, he played a more versatile role that included some strong safety.

"I think he's a real all-purpose kind of safety," Thompson said. "He's shown an ability to cover down in the slot. He's good in [run] support, a physical player. Also can play well in the back end."

The Packers now can move Morgan Burnett, who played mostly strong safety last year, to free safety if they were so inclined. When the Packers drafted Burnett in the third round of the 2010 draft, they raved about his ball skills, having picked off 14 passes in three seasons at Georgia Tech. Burnett has six interceptions in four NFL seasons, but none of them came last year.

"Morgan, he was kind of forced into that role as a strong safety," Perry said. "But I think Morgan has the ability to play both, both of these guys [can], along with the other guys that we have back there. I think the competition is going to be great."

Bears' Day 2 look ahead

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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- With cornerback addressed in Round 1, the Bears can turn their attention on Friday evening to satisfying their other needs on the defensive side of the ball, particularly defensive tackle.

Even though the Bears missed out on Pittsburgh's Aaron Donald (No. 13 to St. Louis), there is expected to be ample talent at defensive tackle available in the second and third rounds for general manager Phil Emery to consider. Remember, the Bears do have some depth on the interior of their defensive line with veterans Jeremiah Ratliff, Stephen Paea and Nate Collins all under contract next season. The Bears aren't necessarily under the gun to find a defensive tackle on Day 2 of the draft that has to start Week 1 next season. Instead, the Bears need to target a young player capable of jumping into the rotation inside in 2014, but who has the potential to grow into a starting role in the future.

Names to consider in the second and third rounds include: Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman, Notre Dame's Louis Nix, Florida State's Timmy Jernigan, Notre Dame's Stephon Tuitt, Penn State's DaQuan Jones, LSU's Ego Ferguson, Arizona State's Will Sutton and Princeton's Caraun Reid.

The outlook appears to be more complicated at safety.

After passing on Louisville's Calvin Pryor (New York Jets, No. 18), Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (Green Bay Packers, No. 21), Washington State's Deone Bucannon (Arizona Cardinals, No. 27) and Northern Illinois' Jimmie Ward (San Francisco 49ers, No. 30) in favor of Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller with the 14th pick, the Bears will find slim pickings at safety on Friday.

Names to monitor are: Florida State's Terrence Brooks, Minnesota's Brock Vereen, Wisconsin's Dezmen Southward, Wyoming's Marqueston Huff, and USC's Dion Bailey.

Or the Bears could look to double-dip at cornerback with the hopes of converting another defensive back to safety.

Lindenwood cornerback Pierre Desir remains on the board after Thursday night. The Bears sent their Director of College Scouting to the 6-foot-1, 198 pound Desir's pro day during the pre-draft process to get a better feel for the Division II standout who intercepted 25 passes during his college career.

Finally, the Bears still need help at inside linebacker where Wisconsin's Chris Borland and Louisville's Preston Brown are possible candidates.
GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Pick: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama.

My take: How long have we been saying the Packers needed to find their next big-play safety? At least since the end of last season, if not earlier. The only NFL team that did not get a single interception from a safety in 2013, the Packers have finally made a move to replace Nick Collins, who hasn't played since his Packers career ended with his neck injury in Week 2 of the 2011 season. Clinton-Dix led Alabama with seven interceptions since the start of the 2012 season, five of which came two seasons ago. Of the four defensive prospects the Packers seemingly had their eye on, Clinton-Dix was the only one available, having watched Louisville safety Calvin Pryor of Louisville go three picks earlier to the New York Jets. Both inside linebackers the Packers might have been interested in -- Ohio State's Ryan Shazier and Alabama's C.J. Mosley -- also were gone. Shazier, who the Packers might have preferred, went No. 15 to the Pittsburgh Steelers, while Mosley went two picks later to the Baltimore Ravens. But at least they weren't left without any of their top defensive choices.

