NFC North: Dee Milliner

Nelson's big day powers Packers again

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
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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.
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Right tackle Bryan Bulaga is no better than a 50-50 bet to play in Sunday's game against the New York Jets and still has to show Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy that he can go the distance in practice.

For that reason, plus some soreness in his left knee, Bulaga was listed as questionable on Friday's injury report. The Packers do not practice on Fridays anymore but will hold a short practice on Saturday. If there's a change to a player's status, the team will update that on Saturday.

Bulaga
"I think he needs to go out and be able to do the move-the-ball segment and show that he can go through and sustain a drive," McCarthy said Friday. "[That] would be usually what you’re looking for when you have someone coming off that type of injury."

If Bulaga can't go, Derek Sherrod, who struggled in his relief assignment last week against Seattle, would make his first career start.

The only player ruled out against the Jets was starting inside linebacker Brad Jones, who has a quadriceps injury and is coming off a poor showing. Jamari Lattimore, who started four games last season, is expected to start in Jones' place.

As expected, running back Eddie Lacy (concussion) was listed as probable after he was fully cleared on Thursday.

For information on the Jets’ injury situation, including the status of cornerback Dee Milliner, click here.

Here's the Packers' full injury report:

Out
LB Brad Jones (quadriceps)

Questionable
RT Bryan Bulaga (knee)

Probable
TE Brandon Bostick (fibula)
CB Demetri Goodson (concussion)
RB Eddie Lacy (concussion)

Camp Confidential: Detroit Lions

August, 12, 2013
8/12/13
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ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions opened training camp expressing unprecedented confidence in the direction of their program, and, if anything, their steam has picked up since then. A relatively injury-free camp, the obvious impact of multiple newcomers and a rousing victory in the first week of the preseason have the Lions and many of their fans convinced they will bounce back from last season's 4-12 record.

"We're every bit as optimistic now as we were then," coach Jim Schwartz said late last week, "and probably more so -- particularly with some of our rookies and younger players. Now, we're saying that two weeks into camp, before we've even played a preseason game. The tale of the tape is going to be consistency over the course of time. But certainly our stance hasn't changed."

Importantly, that optimism isn't based solely on anticipation of another year of development between quarterback Matthew Stafford and receiver Calvin Johnson. It's a nod toward the early returns on the fit with tailback Reggie Bush. There is relief that receivers Nate Burleson and Ryan Broyles, who both suffered significant leg injuries last season, have returned healthy.

There's more. Defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley were unblockable during the practices I watched last week. Rookie defensive end Ziggy Ansah returned an interception for a touchdown in the first quarter of his first NFL game action. New safety Glover Quin's leadership is notable, and rookie punter Sam Martin has been perhaps the most impressive newcomer of all.

The good vibes, and presumed results, come at a crucial time for the franchise. The Lions are entering their fifth season under Schwartz and general manager Martin Mayhew, and there might not be a sixth if this team misses the playoffs.

"I'm a vet," Burleson said. "I've been at this 11 years. I'm trying to get everyone to understand that if we don't do what we need to do, these name plates above these lockers, this furniture, [everything] is going to be shipped up out of here -- including myself. So I've got to be productive, and everybody has to have the mindset that the time is now, so in order for us to do something special and bring something special to this city, we're going to have to win."

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeRiley Reiff
AP Photo/Paul SancyaThe Lions are counting on Riley Reiff to protect Matt Stafford's blind side.
1. Offensive line transition: The Lions will have three new starters on the line, and here's the good news: The player in the most important position appears to be making a smooth transition. Riley Reiff, the Lions' first-round draft pick in 2012, has replaced retired left tackle Jeff Backus, and he held his own against the Lions' talented defensive line during my training camp visit last week.

Reiff bulked up this offseason after spending his rookie year in a quasi-tight end role. He might be the most soft-spoken player in the Lions' otherwise-boisterous locker room -- when I asked him about the job, he shrugged his shoulders and said, "They asked me to play left tackle so I'm playing left tackle" -- but he more than passed the eyeball test as a credible left tackle.

The same can't be said, at least not yet, about the wide-open jobs on the right side of the line. The Lions are rotating two players at right tackle and up to four at right guard, and no clear leaders had emerged by the weekend. (It was notable, however, that the Lions played rookie right guard Larry Warford for three-quarters of Friday night's game against the New York Jets.) In this case, time will tell.

