NFC North: Michael Oher

NFC North Stock Watch

December, 27, 2011
12/27/11
1:00
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NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. Secondary play in Chicago and Minnesota: Between the two of them, the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings have maybe one or two defensive backs who should be considered 2012 starters heading into the offseason. Bears cornerback Charles Tillman qualifies, and perhaps Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield will as well if he returns healthy from a fractured collarbone. Otherwise, the Bears and Vikings need a serious overhaul to their defensive backfields. Both teams tried season-long rotations at safety, neither of which led to any personnel conclusions, and cornerback play outside of Tillman has been atrocious for both teams. It will probably be a multiyear process for these franchises to rebuild these positions. With Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and Jay Cutler in this division, they better hurry.

2. Christian Ponder, Minnesota Vikings quarterback: We all remember ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer's harsh criticism of Ponder shortly after the draft. In brief, Dilfer said Ponder looks the part of an NFL quarterback but quickly falls from his comfort zone and loses accuracy under pressure. Dilfer softened some of that analysis after Ponder's relatively strong debut, but we should note that Ponder has been one of the NFL's worst quarterbacks against extra pass-rushers this season. According to ESPN Stats & Information, he is completing about 39 percent of his passes when opponents send five or more pass-rushers. The only player with less success against the blitz? Denver Broncos quarterback/running back Tim Tebow. It's not necessarily a warning sign if a rookie doesn't perform well under pressure, but to this point Ponder's performance hasn't veered much from Dilfer's original analysis.

3. Marion Barber, Bears running back: Barber's mental errors in a loss earlier this month to the Broncos, and his inability to keep his troublesome calf healthy, would seem to spell the end of his short tenure with the Bears. Kahlil Bell's hard-charging 123-yard performance Sunday night offers the Bears a much younger option for the role of backing up starter Matt Forte. It was a nice run, as they say.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Pettigrew
Scott Boehm/Getty ImagesBrandon Pettigrew has been a productive weapon for the Lions this season.
RISING

1. Home-field advantage: The Packers have a quirky history when it comes to playing at home in the playoffs. In the big picture, the state of Wisconsin has provided one of the best home-field advantages in professional sports. The Packers are 15-3 all-time at home in the playoffs, including games played in Milwaukee. But those three losses have come in their past five playoff games at home: In 2003 to the Atlanta Falcons, in 2004 to the Vikings and 2007 to the New York Giants. One of the two victories, meanwhile, came in overtime to the Seattle Seahawks. Recently, at least, opponents haven't been intimidated by playing at Lambeau Field.

2. Brandon Pettigrew, Detroit Lions tight end: A significant debate erupted in 2009 when the Lions used the No. 20 overall pick to draft Pettigrew, passing up offensive lineman Michael Oher and receiver Percy Harvin, among others. But the Lions insisted that a multi-faceted tight end was critical to their offense, and they have followed through by utilizing Pettigrew as much as any team in the NFL. The Lions have used him as an extension of their running game, and although he is averaging a modest 8.7 yards per reception, his total of 76 catches ranks third among tight ends. By all accounts, Pettigrew is an excellent blocker as well. The Lions have gotten by this far with Jeff Backus and Gosder Cherilus as their tackles, minimizing the need for Oher. And while Harvin would have been a nice addition, the Lions have found value by signing veteran Nate Burleson and using a second-round pick to draft Titus Young.

3. T.J. Lang, Green Bay Packers offensive lineman: When the season began, how many people would have chosen Lang as the Packers' most valuable offensive lineman? Not me. Lang had been an inconsistent starter and player who couldn't find a position and was behind a rookie on the depth chart when the season began. But Lang outplayed first-round pick Derek Sherrod in camp to win the left guard job and has provided a seamless transition from departed starter Daryn Colledge. And when the Packers needed someone to jump over to right tackle after injuries to Bryan Bulaga and Sherrod, Lang successfully made the move. On Sunday night, at least, he held his own against Bears pass-rushers Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije. Center Scott Wells might be the Packers' best offensive lineman this season, but not many left guards could jump out to right tackle as well as Lang appeared to do Sunday night.

NFC North weekend mailbag

April, 3, 2010
4/03/10
11:00
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Chug-a-chug. Chug-a-chug. Can you hear it? That's the sound of our NFC North train gaining steam as we approach the 2010 NFL draft. We're at T-minus 19 days. The intensity of our discussions will continue ramping up until April 22 arrives.

