NFC North: Michael Crabtree

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- How much the Green Bay Packers value receivers Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson won't be known until -- or if -- the team signs them to long-term contracts before they hit free agency next March.

But thanks to ESPN.com's Mike Sando, we have a better idea of how others in the NFL view the Packers' top-two receivers.

In an ESPN Insider piece, Insider Sando looked at what he called a loaded 2015 free-agent receiver class and, with the help of two NFL general managers plus an offensive and defensive coach, ranked the class in order of the likelihood of cashing in on big contracts whether with their current teams or on the free-agent market.

Both Cobb and Nelson ranked high on the list.

The 29-year-old Nelson came in at No. 4 behind Dez Bryant of the Cowboys, Demaryius Thomas of the Broncos and Michael Crabtree of the 49ers. Cobb, 23, was fifth.

The rest of the list was Torrey Smith of the Ravens, Wes Welker of the Broncos, Cecil Shorts of the Jaguars, Roddy White of the Falcons and Hakeem Nicks of the Colts.

The Packers and Broncos were the only teams with two free-agent-to-be receivers on the list.

Nelson is in the final year of a three-year, $12.6 million extension that turned out to be a bargain for the Packers, while Cobb is in the final year of the rookie contract he signed as a second-round pick in 2011.

Here's what Sando wrote based on evaluations by those he consulted:

On Nelson: Nelson and Crabtree virtually tied for the third spot. Nelson has benefited from consistently outstanding quarterback play. Over the past three years, Nelson trails only Welker and Thomas among players on this list in yards receiving per game. He is second to Smith in yards per reception and second to Bryant in touchdowns.

Nelson has competition from his teammate, Cobb, on this list. Nelson is primarily an outside receiver, while Cobb plays from the slot. Nelson polled higher than Cobb on three of four ballots. The defensive coordinator had Nelson sixth, one spot below Cobb. "I would put Jordy after Crabtree, but before Cobb," one of the GMs said.

The other GM joined the offensive assistant in placing Nelson among his top three. "You have to value that outside guy," the second GM said. "But that inside slot receiver can do a lot of damage."

A third GM I spoke with put it this way: "Nelson fits a big role for them. I would have a hard time saying he would be a hugely paid guy, though. He'll generate interest, but not at the $10-$11 million level. I do think he will come in over Eric Decker, though."

On Cobb: At 23, Cobb is easily the youngest player on this list. He missed 10 games last season and one in each of his previous two. That leaves him tied with Crabtree for the most games missed over the past three seasons when isolating the 10 players on this list. Cobb caught four passes for 106 yards and two touchdowns after returning for the Packers' final two games, counting a wild-card playoff defeat to the 49ers.

"Cobb and Crabtree are interchangeable on my list," the offensive assistant said. "Cobb is the model person and will always show up on time. Crabtree comes off whinier, and the guy from Seattle (Richard Sherman) got in his head. Cobb is coming from the right program with Mike McCarthy, one with structure and discipline and doing the right things. Crabtree does play outside more, but I'd rather coach Cobb."


The Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers have met so often of late that they’re becoming like division rivals.

Sunday’s NFC wild-card playoff game at Lambeau Field will be the fourth meeting between the two teams in the past 17 months. They played in Week 1 of the 2012 season and again in the divisional round of the playoffs that season. They opened the 2013 season against each other again.

The 49ers won all three games.

ESPN.com 49ers reporter Bill Williamson and Packers reporter Rob Demovsky discuss what, if anything, might be different this time around.

Demovsky: Bill, the Packers have seen quarterback Colin Kaepernick beat them with his feet like he did in last year’s playoff game, when he rushed for 181 yards, and also beat them with his arm, like he did in the season opener this year when he threw for 412 yards. What has he been doing better lately, running or throwing, and how do you think coach Jim Harbaugh will try to attack the Packers’ defense this time around?

Williamson: Rob, he’s been a pass-first quarterback all season as he showed in Week 1. That was his best game of the season. But Kaepernick has been playing at a high level in the past five games with Michael Crabtree back on the field. Kaepernick’s Total QBR during the past three weeks is the highest in the NFL. Rob, I’m intrigued to see what the offensive attack is going to be. We all remember the cat-and-mouse game in Week 1 about the read-option attack that never materialized. I could see the 49ers hitting the Packers with it early to get them off-balance and try to go back and forth throughout the game.

Rob, what do you think the Packers are expecting from Kaepernick this week?

Demovsky: I’m not sure they know what to expect. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers pointed out that last year, the 49ers had the bye week in the first round of the playoffs and therefore had plenty of time to tinker with their game plan and install new looks like the read-option. They don’t have that luxury this time around. That said, maybe Harbaugh didn't use much read-option during the season because he wanted to keep his quarterback from getting hit. Now that it’s win-or-go-home time, maybe he’d be more willing to risk it. Either way, the Packers know they have to limit the big plays -- whether on the ground or through the air -- that have killed them in the previous meetings.

In the opener this year, receiver Anquan Boldin dominated the Packers. Now that Crabtree has returned, what dimension has he added to the offense?