2. Stafford's next step: He failed to build on his breakout 2011 season in 2012, but in the big picture, Stafford is an experienced starter who has thrown for 10,005 yards in two seasons and who, at 25, still has plenty of room to grow.

That status, however, has generated rare expectations for a Lions quarterback, leading to training camp reports of missed passes and microanalyses of mechanics in a space once reserved for delineating various levels of incompetence. The franchise endorsed his progress with a contract extension that in essence locks him in for another three years at the helm, but the football world is waiting anxiously to see whether Stafford can elevate his career to an elite level.

My time at Lions camp suggested he is aware of but unaffected by those expectations. I saw no worrisome incompletions, no signs of malaise and an important sense of context as voiced by Schwartz.

"You don't [want to] take him for granted," Schwartz said. "We have a couple of guys new to our organization that come out to practice, and that's one of the first things that they want to say is, 'Holy mackerel, did you see the throw he made here?' It's a little bit like Calvin. You watch him a lot, and you forget how big he is and the plays he made."

3. Special-teams overhaul: Lost in the Lions' busy offseason was a near-total reconstruction of their special teams. New coordinator John Bonamego has welcomed newcomers at place-kicker (likely David Akers), punter (likely Martin) and returner (a wide-open competition to replace Stefan Logan). The Lions also signed longtime special-teams ace Montell Owens to anchor their coverage units.

Akers is working on a limited regimen after an injury-plagued season with the San Francisco 49ers, but he appears healthy and will benefit from both indoor home games and Martin's strong kickoff skills. Martin has been booming punts throughout camp, and his three touchbacks (in as many attempts) in the preseason opener suggest the Lions might have found a long-term answer at the position.

The return game is unsettled and probably dependent on bottom-of-the-roster decisions at other positions. Undrafted rookie Steven Miller has demonstrated elite quickness while getting the majority of reps in training camp, but can the Lions squeeze a return specialist onto their roster? His minimal action as a returner in the preseason opener makes you wonder whether he is a candidate for the practice squad.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

Of all the factors I rattled off earlier this post, the most significant might be the attention the Lions placed on their defense this offseason. You're doing pretty well if the worst thing you can say is that the strongside linebacker position is unsettled, especially when you realize that whoever wins the job will come off the field in nickel situations, anyway.

[+] EnlargeGlover Quin
AP Photo/Paul SancyaThe Lions believe Glover Quin can provide steady leadership as well as solidify the secondary.
The Lions invested heavily at defensive end (drafting Ansah and Devin Taylor, signing Jason Jones and Israel Idonije), cornerback (re-signing Chris Houston, drafting Darius Slay) and safety (re-signing Louis Delmas and acquiring Quin). After two weeks of camp, Stafford said, "This is probably the most talented secondary we've had since I've been here," and Schwartz was lauding the leadership Quin will provide.

"A lot was made a few years back when we signed Kyle Vanden Bosch and Nate Burleson," Schwartz said, "and the difference that they made on the team was a big part of us making it to the playoffs [the] next year. I think the same thing, when it's all said and done, will be said about Quin because he brings that same kind of leadership, that same sort of professionalism."

We all expect the Lions' offense to score this season. If their defense can keep pace, as it appears it is equipped to do, the Lions will be a playoff team.

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

Schwartz said "there is no doubt" that the Lions have enough good pieces to make up a competent offensive line. But on the list of potential problem spots that could derail their season, the Lions' offensive line sits most prominently. If you believe in the law of averages, you wonder whether any team could come up with three good starters in one offseason, as the Lions are hoping to accomplish.

Warford has his work cut out to win the right guard job, as many have assumed he would. (The Lions got him 53 snaps in the preseason opener to accelerate that process.) Many have considered Jason Fox the favorite to win the right tackle job, but competitor Corey Hilliard got the first start of the preseason.