There are any number of places where we can rap about the draft. (Like my flow?) You can hit the mailbag, join us over on Facebook or tweet us on Twitter. Let's see what's on your mind this weekend.

Christopher of Minneapolis writes: Kevin, I gotta ask why you think players have been turning down coming to play for the Vikings. Last offseason, T.J. Houshmandzadeh decided to go to a Seattle team that was obviously in a much worse place than the Vikings at the time in their division. Then this year already two free agents have chosen other teams over us: LaDainian Tomlinson and Tye Hill (not sure how good of an addition he would actually have been). So I'm asking what do you think it is about playing here? We have a an owner that wants to win, a very good team with a good chance at making a deep playoff run. I just don't get why free agents would pass up the opportunity to play here.

Kevin Seifert: Christopher, I think you're looking at only half of a trend. There's no doubt some high-profile free agents/trade candidates have turned down offers from the Vikings in recent years, but there are plenty of others who did not. The list includes quarterback Brett Favre, defensive end Jared Allen, receiver Bernard Berrian and tight end Visanthe Shiancoe. It's not as if no one will come to the Vikings. It's more like some.

If there is a trend, we should look for a common denominator. In the cases you mention, I don't see one. Houshmandzadeh went to Seattle in part because he thought the Seahawks' quarterback position was stronger. Favre was still months away from signing. Tomlinson, meanwhile, is going to play a lot more with the New York Jets than he would have in Minnesota. That's just a fact of life with Adrian Peterson on the roster.

As for Hill, you're right: His decision was a relatively minor one. At best, he would have competed for the nickel job with Benny Sapp. The timing of his decision to sign with Tennessee -- hours after visiting the Vikings -- suggested the visit might have been intended all along to increase leverage with the Titans.

I know there are some issues that might make the Vikings less than attractive to some free agents, from the aging practice facility to their uncertain future in the Metrodome. But I don't see any common thread in the instances you've mentioned.


Via Facebook, Ben of Fort Smith, Ark., writes: I just read that Jared Gaither could possibly be available for a second-round pick. He played very well last year and still has plenty of room to improve. I believe the Ravens use a different blocking scheme than Green Bay does, but do you think it would be worthwhile for the Packers to make a move for him and get the jump on one of the top corners or OLBs in the draft, rather than settle for possibly the fifth-best tackle prospect and then whichever corners or OLBs are left later on?

Kevin Seifert: I've gotten more than a few questions on Gaither, not only from Packers fans but also from those who follow Detroit.

To review: Gaither is Baltimore's 24-year-old left tackle, a player many in Baltimore figured would be a fixture for the next 10 years. The Ravens hedged their commitment, however, by placing only a first-round tender on him as a restricted free agent. That means a team signing Gaither to an offer sheet would only have to give up a first-round pick, and perhaps less if they work out a sign-and-trade deal with the Ravens.

If you're the Packers, you would gladly give up the No. 23 overall pick for a long-term answer at left tackle. The same would probably go for the Lions, who have the second pick (No. 34 overall) of the second round.

But here's the question: Is Gaither a lock to be that kind of franchise player? It's only fair to wonder when the Ravens, who know him best, seem prepared to listen to offers. You could point out that Baltimore has Michael Oher on board and ready to move to left tackle. But if the Ravens trust Gaither's future, it's doubtful they would give up on him regardless. They seem to have some doubts.

It's easy to think that another team's disappointment could be your club's success story. Ultimately, that could be the case with Gaither. But if he's really available, it's fair to wonder why the Ravens don't want to keep him.


Rob of Milwaukee writes: If the rumors are true about the Packers interest in Brian Westbrook, could this mean the end of Ahman Green in Green Bay?

Kevin Seifert: First, I don't have any confirmation that the Packers are in fact interested in Westbrook. General manager Ted Thompson doesn't often have interest in aging veteran free agents, no matter what position or talent level. And as we discussed Thursday, coach Mike McCarthy believes backup tailback Brandon Jackson made significant strides last season.

If the Packers decide they need a veteran in the backfield, I wouldn't at all be surprised if Green -- not Westbrook -- is the choice. Here's what McCarthy said on that topic at last month's owners meeting: "...I like what Ahman Green gave us there at the end of the year. I thought once he got reacquainted with some of the things we do that are different from when he was here earlier, and frankly he did some nice things on special teams once he got comfortable. I mean, he's definitely an option that's potentially out there."


