NFC North: D.J. Fluker

Underrated tackles held up well

September, 12, 2013
9/12/13
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Whatever angst the Green Bay Packers had about their starting tackles should have been eased somewhat after their performance in Sunday’s season opener at San Francisco.

Although it wasn’t a flawless performance and there were issues in the running game, rookie left tackle David Bakhtiari and second-year right tackle Don Barclay held up well, especially considering their pedigree.

Bakhtiari was at least partially responsible for both of Aldon Smith's sacks, but otherwise was solid in his debut. Meanwhile, Barclay, in just his seventh career start, showed significant improvement over last season.

A study of all 64 opening-day tackles showed that the Packers trotted out one of the most unheralded combinations in the league. Bakhtiari was a fourth-round pick, while Barclay was undrafted.

Only two other teams had both of their Week 1 starting tackles taken in the fourth round of the draft or lower. They were: the Chicago Bears (Jermon Bushrod, fourth round; Jordan Mills, fifth round), and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Demar Dotson, undrafted; Donald Penn, undrafted).

Based on Week 1 starting lineups, 28 of the 64 starting tackles were first-round picks. Another 13 were drafted in the second round. That accounts for 64.0 percent of the opening-day starting tackles. Only 15 were drafted in the fifth round or later (or were undrafted).

“I know that when you get players that are doing a good job, that’s a tribute to them, not where they were picked,” Packers offensive line coach James Campen said. “It doesn’t matter to me where they were picked as long as they can play.”

Bakhtiari was one of only six rookies who started at tackle in Week 1. Four of them -- Eric Fisher of the Kansas City Chiefs, Luke Joeckel of the Jacksonville Jaguars, D.J. Fluker of the San Diego Chargers and Justin Pugh of the New York Giants -- were first-round picks. Of the six, only the Bears’ Mills was drafted lower than Bakhtiari.

Of course, the Packers didn’t envision a Bakhtiari-Barclay starting tackle combination. Like many teams in the NFL, they used high draft picks on tackles. In 2010, they took Bryan Bulaga at No. 23 overall. A year later, they picked Derek Sherrod at No. 32. Together, they were supposed to be the starting tackle combination for the foreseeable future. But Sherrod still hasn’t recovered from the broken leg he suffered as a rookie and remains on the physically unable to perform list, and Bulaga was lost for the season to a knee injury on Aug. 5.

Tackles are often the key to pass protection, and other than Smith’s two sacks, one of which came when Bakhtiari whiffed on a cut block, the Packers kept Aaron Rodgers fairly clean against the 49ers. The running game, however, was another story. The Packers had only 63 yards rushing against the 49ers.

“Didn’t notice them that much, so that was good,” Packers offensive coordinator Tom Clements said of the starting tackles. “They both played well. They got after it, and they were playing against excellent players, and they moved their front four around at times to get different defenders on them, and they reacted well.”
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

What's the ideal first-round scenario for each team?

Chicago Bears: There are a number of hopeful scenarios for the Bears, but we've got to keep it reasonable. The Bears would no doubt be thrilled if one of the draft's top guards, Alabama's Chance Warmack or North Carolina's Jonathan Cooper, fell to them at No. 20. That doesn't seem likely, however, based on the current thinking of media analysts. Others might like to see Alabama right tackle D.J. Fluker available, but the Bears aren't desperate at the tackle position. The most ideal but reasonable scenario is Georgia middle linebacker Alec Ogletree falling to No. 20 because of off-field issues. Ogletree could be an immediate and long-term replacement for the departed Brian Urlacher, allowing the Bears to use D.J. Williams perhaps at the strong-side position.

Detroit Lions: We've discussed a scenario in which the draft's top two left tackles (Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel and Central Michigan's Eric Fisher), its top cornerback (Alabama's Dee Milliner) and arguably its most intriguing defensive end (BYU's Ezekiel Ansah) are all off the board at No. 5. So if the draft gods are looking kindly upon the Lions, they'll give them a choice of two of those players. There's no telling whom the Lions would pick, but Milliner or either of the left tackles would give them a good shot at having a really good anchor player for the next decade.

Green Bay Packers: I don't know how likely it is, but the Packers would no doubt love to see one of the draft's top defensive tackles make his way to their spot at No. 26 overall. Could that be Missouri's Sheldon Richardson? North Carolina's Sylvester Williams? Both players are natural interior disruptors, although Richardson might be on the smaller side for a 3-4 defense and could fit best as a 4-3 under tackle. There is little doubt that the Packers want to enhance their defensive line in this draft.