It's too early to judge the outcome of this overhaul, but there is no doubting the challenge it entails and the ramifications if it falls short.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • Excitement about the Bush acquisition has centered around his receiving skills and ability to break long runs. But you'll have to trust me on this: The Lions are just as intrigued by his ability to run between the tackles. There will be just as many opportunities for that kind of yardage in a Calvin Johnson offense as there will be anywhere else. "The things that Jahvid [Best] was able to do for us, when he got outside of the tackles, Reggie can do those things," Johnson said. "But Reggie can run inside the tackles as well. He's a good overall back."
  • Along those lines, the Lions also are trying to identify a change-of-pace back behind Bush, and my sense is that they're past the point of giving Mikel Leshoure an inherent advantage over Joique Bell because of his pedigree as a second-round draft pick. If Leshoure isn't any more explosive than he was last season -- and I didn't see any evidence of that at camp -- there is a real opportunity for Bell to win the job.
  • One of the more intriguing prospects in camp is rookie running back Theo Riddick, who has a relatively similar skill set as Bush. He is quick, a good receiver, smart in the open field and in contention for a kick return job. And like Bush, he isn't afraid to bust it inside the tackles, either.
  • Another interesting prospect who has gotten plenty of attention is 6-foot-7 tight end Joseph Fauria. He can get to balls no one else on the field can reach, with the exception of Johnson when he leaps, and he is a natural receiver. It will be really tough for him to be a good blocker with his lean build, but the Lions need him to be just good enough. I sensed real optimism that he can qualify for that modest expectation.
  • Players such as Riddick, Fauria, tight end Michael Williams and others will give the Lions some interesting roster decisions. You wonder whether they will find some room by deciding against having a No. 3 quarterback on their roster. Kellen Moore looks improved and Thaddeus Lewis is intriguing, but the only real reason to keep one of them is if he is projected to someday succeed No. 2 quarterback Shaun Hill. Otherwise, that roster spot might be more valuable elsewhere. "It's about talent and about having a plan for guys," Schwartz said. "We're flexible, and that's not just at quarterback. That's all positions."
  • Receiver Patrick Edwards has gotten plenty of work with the first team in camp and has the unwavering support of Burleson, who said: "In my eyes, he is going to be the surprise player that changes games this year." But Edwards didn't show much in 29 snaps Friday night, going without a catch amid two targets. He got a step on Jets rookie cornerback Dee Milliner in the end zone, but Milliner out-jumped him to knock away Stafford's pass. At some point, Edwards will need to demonstrate some game production if he is going to be in the Lions' receiver rotation.
  • Delmas (knees) has worked in a little less than half of the Lions' practices and did not suit up for the preseason opener, but the Lions remain confident his limited schedule will leave him ready to play in games when the regular season starts. Schwartz: "We're working hard to get there right now. ... He's feeling good right now, and we're trying to keep it that way. Lou has the advantage of having played in this defense the past few years, even though we have new wrinkles each year. The terminology is the same. He's a really hard worker. We need to balance being on the field and practicing with the point of diminishing returns. I think we've been very proactive in camp doing that. Time will tell how effective that plan has been."
  • Much like his week at the Senior Bowl, Ansah wasn't nearly as noticeable during practice as he was during the preseason opener. Nothing he did in three days of training camp jumped out to suggest he was on the cusp of being an elite playmaker, but he stood out immediately against the Jets. In addition to his 14-yard scoring return of an interception, he nailed running back Bilal Powell for a 2-yard loss among his 20 snaps.
  • Take this for what it's worth: Even the amateur observer could notice a big upswing in man coverage from the Lions' defense during 11-on-11 drills. Stafford concurred but suggested the shift was more about evaluating the Lions' newly fortified secondary than it was a scheme change. "They're trying to figure out who can cover and who can't," he said. "But they're doing pretty good out there."
Reading Mel Kiper Jr.'s grades Insider the morning after the draft is like a holiday tradition. No matter how much we all understand intuitively that it's impossible to project future success, we still want to know what the man who has spent three decades evaluating draft classes thinks of our favorite team's efforts.

You'll need an Insider subscription to read the entire evaluation, but below is what I can sneak to you if you don't tell anyone:

Green Bay Packers

Mel's grade: B+

Kiper Jr. snippet: " I love what Green Bay got out of this draft, particularly at two spots -- defensive end and running back."

Seifert comment: The Packers really went after the running back position, drafting two backs -- Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin -- that many teams pegged as feature backs on their own. Franklin also hedges concerns about Lacy's durability. The Packers can feel confident that at least one of them will make an impact on 2013. Defensive end Datone Jones is a different-looking player than what the Packers currently have at the position, and fits into the league's trend toward longer and leaner even for 3-4 ends.