Bryan of St. Marys, Ga., writes: I was wondering if you had heard anything about a possible trade between the Lions and Redskins switching first round picks?

Kevin Seifert: It's certainly being rumored, but like most draft-related intrigue, it's based mostly on circumstantial evidence.

St. Louis seems likely to draft Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford at No. 1 overall. The next-best quarterback is Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen, who seems to be drawing interest from Washington (No. 4) and Cleveland (No. 7), among other teams.

So if you're Detroit and you want to trade out of the No. 2 pick, you have to hope that multiple teams emerge with a strong desire to draft Clausen. That team could take a chance and deal with Tampa Bay at No. 3, but the only way to ensure Clausen will be available is to trade into the Lions' spot.

To be clear, there is no evidence that we've reached this point yet. But that's what would need to happen for the Lions and Redskins to swap places in the draft.


Chris of San Diego writes: I read that Lance Louis of the Chicago Bears is subject to the NFL conduct policy for a crime he committed prior to being drafted because he pleaded guilty to it a year after he was drafted. Can you explain why he is retroactively subject to NFL rules?

Kevin Seifert: The original incident -- a fight with a former San Diego State teammate -- occurred in November 2008. But from what I understand, the league considers the incident part of its personal conduct policy because the charges were filed after Louis signed with the Bears last summer. That's the distinction, however arbitrary it might be.

With all that said, Louis pleaded guilty to misdemeanor battery, making it unlikely he'll face an NFL suspension. A fine could be in order, however.

Draft Watch: NFC North

March, 31, 2010
3/31/10
1:00
PM ET
NFC History: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each week 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: History in that spot.

Chicago Bears

The Bears’ top pick is No. 75 overall. Here are the last five players taken in that spot, with their NFL team in parentheses:

2009: Ball State tackle Robert Brewster (Dallas)
2008: Oklahoma defensive back Reggie Smith (San Francisco)
2007: Illinois State receiver Laurent Robinson (Atlanta)
2006: Louisville guard Jason Spitz (Green Bay)
2005: Virginia Tech defensive back Eric Green (Arizona)

Robinson had 37 receptions as a rookie but has since moved to St. Louis. Spitz was the Packers’ opening-day center last season before a back injury sidelined him. He is a candidate to start in 2010. Smith has played in 13 games over the past two seasons for the 49ers, with seven tackles and no interceptions.

Detroit Lions

The Lions’ top pick is No. 2 overall. Here are the last five players taken in that spot, with their NFL team in parentheses:

2009: Baylor offensive tackle Jason Smith (St. Louis)
2008: Virginia defensive end Chris Long (St. Louis)
2007: Georgia Tech receiver Calvin Johnson (Detroit)
2006: USC running back Reggie Bush (New Orleans)
2005: Auburn running back Ronnie Brown (Miami)

Brown, Bush and Johnson have all been dynamic playmakers for parts of their careers. Coincidentally, all three have been slowed by knee injuries of varying severity. The Rams are still waiting for elite payoff from Long and endured an inconsistent rookie season from Smith.

Green Bay Packers

The Packers’ top pick is No. 23 overall. Here are the last five players taken in that spot, with their NFL team in parentheses:

2009: Mississippi offensive tackle Michael Oher (Baltimore)
2008: Illinois running back Rashard Mendenhall (Pittsburgh)
2007: LSU receiver Dwayne Bowe (Kansas City)
2006: Oklahoma guard Davin Joseph (Tampa Bay)
2005: Nebraska cornerback Fabian Washington (Oakland)

Oher, Mendenhall, Bowe and Joseph have been full-time starters. Washington moved from Oakland to Baltimore.

Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings’ top pick is No. 30 overall. Here are the last five players taken in that spot, with their NFL team in parentheses:

2009: Rutgers receiver Kenny Britt (Tennessee)
2008: Purdue tight end Dustin Keller (New York Jets)
2007: LSU receiver Craig Davis (San Diego)
2006: LSU running back Joseph Addai (Indianapolis)
2005: Virginia tight end Heath Miller (Pittsburgh)

All five are skill players, for what it’s worth. Davis has been a bust, but Miller, Addai and Keller are highly productive players. Britt is on pace to be as well.

More Rewind'09: Weekend mailbag

January, 9, 2010
1/09/10
10:00
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Wow. We just wrapped up one of the busiest weeks in the NFC North in some time. I felt like I was writing all day, every day. We had two teams headed to the playoffs, a third planning to swap out two coordinators and a fourth making some news late in the week.

