NFC North: Eric Fisher

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- To many around the Green Bay Packers locker room, rookie outside linebacker Jayrone Elliott was known not by his name, which, by the way is pronounced JAY-rone.

"Usually you walk around, and they'd be like, "What's up 91?' or something like that," Elliott said, referring to his jersey number.

That was before Saturday in St. Louis.

[+] EnlargeGreen Bay's Jayrone Elliott
AP Photo/Tom GannamJayrone Elliott had three sacks during the Packers' exhibition against the Rams.
In a span of four snaps in the fourth quarter, Elliott sacked Rams third-string quarterback Austin Davis three times, the third of which caused a fumble. It will go down as perhaps the most productive short stint in recent Packers' preseason history.

For the entire preseason so far, the undrafted free agent from the University of Toledo has played just 14 game snaps, yet is the only NFL player with three sacks. That's three more that Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers have combined.

"Then they started calling me by name and calling me 'Sackmaster,'" Elliott said. "So it's just fun to joke around with Clay and Pep, because you know Peppers never really talks to anybody, so it's fun to hear him talk."

Not only did Matthews talk to Elliott, he talked about him on Monday.

"I heard he's starting this weekend in front of me," Matthews joked.

That won't happen this week, when the Packers likely will play their defensive starters for at least the first half of Friday's preseason game against the Oakland Raiders. But it could happen in the preseason finale against the Kansas City Chiefs on Aug. 28, when general manager Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy will get their last chance to look at the rookies.

"He's just a young man that's really taken advantage of pretty much every opportunity he’s been given," McCarthy said. "I was excited to see him have success."

If Elliott was unknown to most in the locker room, that wasn't the case in Thompson's office. His scouts identified Elliott as a prospect coming out of the Mid-American Conference and brought him in for a pre-draft visit.

Green Bay was the only NFL visit Elliott had before the draft. He said he connected with linebackers coach Winston Moss and two members of the Packers' personnel department, Danny Mock and Chad Brinker, during his visit and even though a few other teams called him after the draft, including the San Francisco 49ers and New Orleans Saints, he chose the Packers' offer, which included just a $5,000 signing bonus.

At Toledo, the 6-foot-3, 255-pound Elliott played defensive end for three years in a 4-3 scheme. Before his final year, the Rockets switched to a 3-4. In that scheme, Elliott played outside linebacker in the base scheme but moved inside on third downs.

The next step for Elliott is to show he can beat someone other than Rams backup left tackle Sean Hooey, who gave up five sacks on Saturday.

Despite playing in the MAC, Elliott has rushed against NFL-caliber tackles. As a junior, he said he beat Central Michigan's Eric Fisher for a couple of pressures in one game. Fisher went on to become the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 draft.

On Monday, Elliott stood in the auxiliary locker room at Lambeau Field, where the undrafted rookies and practice-squad players change, and appeared to be taking his sudden success in stride. He said he received dozens of messages after Saturday's game, including some from family members who he said were "going crazy thinking I'm freakin' Clay Matthews."

Matthews, he isn't. But at least the Packers' All-Pro linebacker now knows Elliott's name.

Underrated tackles held up well

September, 12, 2013
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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.”

And so, in the end, the Detroit Lions never got a chance to tell us how they feel about their left tackle situation. When their No. 5 overall pick arrived Thursday night, all three of the 2013 draft's elite left tackles were already off the board in unprecedented fashion.

My understanding is that the Lions worked hard to trade down after Eric Fisher (Kansas City Chiefs), Luke Joeckel (Jacksonville Jaguars) and Lane Johnson (Philadelphia Eagles) were among the top four selections. When no suitable trade arose, the Lions pivoted to Plan B: BYU defensive end Ezekiel Ansah, a potentially dominant pass-rusher whose story is one of the most amazing in recent draft history.

Almost unknown in NFL draft circles when the college season began, Ansah recorded a grand total of 4.5 sacks last season at BYU. But he had an eye-popping performance in the Senior Bowl, in front of the Lions' coaching staff, and his raw physical skills left talent evaluators drooling at the NFL scouting combine.

[+] EnlargeEzekiel Ansah
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesEzekiel Ansah compares physically to stud pass-rushers Jason Pierre-Paul and Aldon Smith.
I started leaning away from Ansah as a possibility for the Lions last week when general manager Martin Mayhew suggested he might not make a "Dave Kingman" choice in the first round. In other words, Mayhew seemed to acknowledge the shaky position the franchise is in after a 4-12 season. This year might not have been the right time to swing for the fences. A safer pick -- a left tackle or perhaps Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner -- seemed in order.

Ultimately, we should have relied on a discussion from earlier this month. Under Mayhew, the Lions haven't shied away from drafting players who don't fit the profile we're expecting. He was most certainly willing to take a big swing in this draft, as in any other.