Minnesota Vikings

Mel's grade: B

Kiper Jr. snippet: "Hey, they got starters, but they needed to add impact in this draft considering they dealt [Percy] Harvin and had a few pretty big needs."

Seifert comment: A good portion of evaluating this draft will come down to whether receiver Cordarrelle Patterson pans out. The Vikings gave up their chance to draft a starting-caliber middle linebacker, among other things, by trading back up into the first round to draft him. The Harvin trade was a big motivator. Kiper really thought the Vikings needed to get linebacker Manti Te'o; I just thought they needed someone at that position. Seventh-round draft pick Michael Mauti could be a factor if he can recover from a third torn ACL. Regardless, three first-round draft choices give the Vikings a good chance at a high-impact draft.

Detroit Lions

Mel's grade: B

Kiper Jr. snippet: "The pivot point for how we see this draft in three years will be [Ezekiel] Ansah. If he's great, then it looks good. If he's not, and Dee Milliner thrives with the Jets, fans will wonder."

Seifert comment: It would be disappointing if the Lions didn't get at least two functional starters out of their first three picks. It doesn't matter who is on the field for the first play of the game, but you would like to see Ansah get as many snaps as he can for development purposes. Cornerback Darius Slay should compete with Bill Bentley to start opposite Chris Houston and, at worst, play in nickel situations that comprise more than half of most team's defensive snaps. And third-round guard Larry Warford should push hard for the right guard spot.

Chicago Bears

Mel's grade: C+

Kiper Jr. snippet: "My issue with [Kyle] Long isn't that he's short on talent -- he's not. I just wasn't in love with the value."

Seifert comment: We'll never know if the Bears would have been better off trading down to grab Long later or waiting until the second round. Kiper Jr. didn't like the decision and thought tight end Tyler Eifert would have been a better choice. I'm stuck here, because we all know how much help the Bears' offensive line needs. Solidifying an interior spot, if that's what Long does, will help quarterback Jay Cutler in a measureable way. That's no different in the big picture than what Eifert could do. We all can agree, however, that the Bears upgraded their linebacker depth significantly with Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene.

Related: For fun, here are Kiper Jr.s NFC North grades for the 2010, 2011 and 2012 drafts.
The Detroit Lions' general manager is a former NFL cornerback, one who was a 10th-round draft choice but still managed a successful eight-year playing career. I've always figured that dynamic played a role in his management of the Lions' cornerback position, and so it's worth noting that Mississippi State cornerback Darius Slay is the highest-drafted cornerback in Martin Mayhew's career.

The Lions took Slay with the No. 36 overall pick Friday evening, making Slay the first cornerback they have drafted in either the first or second round since selecting Terry Fair in 1998. Mayhew told reporters the Lions had a first-round grade on Slay, despite a torn meniscus in his knee that occurred at some point this offseason.

Mayhew said he is "very comfortable" with Slay's prognosis and coach Jim Schwartz said the injury isn't long-term. When you add Slay to the Lions' 2012 trio of drafted cornerbacks -- Bill Bentley, Chris Greenwood and Jonte Green -- you have what promises to be a lively competition to start alongside Chris Houston.

More than anything, Slay is known for his speed. He ran the fastest 40 time among cornerbacks at the NFL scouting combine, 4.36 seconds, and his availability helped mitigate the Lions' decision to pass on Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner in the first round.
In their final mock drafts of the 2013 draft season, ESPN analysts Mel Kiper Insider and Todd McShay Insider agree on their projected first-round picks for 75 percent of the NFC North. The details:

5. Detroit Lions
Kiper: BYU defensive end Ezekiel Ansah
McShay: Ansah
Seifert comment: In both cases, Central Michigan left tackle Eric Fisher and Oklahoma left tackle Lane Johnson are off the board. McShay has Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel slipping out of the top 10. Both think the Lions would pass on Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner. Ansah seems to be the type of "Dave Kingman" prospect that Lions general manager Martin Mayhew suggested last week he might not consider, but who knows if he was being truthful.

20. Chicago Bears
Kiper: Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o
McShay: Te'o
Seifert comment: Both think the Bears would take Te'o over Georgia's Alec Ogletree. There is no doubt that Ogletree's off-field indiscretions recently are a concern, but there is there is widespread agreement that he is better player than Te'o. If the Bears pass on Ogletree, the guess is they'll take another position rather than draft Te'o.