It all happened while we were trying to put a bow on some of our central themes of the season, including Brett Favre’s impact on Minnesota, the changing face of NFC North offenses and the development of young tight ends within the division. Let’s continue that wrap-up, using questions from the mailbag and Facebook. (You can also send questions and thoughts to me via Twitter.)

Let’s get to it:

Kyle of West Des Moines, Iowa, writes: Early in the preseason, there was a discussion between you and the AFC North blogger about which division would come out on top between the two. I was wondering if you could revisit that discussion!

Kevin Seifert: Great idea Kyle! I presume you’re talking about this post from July. I offered seven points on the AFC North–NFC North matchup.

First, we should count up the record and realize the 16 games between the four teams were split down the middle. Each division went 8-8 against the other. Let’s look at the breakdown, naturally from an NFC North perspective:

Minnesota (3-1): Beat Cleveland, Baltimore and Cincinnati. Lost to Pittsburgh.
Green Bay (2-2): Beat Baltimore and Cleveland. Lost to Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.
Chicago (2-2): Beat Pittsburgh, Cleveland. Lost to Cincinnati, Baltimore.
Detroit (1-3): Beat Cleveland. Lost to Cincinnati, Baltimore and Pittsburgh.

Now, let’s look at the seven points I made at the time and reconcile them with the facts.

I wrote then: Detroit was 0-16 last season, but its new coach went 4-0 against the AFC North in his previous job. As the defensive coordinator in Tennessee, Jim Schwartz helped the Titans defeat Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Cleveland and Cincinnati. Included in that run was a 31-14 late-December shellacking of the Steelers. Schwartz's new team is in a much different place than the Titans were last season, but it's a rare advantage to have seen all four interconference opponents the previous season. The Lions can use every edge they can find.

I see now: The Lions won only one of the four, but it’s worth noting they were relatively close against the Steelers (28-20) and Bengals (23-13) before getting crushed by the Ravens (48-3).


I wrote then: Who will have the last laugh between Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis and Minnesota tailback Adrian Peterson (Oct. 18)? As you might recall, Peterson said at the Pro Bowl that he wanted to gain 12 pounds during the offseason. "I don't think too many guys would be excited to see me at 230 two times a year," Peterson said. But his father told USA Today last month that a group of veterans -- including Lewis -- "set up" his son, hoping to convince him to make a change that ultimately would slow him down. Let's see if Peterson, who by all accounts will remain close to his playing weight of 217 pounds, returns the favor.

I see now: Peterson ran for 143 yards on 22 carries in the Vikings' 33-31 victory. Case closed.


I wrote then: The AFC North boasts two of the game's best pass-rushing linebackers in Pittsburgh's James Harrison (16 sacks in 2008) and Baltimore's Terrell Suggs (eight). You never know exactly where outside linebackers will line up in a 3-4 defense, but I'm guessing they'll find their way toward the NFC North's host of young right tackles. Chicago (Chris Williams), Minnesota (Phil Loadholt) and Green Bay (Allen Barbre or T.J. Lang) are all expected to have new starters at the position -- and Detroit's Gosder Cherilus is entering his first full season as a starter. Defensive coordinators would be remiss not to test all four spots.

I see now: I don’t have the breakdown of where he was lined up, but I can tell you that Harrison had five of his 10 sacks this season against NFC North opponents. Three came against the Lions and two against the Vikings. Suggs, limited by injuries this season, did not have a sack against the NFC North.


I wrote then: This season will be a referendum on whether Orlando Pace can still play left tackle in the NFL. During the free-agent period, Baltimore heavily courted Pace but wanted him to move to right tackle so that youngster Jared Gaither could continue his development on the left side. Pace, however, wanted to maintain his traditional position and ultimately signed with Chicago. The Ravens have installed rookie Michael Oher as their new right tackle and suddenly have a raw set of tackles. We'll soon find out if Pace can give the Bears a full year at left tackle, or whether the Ravens were right to hold firm on youth.

I see now: The Ravens won on this decision. Pace was ineffective for most of the season before being sidelined by a leg injury. Even after he returned to health, the Bears respectfully left him on the bench. Oher, meanwhile, was one of the NFL’s best rookies this season.