Williamson: It’s changed everything. This is a much better, varied, dangerous offense. Crabtree is not 100 percent, but he is still able to help. It makes Boldin even more dangerous. He was double- and triple-teamed because the 49ers didn't have many weapons. With a trio of Crabtree, Boldin and tight end Vernon Davis, Kaepernick has some firepower.

Rob, do you think the Packers are giving Boldin extra thought this week because of the damage he caused in Week 1?

Demovsky: I’m sure they are, but they've changed the way they cover since that game. They’re more willing to match up Sam Shields on the opponent’s best receiver now, whereas early in the year they simply played Shields on one side of the field and Tramon Williams on the other. They’re also cognizant of what the return of Crabtree means for the passing game. Also, the Packers didn't have safety Morgan Burnett in the Week 1 game and although Burnett has had an inconsistent year, they’re hoping his presence on the back end helps slow down the 49ers' passing game.

From here, the 49ers look as though they have one of the NFL’s best group of linebackers with Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman and Ahmad Brooks. What makes those guys so effective and how can the Packers attack the heart of the 49ers' defense?

Williamson: And don’t forget Aldon Smith. The young star has been playing at a high level for the past month-plus. He came back in November after missing five games while receiving treatment for substance abuse. But you are right; Bowman, Willis and Brooks all made the Pro Bowl. They are dominant. Bowman has been playing out of his mind and he is a legitimate NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidate.

Rob, do you think containing the linebackers is the key for offensive success from Aaron Rodgers’ unit?

Demovsky: That’s certainly going to be one of the keys, because they could impact both the passing game when their ability to pass rush and the running game because of how they can clog up the middle, where Eddie Lacy likes to churn out yards. The Packers’ second-level blocking is going to be more critical in this game than perhaps at any time all season. If they let those linebackers get loose, it could spell trouble.


Randy Moss has several "returns" to the Metrodome in his career, including the 2006 preseason while with the Oakland Raiders and after being re-acquired by the Minnesota Vikings in 2010. Here's some advice for Vikings fans who want to see Moss on the field Sunday: Pay attention.

Yes, Moss' latest homecoming is notable mostly for the part-time role he has assumed for the San Francisco 49ers. Moss is in essence sharing the 49ers' No. 3 receiver role with Kyle Williams, behind starters Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham, and has been on the field for only 37 of the 49ers' 130 offensive snaps (28.5 percent) over the first two games. Quarterback Alex Smith has targeted Moss on only five of his 57 pass attempts, completing all five for 61 yards and a touchdown. (Statistics courtesy of Pro Football Focus.)

Moss, 35, didn't play last season and hasn't been a downfield threat since averaging 15.2 yards on 83 catches for the New England Patriots in 2009. The 49ers aren't really a downfield offense, preferring to utilize their physical line to run the ball while Smith attacks mid-range openings. But if the 49ers thought Moss could routinely stretch the defense downfield, it stands to reason they would use him that way -- as a decoy if nothing else.

Speaking to Bay-area reporters this week, Moss said "I am not" concerned about playing time and noted "it's really not up to me." He added: "I just come out here and practice every day. When called upon I try to make a play."

We've learned over the years that Moss is a special athlete and football player. There is no sense writing him off now, or ever. But if he has reached his physical limit, kudos to the 49ers for recognizing it and finding a reasonable way for him to contribute rather than mis-cast him in a role he played 10 years ago. And for two games, at least, Moss deserves credit for accepting the 49ers' plan.
Matthew StaffordThearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesThe Lions and Matthew Stafford couldn't rely on their usually potent passing offense.
SAN FRANCISCO -- I know what you're thinking, at least some of you. You want to know why a team with the best receiver in football would run almost as many times as they passed in a nationally televised game against one of the NFL's best teams. If the Detroit Lions were going down Sunday night to the San Francisco 49ers, as most of us assumed they would, shouldn't they have done so by firing their best weapons?

It sounds logical on the surface, but let's make something clear. The Lions didn't lose at Candlestick Park because they ran the ball 26 times and targeted Calvin Johnson and his fellow receivers on only 18 plays. If anything, the Lions absorbed a 27-19 loss because they couldn't run it better.

What we saw Sunday night was basic football. No offense, not even if it's led by a receiver like Johnson and a quarterback like Matthew Stafford, can impose its strength when a talented defense like the 49ers is aligned and determined to stop it. And just as they did in Week 1 against the Green Bay Packers, the 49ers used a deep zone to take away the Lions' downfield passing game.

Theoretically, the Lions had a reasonable counter in place from a football perspective. In practice, it just wasn't good enough. They managed 82 yards on those 26 rushing plays, including just 53 yards on 16 carries from starter Kevin Smith.

"We needed to be able to run," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. "They were taking the approach of playing deep safeties and taking away the big play, which they were able to do. When people do that, you need to be able to hurt them underneath and hurt them with the run. I thought at times we ran the ball well. Sometimes a one- or two-yard run was a good play."

What those runs did, however, was leave the Lions with almost no margin of error. Disembodied as they were from their preferred method of scoring -- shots into the end zone via the passing game -- the Lions looked like the proverbial fish out of water. They couldn't penetrate the 49ers' red zone their first nine possessions and settled for five field goal attempts by Jason Hanson. (He converted four.)