At 6-foot-5 and 271 pounds, Ansah is built like some of the NFL's top pass-rushers, having drawn favorable comparisons to the New York Giants' Jason Pierre-Paul and the San Francisco 49ers' Aldon Smith. His athletic skills, documented in the Sport Science video we posted recently, are freakish, and it's hard to imagine him getting much attention from opposing offenses who also have to deal with Lions defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley.

But Ansah essentially has one year of successful college pass rushing to his name. NFL draft history is littered with freakish athletes who couldn't play football. The truth is we don't know if Ezekiel Ansah can play. ESPN's Mel Kiper, for instance, said Ansah had the most meteoric rise of any player he's evaluated in 35 years of working the draft.

Even if Ansah realizes the potential of his physical skills, will he do it in time to save this edition of the Lions? It's optimistic at least, and a reach at worst, to think Ansah will be ready to make the kind of immediate impact you hope for from a No. 5 overall pick.

I would understand if Lions fans are a little skittish with how things worked out. Riley Reiff, a player seemingly destined to play right guard, will most likely be the Lions' left tackle. Milliner won't arrive to help a long-suffering secondary. Ansah, to be fair, has some work to do before he can help the 2013 team in the way that Johnson or Milliner could have.

For that reason, I give Mayhew much credit. He didn't panic. He didn't take the easiest and safest way out. He went Dave Kingman on the deal. It'll be a home run or a strikeout with the game on the line. Love it.

Earlier: The Ansah scenario picked up steam Thursday morning.
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.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

Here's an interesting development and possibility. The Chicago Bears recently put Syracuse offensive lineman Justin Pugh through a private workout. As Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com points out, Pugh played left tackle in college but projects as an inside player in the NFL -- and possibly a center.

As we've discussed, the Bears seem headed toward a transition at center in the near future, conceivably as early as 2013 if they draft someone who is ready to start and allows them to move Roberto Garza back to guard. Pugh was a good enough college player to earn the anticipation that he could be drafted in the second round, but his arms measured only 32 inches at the NFL scouting combine and thus wouldn't be projected as a tackle. (Alas.)

The Bears have an immediate need at guard, where Pugh could begin his NFL career. Gabe Carimi, Matt Slauson, Edwin Williams and James Brown are among the competitors for the two starting spots.

Continuing around the NFC North:
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.
Luke Joeckel, Eric Fisher, Lane JohnsonAP PhotosLuke Joeckel, Eric Fisher and Lane Johnson are prospects who could fit into the Lions' plan for 2013.
The Detroit Lions bottomed out and had desperate needs at nearly every position in 2009 when, with the draft's No. 20 overall pick, they selected ... a tight end. No one doubted the skills and potential of the Lions' choice, Oklahoma State's Brandon Pettigrew, but it seemed fair to question why they targeted a supplemental position while leaving presumably more important areas critically bare.

Two years later, the Lions targeted a running back in the second round a year after drafting one in the first round. At the time, Illinois' Mikel Leshoure seemed a luxury so soon after drafting Cal's Jahvid Best. The same could be said for the 2012 decision to draft Oklahoma receiver Ryan Broyles in the second round at a time when there were several good options available to upgrade their thin secondary.

If nothing else during the tenure of general manager Martin Mayhew, the Lions have demonstrated a thorough commitment to long-term draft philosophy over immediate need. It has given them a talented, if imbalanced, roster and provides a fascinating backdrop for next week's affair.

A 4-12 record in their fourth year under Mayhew and coach Jim Schwartz has generated a natural sense of urgency for this year's draft, Mayhew told reporters last month. Schwartz added: "There's nobody that doesn't feel that whether or not you've had success." The Lions' position at No. 5 overall provides a good opportunity to draft an immediate-impact player, or it could bring them a player who fits their long-term needs better but might need seasoning. The chart shows how teams have fared over the past 10 years in that spot.


If the Lions stay true to their approach under Mayhew and Schwartz, they could wind up with a player who isn't immediately ready to help them rebound from last season's debacle. Another disappointing season could prompt Lions ownership to end the tenures of both men.

Could self-preservation alter the Lions' philosophy? Will we see them draft the most NFL-ready defensive end, cornerback or linebacker -- arguably their three biggest positions of need? Or could they take a longer-term approach by drafting at a position where they already have at least an adequate starter -- say, at left tackle -- because the player is, in their view, the most talented at any position still available?

The guess, and frankly the hope, is the Lions won't deviate too far from an approach that has brought them players such as Pettigrew, Broyles, defensive tackle Nick Fairley and others. This discussion could quite possibly be moot, especially if Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner is still available at No. 5, but to me the gray area would be exposed under a scenario in which Milliner is gone.