23/25. Minnesota Vikings
Kiper (23): USC receiver Robert Woods
McShay (23): North Carolina defensive tackle Sylvester Williams
Kiper (25): Georgia's Ogletree
McShay (25): Ogletree
Seifert comment: I didn't pick a receiver for the Vikings in this week's #bloggermock, and I wouldn't be surprised at all if they waited until later in the draft to add at that position. Three of their four starting defensive linemen are entering the final year of their contracts. If Ogletree is available at this point, especially with Te'o off the board, the Vikings would have a hard time passing him up.

26. Green Bay Packers
Kiper: UCLA defensive end Datone Jones
McShay: Syracuse offensive lineman Justin Pugh
Seifert comment: The general consensus is the Packers will choose a lineman if they stay in this spot, with defense being a higher priority if all things equal. Unless they take a safety, of course. Or trade out.
For a while here on the blog, our discussion revolved around this question: What would the Detroit Lions do at No. 5 overall if the following players were off the board: Texas A&M left tackle Luke Joeckel, Central Michigan left tackle Eric Fisher, BYU defensive end Ezekiel Ansah and Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner?

Our consensus: In a bit of a reach, Oklahoma left tackle Lane Johnson would be the choice.

[+] EnlargeEzekiel Ansah
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesEzekiel Ansah would fill an immediate need for the Lions, who parted ways with both starting defensive ends in the offseason.
Now, on the morning of the draft, we're wondering if Johnson will even be an option for the Lions.

In their final mock drafts of the season, ESPN draft analysts Mel Kiper Jr. Insider and Todd McShay Insider both have Johnson going to the Philadelphia Eagles at No. 4 overall. As a result, each mock-drafted Ansah for the Lions at No. 5. Both had them passing on Milliner, and McShay even suggested they would allow Joeckel to fall in order to secure Ansah.

My experience is that public information gets less reliable as the draft approaches. Teams are making final, sometimes-manic attempts to create draft interest and leverage. But at this point, we should at least consider whether the Lions will even have an opportunity to take an elite left tackle in this draft.

Should Ansah be the pick, it would culminate one of the most rapid rises in recent NFL draft history. Here is how Ryan McGee capsulized Ansah's college career in a recent edition of ESPN The Magazine:
When Ezekiel Ansah arrived on the BYU campus in the fall of 2008, the trilingual former soccer player from Ghana had not only never played football, he'd never even seen a game on TV. He was an actuarial science major on academic scholarship. He was also 6'5" and 271 pounds, so he tried out for the Cougars' basketball team. He got cut. So he tried out again in 2009 ... and got cut again. Ansah then walked on to BYU's track team as a sprinter. But all the while, coaches and classmates kept telling him: You should try out for football.

He finally took their advice in 2010. Based on pure athletic ability, he made the team and saw his first game action midway through that season covering kicks. By 2012, Ansah was a starter at defensive end for a Cougars squad that went 8-5, nearly ended Notre Dame's winning streak in October and won the Poinsettia Bowl in December. Now Ansah is expected to become just the 11th Cougar -- and the first since 2000 -- to be selected in the first round of the NFL draft. Everyone has fallen for the affable kid who in three short years has progressed from someone who couldn't identify an end zone to being the best defensive end prospect in the country.

2013 #bloggermock: NFC North

April, 23, 2013
4/23/13
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Our 2013 #bloggermock took an early twist and left me only partially satisfied as the protector of NFC North interests. Of note: Not a single quarterback was drafted in the first round, something that hasn't happened in the real draft since 1996. We also passed up the running back position in the first round, which that hasn't happened since the common draft began in 1967.

Below are the players I would up picking for the NFC North and my reasoning in each instance.

Johnson
5. Detroit Lions
My pick: Oklahoma left tackle Lane Johnson
Final decision: Between Johnson, Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner and BYU defensive end Ezekiel Ansah
Process and reasoning: The Lions' true intentions are tough to read at left tackle. When they drafted Riley Reiff at No. 23 overall last year, we all assumed he was the heir apparent at the position. Since the retirement of incumbent Jeff Backus, however, the Lions have emphasized Reiff's versatility and suggested he could play right guard or right tackle. To me, versatility is irrelevant if you have a true long-term answer at left tackle.