Minnesota Vikings: There are plenty of options for a team with two first-round picks, including trading up to get a coveted player or trading back to pile up second-round options. But here's an ideal scenario if the Vikings stay put: They draft a receiver with one pick, perhaps Tennessee's Cordarrelle Patterson or Cal's Keenan Allen, and a cornerback with the other. Houston cornerback D.J. Hayden has gotten a lot of publicity lately, but his value in the first round remains publicly uncertain. The Vikings have need at defensive tackle and middle linebacker as well, but those positions might be more heavily stocked later in the draft.

Sport Science: D.J. Fluker

April, 1, 2013
4/01/13
5:15
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video
At the NFL scouting combine, the Chicago Bears were said to be interested in Alabama right tackle D.J. Fluker. Then they went and signed left tackle Jermon Bushrod on the first day of free agency, sliding J'Marcus Webb into a competition with Gabe Carimi and Jonathan Scott at right tackle.

So does that mean Fluker is no longer a candidate to be the Bears' top pick (No. 20 overall)? Go back and read those names and tell me if you think the Bears should be satisfied. Or watch this fun video Fluker did with ESPN's Sport Science, which among other things demonstrates his power against bull rushes.

DraftWatch: Mel Kiper Jr. mock 3.0

March, 12, 2013
3/12/13
10:42
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Amid the unpredictability of NFL free agency we have at least one paragon of stability: ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr.'s latest mock draft Insider. It is an Insider piece, of course, but I thought I would sneak you his choices for NFC North teams before they could be outdated by free-agent activity.

5. Detroit Lions
Kiper pick: BYU defensive end Ezekiel Ansah
Seifert comment: This pick has been gaining media steam but leaves unanswered the question of whether Ansah could excel right away. The Lions have said they need an immediate contributor with this pick.

20. Chicago Bears
Kiper pick: Alabama offensive lineman D.J. Fluker
Seifert comment: This pick would make sense on many levels but might not be necessary depending on what the Bears do in free agency. Because he is projected as a right tackle, Fluker figures to be available at this point in the first round.

23. Minnesota Vikings
Kiper pick: Cal receiver Keenan Allen
Seifert comment: The receiver position will be a big need for the Vikings even after free agency. They've cleaned house and need a total rebuild with a combination of veterans and rookies. Allen is big enough (6-foot-2) to be a legitimate downfield threat.

25. Vikings
Kiper pick: North Carolina defensive tackle Sylvester Williams
Seifert comment: The Vikings added this pick in exchange for Percy Harvin. One way or the other, they'll need to add some youth to a defensive line that includes three starters who are at least 30 years old.

26. Green Bay Packers
Kiper pick: Alabama running back Eddie Lacy
Seifert comment: Are the Packers really ready to spend a first-round draft pick on a running back? Media analysts seem to think so. It would be a departure from general manager Ted Thompson's recent history, for sure.

Todd McShay mock 3.0: NFC North

March, 6, 2013
3/06/13
12:55
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Let's take an NFC North-centric look at Todd McShay's latest mock draft for ESPN.com:

5. Detroit Lions
McShay pick: BYU defensive end Ezekiel Ansah
Seifert comment: We've discussed how intriguing a prospect Ansah has already proven to be. He might not have immediate impact, which the Lions have said they want. But Ansah could eventually thrive as an edge rusher in the Lions' defensive scheme. In this mock, Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner is already off the board.

20. Chicago Bears
McShay pick: Tennessee receiver Cordarrelle Patterson
Seifert comment: The Bears want a speedy receiver but it would be difficult to call it a primary need. McShay considers Patterson one of the draft's top playmakers, however, and chose him over Alabama offensive tackle D.J. Fluker, among others. We'll see.

23. Minnesota Vikings
McShay pick: North Carolina defensive tackle Sylvester Williams
Seifert comment: General manager Rick Spielman considers this draft deep for interior defensive linemen, and the Vikings have a need there as Kevin Williams ages.

26. Green Bay Packers
McShay pick: Georgia defensive tackle John Jenkins
Seifert comment: Jenkins is a classic 3-4 nose tackle at 346 pounds. The Packers want to strengthen their defensive line, especially against the run. Jenkins would help.

Ranking top tackles post-combine

February, 27, 2013
2/27/13
1:55
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The ESPN.com/Scouts Inc. team of draft analysts has begun reconciling its draft rankings with combine observations, leading to a number of Insider posts I wanted to bring to your attention.

The first is Mel Kiper's latest Big Board Insider, which ranks prospects without regard to where teams are choosing. Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones remains atop the list, but from an NFC North perspective, it's worth noting that Central Michigan's Eric Fisher is now Kiper's top offensive tackle -- and his No. 3 overall prospect.

