NFC North: Gerald McCoy


Don't expect any fine offensive displays Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.

That's because the Minnesota Vikings and Tampa Bay Buccaneers both are struggling on offense. The Vikings (2-5) and Bucs (1-5) are starting young quarterbacks and ranked near the bottom of the league in most offensive categories.

The Vikings, led by rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, rank No. 29 in overall offense and are last in passing offense. The Bucs have been starting second-year pro Mike Glennon and they're ranked No. 30 in overall offense.

ESPN Vikings reporter Ben Goessling and ESPN Buccaneers reporter Pat Yasinskas preview the matchup:

Yasinskas: Ben, I know the numbers aren't pretty. But has Bridgewater been showing any signs of progress?

Goessling: He has shown some. He hit 12 of his 15 throws after a pair of interceptions in Buffalo on Sunday, and I thought he did a better job of trusting himself to find his receivers downfield than he has in recent weeks. He has looked great at times, especially in the Vikings' win over Atlanta last month, but he's still figuring a lot of things out.

He needs to be better about throwing on target, and he has fallen victim to the same problems that plague many rookies, when he has held the ball a little too long or thrown late because he didn't make up his mind soon enough. But it's important to remember Bridgewater doesn't have Adrian Peterson, Kyle Rudolph and an offensive line that can protect him. The Vikings have given up 27 sacks this season, which is the second-most in the league, and they've forced Bridgewater to run for his life on a number of other occasions.

Speaking of quarterbacks, will Glennon remain the starter or will Josh McCown get the job back now that he's getting healthy?

Yasinskas: Coach Lovie Smith has been coy about his plans. My best guess is Glennon will get at least one more start because McCown returned to practice only this week and was out for more than a month. I think Glennon has played well enough to be the full-time starter, but I'm not sure Smith sees it that way. McCown was Smith's hand-picked quarterback and the two have history together from their Chicago days. Smith's history has shown he prefers to go with veterans. Back in Chicago, he once benched Kyle Orton, who was playing well, as soon as Rex Grossman got healthy. It wouldn't surprise me if Smith goes back to McCown.

You mentioned Minnesota's offensive line. I know it has been banged up. Will it be any healthier this week, and can it at least give Bridgewater some protection against a Tampa Bay pass rush that hasn't been good?

Goessling: It's hard to say at this point if it will be healthier. Guard Vladimir Ducasse is optimistic about his chances to play after injuring his knee on Sunday, but John Sullivan is still going through the concussion protocol, and his loss would be a big one. He's the Vikings' most reliable blocker, and does plenty to help Bridgewater set protections.

The biggest problem, though, has been left tackle Matt Kalil, who got beat again several times on Sunday and has struggled in pass protection all season. Kalil was the No. 4 pick in the draft in 2012 and made the Pro Bowl as a rookie, but got hurt last year and hasn't looked like the same guy. The Vikings were able to protect Bridgewater effectively against Atlanta, another team with an underwhelming pass rush, so I'd expect they'll fare better this week than they have against Detroit and Buffalo.

Shifting to the defensive side of the ball, how has the Vikings' old coach, Leslie Frazier, fared as the coordinator? The Bucs have obviously been shredded on defense; how much of that do you think is Frazier and Smith's old Cover 2 scheme and how much is personnel?

Yaskinsas: Tampa Bay ranks last in total defense and also is No. 32 in pass defense. That's shocking since Smith and Frazier are supposed to be defensive gurus. I think this team has good defensive personnel, especially with tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Lavonte David. But the pass rush has been non-existent, and that has taken a toll on the secondary. The main problem might be Smith's stubbornness. He's sticking with the Tampa 2 scheme even though it looks like it might be outdated. I'm not saying he should totally ditch the Tampa 2, but it might be wise -- and productive -- to mix in some man coverage at times.

The Vikings lost a last-minute game against Buffalo last week. That reminded me that the Vikings lost a lot of games in the final minutes last season. Is there some sort of flaw there or is this just a young team that needs to learn how to win?

Goessling: They believe it's the latter. The approach the Vikings took on the final drive on Sunday didn't look like what they did last year, when they sat back in coverage on a lot of those final drives. They were aggressive with their fronts, blitzing Orton four times on the drive and sacking him twice. But there were breakdowns that probably can be traced to inexperience. Josh Robinson needed to reroute Sammy Watkins when he pressed him on third-and-12, Xavier Rhodes misplayed Watkins' game-winning touchdown, and first-year coach Mike Zimmer said he probably should have called a timeout before a fourth-and-20 play -- like Frazier did in a couple games last season -- to get the defense settled. The Vikings gave up a first down there after Chad Greenway was trying to get Captain Munnerlyn in the right spot in a no-huddle situation. Greenway had his head turned at the snap and didn't get deep enough in coverage to keep Orton from hitting Scott Chandler for a first down.

The Vikings are young in the secondary, especially, and I think that showed up Sunday, but I continue to see progress in what they're doing. They have Pro Bowl-caliber players in Anthony Barr and Harrison Smith, and Rhodes has continued to improve as a corner. It'll take another year of player acquisitions, but they're headed in the right direction.

To wrap this up, why has the Buccaneers' ground game struggled so much? It might be a function of playing from behind as much as they have, but it seems like they've struggled to run the ball in closer games, too. What do you think the problem has been there?

Yasinskas: It's true they have had to abandon the running game at times because they've fallen so far behind. But even at the start of games, they've struggled to run the ball. That's puzzling because they have a rebuilt offensive line and running back Doug Martin is healthy after missing much of last season with a shoulder injury. I put the majority of the blame on the offensive line. But I also put some blame on Martin. He is averaging only 2.9 yards per carry. His backup, Bobby Rainey, is averaging 4.9 yards a carry. Martin needs to make more out of his opportunities.

If the Detroit Lions front office woke up this morning a little bit queasy, it would be somewhat understandable, and it has nothing to do with their present and everything to do with their future.

The Lions took a gamble when they were unable to get a deal done with star defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh before the start of the season. They are aware, too, that tabling negotiations with him at the start of training camp meant they’ll have a much smaller window to work with to sign Suh after the season.

Suh
 On Tuesday morning, they also started to realize exactly how much it might cost to retain Suh’s services well into the future.

Houston defensive end J.J. Watt -- who, like Suh, is considered the best at his position in the NFL -- earned a six-year, $100 million contract extension with a reported $51.8 million guaranteed, the most guaranteed cash ever for a defensive player.