"We didn't play our best game tonight in any phase," Schwartz said. But what he meant, of course, was that the Lions didn't play a perfect game. And that's what they needed against a team that has now dispatched two of the NFL's best offenses, the Lions' and Packers', in impressive fashion.

"We lost to a good team tonight," defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch said. "They were 13-3 last year. They were a couple plays away from the Super Bowl. We had to play our best football to beat this team and we didn't."

Said center Dominic Raiola: "That's one of the best teams in the NFC."

[+] EnlargeKevin Smith
AP Photo/Tony AvelarKevin Smith managed only 53 yards on 16 carries against San Francisco.
I don't blame the Lions a bit for their approach. If you want to hold them accountable, you can wonder if they did enough this offseason to account for the shaky status of their top two runners, Jahvid Best and Mikel Leshoure. Best has not yet been cleared for contact nearly a year after a season-ending concussion, and Leshoure has now served a two-game NFL suspension.

Would Leshoure and/or Best have made a difference Sunday night? I'm not sure. The Lions' defense wasn't able to stop the 49ers when it became a one-score game in the fourth quarter, allowing three consecutive third-down completions from Alex Smith to Michael Crabtree on the game-clinching drive.

This much was clear: the running game the Lions put on the field Sunday night wasn't good enough. Johnson said the 49ers never came out of their two-deep look, often using a "three-cloud" zone that in essence calls for a cornerback to join both safeties to cover deep thirds of the field. It all but shuts down deep routes but leaves big portions of the field available underneath. Stafford wound up throwing only six passes that traveled farther than 10 yards, according to ESPN Stats & Information, completing two. Johnson had only 46 receiving yards before the Lions opened it up to start the fourth quarter.

"[The Lions' run game] didn't have any effect at all," 49ers safety Donte Whitner said. "We were able to keep two safeties deep at all times. We didn't have to get too nosy in the run game. Our front seven, front six, did a good job of stopping the run with a light box and that is what we have to do versus teams like Green Bay and Detroit, teams that like to throw the ball a lot."

The 49ers might not have adjusted even if the Lions had been more dynamic in their running game, although the Lions' offense might have scored more points. In the end, however, I don't think anyone should fret too much. There aren't many NFL defenses like the 49ers', which can stop a running game, no matter who the opposing runner is, by using six men in the box.

I suppose we could conclude that the Lions demonstrated they're not ready to be measured among the NFL's best teams, but was anyone really saying that before Sunday night? I don't think so.

"That's a good team," Schwartz said, adding later: "We lost by one score on the road, even considering we didn't play well."

The only way the Lions were going to win Sunday night is if they played perfectly. They didn't. Their counter to the 49ers' defense wasn't good enough. They were outmatched, something I think the 49ers will do to many opponents this season. So it goes.

 

Rapid Reaction: 49ers 27, Lions 19

September, 16, 2012
9/16/12
11:36
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SAN FRANCISCO -- Some thoughts on Sunday night's events at Candlestick Park:

What it means: The Detroit Lions fell to 1-1, matching the record of every other NFC North team. It's hard to conjure much criticism toward the Lions on this night, however. They were overwhelmed by a better and more powerful opponent playing its home opener, a result that seemed predictable since the day the NFL released its schedule. It's not as if the Lions botched a bunch of opportunities to win this game. The 49ers might be the best team in football.

For those asking: Lions coach Jim Schwartz and 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh shook hands without incident both before and after the game. Finis.

Mixing in the run: The Lions kept it close in large part because of an uncharacteristic commitment to the running game. Before they got into catch-up mode in the fourth quarter, the Lions ran on 22 of their first 40 plays. Quarterback Matthew Stafford had 89 yards passing through three quarters. I don't blame the Lions for their approach; the 49ers' defense is too good to be allowed to defend only half the field. Unfortunately for the Lions, they couldn't convert their possessions into touchdowns. Unofficially, they didn't throw a single pass into the end zone. As it turned out, place-kicker Jason Hanson accounted for most of their scoring with four field goals in five attempts.

Turning point I: The Lions forced the 49ers' first turnover in seven regular-season games during the first quarter, a fumble by kick returner Kendall Hunter. But they weren't able to fully capitalize on it, gaining only two offensive yards, and settled for Hanson's 41-yard field goal. A touchdown would have given them a 10-7 lead and perhaps changed the complexion of the game.

Turning point II: After the Lions made it a one-score game at 20-12 on Hanson's fourth field goal, 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree converted three consecutive third-down receptions. The 49ers then sealed the game on Vernon Davis' 23-yard touchdown reception with 3 minutes, 4 seconds remaining.

Official confusion: Here's one I don't remember seeing before. Schwartz had to challenge a play to prove Stafford was sacked. Midway through the fourth quarter, referee Matt Nicks did not blow this whistle when Stafford's right knee hit the ground at the 49ers' 30-yard line after a hit by Aldon Smith. Stafford popped up and lost another six yards before getting tackled again. Nicks gave the Lions their six yards back after the review, and the decision left the Lions in position to end the possession with Hanson's 48-yard field goal. Nicks' crew also missed clear head shots on both quarterbacks, Stafford and the 49ers' Alex Smith, after scrambles. The blow Smith absorbed from Lions safety John Wendling left the bridge of his nose bleeding.