In that situation, would the Lions draft BYU defensive end Ziggy Ansah, a freakish athletic talent who seems a perfect fit for their defense but had just one season as a starter and totaled just 4.5 college sacks? Ansah might not be ready to pass rush against the likes of Matt Kalil and Jermon Bushrod in Week 1, but over time there is a widespread belief he could develop into an elite defensive end in the mold of Jason Pierre-Paul (New York Giants) and Aldon Smith (San Francisco 49ers).

The most intriguing analysis comes at left tackle, where the Lions could almost certainly get by in 2013 and perhaps beyond with Riley Reiff, their first-round pick in 2012. But Reiff is athletic and versatile, and over the long haul, the Lions might well be better off with Reiff at right guard or even right tackle if they could find a better left tackle.

Most draft observers would tell you that Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel and Central Michigan's Eric Fisher would fall into that category. But what if Joeckel and Fisher, along with Milliner, are both off the board at No. 5? I've asked around over the past week and have been surprised by how many people suggested the Lions might and/or should draft Oklahoma's Lane Johnson in that scenario.

Johnson -- as well as Joeckel and Fisher -- would fit the profile of the Lions' recent draft approach. He is talented and well-regarded at a position the Lions don't have an immediate need at. While he hasn't been included in the Joeckel-Fisher debate, Johnson is generally considered a top-10 pick and might not make it past the Arizona Cardinals at No. 7.

His primary drawback is experience, having played quarterback, tight end, defensive end and right tackle before becoming the Sooners' starting left tackle last season. He has every athletic and physical measurement imaginable, from 35 1/4-inch arms to a stunning 4.72-second time in the 40, and ESPN analyst Todd McShay said the comparison between him and Reiff "is not even close in terms of natural ability." McShay said there is a gap between Joeckel/Fisher and Johnson now "but not a big difference between where they should be in a year or two."

McShay: "It all falls in line with a guy who has a chance to be a great player. But you may take some lumps in that first year. Obviously your quarterback is the franchise and that's the guy you have to protect, and he doesn't move well. ... But I do think [Johnson] is talented enough and there is such enormous potential. The ceiling is really high with him."

Can the Lions afford to take a player with "enormous potential" and a "really high" ceiling who has a better chance of making them better in 2014 than 2013? Or, in that scenario, would they need to look toward a more immediately helpful player, perhaps Oregon defensive end Dion Jordan? We're all waiting to see.
I thought Scouts Inc.'s Steve Muench brought up an interesting suggestion during our video discussion Wednesday, one that went against conventional wisdom and will depend largely on the Detroit Lions' internal evaluation of what many consider the third-best left tackle in the draft.

If left tackles Luke Joeckel (Texas A&M) and Eric Fisher (Central Michigan) are both off the board by the Lions' No. 5 overall pick, Muench suggested the Lions draft Oklahoma's Lane Johnson rather than a defensive end such as Oregon's Dion Jordan or LSU's Barkevious Mingo. The defensive end class is deep, Muench reasoned, and the Lions should have access to a good one at the top of the second round.

Would Johnson be a reach at No. 5? I wouldn't assume that fact based simply on his media ranking below Joeckel and Fisher. Johnson is a tremendous athlete, as evidenced by a stunning performance at the scouting combine, and ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. ranks him as the fifth-best prospect in the draft Insider. Scouts Inc. ranks Johnson at No. 10 overall.

Johnson, who was a quarterback at Kilgore Junior College, ran the 40-yard dash at the combine in 4.72 seconds and recorded a 34-inch vertical jump. Those attributes don't necessarily mean Johnson will be an elite left tackle, but they indicate he has room to grow and develop after what was already a well-regarded career at Oklahoma. He is also 6-foot-6 with 35 1/4-inch arms, measurements that should satisfy the NFL scouting community.

Of course, Johnson's presumably high ceiling is only part of the equation here. We still don't know how the Lions A) Judge their need for a left tackle and B) evaluate Johnson. Their 2012 first-round pick, Riley Reiff, played left tackle at Iowa and made one start there last season. But offseason discussion about his versatility has spurred suggestions that the Lions would prefer to play him at right guard or right tackle.

Ultimately, however, I think we should accept that the Lions' options for drafting a left tackle at No. 5 aren't completely eliminated if Joeckel and Fisher are already off the board.

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.
What has the Green Bay Packers' recent run of success brought them? Among other things: Low-enough draft position to wind up with three college left tackles whose NFL futures either have or might lead to another position.

Sitting at No. 23 overall in 2009, the Packers drafted Iowa's Bryan Bulaga, now their right tackle. The '09 fifth round brought TCU's Marshall Newhouse, the starter for most of 2011 and all of 2012 but one whose future remains in doubt. In 2011, the Packers used the No. 32 overall pick on Mississippi State's Derek Sherrod, who worked at both guard and tackle before breaking his leg late that season. He is still recovering from that injury.