What of Micah Hyde's move to safety?: Throughout the offseason, coach Mike McCarthy has talked about getting Hyde on the field more this season. That has included the possibility that the second-year defensive back would play some safety. Last season, he played almost exclusively in a slot cornerback position in the nickel and dime packages. Casey Hayward is expected to come back from the hamstring injury that limited him to only three games last season and likely will return to his role as the nickel cornerback.

What’s next: The Packers have three picks on Friday -- Nos. 53 (second round), 85 (third round) and 98 (third round) -- and likely will be looking at inside linebacker, receiver and tight end.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- One by one, many of the players the Green Bay Packers likely covet in the first round of this year's draft came off the board in our NFL Nation mock draft on Tuesday.

The top-two safeties -- Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Louisville's Calvin Pryor -- were both gone, taken by NFC North teams no less.

The top-two inside linebackers -- Alabama's C.J. Mosley and Ohio State's Ryan Shazier -- were both gone, with Shazier lasting until the pick right before the Packers.

The top tight end -- North Carolina's Eric Ebron -- was long gone.

Four receivers also were gone.

If that happens on Thursday when things are for real, who knows what Packers general manager Ted Thompson will do?

After fielding two trade offers -- including one from a quarterback-needy team within the division and one from a familiar NFC team that is a possible postseason opponent -- I decided to stick at No. 21 and make the pick.

The primary reason was that Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert was still available even though cornerback is not among the Packers' top needs, although it could be in 2015 if Tramon Williams, who is in the last year of his contract, is done and if Micah Hyde's move to safety becomes full time.

Gilbert also has kick return ability. He had six career kickoff returns for touchdowns in four seasons at Oklahoma State, and the Packers have a need at the return spot.

ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay, in his latest mock draft, has Gilbert moving up the board more than any other player, having jumped from No. 22 to No. 11 in the last week.

Picking at No. 21 is a tough spot, especially if things unfold anywhere near how they did in Tuesday’s mock. As one NFL scout said on Tuesday when presented with the Packers' scenario in the ESPN NFL Nation mock, there are probably only 17 or 18 real first-round picks, and Gilbert is one of them.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The last time the Green Bay Packers had four picks in the first 100 selections of the NFL draft, they came away with two quality starters and two players who never made an impact.

That was 2008, when they drafted receiver Jordy Nelson (No. 36 overall), quarterback Brian Brohm (No. 56), cornerback Pat Lee (No. 60) and tight end Jermichael Finley (No. 91).

General manager Ted Thompson will take a similar haul into this year's draft. With the addition of a third-round compensatory pick, the Packers have pick Nos. 21, 53, 85 and 98 in the first three rounds.

"It's good," Thompson said during his pre-draft news conference this week. "If we could, we'd have more. More is better. It gives you better odds. It wouldn't be any different if it were this year or last year or the year before or that sort of thing."

Can Thompson do better in the top 100 than he did in 2008? Nelson and Finley became major contributors while Brohm flamed out and Lee was only a short-term backup.

On Thursday night, ESPN draft analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay went through the top 100, selecting players for teams as if they were in charge of the draft rooms.

For the Packers, they came away with this:
Kiper and McShay alternated picks, so it worked out that McShay made the Packers' first three selections, while Kiper picked their fourth.

Looking at the first round, the top two safeties were both off the board before the No. 21. Kiper had Louisville's Calvin Pryor at No. 14 to the Chicago Bears and Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix gone two picks later to the Dallas Cowboys.

In picking Mosley, McShay said he had Mosley rated as the 12th-best player on his board and called him a relentless, tough playmaker. What isn't known is how the Packers feel about Mosley from a medical standpoint. There are concerns about a knee injury, which kept him from running at the combine, and other injuries during his college career.

If the Packers don't feel comfortable with Mosley's medical history but still want a linebacker at that spot, they could go with Ohio State's Ryan Shazier. McShay had Shazier at No. 31 to the Denver Broncos.

Nix has been described as a perfect 3-4 nose tackle.