I wrote then: To the extent that practicing against a 3-4 defense helps in game preparation, Green Bay should have a clear advantage over its NFC North rivals. The Packers' offense spent all spring practicing against its 3-4 scheme and won't face that choppy in-season transition when preparing for the Steelers, Ravens and Browns. This is becoming less of an issue every year as more NFL teams return to the 3-4 -- the total is expected to be 13 in 2009 -- but familiarity can only help the Packers in this vein.

I see now: The Packers finished 2-1 against AFC North teams that run a 3-4, beating the Ravens and Browns while losing to the Steelers.


I wrote then: The Bears, Packers and Lions all are working hard to improve their weak pass rush. Two AFC North teams -- Cincinnati and Pittsburgh -- are hoping to shore up their pass protection. Which teams can make quicker enhancements? You might know that the Bengals gave up the NFL's third-most sacks last season (51). But it might have escaped you that the Steelers were right behind them with 49 sacks allowed. It almost goes without saying that the best way to stop the Bengals' Carson Palmer and the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger is to keep them from throwing the ball.

I see now: The Bears had no sacks against the Bengals and two against the Steelers. The Packers had two and five, respectively. The Lions had two and three.


I wrote then: AFC North teams like to think of themselves the same way we do here in the Black and Blue, as hard-nosed, bad-weather running teams. Minnesota defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams are two of the best run-stoppers in the game, and there's a little stretch of the season where they would be particularly missed should their NFL suspensions kick in. (Such a scenario would require a prolonged but ultimately unsuccessful legal challenge to their NFL discipline.) The Vikings play Baltimore and Pittsburgh in consecutive October weeks (Oct. 18 against the Ravens and Oct. 25 at Pittsburgh). That makes for two old-fashioned football matchups -- if the Williams Wall is on the field.

I see now: With both members of the Williams Wall on the field, the Vikings gave up 81 rushing yards to the Ravens and 107 to the Steelers. Neither total figured in the outcome of either game.


I wrote then: Who benefits most? In some ways, this schedule ensures that each NFC North team will be playing 10 divisional games this season. There are many similarities between the general styles of the Black and Blue and AFC North. Minnesota's defense should match the intensity of the physical offenses of Pittsburgh and Baltimore. Green Bay's offense shouldn't be surprised by the 3-4 defense, but its own defense won't have the advantage of surprise, either. It's too early to make specific predictions, but it's safe to say that whoever has the divisional advantage in the NFC North will also fare best against the AFC North.

I see then: The Vikings won the NFC North and also had the best record against the AFC North. Ding-ding-ding!


Robert of Oostburg Wis., writes: Hello. Dom Capers was not the first choice for defensive coordinator for the Packers last offseason. Could you compare the job he got done this year with the few others that got away. I think the Packers got the steal of the year.

Kevin Seifert: You’re right. The Packers interviewed several candidates who ultimately went elsewhere, including Mike Nolan (Denver) and Gregg Williams (New Orleans). The Broncos defense finished the season ranked No. 7 in the NFL. The Saints finished No. 27, but Williams scheme did create the second-most turnovers in the NFL and played a big role in the Saints’ hot start.

That said, I don’t think there’s any doubt Capers’ defense had the best season of that group. Capers is well known for making an immediate impact, and that’s exactly what the Packers got this season.


Keith writes: Is there a more natural way to make Week 17 more competitive than to seed teams based on overall record? Arizona surely would've showed up last week.

Kevin Seifert: I wish there were, Keith. To date, I haven’t heard or thought of any that make sense.

Awarding teams draft picks to continue playing their starters seems counterintuitive. Would a sixth- or seventh-round pick be enough to risk the health of a key player? I don’t think so. And what would it say about the league that it must reward teams for competing?

Penalizing teams for sitting starters is also problematic. The decision can have too much gray area. How long would the player have to be on the field? What would prevent him from leaving because of “tightness?” or some other nebulous injury?

Weighing playoff seedings disproportionally based on late-season record doesn’t fly with me, either. Shouldn’t every game count the same?

Ultimately, I think the NFL should be patient and see what happens to Indianapolis, especially, this postseason. It’s a copycat league. If the Colts are bounced early from the playoffs, you can bet future coaches in the same position would think twice about benching starters.


Jonathan writes via Facebook: So....when do we find out that Woodson won DPOY?

Kevin Seifert: The Associated Press will announce the Defensive Player of the Year Award next Wednesday, Jan. 13. That’s when we’ll find out if Green Bay cornerback Charles Woodson won it.