He and the Texans got the deal done with two seasons left on his rookie deal so the two sides never came close to the potential sweat-it-out deadline the Lions and Suh appear barreling toward.

The Watt deal, if divided equally -- and we don’t know specifics yet -- would equate to $16.6 million per season. While Suh and Watt play different positions, that’s probably around the range Suh would be trying to earn.

Like Watt, Suh has been healthy throughout his career and has been dominant as his position. Like Watt, teams have to game plan around Suh when they face him, which opens up holes for everyone else on the defense.

There’s another thing in play, too, when it comes to this particular Watt deal. Watt is represented by Tom Condon, which is part of CAA. Suh is represented by Jimmy Sexton.

His firm? CAA.

This, right here, is why it never made sense for Suh to strike a deal with Detroit earlier than he needed to. Yes, he could have set the market with his contract, but there would have also been the possibility he might have seen Watt or Gerald McCoy earn more money than him. And while money isn’t everything, it is still a very big thing for players who have a limited window to maximize their earning potential.

After Watt’s deal and with the Lions calling off talks with Suh for a while, this also gives McCoy a chance to set a defensive tackle number. Oh, and by the way, McCoy is represented by Ben Dogra.

His firm? Yep, you guessed it ... CAA.

While Suh has never explained why he ditched Relativity Sports for CAA, you might be seeing exactly why he did play out throughout all of these contract extensions. CAA is being able to work to set the numbers for Watt, McCoy and Suh and happen to represent all of them, so they theoretically know what they are getting into with each deal.

When contract negotiations do resume between Sexton, Suh and the Lions after the season, this is the new baseline the player and his agent are going to work with. Since Suh has a clock ticking until he can test his true worth on the free agent market in March, he continues to hold increasing leverage over the Lions, who will have to decide whether or not to let the game-changing tackle go.

Both team president Tom Lewand and general manager Martin Mayhew appeared optimistic they would still sign Suh when they halted contract talks in July. That was before Watt. Potentially before McCoy.

So good morning, Tom Lewand and Martin Mayhew. You’re not negotiating with Suh until at least January. When the new year hits, this is what you’ll be looking at.
DeAndre Levy and Vincent JacksonUSA Today SportsDeAndre Levy and the Lions will need to keep Vincent Jackson in check on Sunday.
Tampa Bay started its season terribly before finding some answers the past two weeks. Detroit started its season strong but is suddenly vulnerable and has some questions.

Only the Lions are in the playoff picture heading into the last six weeks of the season. Meanwhile, the Buccaneers can play spoiler and give a damaging blow to the Lions' playoff hopes.

The Buccaneers will try to do that with a rejuvenated defense that caught the eye of Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford.

“They are an extremely talented defense,” Stafford said. “Probably the most talented defense we've played all year.”

ESPN.com NFL Nation reporters Michael Rothstein (Lions) and Pat Yasinskas (Buccaneers) break down Sunday's matchup.

Rothstein: What has happened over the past couple of weeks to turn this Tampa team around?

Yasinskas: The short answer is that the Bucs suddenly have gotten much better at finishing games, a huge problem early in the season. But it goes much deeper than that. Coach Greg Schiano has a reputation for being stubborn and inflexible. But he's changed in recent weeks. His mood has been lighter on the practice field and when he's met with the media. More importantly, he's adjusted some things on the field. He's stopped stunting so much on the defensive line, and that's created more straight-ahead rushes for defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. Schiano has used cornerback Darrelle Revis in more man-to-man coverage after playing him in a lot of zone early in the season. The Bucs also have been running the ball much better, and that's a tribute to the offensive line.

Speaking of McCoy, he and Ndamukong Suh came out in the same draft, and early on, it looked like Suh clearly was the better player. But McCoy has been outstanding of late. What kind of a year is Suh having?

Rothstein: Suh's actual statistics are fairly pedestrian and wouldn't really stand out to anyone if they were just watching Detroit from afar. But he has faced a lot of double-teams throughout the season and has been somewhat consistent throughout the year. He played his best in the two games against Chicago -- four quarterback hurries in Week 10, two sacks in Week 4 -- but he and the rest of the Detroit defensive line almost inexplicably struggled to reach Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger this past Sunday.

Detroit has not blitzed much this season, putting a lot of pressure on the front four, starting with Suh.

That'll lead into my next question -- how has Mike Glennon been progressing this season, and how does he move when he is pushed in the pocket a little bit?

Yasinskas: Glennon has been a pleasant surprise. He was thrown into the lineup when Josh Freeman was benched, and he struggled at first. But Glennon has steadily improved and has been very good in recent weeks. He had only three incompletions in Sunday's victory over Atlanta. He's shown poise and leadership. Glennon's strength is his big arm, and the Bucs are trying to develop more of a deep passing game. They showed signs that's catching on when Vincent Jackson caught two long passes against the Falcons.

I first saw Glennon when I was covering the filming of "Gruden's QB Camp" this past spring. Watching Glennon's college tape, I thought he didn't have the mobility to succeed in the NFL. As it turns out, I was wrong. Glennon is not a running threat, but he's not a statue, either. He's been extending some plays by scrambling.

Speaking of deep passing games, the matchup I can't wait to see is Calvin Johnson against Revis. I saw the Lions-Steelers game, and it seemed like Johnson disappeared in the second half. What was all that about? Revis and Johnson went head-to-head in a 2010 game, and Johnson caught just one pass for 13 yards. Do you see Revis, with a little bit of help, being help to keep Johnson quiet?

Rothstein: It depends on what Tampa tries to do defensively. When teams have tried covering Johnson with single coverage, he's destroyed opponents. It happened a good amount against Dallas and early against Pittsburgh. It goes to the situation most teams have had to face this season -- do you double-team Johnson and give a lighter box to Reggie Bush and Joique Bell, or do you play single high to focus on Bell and Bush and put Johnson in lighter coverage?

That said, Revis is one of the best corners in the league -- something Stafford acknowledged Tuesday -- and it should be an intriguing matchup Sunday. Johnson likes going against the top corners in the league and has had some success this season in those matchups, notably against Arizona's Patrick Peterson (six catches, 116 yards, two touchdowns) and Dallas' Brandon Carr (14 catches, 329 yards).

One of the other ways teams have had success against Detroit is to pressure Stafford, which hasn't been easy this season. It goes back to that first question with McCoy, but is he the key to any pressure Tampa might get?