What's next: The Lions will play at the Tennessee Titans next Sunday.

Draft Watch: NFC North

April, 14, 2011
4/14/11
12:00
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NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: Draft Philosophy.

Chicago Bears

General manager Jerry Angelo has emerged from what amounted to a two-year draft hiatus following the high-profile trades for quarterback Jay Cutler and late defensive end Gaines Adams. It will be interesting to see if any philosophical shifts are detectable in what will be the Bears' first draft since Angelo overhauled his front office. Director of college scouting Greg Gabriel departed, his position was dissolved and Tim Ruskell was hired to oversee the college and pro scouting departments. To this point, there has been a general sense that Angelo -- a onetime scouting director himself -- has been drawn to individual players he likes more than he has been guided by a larger plan to build a balanced team. Case in point: He has drafted 18 defensive backs and 11 offensive linemen over his tenure. Six of those 11 offensive linemen were taken in the seventh round, part of the reason the Bears are short-handed at the position this offseason.

Detroit Lions

If the Lions have proved anything under general manager Martin Mayhew, it's that they value every last drop of the draft. In some instances, Mayhew has gone to great lengths to secure an extra pick, no matter what round it is in. On at least two occasions, he has traded a player recently signed as a street free agent or claimed on waivers for a seventh-round draft pick. In several cases, Mayhew has included those picks in trades for other players. This spring, he and the Lions appealed a relatively mild NFL tampering discipline, hired a prominent attorney and achieved the slightest reduction in the penalty: A seventh-round pick lost in 2012 rather than 2011. Some teams consider seventh-round picks to be throwaways or places to grab a player otherwise destined for college free agency to avoid a bidding war on signing bonuses. Under Mayhew, the Lions use them as a daily commodity.

Green Bay Packers

Generally speaking, more is better for the Packers. It's been well-chronicled that Packers general manager Ted Thompson built his championship team almost exclusively through the draft, and that approach requires volume to gather enough depth and maximize the chances for hitting big on players. Thompson famously traded back into the 2009 first round to select linebacker Clay Matthews, but a betting man realizes it's far more likely that he will trade back in any given year to accumulate more picks. Thompson rarely pursues the hot name or flashy personalities or even flashy players. Case in point: Choosing nose tackle B.J. Raji over receiver Michael Crabtree in 2009. But there is no arguing with the Packers' approach under Thompson, which has built layers of quality -- if not elite -- depth at multiple positions across the board.

Minnesota Vikings

Every team insists that talent trumps need in the draft, but under vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman, the Vikings have drafted for need more often than you might think. Consider 2010. The Vikings entered the draft knowing their depth was thin behind injured cornerback Cedric Griffin, who was rehabilitating a torn anterior cruciate ligament. They also had lost backup tailback Chester Taylor via free agency. Their first two picks? Cornerback Chris Cook and running back Toby Gerhart. In 2009, they wanted to replace right tackle Ryan Cook. The answer was Phil Loadholt, their second-round pick. In 2008, the Vikings traded up to draft safety Tyrell Johnson because they knew starter Darren Sharper was entering his final season. There's a difference between taking what the draft gives you and maneuvering to make sure it gives you what you want. The Vikings lean toward the latter under Spielman.

A painful win for the Packers

November, 22, 2009
11/22/09
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Scott Boehm/Getty Images
Packers cornerback Al Harris' potential season-ending injury could throw the defense out of whack.

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Al Harris pulled on a brown leather coat, turned around from his locker and for a moment I thought I was looking at the wrong guy. There were no crutches to be seen. No medical officials were hovering. Harris looked like any other Packers player departing Lambeau Field.

Then he took a step, and that was it. Harris could not put any weight on his left knee, and it appears a virtual certainty he will miss the rest of the season. The same could be true for linebacker Aaron Kampman, who like Harris, rode a cart off the field in the second half of the Packers’ 30-24 victory over San Francisco. Multiple reports suggested both players tore their anterior cruciate ligaments, but coach Mike McCarthy said only that the injuries "did not look very good."

Regardless, the Packers almost certainly will be left to pursue a wild-card playoff berth without two of their most prominent players.

“Those are two staples of our defense,” cornerback Charles Woodson said. “They are great guys and teammates. I don’t know the extent of either one of their injuries right now. But not to have those guys is going to be tough going for this team.”

Through all of their trials in pass protection and scheme adjustment, the Packers have strung together consecutive victories to put themselves in position for a playoff spot. At 6-4, they’re part of a second tier of NFC teams behind the division leaders. That group includes the New York Giants (6-4) and Philadelphia (6-4).

Otherwise, the Packers have gained an advantage over Atlanta (5-5), Chicago (4-6), San Francisco (4-6) and Carolina (4-6) with six games to play. I believe they’ve tweaked their offense sufficiently enough to mitigate some problems in pass protection, having rediscovered their running game while targeting checkdown receivers more frequently. (Sunday, tailback Ryan Grant rushed for 129 yards while backup Brandon Jackson and tight end Jermichael Finley combined for 13 receptions.)