NFC North Team Wrap-ups

January, 6, 2010
1/06/10
2:30
PM ET
NFC Wrap-ups: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South
Clayton: Video | AFC grades ... NFC More: Fantasy MVPs | FB Outsiders | Awards

A team-by-team analysis of the division. The arrow indicates which direction each team is trending.

Minnesota Vikings

Final Power Ranking: 3

Biggest surprise: Against all odds and previous trends, Minnesota became a passing team. Coach Brad Childress prefers a power running approach, one honed during his time as the offensive coordinator at the University of Wisconsin, and he built one of the league’s best behind Adrian Peterson over the previous two seasons. The recruitment of quarterback Brett Favre was intended to provide a viable alternative when defenses ganged-up on Peterson. Instead, the Vikings proved they are better equipped to throw than force the run against defenses stacked to stop Peterson. All told, the Vikings threw 101 more passes in 2009 than they did last season -- an 18 percent increase. Their net yardage rose nearly 25 percent, and they threw as many touchdown passes (34) as they did in the 2007 and 2008 seasons combined.

Biggest disappointment: Play at both safety positions was invisible at its best and glaring at its worst. Veteran Madieu Williams, signed two years ago because of his alleged coverage ability, started all 16 games but failed to make a single interception. Along the way, he proved to be a poor tackler and broke up only four passes. Second-year player Tyrell Johnson, who the Vikings targeted last season as Darren Sharper’s eventual replacement, was average at best. It was no coincidence that he lost some playing time to rookie Jamarca Sanford at the end of the season.

Biggest need: A ball-hawking safety would help, but as odd as it sounds, the biggest organizational need is a long-term plan at quarterback. Favre turned 40 in October and is very much a year-to-year proposition. Childress remains supportive of backup Tarvaris Jackson, but the success of the 2009 offense was another indictment of Jackson’s previous ineffectiveness. Childress has never seemed comfortable with No. 3 quarterback Sage Rosenfels. If there were ever a time for the Vikings to draft their quarterback of the future, it’s now.

Team MVP: Brett Favre. As the Vikings hoped, he was the final piece in making them a Super Bowl contender. He was the difference between 10-6 and 12-4, and gives the Vikings a legitimate chance to push deep into the playoffs.

Best thing that never happened: Signing free-agent receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh. The Vikings targeted Houshmandzadeh at the start of free agency and were on the brink of signing him. Concerns about the pre-Favre quarterback situation prompted Houshmandzadeh to spurn their offer and join Seattle. Had he signed in Minnesota, however, one of the Vikings’ key players would never have emerged. They would have either stunted the development of third-year receiver Sidney Rice, who made the Pro Bowl with an 83-catch season, or might not have drafted slot receiver Percy Harvin. The NFL’s offensive rookie of the year, Harvin, made the Pro Bowl as a kick returner but also ranked second on the team with 60 receptions and 790 yards.


Green Bay Packers

Final Power Ranking: 6

Biggest surprise: The sudden pass-rushing prowess of rookie linebacker Clay Matthews. Packers general manager Ted Thompson thought highly enough of Matthews to trade back into the first round and select him with the No. 26 overall pick. Matthews had only 4.5 sacks as a senior at Southern California, and a series of spring and summer leg injuries suggested he would have a slow rookie season. But after being inserted into the starting lineup in the fourth game of the season, Matthews collected a team-high 10 sacks. By the end of the year, he couldn’t be blocked. Matthews finished third in the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year award voting and should be a force for years to come.

Biggest disappointment: The Week 1 offensive line. Quite simply, the Packers are lucky that quarterback Aaron Rodgers survived the first half of the season. Rodgers might have held the ball too long on occasion, but for the most part he was under constant pressure from opposing defenses. Rodgers, in fact, took 37 sacks over the first eight games. The Packers took an unjustified risk in starting Allen Barbre at right tackle and didn’t have a good plan to replace left tackle Chad Clifton when he was sidelined by injuries. They deserve credit for finding a multi-pronged solution, including the return of right tackle Mark Tauscher, but that came only after they dug themselves a huge hole.

Biggest need: Depth behind tailback Ryan Grant would help, but the Packers need a long-term answer at both offensive tackle positions. Clifton and Tauscher will be free agents after the season. Rookie T.J. Lang could figure at one of the positions, but the Packers must address the other high in the 2010 draft.