Yasinskas: McCoy is the central piece of the defensive line, and everything feeds off him. But he's not alone in the pass rush. End Adrian Clayborn has some pass-rush skills, and the Bucs have started lining up outside linebacker Dekoda Watson as a rush end. But the Bucs also like to use their linebackers as blitzers, and Lavonte David (five sacks) is a very good pass-rusher. But it all goes back to McCoy. The Bucs rely on him to push the quarterback off the spot, and the other players can clean up.

You mentioned Bush. At least from a distance, it seemed like he got himself in the doghouse by fumbling against Pittsburgh. Is Bush in good graces with the coaching staff, or will we see less of him Sunday?

Rothstein: Doghouse? No. But he needs to work on protecting the ball better and hanging on to it, period. He's struggled with drops all season and lost fumbles two of the past three weeks. He's too big a weapon for Detroit to move away from him -- especially at home -- but if he continues on this trend, Bell might steal some of his snaps.

NFC North Pro Bowl analysis

December, 26, 2012
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NFC Pro Bowl: East | West | North | South AFC Pro Bowl: East | West | North | South

Perfect sense: Minnesota Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson has rushed for 1,898 yards this season -- 508 more than the next-closest running back. His fullback, Jerome Felton, has been responsible for a stunning dichotomy -- the Vikings average 7.7 yards per carry out of the two-back set and 3.6 in the one-back -- that made his inclusion a no-brainer. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers (NFL-high 106.2 passer rating) and linebacker Clay Matthews (12 sacks in 11 games) are the Green Bay Packers' two most indispensable players. Receivers Calvin Johnson (Detroit Lions) and Brandon Marshall (Chicago Bears) rank 1-2 in the NFL in both receptions and yards. Bears cornerbacks Tim Jennings (NFL-high eight interceptions) and Charles Tillman (10 forced fumbles) have been the league's best duo all season. They deserved to be the first cornerback teammates named Pro Bowl starters in 24 years. Finally, it was a pleasant surprise to see Vikings rookie place-kicker Blair Walsh on the roster. Walsh set an NFL record for long-distance kicking (9-of-9 from at least 50 yards) and is fourth in the league with a touchback percentage of 62.0, but rookies are often overlooked.

Made it on rep: With all due respect to one of the classiest men in the game, Packers center Jeff Saturday did not have a Pro Bowl season. His inclusion is Exhibit A on how broken the Pro Bowl process is. Saturday is a six-time Pro Bowl player, but he played so poorly this season that the Packers benched him last week. Saturday might not have been one of the top 25 centers in the NFL this season, let alone one of the top three in the NFC. Vikings defensive end Jared Allen and Bears defensive end Julius Peppers are perennial Pro Bowl players who were destined to make this roster no matter what sack totals they produced. Allen had two last Sunday to bring his total to 11, and Peppers has 4.5 over his past two games to reach 11.5. Those totals gave late legitimacy to what had been relatively quiet seasons for both veterans.

Got robbed: Vikings center John Sullivan might have been the best center in the NFC this season and deserved to be sent ahead of Saturday. Sullivan has been the catalyst for a line that opened up record-breaking holes for Peterson this season. It was surprising to see Bears linebacker Lance Briggs left off the roster for the first time in seven years. He has two touchdown returns and has been a sideline-to-sideline playmaker. The Lions' Ndamukong Suh had seven sacks this season, second-most among all NFL defensive tackles, but was passed over for the Bears' Henry Melton, the San Francisco 49ers' Justin Smith and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Gerald McCoy. Suh has had a nice rebound season in 2012, and you could make arguments for Melton, Smith and McCoy to be voted ahead of him. But you always wonder how reputation factors into voting. Finally, Packers receiver James Jones ranks second in the NFL with 13 touchdowns, but unfortunately the rest of his numbers (58 catches for 772 yards) don't merit Pro Bowl recognition in a conference with Johnson, Marshall, Julio Jones and Victor Cruz.

Click here for the complete Pro Bowl roster.

Final Word: Buccaneers-Vikings

October, 25, 2012
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Three nuggets of knowledge about an early installment of Week 8:

Home advantage: These Thursday night turnarounds are tough for both teams, but recent history suggests the Minnesota Vikings will get a big boost by playing this game at the Metrodome. Already, the Vikings are 4-0 at home this season. And over the past two seasons, the home team is 13-3 in Thursday games. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are making a long trip after a physical and disappointing loss last Sunday to the New Orleans Saints. That's probably why the Vikings are a 6.5-point favorite Insider and have been picked to win by 13 of ESPN's 14 football experts. Frankly, the Vikings really need to win this game. Even with the 2-4 Bucs on the list, the Vikings have the NFL's third-toughest schedule (.593 opposing winning percentage) for the rest of the season. They still must play the Chicago Bears (5-1) and Green Bay Packers (4-3) twice, as well as the Houston Texans (6-1).

Offensive matchup: In starting 2-4, the Buccaneers' defense has been really good against the run and had some terrible games against the pass. We haven't yet seen a game where the Vikings couldn't or didn't run the ball, and tailback Adrian Peterson has looked better each week. Will this be the week the Vikings need quarterback Christian Ponder to carry the offense? Opponents are averaging an NFL-low 3.1 yards per carry against the Bucs this season, mostly because defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Roy Miller are plugging up the middle. On the other hand, the Bucs have given up four 300-yard passing games this season, including 510 yards to the New York Giants' Eli Manning. My guess is the Vikings will do their best to get Peterson rolling before getting too pass-happy.

Veteran threat: Two alternate views of team-building will be on display this evening. Both the Vikings and Bucs entered the offseason needing a veteran downfield threat at receiver. The Bucs signed the NFL's top free agent at the position, Vincent Jackson, to a five-year contract worth $55 million. The Vikings took a flyer on veteran Jerome Simpson. Jackson is averaging 21.7 yards on 27 receptions and has caught five touchdowns. Simpson has five receptions for 58 yards in three games. But are the Bucs better off for having spent that kind of money? It hasn't translated into victories -- at least not yet.