But even with Harris and Kampman on the field, the Packers were just starting to turn the corner on defense. To me, the biggest question of their playoff run isn’t whether they can protect Rodgers. It’s whether defensive coordinator Dom Capers can piece together a game plan to match their looming personnel turnover.

Their new mix is likely to include Tramon Williams in Harris’ spot along with rookie Brandon Underwood in the nickel. Rookie Brad Jones and veteran Brady Poppinga would replace Kampman.

“It’s like that in the NFL,” Capers said. “A week ago, when we didn’t have Aaron, Brad went in and did a nice job and we played well. Their job is to get ready and our job is to see how much we think they can handle and what they can do to find a way to play and win the game.”

I think most of us can agree the Packers strung together their best six quarters of defense last week against Dallas and in the first half Sunday against the 49ers. Here’s what the Cowboys and 49ers managed over that stretch:

Points: 10
Yards: 335
First Downs: 18

Now look at what happened from the moment Harris joined Kampman in the locker room at the 10:52 mark in the fourth quarter. See what the 49ers amassed in 10 offensive plays to close out the game:

Points: 14
Yards: 92
First downs: 5

The Packers suddenly couldn’t stop a team they had limited to one first down in the first half. Frankly, the Packers locked down the victory mostly because their offense ran the final 5:50 off the clock.

Capers noted that the 49ers began their comeback before Harris was injured, but I don’t think you can underestimate the domino effect of his departure. I’m well aware that rookie Michael Crabtree beat him for a 38-yard touchdown in the third quarter, but to that point Harris had blanketed him.

Woodson, for one, said Harris had made substantial progress in accepting the scheme recently.

“The last two weeks,” Woodson said, “the way he has studied, knowing what he’s going to get out there on the field, has drastically improved.”

Williams has a nose for the ball and is a decent playmaker, but I’m far from sold on his coverage skills. Crabtree, not noted for his speed, ran right past him on a 35-yard pass that set up the 49ers’ final touchdown.

“The second half, it wasn’t real good,” Williams said. “It’s a win, but deep down inside, we know it wasn’t a winning performance against a good team.”

In the worst-case scenario, in fact, the Packers will have two late-round draft picks in prominent roles for the rest of the season. Underwood (Round 6b) is the likeliest candidate for nickel, and Jones (Round 7) will certainly see significant time in Kampman’s place.

Like Harris, it seemed as though Kampman was beginning to find a comfort zone in the Packers' defense over the past few weeks. After sitting out the Cowboys game because of a concussion, Kampman sacked 49ers quarterback Alex Smith in the first quarter and unofficially finished with a team-high four solo tackles.

If he is lost for the season, you have to wonder if Kampman has played his final game in a Packers uniform. His contract expires after this season, and while it’s clear he can be part of a successful 3-4 defense, it’s equally clear his skills are not maximized in it.

But Sunday’s sack came from a nickel-like package in which Kampman rushed from a down-lineman’s position. Kampman’s productivity has increased since Capers began giving him more opportunities to rush as a defensive end.

“I’m not sure how he felt about the defense this season and switching schemes,” Woodson said. “But I know one thing: Nobody worked harder at it trying to be a productive member of this team. I know he was excited, especially how we did last weekend [and with us] doing some good things today. To see a guy [seriously injured] that you know works hard at the game and loves the game, both him and Al, is a tough thing.”

And not just for Woodson. Overcoming these injuries, while maintaining their recent standard of defensive play, will be the key to the Packers’ season.

Packers, Raji still waiting

August, 7, 2009
8/07/09
1:12
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Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- We've reached the part of training camp where an unsigned draft choice ceases to be a fresh news story and thus falls off the ledge of daily discussion. Unless a miraculous deal occurs in the next hour or so, Green Bay defensive tackle B.J. Raji will miss his ninth practice Friday amid a continued logjam atop the NFL draft class.

As of Friday morning, all but one of the players drafted between No. 6 and No. 12 were unsigned. Oakland receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey's bloated $38 million deal is one of the causes, as is the unusual demands and situation surrounding San Francisco and receiver Michael Crabtree at No. 10.

I caught up Friday with Green Bay general manager Ted Thompson, who seems resigned to the fact that Raji and the Packers are caught up in a larger market issue. The Packers have been hoping Raji can step in at left defensive end, a position he rarely played in college, but Thompson isn't ready to hit the dump button on that plan just yet.

"I think every situation is a little different," Thompson said. "It kind of depends on the kid and what you're going to ask him to do and that sort of thing. He's missing some valuable rep time, but we're not wringing our hands over it. There's nothing really we can do about it. It's just part of the business. It's a frustrating part, but it is what it is. Hopefully we can get that done and get him back out here. I'm sure he wants to be a part of this."

The Packers are back on the field at 3 p.m. Friday afternoon. I'll be there and will check back with you afterwards.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

MANKATO, Minn. -- Thanks to everyone who participated in Monday's chat, held live from the Vikings' media center at Minnesota State University, Mankato.