"This is a value pick, as Nix merits late first-round consideration," McShay said. "Between first-rounder C.J. Mosley and Nix, we've now drafted the No. 12 and No. 30 players on my board, respectively, at No. 21 and No. 53."

Vereen and Fiedorowicz would fill clear holes at safety and tight end, respectively. However, waiting until late in the third round to address safety seems a little late considering that might be the Packers' greatest need in this draft.

Analyzing McShay mock: Packers 

April, 24, 2014
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No one knows for sure who Ted Thompson will pick with the 21st selection in next month's NFL draft. Even the Green Bay Packers general manager himself might not know yet.

But put ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay on the clock, and he's ready to make a pick right now. In his latest mock draft , McShay selected who he would pick if at the controls of all 32 teams.

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Pick after pick crawled across the bottom of television screens last April 25, 26 and 27 and those wondering when the Green Bay Packers would draft a safety got their answer when the 254th -- and final -- pick in the 2013 NFL draft was announced.

Three safeties went in the first round, but none to the Packers.

Two more came off the board in Round 2, but neither was a Packers pick.

[+] EnlargeHa Ha Clinton-Dix
AP Photo/Rogelio SolisHa Ha Clinton-Dix may be available to the Packers when they draft in the first round.
Seventeen more were drafted on the third and final day, yet the Packers still had not filled one of their biggest needs.

That's not to say they went into last year's draft wholly convinced that they didn't need help at the position. But when it came time to exercise each of his selections, there wasn't a safety sitting there that intrigued general manager Ted Thompson enough to make that call.

Thompson liked a few of the safeties in the draft, but the ones he was sold on were either already off the board or would have been a reach at the time of his pick.

So here are the Packers, nearly a year later, and Thompson still has not put pen to paper on a contract for a new safety of any consequence. (And no, street free agent Chris Banjo does not count.)

That has to change next month, when Thompson will take nine selections into the May 8-10 NFL draft, doesn't it?

If Thompson fails to land one of the top, say, five or six safeties in this draft -- be it Ha Ha Clinton-Dix of Alabama or Calvin Pryor of Louisville, both of who are locks to go in the first round; or possible second- and third-round picks like Jimmie Ward of Northern Illinois, Deone Bucannon of Washington State or Terrence Brooks of Florida State -- then he will be handcuffing defensive coordinator Dom Capers in much the same fashion he did last season.

Last summer, Capers and coach Mike McCarthy opened the competition at free safety to a pair of second-year players, Jerron McMillian (a 2012 fourth-round round pick) and M.D. Jennings (an undrafted free agent the same year). It was a close competition, more so because neither one stood out, and when strong safety Morgan Burnett was unavailable for the season opener because of a hamstring injury, that duo started Week 1 at the two safety spots.

The Packers thought so little of their performances that they cut McMillian late last season and did not even bother this offseason to offer Jennings a restricted free agent tender, which would not have cost them any guaranteed money.

"Obviously we didn't get the production that we wanted from that [free safety] position," safeties coach Darren Perry said this offseason.

To be sure, the Packers need Burnett to show that Thompson wasn't misguided when he signed him to a four-year, $24.75 million contract last summer.

"I think he's fully capable of doing it," McCarthy said this offseason. "Morgan's going to do everything he can. He needs to be more assertive in play-making opportunities."

In order for Burnett to flourish, he can't be worried about the player lined up next to him. That player was supposed to be Nick Collins, the three-time Pro Bowl safety whose career was cut short in 2011 by a neck injury. At age 30, he still would have been in the prime of his career last season.

If the Packers don't find another Collins, they must at least come close.

Since the team's resurgence in the early 1990s, they have enjoyed a strong group of safeties -- from LeRoy Butler to Darren Sharper to Collins; all were Pro Bowl selections during their time in Green Bay.

The dynamic of the position has changed in recent years. Whereas Butler was a fierce hitter, today's safeties are judged just as much on speed and ball skills as anything else. What NFL teams need now are safeties than can cover chunks of yardage in milliseconds and knock passes away or, better yet, intercept them. The Packers were the only team in the NFL last season that didn't get a single interception from a safety.