Final Word: NFC North

September, 9, 2011
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 1:

[+] EnlargeMatt Forte
Al Bello/Getty ImagesThe Bears enter the opener with little depth behind starting running back Matt Forte.
All Forte: After so much summer discussion about his contract, his strengths and his weaknesses, it appears Matt Forte will be the Chicago Bears' second-most important offensive player Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons and beyond. (Quarterback Jay Cutler is obviously No. 1.) Backup tailback Marion Barber didn't practice this week because of a calf injury, and the Bears' only reserve help could be little-used Kahlil Bell. Barber's primary role this season was likely to take some pounding away from Forte in goal-line and short-yardage situations, which has never been a strength of Forte's anyway. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Forte has managed only five touchdowns on 57 goal-to-go carries since the start of the 2009 season. Against a team like the Falcons, the Bears can't afford too many red-zone breakdowns. They'll either need Forte to convert or they'll have to take to the air. For what it's worth, Cutler has thrown more red-zone interceptions (13) than any other NFL quarterback over the past three seasons.

Unknown quantity: We didn't learn much this summer about the Bears' defense, which has moving parts at several positions and didn't make much of an impact on preseason games one way or the other. The Falcons are a power running team that made a big offseason splash to trade up in the draft for big-play receiver Julio Jones. If they're on task, that's a tough combination to defend. We still don't know who, other than Julius Peppers, can provide a pass rush for the Bears and we're awaiting a safety transition involving newcomer Brandon Meriweather. The Bears will have their hands full defensively, but keep in mind that the Falcons haven't come to Chicago and won a game since the 1983 season opener.

HotHotHot: Sunday's updated weather forecast for Tampa calls for a high of 91 degrees with 77 percent humidity at Raymond James Stadium. As we discussed during the week, it's been a hot summer in the upper midwest. I'm not sure the Detroit Lions practiced in anything quite like they're going to experience Sunday, but all NFL players should be in condition to play a hot-weather game in Week 1. To me, it's the less-expected hot weather you might experience in October or even November that can catch you off guard. The Lions will need to stay on top of their hydration to avoid cramping and the like, but I'm not sure this issue will impact the outcome of the game.

Matchup of young stars: This game will feature two of the top three quarterbacks in the 2009 draft, the Lions' Matthew Stafford and the Buccaneers' Josh Freeman. It also will put on display the Lions' good fortune in having the No. 2 overall pick of the 2010 draft rather than No. 3. The Lions chose defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, leaving the Bucs to take defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. As it turns out, McCoy has been a pretty good player. But Suh is ready to break out as one of the NFL's best. Suh and nose tackle Corey Williams will look to stuff Bucs tailback LeGarrette Blount, who gashed them for 61 yards on seven carries on runs up the middle in the teams' 2010 matchup.

Slow starts: Many observers have the Minnesota Vikings pegged to limp out of the gate this season, noting their offensive scheme transition, along with the presence of a new quarterback (Donovan McNabb) and left tackle (Charlie Johnson). But as it turns out, the Vikings on Sunday will face the NFL's most notorious slow starters over the past seven seasons. The San Diego Chargers have a combined 30-26 record during the first half of those seasons and a 46-10 record in the second half. For whatever reason, the Vikings are getting the Chargers at the proverbial right time. For what it's worth, the preseason showed us that if the Vikings struggle early in 2011, it will be because of their shaky personnel situation on defense. Their starting lineup Sunday will include three new defensive linemen, one untested linebacker (Erin Henderson) and a rotation at strong safety between Jamarca Sanford and Tyrell Johnson. On the other hand, their offense appeared relatively cohesive both in camp and in the preseason.
ESPN's Chris Mortensen is the latest reporter to suggest that the agents for unsigned Detroit Lions rookie Ndamukong Suh are seeking more money than the player selected ahead of him in the 2010 draft, quarterback Sam Bradford.

The numbers Mortensen reported are staggering -- six years, $90 million with $56 million in guarantees -- but likely represent a negotiating tactic rather than a hard-line from agents Roosevelt Barnes and Eugene Parker. As we discussed Saturday, it's difficult to imagine the Lions paying Suh more than the quarterback premium Bradford received.

What probably has created some wiggle room for Suh's agents is the large gap between Bradford's total guarantees ($50 million) and that of the No. 3 overall pick Gerald McCoy ($35 million). Stay tuned. The Lions have two practices Sunday, at 9 a.m. at 3:15 p.m.
The Detroit Lions had multiple conversations Saturday with the agents for defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, but they did not reach an agreement in time for Suh to participate in the Lions' opening practice of camp.

Suh was the No. 2 overall pick in the draft, and the No. 1 (Sam Bradford) and No. 3 (Gerald McCoy) have reached contract agreements. So if negotiations don't conclude sometimes this weekend, we'll know that a bigger gap remains than simply waiting for the players on either side of Suh's slot to set the market.

Bradford received $50 million in guarantees, while McCoy got $35 million. That $15 million gap is pretty substantial, even considering the "quarterback premium" Bradford received, and it gives Suh's agents some wiggle room if they choose to haggle for the final dollar.

Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com reports that Suh is seeking more guaranteed money than Bradford, arguing he was bypassed as the No. 1 overall pick only because the St. Louis Rams didn't want to pay a defensive tackle so much money. If that's the case, we're going to be in for an extended holdout. I can't imagine a scenario where the Lions would agree to those terms.

Speaking to Detroit reporters Saturday, Lions president Tom Lewand seemed optimistic that a deal was within reach. He said he planned to have at least one more conversation with agents Roosevelt Barnes and Eugene Parker before the end of Saturday and added: "As long as we're talking, we're making progress and we continue to talk. We are very, very focused on trying to get a deal done."

Stay tuned.

Detroit: What if it isn't Suh?

April, 22, 2010
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In these final hours before the NFL draft opens, you would have to look pretty hard to find a media analyst who is convinced the Detroit Lions won't take Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh with the No. 2 overall pick. But what if they don't? What if the Lions, led by one of the more mysterious general managers in the league, pull a surprise and look elsewhere?

(That means you, Martin Mayhew.)