You can review the entire transcript here, but Nick gave us the opportunity to update the B.J. Raji situation in Green Bay.

Nick (Marshfield, WI)

Any word on why the deal with Raji is taking so long? Does he have some specific issues with the contract he's being offered?

Kevin Seifert (1:12 PM)

I think it's mostly a slotting problem. Michael Crabtree at No. 10 isn't signed, so Raji's agent isn't going to want to take a deal that might ultimately be worse than Crabtree's. And Darrius Heyward-Bey's big contract is making it difficult on the other side.

Let's expand on that answer a bit. Raji, of course, was the No. 9 overall pick in the draft. If you look at this chart compiled by our ESPN.com editing staff, you'll see that only one player between picks six and 12 are signed. That would be Heyward-Bey, whose five-year contract represents about a 17 percent increase over that of the No. 7 overall pick last season (New Orleans defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis.)

So at this point, the only thing agents and negotiators have to go by in determining 2009 values between 6-12 is the 17 percent increase Oakland gave Heyward-Bey. That hefty jump is spurring caution as everyone waits for another team or agent to jump out and further define the market.

That's a big part of what's causing the holding pattern that Raji finds himself in. As we learned Sunday with Minnesota receiver Percy Harvin, stalemated negotiations can jump-start on a moment's notice. But there are so many unknowns in that portion of the draft that it could take some time before things flesh out and everyone gets to training camp.

What does that mean for Raji? At least a couple of days and maybe more. On with the show.

NFC North draft analysis

April, 26, 2009
4/26/09
6:00
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Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

The 2009 draft began early in the NFC North. The arrival of new Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler raised the stakes in the Black and Blue, and in some ways the rest of the division spent the weekend trying to catch up.

NFC North Draft Picks
• Chicago Bears
• Detroit Lions
Green Bay Packers
• Minnesota Vikings

Detroit drafted Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford, a strong-armed passer whose physical skills have been compared to Cutler. Minnesota attempted to improve the players around its own shaky quarterback situation, drafting receiver Percy Harvin and offensive tackle Phil Loadholt. And Green Bay devoted a pair of first-round draft picks to improving a defense that will face three improved offenses in division play.

The Cutler trade left the Bears with a shallow class, but they had a four-week head start. Let's take a look at the highs and lows of the weekend from a Black and Blue perspective.

Best move

In a rare marriage of need and talent level, Green Bay managed to select the best defensive lineman in the draft when it took Boston College nose tackle B.J. Raji with the No. 9 overall pick.

 
  Cliff Welch/Icon SMI
  B.J. Raji gives the Packers some flexibility along the defensive line.

Need-based fanatics could point out that the Packers already had a starting nose tackle in Ryan Pickett. They could also document greater needs at defensive end, linebacker and offensive tackle. Fantasy football players, meanwhile, were probably drooling at the possibility of receiver Michael Crabtree joining an offense that already includes quarterback Aaron Rodgers and receivers Greg Jennings and Donald Driver.

But you don't pass over a player of Raji's caliber because you have Ryan Pickett on your roster. You don't grab the fourth-best offensive tackle ahead of the top defensive lineman. And you don't turn greedy with your offense when it was your defense that largely put you in a 6-10 hole last season.

And so Thompson pounced on Raji, who figures to start immediately. Pickett could move to end, or defensive coordinator Dom Capers could find other innovative ways to keep both players on the field. If you're the Packers, it's a great problem to have.

Riskiest move

The Vikings might have drafted the NFL's 2009 rookie of the year, or they could have the league's latest embarrassment. The spectrum is that wide for Harvin, whose resume of questionable behavior dates far beyond a reported positive drug test at the annual scouting combine.

Harvin's competitiveness has sometimes gotten the best of him, resulting in multiple suspensions during high school competition in Virginia. Harvin attributed most of his mistakes to "growing up," but it's pretty clear the Vikings have a live wire on their hands.

Should he keep himself in check, Harvin will get an opportunity to excel against defenses that will be focused on tailback Adrian Peterson. Harvin's open-field running ability is unparalleled for receivers, and he could also help in the short term as a kick returner.

The Vikings, however, aren't that far removed from an era of relative lawlessness highlighted by the exploits of receiver Randy Moss and a 2005 sex party aboard a cruise ship on Lake Minnetonka. They have made a great public showing of their internal crackdown on misbehavior, and as a result they have a lot riding on Harvin's future.

Most surprising move

In his first four drafts as the Packers' general manager, Ted Thompson executed 14 draft-day trades. All but one of them were to move down. It was a volume approach to roster-building: The more players you draft, the better your chances are of building quality depth. So I'm sure a few people fell out of their seats Saturday when Thompson gave up a second-round choice and a pair of third-round picks to move up from No. 41 overall to No. 26 in order to grab USC linebacker Clay Matthews III.

Matthews intrigues the Packers on a number of levels, but let's be honest: They faced urgency to start addressing the transitional holes revealed by their shift to the 3-4 defense. The team has been vague about who might start at outside linebacker opposite Aaron Kampman, and in retrospect it seems clear Thompson has planned to address the issue during the draft. When you target a position, and especially when you extend it to one particular player, you must be willing to wheel and deal. Surprisingly, Thompson was.