"The intimidator isn't necessarily needed anymore," ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. said. "The big hitters, you don't need that."

Kiper doesn't believe Clinton-Dix will be around when the Packers come up at No. 21 in the first round, but Pryor very well could be available.

Even if Pryor is gone or Thompson passes on him, he will have other options, says Kiper.

"Jimmy Ward from Northern Illinois you could make an argument is the best cover safety in the draft," Kiper said. "He's coming off the [foot] injury but he had a very good career, has great ball skills, real good hands for the interception. And Ward is a decent tackler, but he doesn't have tremendous size [5-foot-11, 193 pounds].

"The days of that big, intimidating safety are just about over. Terrence Brooks from Florida State would fill that void at that point as a safety that could come in and help you right away."

No matter what Thompson does in the draft, Capers and McCarthy plan to work cornerback Micah Hyde at safety this offseason. Perhaps the fifth-round pick out of Iowa last year will be the full-time answer; he certainly showed enough as a rookie to warrant more than the 39.4 percent playing time he got last year. But if the Packers think Hyde can allow them to concentrate on other areas of need in the draft, they'd better be right.

Analyzing McShay mock 4.0: Lions 

April, 10, 2014
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The Detroit Lions are in the midst of a somewhat public lovefest with Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins -- a player they would certainly have to trade up for to acquire.

But until they make that trade -- if they make that trade -- the best we can project is what Detroit will do if the team stays at No. 10. And considering the Lions are not in need of a quarterback (or an offensive tackle, really), they have a bunch of options.


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Analyzing McShay mock 4.0: Packers 

April, 10, 2014
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The Green Bay Packers' greatest needs would seemingly be on the defensive side of the ball.

Even with the addition of pass-rusher Julius Peppers, they likely need to upgrade a few more spots in order improve on its 25th overall ranking last season. With that in mind, it might come as a surprise that in ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay's latest mock draft , version 4.0, he has the Packers taking offensive players not only with their first-round pick but also with their second.


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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The addition of the 34-year-old Julius Peppers might be a short-term fix for the Green Bay Packers' defense.

Peppers
But when it comes to next month's NFL draft, the Packers' most significant free-agent signing since Charles Woodson in 2006 allows general manager Ted Thompson more flexibility with his early-round selections.

So says ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr.

"I think it does," Kiper said. "It gives them that hole filler and that pass-rusher that you need."

Even if Peppers is only a one- or two-year player, it gives the Packers the ability to address other areas of need, especially on defense.

"I think safety, tight end, inside linebacker are positions they could address and could end up falling their way and could fill those major needs," Kiper said.

Let's start with safety, a position the Packers have largely ignored over the past year. They're looking for a playmaker to fill a crater-sized hole at free safety. Two players who started at safety last season, M.D. Jennings and Jerron McMillian, aren't even on the roster anymore. The Packers let Jennings walk as a restricted free agent and cut McMillian before last season ended.

Kiper believes one of the consensus top-two safeties in the draft could be available to Thompson when the Packers pick at No. 21.

"You look at Calvin Pryor from Louisville; I don't think [Alabama’s Ha Ha] Clinton-Dix will be there, but Calvin Pryor could and he's a heck of a football player," Kiper said.

While Kiper said he doesn't think the top tight end, Eric Ebron of North Carolina, will be there when the Packers pick, it's possible the top inside linebacker, C.J. Mosley of Alabama, will be there.

"You can make an argument he'll go a little earlier," Kiper said of Mosley. "If Mosley and Pryor are there, those would be two guys that fill areas of need and are good football players."
James Ihedigbo isn't the flashiest player and he might not have been the best safety available when free agency began, but the Detroit Lions focused early on him.

And it would appear they did so with familiarity in mind.