What would that mean for the Lions? Who would they pick? Where would that leave the rest of the draft? (Why am I asking so many questions?) Let's consider some possibilities while we await the opening bell:

  • As we discussed a few weeks ago, many media draft analysts actually favor Oklahoma's Gerald McCoy as a pure prospect. Suh is considered the so-called "safer" choice because of his heavy college production. Still, we've got nothing other than conventional wisdom and peer pressure telling us the Lions rank Suh over McCoy. For all we know, it could be McCoy.
  • We could be wrong in assuming the Lions aren't factoring in the finances of paying No. 2 money to a defensive tackle. As we noted earlier this offseason, it is one of the game's lowest-paid positions. Let's not totally rule out the possibility that the Lions would look at a left tackle for that reason, even though coach Jim Schwartz has said he is happy with current starter Jeff Backus. Two of the draft's top left tackles visited the Lions' complex: Oklahoma State's Russell Okung and Oklahoma's Trent Williams. No one should be stunned if either were the pick.
  • If the Lions went with a left tackle instead of Suh or McCoy, it's very possible the rookie would open the season as a reserve. Backus could well remain at left tackle, with newcomer Rob Sims the likely starter at left guard. The Lions are one year removed from giving right guard Stephen Peterman a five-year contract extension. And it seems that right tackle Gosder Cherilus will get one more year to establish himself.
  • Without Suh or McCoy, the likeliest starting defensive tackle duo would be Corey Williams and Sammie Lee Hill. Unless the Lions trade for Washington defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, another possible impediment to drafting Suh.
  • If the Lions draft McCoy, you would figure Tampa Bay will snatch Suh at No. 3. The rest of the draft would be unaffected.
  • If the choice is Okung or Williams, the draft could get turned on its heels. Either Suh or McCoy could fall as far as Cleveland at No. 7, but probably no further.
  • Finally, we shouldn't assume the Lions will react to popular sentiment, including that of their own fans. Don't forget that last year, Lions fans were urging them to take linebacker Aaron Curry over quarterback Matthew Stafford.
I'm not trying to shake up any Detroit fans who are lighting by cyberspace in hopes that Suh becomes a Lion this evening. But we should all be realistic and accept that anyone who thinks they absolutely, positively know what's going to happen is either lying, delusional or an NFC North blogger for ESPN.com.

Draft Watch: NFC North

April, 21, 2010
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Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: Dream scenario/Plan B.

Chicago Bears

Dream scenario: Without a first- or second-round pick, Chicago's dreams are pretty muted this week. They have significant needs at guard and cornerback, but nothing would make them happier than having a starting-caliber safety fall to them at No. 75 overall. The nature of the position, and the depth of this draft, makes it possible. They might not get South Florida's Nate Allen, who is a likely second-round pick, but there should be other options. Finding a starter without having to sacrifice additional picks in a trade-up would be ideal.

Plan B: Guards are not highly coveted from a draft perspective, and if the Bears don't like any of the safeties available to them at No. 75, they should be able to find someone to compete for their wide-open spot at left guard. As of now, the only veteran in the mix for that role is Josh Beekman.

Detroit Lions

Dream scenario: This might be too dreamy to actually happen, but here goes: The Lions acquire Washington defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth for a third-round pick. They draft Oklahoma State's Russell Okung at No. 2 overall and grab Cal running back Jahvid Best at No. 34. Although they pass over arguably the two best prospects of the draft -- defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy -- the Lions still get an elite defensive tackle, a fixture at left tackle and a playmaker in the backfield who would be ready to contribute immediately while starter Kevin Smith continues his knee rehabilitation. I've shied away from this scenario, believing the cost for Haynesworth would be too high, but a third-round pick is pretty reasonable here.

Plan B: Frankly, getting a dynamic defensive playmaker at No. 2 -- Suh or McCoy -- is an awfully nice fallback position.

Green Bay Packers

Dream scenario: The Packers need a left tackle of the future. As this year's draft class stacks up, there is a significant dropoff between the top four left tackles and whoever you consider to be No. 5. Currently situated at No. 23, the Packers probably aren't going to get a chance at Okung, Oklahoma's Trent Williams, Rutgers' Anthony Davis or Iowa's Bryan Bulaga. But as long as we're in a dream-like state, we can hope that one of those four -- Davis? -- somehow slips to No. 23 or close enough that the Packers can make a reasonable trade up to get him.

Plan B: In our blog network mock draft, I proposed taking a chance on USC left tackle Charles Brown. He would probably get at least a year to develop, based on current starter Chad Clifton's contract, and would benefit from being in a stable offensive environment.

Minnesota Vikings

Dream scenario: Vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman said this week that he is confident at least one of his four targeted players will be available with the No. 30 overall pick. I won't hazard a guess at their identities, but ideally one of them would be a quarterback and fall to their spot. More than anything, this franchise needs a young quarterback to build around. More often than not, those quarterbacks are found at the top of the draft and at least in the first round. There are no assurances about waiting for next year. Getting their quarterback of the future is the Vikings' dream scenario.

Plan B: The Vikings have a relatively strong roster otherwise, and therefore can afford to draft for value at every spot if they choose. If their quarterback of the future isn't available at No. 30, or he can be selected lower in the draft, then they'll benefit from additional depth that the best available player will bring.

Explaining the mock draft

April, 19, 2010
4/19/10
10:50
AM ET
So you've had a few hours to ruminate over the NFL Blog Network's 2010 mock draft. I'm glad to see the comments are flowing over on the NFL Nation blog as well. Now it's time for me to justify, make excuses for and/or weakly defend my choices for Detroit, Green Bay and Minnesota.

Detroit Lions
Position:
No. 2 overall
Pick: Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh
Justification: We've been through so many angles on this pick that we forget what should be the Lions' top priority: Choosing the best player available. There is some debate about whether Suh will be a better pro than Oklahoma's Gerald McCoy, but there is no doubt (in my mind) that Suh was the better and more productive college player. Ultimately, I sided with past history over future projection.

Green Bay Packers
Position:
No. 23 overall
Pick: USC tackle Charles Brown
Making excuses: Esteemed NFC East baron Matt Mosley immediately took a shot at this decision, calling Brown a "project" whose selection allowed Philadelphia to grab Boise State cornerback Kyle Wilson. I found myself in the no-man's land we first discussed last month. The top four tackles were off the board, as was Idaho guard Mike Iupati. Texas linebacker Sergio Kindle went at No. 22. I gave some thought to Texas Christian linebacker Jerry Hughes, but I decided I would rather have the next-best left tackle rather than the next-best pass-rusher. Packers general manager Ted Thompson has taken "project" players before (defensive tackle Justin Harrell). And there is no indication the Packers are looking for an immediate starter at left tackle considering the contract they gave Chad Clifton.