The Detroit Lions, Chicago Bears and perhaps the Green Bay Packers could all be in the market for tackles in the first round of this draft. To that end, I'll pass along Kiper's updated list of the top five tackles in the draft Insider. I'll try to slip you a few more positions in the coming days.
  1. Fisher
  2. Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel
  3. Oklahoma's Lane Johnson
  4. Alabama's D.J. Fluker
  5. Stanford's Justin Pugh

For those Lions fans with their hearts set on Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner at No. 5, I can tell you that Kiper ranks him as the No. 6 overall prospect.

Watching offensive linemen sprint!!*

February, 23, 2013
2/23/13
12:15
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INDIANAPOLIS -- If you're interested in seeing the Chicago Bears select an offensive lineman in the first round of the draft, chances are you've been glued to Saturday's workouts at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Johnson
I'm not sure if what we're seeing will change anything about the top of the offensive tackle class. With any luck, none of these linemen will run another 40-yard dash in their football lives.

But it's worth noting that Oklahoma's Lane Johnson, ranked the third-best tackle and a first-round talent by Scouts Inc., ran the 40 in 4.72 seconds -- a testament to his athletic ability if nothing else. With 35 1/4-inch arms and 10 1/8-inch hands, Johnson has all of the physical measurables that NFL scouts like to see.

The fastest 40 time for an offensive lineman belongs to Terron Armstead of Arkansas-Pine Bluff, who ran a 4.71, crushing the combine record for a lineman. For what it's worth, the previous mark was set by former Green Bay Packers lineman Allen Barbre, who ran a 4.84 in 2007 but flopped as a starter in 2009.

Both Armstead and Johnson did fine on their bench press as well; Johnson managed 32 reps of 225 pounds and Armstead had 31.

The top two tackles entering the combine, according to Scouts Inc., were Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel and Central Michigan's Eric Fisher. Neither hurt themselves with their workouts. I'm not sure if we can say the same about Alabama's D.J. Fluker, who managed only 21 reps on the bench press.

*This post has been updated with official times.

This, my friends, is big. It doesn't get a whole lot bigger during the first full week of February to get a double dose of mock drafts.

That's what we have on this fine Thursday: Mock drafts 2.0 from ESPN analysts Mel Kiper Jr. Insider and Todd McShay Insider. You need an Insider subscription to access the full posts, but as always I'm willing to sneak you the NFC North portions as long as no one tells on me.

5. Detroit Lions
Kiper: Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones
McShay: Oregon defensive end Dion Jordan
Seifert comment: The Lions are going to have plenty of starting positions to fill on defense after the release of defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch, the likely departure of defensive end Cliff Avril and other possible departures. To me, the best 4-3 defensive end available makes the most sense at No. 5.

20. Chicago Bears
Kiper: Alabama offensive tackle D.J. Fluker
McShay: Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o
Seifert comment: Te'o was the best linebacker in the country for most of 2012. Will last month's bizarre revelations push his draft stock down? Who knows. But the Bears obviously have a need for a long-term replacement for middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, a pending free agent.

23. Minnesota Vikings
Kiper: North Carolina defensive tackle Sylvester Williams
McShay: Connecticut cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson
Seifert comment: A lot of you would like to see the Vikings draft a receiver here, but that could be contingent on free agency. Defensive tackle and cornerback are also key positions of need.

26. Green Bay Packers
Kiper: Alabama running back Eddie Lacy
McShay: Georgia defensive tackle Johnathan Jenkins
Seifert comment: I'll be interested to see how much public momentum builds for the Packers to draft a running back. General manager Ted Thompson has drafted two running backs in the first three rounds during his tenure, and neither Brandon Jackson (2007) nor Alex Green (2011) have had the impact the Packers hoped for.
Earlier this week, we brought you a quick look at Mel Kiper Jr.'s top 2013 draft prospects. Taking it to another level, ESPN analyst Todd McShay has posted the first official 2013 mock draft Insider.

McShay acknowledges one of many obvious pitfalls here: We have no clue what the 2013 draft order will be. So to me, the best way to look at this exercise is to consider it an early rendering of McShay's top 2013 prospects now that schools have wrapped up spring practices.

You need an Insider subscription to see the complete file. I'll give you a glimpse at McShay's top five prospects based on their appearance in this draft, a list that is especially helpful because it doesn't include any of the quarterbacks -- USC Matt Barkley, Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas and Oklahoma's Landry Jones -- who figure to push their way up this list in the coming months.

So consider this list the best five non-quarterback prospects with 11 months remaining before they could be drafted:
  1. Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei
  2. Wisconsin offensive tackle Ricky Wagner
  3. Texas defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat*
  4. USC receiver Robert Woods*
  5. Alabama offensive tackle D.J. Fluker

*Underclassman who would need to declare for the draft

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