As we've discussed many times, the only way to find a surefire left tackle is to have a top-10 pick in the draft. The position is so difficult to fill that the league is spreading into two categories. One consists of teams with a left tackle and the other with someone who is trying to make it work at the position.

The Packers fall into the latter category with Newhouse, and so it's not totally surprising to see ESPN analyst Todd McShay assign them Florida State right tackle Menelik Watson with the No. 26 overall pick in his latest mock draft Insider. Selecting Watson would give the Packers the option of moving Bulaga to left tackle, an option coach Mike McCarthy has not ruled out in offseason interviews.

Speaking last month at the NFL owners meeting, McCarthy said he thought Newhouse graded out "OK" last season and added: "We need some improvement from the left side of our line."

The smoothest scenario would be better play from Newhouse, which would prevent moving Bulaga back to a position he hasn't played in four years. But the draft's top three left tackles -- Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel, Central Michigan's Eric Fisher and Oklahoma's Lane Johnson -- will be long gone by the time the Packers' No. 26 pick arrives.

Barring a trade, the 2013 draft might not offer the Packers a strong opportunity to elevate their situation at left tackle.

Updating Todd McShay mock 4.1

April, 5, 2013
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Thursday, we reviewed Mel Kiper Jr.'s fourth mock draft. Meanwhile, fellow ESPN analyst Todd McShay posted an update to his fourth mock. Two of the NFC North's five first-round picks changed in McShay 4.1, Insider which I will pass along below.

At No. 5 overall, McShay now has the Detroit Lions drafting Central Michigan left tackle Eric Fisher instead of BYU defensive end Ezekiel Ansah, who is already off the board on this update. My feelings haven't changed on this issue. It's rare when you get a chance to draft an elite left tackle, assuming that's what the Lions think Fisher is. If they don't, then they have another option with Riley Reiff.

Meanwhile, McShay has the Minnesota Vikings drafting Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o at No. 25 instead of Cal receiver Keenan Allen, who was off the board by No. 25 in this update. Both Allen and Te'o visited the Vikings' practice facility this week.

McShay had the same players going to the Chicago Bears (Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert) Green Bay Packers (Florida State tackle Menelik Watson) and Vikings at No. 23 (Florida State defensive end Bjoern Werner) as he did in his 4.0 mock.

Draft Minute video: Eric Fisher

April, 3, 2013
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We'll start our marathon of Draft Minute videos with Central Michigan's Eric Fisher, whose strong Senior Bowl performance rocketed him up draft boards to the point where he might not be available at the Detroit Lions' No. 5 overall pick. In the video, ESPN analyst Todd McShay illustrates Fisher's prowess as a pass blocker and says there isn't much difference between him and Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel, the presumptive No. 1 overall pick.

Lions and a QB-free top 5

April, 2, 2013
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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.

NFC North links: Hanson wants to return

March, 29, 2013
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Chicago Bears
Running back Armando Allen signed his exclusive-rights tender, keeping the two-year veteran from becoming a free agent.

GM Phil Emery needs to set aside the "best player available" approach in the first round of next month's draft and strengthen the Bears' offensive line, argues Dan McNeil of the Chicago Tribune.

The Tribune's Brad Biggs has the contract details for recent free-agent signees James Anderson, Kelvin Hayden and Jonathan Scott.

Detroit Lions
Kicker Jason Hanson wants to return to the Lions for a 22nd NFL season, the Free Press reports, though the team has given him a "minimum-salary offer" and plans to host free agent David Akers next week.

NC State cornerback David Amerson and Central Michigan left tackle Eric Fisher visited the team facility as the Lions continued to mull what they might do with the No. 5 overall pick.

Green Bay Packers
Expect big new deals for quarterback Aaron Rodgers and linebacker Clay Matthews to get done in the not-too-distant future, Tom Silverstein writes in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, now that the Packers have taken care of other business.

Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette takes a look at Purdue's Kawann Short, a defensive lineman the team could consider with its first-round pick.

Coach Mike McCarthy has set his offseason schedule, and Packers will hold their mandatory, full-squad minicamp in the midst of their organized team activities for the first time, writes ESPNMilwaukee.com's Jason Wilde.

Minnesota Vikings
The team's official web site takes a look at whether the Vikings might look at Brian Urlacher or Manti Te'o for the middle-linebacker spot.

The Vikings' stadium deal was "fool's gold" and legislators should scrap it and start over, argues The Pioneer Press' Ruben Rosario. "This already was corporate welfare at its worst. Then news broke this month that confirms that Minneapolis and state taxpayers will be getting hosed for more than the $498 million in public contributions to the estimated $975 million stadium project," Rosario writes.

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