Minnesota Vikings
Position:
No. 30 overall
Pick: Florida guard/center Maurkice Pouncey
Weakly defending: I know a quarterback would have been the more interesting choice, but my decision was not to use the No. 30 overall pick on Florida's Tim Tebow or Texas' Colt McCoy. The Vikings could probably trade back into the top or possibly middle of the second round and still get either player if that were the case. Minnesota's roster is such that it can pick for value at every spot in the draft. When I looked at the remaining players on the board, I thought Pouncey was the best. The Vikings might have their board stacked differently, but I think they'll take their highest-rated player here. In the short-term, Pouncey would put some pressure on center John Sullivan and right guard Anthony Herrera.

Lions' Mayhew keeps 'em guessing

April, 15, 2010
4/15/10
5:30
PM ET
Whether it was intentional or otherwise -- and based on how he operates, I would suggest the former - Detroit general manager Martin Mayhew painted a flexible picture Thursday of his intentions with the No. 2 overall pick in next week's draft. Meeting with Detroit-area reporters, Mayhew said the Lions aren't likely to trade down but are still formulating the highest levels of their draft board amid blue-chip grades that are "tight as I've ever seen it."

In other words, the Lions could take any of the draft's top players and won't make a final decision until "probably [next] Thursday," Mayhew said.

Riiight.

It's foolish to think the Lions don't have a pretty solid plan in place, barring unexpected trade offers or some other surprising development. Mayhew is loathe to offer any hints, but I did think he made a notable comparison between this year's draft and the 2003 affair in which the Lions drafted receiver Charles Rogers at No. 2 overall.

The potential pool of players the Lions likely will be choosing this year -- defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy, and left tackle Russell Okung -- have cleaner resumes than any of the players the Lions considered in 2003.

"It's never fool-proof," Mayhew said. "[But] I would say that this year, being at No. 2, is a lot better than being at No. 2 the year we drafted Charles Rogers. Just in terms of the number of concerns you have with different players, the players that are there now, a lot of them -- and I've talked to a lot of people in the last week or so, head coaches and people who have been around these guys -- a lot of these guys are solid off-the-field character guys and are relatively-healthy guys. High-effort guys, very motivated, intrinsically motivated type of guys. There is a good pool to pick from at two this year."

If you thought that sounded partly like praise and partly like an invitation to trade up into the No. 2 position, you're probably right. Mayhew said "at this point, I would anticipate being at [No. 2]" but clearly would like some trade discussion to come his way. Stranger things have happened, but that seems unlikely at this point.

We'll post the ESPN Blog Network mock draft next Monday, and you can probably guess who I chose for the Lions at No. 2. (No, it wasn't Knowshon Moreno.) For all of Mayhew's protestations to the contrary, it's safe to believe he knows who he's taking. If I had to guess, I would say that player's last name starts with an "S", ends with an "h" and has a "u" in the middle. I'll let you puzzle over that riddle for at least a minute or so.

US PresswireWhich defensive tackle would produce greater gains for the Lions: Oklahoma's Gerald McCoy or Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh?
It's difficult to find a mock draft these days that doesn't pair Detroit with Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. And amid the paradox and hedging that defines media draft analysis, it's commonplace to see Oklahoma's Gerald McCoy ranked above Suh as a pure prospect.

(Mock draft evidence here, here and here. Ranking reversal at Scouts Inc., NFL.com, and Pro Football Weekly. ESPN's Mel Kiper is one of the few Suh supporters in both categories.)

"You could flip a coin on these two," Kiper said last week. But with Detroit poised to choose between them with the No. 2 overall pick, the important question is this: Can you? Are McCoy and Suh truly interchangeable prospects? Or will we look back one day and scrutinize the decision the way draft historians have broken down the 1998 choice between quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf?

To be sure, Suh-McCoy is not nearly as dramatic as Manning-Leaf. Defensive tackles don't impact a game the way quarterbacks do, and Leaf represented an extreme case of draft flameout.

But for the first time in 34 years, we're expecting two defensive tackles to be among the first five picks of an NFL draft. Usually we're discussing whether there are any tackles worthy of that honor, let alone trying to draw distinctions between two.

That dynamic, along with conventional draft history, suggests it would be a folly to be believe both players will have comparable careers. I couldn't find a suitable metric for determining draft success, but I can tell you many NFL personnel men follow a general principle espoused by Chicago general manager Jerry Angelo this week. "Half of the first round won't play to expectations," Angelo said.

Those who fall short of expectations aren't necessarily busts. The high threshold for first-round picks, let alone those taken in the top 5, is hard to meet. Historically speaking, there is a right and wrong -- or, at least, less right -- decision to be made here.

We've had so many discussions about whether the Lions should consider a left tackle at No. 2 overall that I think we've failed to give enough consideration the more likely scenario: Choosing between Suh and McCoy. How should the Lions make that choice?

I don't know if any of us can answer that with certainty using present-day facts. What we can do, however, is offer the parameters the Lions are surely considering in their analysis.

Production

Many scouts will tell you they prefer to have seen a player produce in games rather than assume what they might do in the NFL. By that measure, Suh's production outweighed McCoy's from every measurable vantage point.

Most of you already know the basics: McCoy had 14 sacks in his college career. Suh managed 12 last season. But the charts to your right, compiled by ESPN's Stats & Information, more fully illustrate Suh's tangible production in each player's final college season.

As you can see, Suh managed 88 impact plays -- sacks, tackles for losses, quarterback hurries and deflections/interceptions -- last season to McCoy's 46.5. Suh was also more effective on third downs. It's true that Suh played one additional game, but the ratio is still 2-1 when you consider it from the perspective of impact plays per snap. The same is true when you measure Suh's performance against double teams relative to McCoy.

The numbers alone shouldn't account for a choice between the two, but you would be hard-pressed to find a scout that doesn't place premium value on demonstrated college production. Asked about the statistical discrepancy at the combine, McCoy said his job at Oklahoma was to be a "disruptor" and "make sure [the ball] doesn't get past the line of scrimmage." In that assignment, McCoy implied, it was more important to re-direct the ball carrier than it was to make the tackle itself.

Which brings us to ...

Scheme

Another paradox of the Suh-McCoy debate is that Suh played in a "two-gap" system at Nebraska while McCoy was in a "one-gap" scheme at Oklahoma. For those who don't know what that means: The number corresponds to how many lanes between offensive linemen the defensive lineman is responsible for.

The conventional expectation for a two-gapping defensive tackle is that he will clog the line and allow linebackers to jump in and make a play. A one-gap defensive tackle typically has more freedom to get into the backfield and make a play because he has only one direction to worry about.