File it away

In a few years, we'll all be able to look back and determine whether Chicago general manager Jerry Angelo was right to trade himself out of the second round of this draft. The Bears had the No. 49 overall pick and were in position to draft Georgia receiver Mohamed Massaquoi or Alabama safety Rashad Johnson, but Angelo instead gave up the spot to acquire picks in the third and fourth rounds.

Reportedly, that decis
ion came after Angelo was unable to trade for Arizona receiver Anquan Boldin. The Bears also were hoping that Ohio safety Michael Mitchell would be available at No. 49, but Oakland grabbed him at No. 47.

In the end, Angelo addressed his defensive line with those choices -- selecting San Jose State defensive end Jarron Gilbert and Texas defensive end Henry Melton, respectively. Will Gilbert and Melton prove a better grab than anyone the Bears might have selected at No. 49? We'll file that one away for later.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

There were probably more words written Saturday on the NFL draft than any other event in the league calendar, including the Super Bowl. You're probably getting close to saturation levels, so I ran the quick spin through the NFC North coverage Sunday morning to find a small representative sample of the 900-page novels that were written.

I'll be working again Sunday at Detroit's facility, but will be taking more of a divisional approach for the rest of the draft. OK, here we go:

  • As the second round began, Chicago either wanted to draft Ohio State receiver Brian Robiskie or acquire Arizona's Anquan Boldin, according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times. But Cleveland grabbed Robiskie at No. 36 and the Cardinals turned down the Bears' offer for Boldin in exchange for the No. 49 overall pick.
  • David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune on the Bears' pickless day: "The Bears' scouting department takes pride in doing its best work on the second day of the draft, and Saturday's move leaves [Jerry] Angelo no choice. It marked the first time since 1978 and only third time in team history that the Bears didn't make a pick in the first two rounds. A committed draftnik, Angelo almost looked disappointed when striding up to the podium to discuss his choice not to make a choice."
  • The arrival of nose tackle B.J. Raji probably means Ryan Pickett will move to defensive end, writes Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
  • Packers general manager Ted Thompson hadn't anticipated the possibility of Raji, receiver Michael Crabtree and offensive tackle Michael Oher all available at No. 9. Bob McGinn of the Journal Sentinel breaks down the moment.
  • Jim Souhan of the Star Tribune on Minnesota's decision to draft receiver Percy Harvin: "Just as there are no atheists in foxholes, there can't be any moralists in NFL draft rooms."
  • Bob Wojnowski of the Detroit News on Detroit's drafting of quarterback Matthew Stafford: "It will take time for a new quarterback to develop on a bad team, time for the verdict to be rendered. I just hope the Lions use their time better than they used their money, better than they used the No. 1 overall pick. I'll say it once more -- I think drafting Stafford was a mistake, a gigantic gamble not worth taking. Wrong place, wrong time, wrong position for the NFL's first 0-16 team."
  • Mitch Albom of the Detroit Free Press on Stafford: "People want to know if this was a smart pick. That's easy. When you are 0-16, how can anything be a dumb pick? You're terrible. You need help everywhere. If the Lions had picked a linebacker first, they'd still need a quarterback. If they'd picked a pass rusher first, they'd still need a tackle."
Posted by ESPN.com's Brett Longdin

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- When it came down to it, the Packers chose the big body over the star wideout.

By taking Boston College defensive tackle B.J. Raji with the No. 9 pick with Texas Tech wide receiver Michael Crabtree still on the board, defensive coordinator Dom Capers scored a huge prospect to plug in as the anchor of his 3-4 defense.

"There are a lot of difficult calls during the course of a draft and we think a lot of Michael Crabtree and a couple other guys," Packers general manager Ted Thompson said. "But we feel confident we did the right thing.

"All things being equal, you guys know how much we value big people, both on the offensive and defensive line. The good ones are really hard to find and it gets to be a supply and demand thing. It doesn't necessarily take away the value of another player at a different position. It's just that we've always put a lot of emphasis on that."

One of the things that impressed Thompson and his staff the most was the versatility the 6-foot-1 1/2, 337-pound Raji possesses. And it's because of his unique skills the Packers don't anticipate Raji to have to come off the field in passing situations.

"He's a very powerful, explosive interior defensive lineman that has ability to definitely play the run," Thompson said. "He also shows ability and power to be a pass-rusher from the inside.

"He's a classic nose tackle build. Hopefully we're taking football players. We think B.J. Raji's a really good football player. He's more than a space eater. ... He's genuinely a powerful, powerful man, especially in his lower body. He has the ability to take people backwards where they don't want to go. He also has the quickness to go around them. It's unbelievably hard to find the combination skill set that he brings. The good Lord just didn't make many people like this."

For those who wanted Crabtree with the No. 9 choice, he'll join the 49ers at Lambeau Field on Nov. 22.

Brett Longdin is an ESPN.com blog editor based in Wisconsin.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Welcome to draft day. CAN YOU BELIEVE IT'S FINALLY HERE?