Ihedigbo
When coaches take new jobs, there seems to be a comfort in bringing in players they already know and who they believe can fit their system. That makes a lot of sense, especially in the case of Detroit, where both offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin are running NFL schemes on their own for the first time.

In Austin's case, he coached Ihedigbo the past two seasons in Baltimore, so he knows what the safety can and can't do. Perhaps they view him as a strong pairing with Glover Quin, whom the team signed last offseason and may have been a better free-agent acquisition for Detroit than the more-heralded Reggie Bush.

The Lions made a smart pairing at safety when they signed Ihedigbo. Quin was the 10th-best coverage safety in the NFL last season according to Pro Football Focus -- one spot ahead of his now-former teammate, Louis Delmas. Neither, though, ranked in the top 50 against the run.

Ihedigbo, meanwhile, was second among safeties against the run last season according to PFF, so the team might have put together a stronger complementary pair than what they had a season ago.

But signing Ihedigbo shouldn’t deter Detroit from going after a safety potentially early in May’s NFL draft. This signing, in some ways, feels like a stop-gap -- a chance to win immediately with an established, experienced player who will know what Austin expects.

But Ihedigbo will turn 31 in December, and while he hasn’t been a starter for a lot of seasons, the body often begins to slow down from the elite levels needed after 30. So the Lions would be wise to search for Ihedigbo's eventual replacement almost as soon as he steps foot inside the Allen Park, Mich., facilities as a Lions player for the first time.

This could mean investigating safeties early -- the team has already brought in former Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix for a visit and went to check out Louisville's Calvin Pryor at his pro day -- and possibly taking one with the intention of that player learning for a season before starting.

Usually, that doesn’t happen with the No. 10 pick in the draft. But Detroit is filling its win-now needs during free agency, so it might be able to afford taking depth for the future -- whether it's in the defensive backfield, at wide receiver or at defensive tackle.

This, of course, is what good teams in the NFL do and something the Lions haven’t had the luxury or ability to do in years past. Signing Ihedigbo shouldn’t keep them from looking to do that, especially at a position where the team has needed help for years.
DETROIT – Over the past week, the Detroit Lions draft needs have changed a little bit.

The team brought in Golden Tate to be the No. 2 receiver and re-signed Brandon Pettigrew as the team's tight end. While the signings don't mean those needs have evaporated for Detroit – the Lions need receivers still and could use a stretch-the-field tight end – it made both of those spots less important to draft in the first round.

It also gives Detroit some flexibility, as does not have to draft a quarterback.

The Lions would potentially consider trading up in May's draft or dropping back from the No. 10 slot in the first round. Team president Tom Lewand and general manager Martin Mayhew recognize that every option needs to be available.

"It always sounds good on paper to trade up or trade back. The old adage is it takes two to tango and sometimes opportunities present themselves for trades on draft day or outside of draft day and sometimes they don't," Lewand said Monday night at the MGM Grand in Detroit. "Our position is we always have to be ready to improve our team in whatever way is possible.

"Sometimes we search those things out and they don't materialize and sometimes they are presented to us and we take advantage of them. We have to be ready, no matter what the opportunity is, if there's a chance to improve the defense by trading up or trading back, we'll look at that and if it makes sense, we'll do it."

May's draft offers some intriguing opportunities there. But who would be worth the Lions making a move from No. 10 -- either up or back -- for? That depends somewhat on how the draft falls and somewhat how the Lions final board ends up being set up.

This also focuses mostly on defense.

WORTH MOVING UP:

Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson: Watkins is the top receiver in the draft and the only offensive player that would be worth making a move higher into the Top 10 for, although even then, it would be questionable how much Detroit should be willing to give up for him. Watkins is a special talent, but having grabbed Tate in free agency, that alleviated receiver from being the No. 1 need. But if Watkins ends up still on the board at No. 8, it might be worth exploring jumping over Buffalo to ensure Detroit grabs him.

Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina: Just putting him here in case the inexplicable happens and he drops beyond the third or fourth pick. If he does, the Lions should trade whatever possible to go and select him. But it would be very, very, very unlikely to happen.

Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo: Mack may be the best non-Clowney defensive prospect in the draft and for a little while, it appeared he might end up falling to No. 10. If he did, Mack would almost be a no-brainer selection for Detroit as long as Watkins was no longer available. If Detroit determines Mack is the best player in the draft, it could be worth investigating a move higher for a linebacker that could end up being an All-Pro.

STAY PUT IF THIS PLAYER IS HERE:

[+] EnlargeAnthony Barr
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsThe Lions should address their needs on defense by taking linebacker Anthony Barr in the first round.
Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA: The Lions are clearly intrigued by Barr, who has extreme athleticism and could improve a good but not great linebacker group immediately. Mayhew was out at his Pro Day to watch him perform. His speed/size/frame combination makes him extremely intriguing.

Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M/Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina: They are both options for Detroit at this spot, but both positions are deep in this draft and are no longer massively pressing needs due to the signings at the top. But if Mayhew and Lewand wanted to go offense, these would be two likely targets.

IF THIS IS THE TARGET, TRADE DOWN AND TAKE A CHANCE:

There are teams below Detroit with needs and other than the defensive backfield, there is not a major pressing need for the Lions in the first round. So the Lions could make a smart play depending who is available and who is interested and try to trade down to stockpile picks in a deep draft. These four potential targets could merit a trade down.

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama: He has already come in for a visit with the Lions and is one of the top safeties in the draft. He is rated as the No. 16 overall player and has long, rangy arms. He'll almost definitely be available at No. 10, but if the Lions covet him, they could probably drop down a few places and still nab him.

Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville: Similar situation to Clinton-Dix. He's a little bit shorter than his Alabama counterpart at 5-foot-11, but he was listed as 6-foot-2 in college. He's rated one spot ahead of Clinton-Dix as the No. 15 overall player and should be available at No. 10, too. For either safety, Detroit could probably trade down as low as No. 14 or No. 15 and still be able to take either player.

Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State/Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State: The top two cornerbacks in the draft are both of first round value and should almost definitely be available when Detroit is picking. If the team decides corner is the area they want to go in the first round, they could drop a couple of places and select one of these players.

IF PICKING TODAY, I'D TAKE:

Barr. Offense may be sexy, but the Lions need to focus on and improve their defense from back to front. They have two strong running backs, two dynamic wide receivers and can add in the draft. But to find an impact starter in the first round, Detroit would benefit from going defense with its first pick and Barr could be the best available. (Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press agreed with this earlier this week)

Analyzing Kiper 3.0: Packers

March, 13, 2014
3/13/14
2:00
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A month ago, it looked like there was little to no chance the Green Bay Packers would have a shot at Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley at No. 21 in the first round of the draft.

In fact, in his Mock Draft 2.0, Mel Kiper Jr. predicted Mosley would go to the New York Giants at No. 12.

That was before issues arose about Mosley's health. However, he said recently at Alabama's pro day that he has repeatedly checked out fine.

Nevertheless, Kiper has dropped Mosley significantly in his Mock Draft 3.0, which was released Thursday. Kiper believes that if Mosley is indeed available to the Packers at No. 21, they will take him.

His range and ability to cover and tackle would appear to be a good fit for the Packers, who need to upgrade their inside linebacker productivity. While A.J. Hawk had perhaps his best season, the Packers were disappointed with what they got out of Brad Jones at the other inside spot.

Kiper wrote: "... while I know depth on the defensive line is a concern, Mosley is a great value at this point and is a player who can step in right away at inside linebacker and improve the unit. His ability in coverage from the linebacker position surpasses that of anybody in this draft, and if he can stay healthy, he's going to be an impact player early on."

It's interesting to note that Kiper has Louisville safety Calvin Pryor going one spot after the Packers pick, at No. 22 to the Philadelphia Eagles. Perhaps the Packers' greatest need is at safety.

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