If anything, given those parameters, you would have expected McCoy to compile better numbers. But Suh's production advantage means the Lions will have to make schematic projections on both players.

In McCoy's case, they'll have to determine why Suh was more productive in a less aggressive scheme. For Suh, the Lions will have to project if he would be equally as effective as a penetrator as he was in holding up the line of scrimmage and finding the ball.

The Lions, it should be noted, run a scheme closer to Oklahoma's than Nebraska's. They will ask Suh or McCoy to be aggressive and get into the backfield with one-gap responsibility.

Although I doubt he would admit otherwise, Lions coach Jim Schwartz said last month that either player would fit their scheme.

"That's not what those players are," Schwartz said. "That's what they were asked to do. They're very similar in their skill set. I think both of them -- if you took Suh to Oklahoma and McCoy to Nebraska -- I think they'd both excel in the other person's defense. When you are drafting at the top of the draft, you're looking for guys who aren't just a creation of the scheme. You're looking for guys who have multidimensional skills that can do a lot of those different things.

"Both guys are big. They're fast. They have high character and both are productive at a high level of competition. There's a lot to like with both of them."

But with projections required for both players, scheme clues don't help clarify the issue.

Background

There are no obvious red flags for either player, but you consider every background blip when drafting as high as No. 2. Suh's medical report has drawn some scrutiny because of two knee injuries, including a torn meniscus that required him to redshirt his freshman year.

McCoy, meanwhile, produced a disappointing 23 repetitions on the bench press at the scouting combine and hasn't made another attempt to increase that total. Is a low bench-press total a reason to pass over someone in the draft? Not necessarily, but it's certainly worth further investigation to ensure McCoy is entering the NFL with the strength necessary to take on 320-pound guards and centers.

As Schwartz noted, both players have excellent character reputations. If you haven't already, make sure you check out ESPN.com profiles of McCoy and Suh. For what it's worth, McCoy was president of Oklahoma's chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

What to do?

There are no obvious hints of a potential bust from either player, but expectations for a No. 2 pick extend much higher than that. Like any other team in their position, the Lions need dominance -- not just production -- from this pick.

If you're basing it on past performance, Suh would be the choice. If you want to take it deeper, it gets more complicated. And that's where we are now. Nine days. And counting.

video

NFC North weekend mailbag

April, 10, 2010
4/10/10
11:00
AM ET
Be it through the mailbag, Facebook, Twitter or subliminal messages, I'm always interested in your feedback. Believe it or not, I appreciate it when you spur more complete thoughts or point out a hole in my argument. That's where we'll start this weekend.

On with it....

Randal of Cambridge, Minn., writes: Enjoyed your QB story but you are painting too broad of a brush. Who has Minnesota passed over in the draft that it should not have? Even with 20-20 hindsight, there has not been too many. What highly rated QB sat in the green room, while the Vikings drafted another position? Maybe Aaron Rodgers, but at that time Dante Culpepper looked pretty good. The issue is that they have rarely hit bottom. They have been too consistent. This is not the Rams or Lions who are in the top 10 most years.

Kevin Seifert: You make a fair point, Randal, and it's something I wish I had looked at prior to posting. I'm not ready to concede my primary point, but let's first examine exactly what you're talking about.

The chart below shows every first-round quarterback selected after the Vikings' spot over the past 20 years.


The two best quarterbacks on this list are Drew Brees and Rodgers. At both points, there was no indication the Vikings needed a franchise quarterback. Culpepper made the Pro Bowl in 2000, and in 2004 he produced his best-ever season. I can't blame the Vikings for passing over Brees in 2001 and Rodgers in 2005.

And with hindsight, of course, it's hard to find fault with the decisions to draft Adrian Peterson over Brady Quinn in 2007 and Kenechi Udeze over J.P Losman in 2004.

But I think we should tread carefully when considering a linear analysis of the past. Washington, for example, couldn't establish Jason Campbell as its long-term answer at quarterback after selecting him in 2005. But how can we know for sure that Campbell's career would have progressed in the same direction if he were taken by another team?

What if the Vikings had drafted him, for example, and allowed him to spend the past four seasons working with the same offensive coaches rather than experiencing the yearly turnover he had with the Redskins? Perhaps his future would have followed a different path. I'm not saying it would have, but we shouldn't overvalue hindsight in these situations.

And yes, it's true the Vikings weren't always in position to draft an elite quarterback because of their relative success the previous season. But we shouldn't give them a full pass on that. After all, it's within NFL rules to trade up and grab a player you feel strongly about. Denver did that in 2006 and would up with Jay Cutler -- six spots ahead of the Vikings. He was in the Pro Bowl by his third season.

So I guess the crux of my argument remains unchanged. While it's hard to heavily criticize the Vikings for the quarterbacks they have passed over in recent years, they're not blameless. You have to swing the bat -- even if it means trading up or trusting your ability to develop a prospect -- to get a hit. At some point, they're going to have to take the bat off their shoulder.




Via Facebook, Andy passes along a link to former Green Bay receiver Javon Walker's latest trouble and writes: Another move Ted Thompson doesn't get credit for.

Kevin Seifert: Indeed. Walker missed 15 games in 2005 after tearing an anterior cruciate ligament, after which Thompson traded him to Denver for the No. 37 overall pick in the 2006 draft. (Thompson traded that pick away on draft day, but guard Daryn Colledge was the key player he selected with the resulting bundle.)

Although Walker had a 1,000-yard season with the Broncos in 2006, his career has since crashed. He's played in 19 games over the past three seasons and, at age 31, is out of the game. I'm not sure if Thompson foresaw any of Walker's ensuing troubles, but he certainly got a fair price for a player coming off a serious knee injury.

Andy's link gave rise to an interesting idea. Thompson has taken his lumps here and elsewhere, but what other moves should he be getting more credit for? I came up with a couple. Feel free to add or subtract in the comment section accompanying this post.
  • Trading defensive tackle Corey Williams in 2008 for the No. 56 overall pick in that draft. Although the payoff didn't occur -- quarterback Brian Brohm, taken in that spot, was a bust -- Thompson got pretty decent value for a player he essentially replaced a year later with B.J. Raji.
  • Hiring coach Mike McCarthy. There weren't many "hot lists" with McCarthy's name on it after the 2005 season. Thompson spent the time to find a coach who would mesh well with the draft-oriented philosophy he planned to use. In the big picture, McCarthy had made the playoffs twice in four seasons while coaching the league's youngest team. He's been a good fit where few would have predicted it prior to his arrival.