We got things started a bit early in the Black and Blue with Friday night's news that Detroit had agreed to terms with Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford. (One down, 255 to go!)

I'm headed to Detroit early Saturday morning and will begin bringing you dispatches upon arrival. ESPN.com editor Brett Longdin is headed to Green Bay, and together we'll do our best to bring you some key thoughts from around the division throughout the weekend.

(A quick programming note: We're delaying the regular weekend mailbag, as most of the questions will be moot by the end of Sunday, anyway. Look for the next installment early next week.)

For now, let's chew on the latest news from around the NFC North -- beginning with an interesting angle from Green Bay that we haven't devoted much discussion to:

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

We brought you the first-round highlights of Mel Kiper's latest mock draft last week. Of course, the exercise left out a Chicago team that gave up its first-round pick in the Jay Cutler trade. But Mel's mock extended four rounds, giving us the opportunity to discuss the receiver he selected for the Bears in the second round with the No. 49 overall pick.

 
  Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
  Mel Kiper Jr. has the Bears selecting Georgia receiver Mohamed Massaquoi.

Like every other NFL team, the Bears plan to draft the best available athletes. But it is the assumption of many people that they -- Surprise! -- will just so happen to have a receiver at the top of their draft board when the No. 49 pick rolls around.

When you look at it, receiver is the Bears' last remaining area of need on offense after revamping the offensive line and upgrading at quarterback. (We'll save their defensive personnel for another day.)

Kiper has the Bears selecting Georgia receiver Mohamed Massaquoi, a reliable and big-framed pass catcher who would complement Devin Hester nicely. Massaquoi figures to develop into a strong possession receiver and received stellar grades from Scouts Inc. for his toughness, durability and character.

You need an Insider subscription to see the entire mock draft. But for those of you who are interested in draft strategy, I can tell you Massaquoi was the eighth receiver taken in this mock. The following were already off the board at No. 49:

Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree
Missouri's Jeremy Maclin
Maryland's Darrius Heyward-Bey
Rutgers' Kenny Britt
North Carolina's Hakeem Nicks
Florida's Percy Harvin
Ohio State's Brian Robiskie

Massaquoi is one of numerous receivers the Bears have worked out privately in recent weeks, although his came after the Cutler trade altered the Bears' draft status. Massaquoi was a team captain at Georgia, graduated in December and has excellent size at 6-foot-1 1/2 and 210 pounds. Here's how Scouts Inc. evaluated his competitiveness and toughness:

Willing to go across the middle and has shown ability to hold onto ball after taking a big hit. A physical blocker that works hard to sustain. Does a good job of throwing blocks for other receivers and flashes ability to deliver a knockout blow on crack-back blocks.

I always caution people against "shopping" for draft picks. The way a player performed in college is not always an indication of his pro potential. Sometimes "possession receiver" translates into "slow" in the NFL. (Massaquoi ran a 4.66 in the 40-yard dash at the scouting combine.)

But no player available at No. 49 overall is a perfect prospect. Massaquoi, who caught 58 passes last year for the Bulldogs, likely will be the type of player -- if not the player -- the Bears wind up targeting.

On the Clock: Chicago Bears

March, 29, 2009
3/29/09
9:30
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Team needs: Receiver, safety, right tackle

Dream scenario: Chicago's personnel deficiencies at receiver all but mandate a significant commitment in the draft, starting with the No. 18 overall pick.

 
  Icon SMI
  Jeremy Maclin could provide an immediate upgrade to Chicago's receiving corps if he were available at No. 18.
At this point, it's possible that only one receiver -- Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree -- will be off the board when the Bears jump on the clock. That means Chicago will have its choice of Missouri's Jeremy Maclin, Maryland's Darrius Heyward-Bey, North Carolina's Hakeem Nicks, Rutgers' Kenny Britt, Florida's Percy Harvin and others. Grabbing the best of that remaining group at No. 18 would address a huge need at an appropriate value. Receivers don't often contribute immediately, but that's not always an expectation for a player drafted in the second half of the first round.

Plan B: I don't see a scenario in which the Bears won't have their choice of at least two of the receivers noted above. But some teams avoid drafting receivers in the first round because they are not always ready to contribute right away. If the Bears follow that thinking, they might look toward the offensive line or possibly trade down to explore the safety market in the second round. If they decide to go the route of an offensive lineman, the Bears might hope for Mississippi tackle Michael Oher or Arizona tackle Eben Britton to be available.

Scouts Inc. take: I think they need a receiver and I like the idea of a bigger guy like Hakeem Nicks. Harvin doesn't make as much sense for the Bears because what he does is a lot like what Devin Hester tries to do. To have a bigger guy like Hicks makes more sense on the opposite side. The receiver position is the toughest position to draft and develop. But I don't think they'll draft a receiver. That's the history of their general manager, Jerry Angelo. If I were them, I would be hoping that a tackle like Michael Oher from Mississippi would fall to them. That would be more of a Jerry Angelo type of pick. -- Jeremy Green

Who has final say: Jerry Angelo enters his eighth draft as the Bears' general manager.

Now On the Clock: New York Jets, March 30.

Previous On the Clock: Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The team-by-team series.

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