It's possible the Lions are deliberately clouding Reiff's future to hide their draft intentions. In the end, I thought the No. 5 pick was a great place to find a blue-chip left tackle and further strengthen the Lions' line by allowing Reiff to start at right guard or right tackle.

Johnson might be the third-best left tackle in the draft, but draft analysts have suggested that's a matter of experience more than aptitude. I had a brief pre-draft trade discussion with AFC East blogger James Walker, who wanted to use the Miami Dolphins' No. 12 overall pick to move up and draft a left tackle. But there was no way Johnson would be available at No. 12, so I needed much more than what Walker was offering (a second-round pick) to pass up getting him.

I know I've pushed the Lions to draft a cornerback like Milliner for years, but finding a left tackle can be even more difficult. I was tempted by Ansah, but decided to gamble that some decent defensive ends would make it to the top of the second round. In this mock, three of Mel Kiper's top five defensive ends would be available after the first: UCLA's Datone Jones, Auburn's Corey Lemonier and Florida State's Tank Carradine.

Ogletree
20. Chicago Bears
My pick: Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree
Final decision: There wasn't much debate.
Process and reasoning: I did not expect Ogletree to be available at No. 20 and knew it would be difficult for the Bears to move up. But once he made it past the New Orleans Saints at No. 15, I thought I had a chance. The New York Giants have been speculated as a possible landing spot, but the Giants haven't selected a linebacker in the first round since 1984 (Carl Banks).

I'm still not sure Ogletree will be available at No. 20 in the real draft Thursday night, but in this case -- with Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert already off the board -- I couldn't justify passing him up as a long-term replacement for Brian Urlacher.

Williams
Hayden
23 and 25. Minnesota Vikings
My picks: North Carolina defensive tackle Sylvester Williams, Houston cornerback D.J. Hayden
Final decision: Between Williams, Hayden, Cal receiver Keenan Allen, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o
Process and reasoning: I really do think that Vikings general manager Rick Spielman has genuine interest in Te'o and wants to draft him. In looking back on this mock, I just got too greedy and sneaky for my own good.

I had enough ammunition to move up, but for whom? Tennessee receiver Cordarrelle Patterson went way too high (No. 8 to the Buffalo Bills), and West Virginia's Tavon Austin was gone at No. 13. Is Austin worth even an extra second-round pick to the Vikings? I couldn't do it.

Ogletree plays a position of need, but I felt sketchy about giving up extra draft choices for a player with multiple off-field flags in the past year.

So my plan was to grab two really good non-middle linebackers and then cross my fingers that someone, perhaps even Te'o, would be available in the second round, where Spielman could work some trade magic and grab one. It almost worked. Te'o made it to No. 32, where the Baltimore Ravens drafted him just after learning that Rolando McClain had been arrested once again.

Media analysis is split on whether Te'o is significantly better than the next tier of middle linebackers, and most people think the Vikings are most interested in him. So if the Vikings passed, I thought there was a chance he would tumble. In the end, that's why I passed him over even though I'm not sure Spielman will.

As for receiver, I had my eyes on Tennessee's Justin Hunter, but he went one slot ahead at No. 22. So I went with Williams, who could be a long-term replacement for Kevin Williams, and Hayden. I had a small chance to trade down, but the best offer I got to move from No. 25 to the top of the second round at No. 35 was an additional fifth-round pick. Not good enough. The cornerback class drops off after the first round, and Washington's Desmond Trufant was already off the board. In this scenario, the Vikings would be in position to maneuver in the second round for a receiver. Among those who are left is Clemson's DeAndre Hopkins.

Jenkins
26. Green Bay Packers
My pick: Georgia defensive tackle John Jenkins
Final decision: Between Jenkins, Syracuse offensive lineman Justin Pugh, Florida State offensive tackle Menelik Watson
Process and reasoning: The honest truth of the matter is that I was just guessing here. Congratulations to the Packers. No one ever knows for sure who a team is going to draft, but this year, no one really has anything more than a guess on the Packers. They appear to be interested in improving their defensive line, at least based on their limited activity in free agency, and Jenkins seemed the best of what was still remaining on the board. I don't mind saying he was even more of a guess than usual.
This is about the time during NFL draft season when long-held assumptions start to be challenged. Sometimes new information becomes available. On other occasions, gamesmanship has been taken to a new level. Sometimes, people just get tired of talking and writing about the same thing.