Ian of East Leroy, Mich., finds a logic hole in our discussion about a trade that would send Washington defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth to Detroit: With the retirement of Chris Samuels and the acquisition of McNabb from Philadelphia, left tackle seems to be a priority for the Redskins. Acquiring Haynesworth would allow the Lions to draft Russell Okung instead of either Ndamukong Suh or Gerald McCoy. In effect the Redskins would also lose the top left tackle in the draft.

Kevin Seifert: Ian has made a good point: The Redskins essentially could be trading Haynesworth and Okung for Suh or McCoy and (presumably) a later pick in the draft. (That's assuming they don't take the No. 2 pick in exchange for Haynesworth, of course.)

It all would come down to how desperate Shanahan is to get Haynesworth off his team. Does he need to get something in return? Otherwise, he could always release him after the draft.

I guess I wouldn't make Okung the key to a Haynesworth trade. If you can get something in return for him, and still be in position to take Suh or McCoy, I think it might be worth it. But the original point is valid: The deal is more complicated at second glance.




Brian of Chicago writes: Seems the Bears' biggest remaining needs are a "quarterbacking" safety and help on the OL. Dallas just released Ken Hamlin and Flozell Adams. Now, I'm hesitant on Adams mostly because of last year's debacle with Orlando Pace, and Flozell is the same age as OP. But to me Ken Hamlin is a slam dunk. Thoughts?

Kevin Seifert: Agreed on Adams. I'd stay away from him. Hamlin is a bit of a different story. He was a Pro Bowl player as recently as 2007, but since then he has one interception in his last 28 games.

I don't see him as anything more than a short-term answer at a position where the Bears really don't have many viable in-house candidates to start. He's better than what they have, and that's about the best thing I can say about him. It's possible the Bears could find an immediate starter in the draft, but they're not going to get two. I'd give him a hard look.




Ben of Lincoln, Neb., writes: I want to know your feelings about the Lions picking Matthew Stafford last year. What I remember is everyone saying that the next year would have a better QB class, and that the Lions should pick a lineman. Now everyone this year is saying that this years QB class is not that great, and next years will be. Is the QB something that one has to evaluate for the current year, and not plan ahead, or do you still think the Lions should have waited?

Kevin Seifert: No, I think you take too big of a risk trying to project a class from a year out. The Lions considered Stafford the best player in the draft last season. You can argue with their evaluation if you want, but the bottom line is they would have made a mistake to subordinate their own draft board based on a 12-month projection of the upcoming class.

I wonder if those projections were based on Washington's Jake Locker entering this draft. He decided to return to school; ESPN's Mel Kiper said this week that Locker is a near-guaranteed No. 1 overall pick next season. Will he feel that way 11 months from now? It's just an educated guess and nothing more.




Steve of Irvine writes: Do you think Suh is athletic enough to play defensive end on 1st/2nd down...then move inside on 3rd? That's the way the Lions would have used Anthony Hargrove.

Kevin Seifert: Yes, that was the plan for Hargrove had he joined the team via restricted free agency. I can't profess to be an expert on Suh's physical skills, but I've seen occasions where elite players become ordinary contributors when moved to a different position. I'm guessing Suh could play left end if he had to. But the best bet is he will be more dominant at tackle. You want your players in the position where they can maximize their skills and playmaking ability.

Minnesota did the same thing in 2003 with Kevin Williams, a player Suh has been compared to. Williams opened the season as the starting left end, where he was adequate. He moved inside full-time at about midseason and the difference was noticeable. The Vikings haven't tried that arrangement again.
NFC Big Question: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Several important clues have appeared to help us discern the top of the NFL draft. As the smoke clears, can there be any way that Detroit won't end up with Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh?

[+] EnlargeSuh
Christopher Hanewinckel/US PresswireRecent developments have improved the chances that Ndamukong Suh will end up in Detroit.
Draft intentions are difficult to interpret, especially those of tight-lipped Lions general manager Martin Mayhew. But as much as these things can be predicted, a Suh-Lions marriage seems awfully likely.

Although this scenario has been the likeliest for some time, several variables no longer exist.

First, St. Louis released starting quarterback Marc Bulger on Monday. The move was the strongest indication yet that the Rams will draft Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford -- and not Suh -- with the No. 1 overall pick.

Second, Washington acquired quarterback Donovan McNabb from Philadelphia for two draft picks, including its second-round pick this year. With their quarterback position filled, and a critical draft position shipped out, it's hard to imagine the Redskins as a major trade-up contender for the Lions' No. 2 overall pick.

Before the McNabb deal, there was some thought the Redskins might have enough interest in Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen to swing a deal. That seems unlikely now, dramatically lessening the possibility of a Clausen-generated bidding war at No. 2.

Third, defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove signed his restricted free-agent tender with New Orleans. The Lions had hosted Hargrove for a visit and might have considered another position at No. 2 had they acquired him through an offer sheet.

Now, the only obstacle to figuring out the Lions is knowing whether their talent evaluators agree that Suh is a better prospect than Oklahoma's Gerald McCoy. That evaluation is far from a certainty. From a media analyst's perspective, at least, opinions are mixed. ESPN's Mel Kiper has Suh ranked ahead of McCoy, while Scouts Inc. lists them in reverse order. McCoy also heads the list over at NFL.com, where Mike Mayock is the primary draft analyst.

Speaking last month at the NFL owners meetings, Lions coach Jim Schwartz said there is not as much difference between the two players "as people think" and that they were asked to play different styles at their respective schools.

"They're very similar in their skill set," Schwartz said. "If you took Suh to Oklahoma and you took McCoy to Nebraska, I think they'd both excel in the other person's defense. When you're drafting at the top of the draft, you're looking for guys who aren't just a creation of the scheme and you're looking for guys who have multidimensional skills that can do a lot of different things. Both guys are big, they're fast, have high character and both are productive at a high level of competition. There's a lot to like with both of them."

We've discussed the possibility of the Lions drafting Oklahoma State left tackle Russell Okung for financial reasons. But if you trust the team's pledge to take the best available player with each pick, regardless of position, you can narrow the choices down to Suh and McCoy. And although it's impossible to know with certainty what the Lions are thinking, Suh at No. 2 seems more likely than ever with the draft 17 days away.

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