With that said, I feel we need to at least ask the following questions about Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner:
  1. Should we back away from near-certainty that he will be among the top five picks in Thursday night's first round?
  2. It is possible Milliner won't be the first cornerback taken?

These are relevant questions for the Detroit Lions, who own the No. 5 pick and have a need at cornerback, as well as the Minnesota Vikings, who would surely like to see a top corner make his way to the No. 23 overall pick if possible. Here's what we can pass along:

In an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer, Milliner admitted he is behind on his rehabilitation from March surgery to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder. It's possible he won't be ready for training camp.

In a mock draft released Monday, ESPN's Todd McShay Insider dropped Milliner to No. 10 overall. Meanwhile, NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said last week he considers Houston's D.J. Hayden as his top cornerback in the draft. As Kevin Wiedl of Scouts Inc. explains, positive chatter on Hayden has risen significantly since doctors cleared him to play following a life-threatening injury to his heart during a practice collision last year.

Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said last week that truly elite cornerbacks, presumably worthy of a No. 5 overall pick, are difficult to find. "There's like five of them in the history of the NFL," said Mayhew, who then went out of his way to tout the three cornerbacks the Lions drafted last season: Bill Bentley, Jonte Green and Chris Greenwood.

"All three of those guys are good players and we expect them to be around for a long time," Mayhew said. From my vantage point while watching on the Lions' website, I couldn't tell if Mayhew's fingers were crossed or not.

We went through a similar exercise last year when Vikings general manager "Crazy Rick" Spielman began encouraging us to challenge the likelihood that he would draft USC left tackle Matt Kalil at No. 3 overall. I felt pretty strongly they would stick to the script, despite needs at the positions played by LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne and Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon. This year, I'm not as certain. Stay tuned.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

Good morning and welcome to Draft Week '13. We'll post as much draft material as bloggerly possible over the next six days, but I wanted to start with an important revelation about a current Chicago Bears player.

Place-kicker Robbie Gould had surgery 13 months ago to repair the injury that forced him to miss the team's final three regular-season games, according to Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com. The Bears have described it as a left calf injury, which is technically accurate but probably overshadows how serious the injury -- a ruptured semitendinosus tendon -- really is. Gould is still about three weeks away from being cleared to kick without restriction, which is why the Bears signed a second place-kicker -- Austin Signor -- for the first time in several years.

There is every expectation that Gould will be ready to resume his full duties later this spring. But it's also fair to note he is entering the final year of a five-year contract, and you can never take any roster spot for granted when a new coaching staff takes over a team.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • Matt Bowen reviews the Bears' recent minicamp for the Chicago Tribune.
  • Even Bears coach Marc Trestman kept a brisk pace at minicamp, according to Adam L. Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times.
  • Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press has the Detroit Lions selecting a left tackle at No. 5 overall in his latest mock draft.
  • Most likely, the Lions won't start looking for a cornerback until later in the draft, according to Chris McCosky of the Detroit News.
  • Martin Mayhew on Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner, via Anwar S. Richardson of Mlive.com: "Well, you know, he's the elusive, big corner. Everybody's trying to find that guy. You know, we've been here for years talking about these guys and trying to find a guy with some size, and he certainly fits that mold. I hear people, over the years, have always said you need a corner that's big with some speed and some coverage ability who is good at the line and is a smart guy that can play nickel and play outside, and maybe move into safety. Okay, where is that guy? There's like five of them in the history of the NFL. He brings some of those traits to the table, I think."
  • No matter what they say publicly, the Green Bay Packers know they need to get bigger and tougher this offseason, writes Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
  • Weston Hodkiewicz of the Green Bay Press-Gazette examines the history of the Packers' drafts under general manager Ted Thompson. Of the 76 players selected, 15 have made at least one Pro Bowl.
  • Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com: "It wouldn’t be a surprise if the Packers used the 26th overall pick on a defensive lineman. It also wouldn’t be surprising if he ended up being a disappointment."
  • Ben Goessling of the St. Paul Pioneer Press speaks with Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman about his use of analytics.
  • Patrick Reusse of 1500ESPN.com is convinced the Vikings will draft Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o.
  • Mark Craig of the Star Tribune examines the Te'o issue further. Said Vikings safety Harrison Smith, a teammate of Te'o at Notre Dame: "There won’t be any problems in the locker room. No doubt, no matter where he goes, guys are going to make fun of him at least a little bit. But I know Manti and I don't think it’ll be a problem. It's not like he did anything malicious or that he's a bad guy or anything. I don’t think he was making anything up. I think he was just a little na´ve maybe."
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | SouthAFC: 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.

Tuesday's SportsNation chat brought a question that I ultimately posed to Scouts Inc.'s Steve Muench in the video accompanying this post. What should the Detroit Lions do, asked Jay of Chicago, if all four of the most publicly-discussed possibilities for their No. 5 overall pick are off the board?

That list includes left tackles Luke Joeckel (Texas A&M) and Eric Fisher (Central Michigan), Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner and BYU defensive end Ezekiel Ansah. My first-blush answer in the chat was Oregon defensive end Dion Jordan. In the video, Muench has a different -- and intriguing -- suggestion.

Steve and I discussed another scenario later in the video: Which middle linebacker should the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings draft, if any, should Georgia's Alec Ogletree go before the Bears' No. 20 overall pick? I also pressed Steve on whether the Green Bay Packers should draft a running back in the first round.

It's worth comparing that discussion with the latest mock draft of ESPN analyst Todd McShay Insider, who found a way to get Fisher to the Lions and Ogletree to the Vikings. (He still has the Bears drafting Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert. The Packers get Syracuse guard Justin Pugh in this version of the mock.)

Note: I'm aware I referred to LSU linebacker "Kevin Minter" as "Alex Minter." Such is the nature of one-take videos.

Sport Science: Dee Milliner

April, 8, 2013
4/08/13
11:35
AM ET
video
Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner is scheduled to make a pre-draft visit Monday to the Detroit Lions' practice facility, according to Anwar S. Richardson of Mlive.com. Those of you who are hoping he returns permanently after the draft will enjoy this Sport Science video.

We've already noted Milliner's blazing 4.37 time in the 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine. This video evaluates his skills in acceleration, leaping and change of direction and how that applies to defending the out route.

If that isn't enough, you can watch Milliner -- who is 6-foot -- dunk a basketball while wearing his full set of football pads.

Draft Minute video: Dee Milliner

April, 3, 2013
4/03/13
12:00
PM ET


As we continue our Draft Minute video marathon, let's look at Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner, another possible target of the Detroit Lions. In the video, ESPN analyst Todd McShay says Milliner doesn't have the physicality of Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson, nor does he have the cover skills of the Dallas Cowboys' Mo Claiborne. What he is, McShay said, "is just a really good all-around football player."

Lions and a QB-free top 5

April, 2, 2013
4/02/13
1:00
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The Detroit Lions have been out of the quarterback market for five years, making the relatively weak 2013 draft class seemingly irrelevant for them. On closer inspection, however, the situation could prove a hindrance as they prepare to make the No. 5 overall pick on April 25.

NFL teams have selected at least one quarterback among the top five picks of every draft since 2001. A total of 16 quarterbacks have been top-5 choices over that 12-year span. But this quarterback class is uncertain enough, and there are enough questions about top prospect Geno Smith, that it's reasonable to wonder if the streak is about to end.

If it does, the Lions will face more competition for a non-quarterback than any No. 5 team in more than a decade. If they decide they want a left tackle, they could conceivably lose out on the top two prospects: Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel and Central Michigan's Eric Fisher. Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner could be gone as well, as could Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd.

That, of course, is assuming the Kansas City Chiefs, Jacksonville Jaguars, Oakland Raiders and Philadelphia Eagles all pass on Smith preceding the Lions' pick. I wouldn't call any of those teams' quarterback situations locked down, but three of the four have taken action to put a starter in place for 2013.

The Chiefs traded for Alex Smith and signed Chase Daniel as a backup, the Raiders traded for Matt Flynn and the Eagles re-signed Michael Vick. Only the Jaguars, who are two years removed from making Blaine Gabbert the No. 10 overall pick of the 2011 draft, have stood pat.

There is always the possibility that a quarterback-starved team would trade into the top five to draft Smith. However it happens, the Lions and their fans should be rooting for someone to grow enamored with Smith -- and soon.

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