Team MVP: Cornerback Charles Woodson. A favorite for the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year award, Woodson was at his best in Dom Capers’ attacking 3-4 scheme. He has retained his coverage skills at age 33, and he also proved to be the Packers’ best blitzer and all-around playmaker. His final tally was nine interceptions, three of which he returned for touchdowns, along with two sacks and four forced fumbles.

A dark moment turns bright: After finishing 6-10 last season, coach Mike McCarthy retreated to Lambeau Field and went underground for nearly a week. When he emerged, McCarthy had decided to turn over much of his coaching staff. Out of that tumultuous time period came the decision to change defensive schemes and, ultimately, hire Capers. The end result was the NFL’s No. 2 defense, one that allowed the league’s fewest rushing yards (1,333) and created its highest total of turnovers (40).


Chicago Bears

Final power ranking: 22

Biggest surprise: That new quarterback Jay Cutler would turn into an interception machine. Cutler brought a gunslinging mentality from Denver, but never in his previous three seasons had he finished with more interceptions than touchdown passes. In his first 14 games with the Bears, however, Cutler threw 25 interceptions against 19 touchdowns. A late surge reversed that ratio, but it won’t hide the fact that Cutler personally submarined at least three losses -- at Green Bay, Atlanta and San Francisco -- with multiple interceptions. He threw a total of 11 in those games.

Biggest disappointment: Tailback Matt Forte. There were reports recently that Forte played most of the season with a sprained knee. That could explain the drop-off from his rookie season and especially his lack of power near the goal line. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Forte had the third-most goal-to-goal carries in the NFL this season (33). But he managed only three touchdowns on those carries, a ratio that ranked him No. 102 among all rushers who got a carry in that situation. How many more games would the Bears have won if they had converted more of those runs? Among other things, it would have left Cutler in fewer positions where he felt compelled to force a pass into the end zone.

Biggest need: The Bears need an enforcer on their defense, which has lost the intimidation factor it carried into the Super Bowl three years ago. That player could come at any position, but it’s most needed at safety. The Bears need someone who can put fear in receivers and influence quarterback decisions. That’s not necessarily a hallmark of the Tampa 2 defense coach Lovie Smith plans to continue using, but it could change the way the Bears are perceived by opposing offenses.

Team MVP: Only because it’s a required category: Linebacker Lance Briggs was the Bears’ lone Pro Bowler and their leading tackler. He was also a 15-game starter on a defense that played terribly for most of 2009.

In hindsight: The Bears executed only 50 percent of their goal to improve their quarterback play. They paid a premium price to get a young and potentially elite arm in Cutler. But they failed to follow through with appropriate integration. Cutler didn’t appear comfortable in a pocket scheme and, despite what anyone says, had mostly limited targets. None of his receivers required a double team, which made the offense easier for opponents to defend. The Bears will have to spend the offseason reformulating their plan around him.


Detroit Lions

Final power ranking: 31

Biggest surprise: We knew quarterback Matthew Stafford had an elite arm. It’s what rocketed him to the top of the draft charts at this time last year. But was there any way to know how much of a “gamer” he is? Opponents battered Stafford in several games this season, none more so than his now-legendary Nov. 22 victory over Cleveland. Every player on the Lions’ roster -- from the biggest offensive linemen to the smallest receiver -- knows how tough their leader is. When the Lions refused to rest his separated left shoulder, Stafford made two more starts with the help of painkilling medication before finally shutting it down. Stafford's greatest contribution would be spreading that determination to the rest of the roster.

Biggest disappointment: The Lions hired two respected defensive minds last winter in head coach Jim Schwartz and coordinator Gunther Cunningham. But ultimately their defense made only incremental improvement from last season’s 0-16 group. Opponents threw at will against Detroit, completing 68.1 percent of their passes for 35 touchdowns and only nine interceptions. Personnel is thin at all defensive positions, but the Lions could have used more help from a scheme perspective.

Biggest need: Schwartz had a blunt answer when asked this week of his team’s biggest offseason need: “Improve the talent level of the team.” Let’s focus that goal on the defense, where depth is frighteningly thin. Entering the offseason, the Lions have three defensive players who seem locked in to start in 2010: Defensive tackle Sammie Lee Hill, linebacker DeAndre Levy and safety Louis Delmas. What do the Lions need? Starters at the other eight positions and depth behind everyone. That should about do it.

Team MVP: Safety Louis Delmas. Stafford would have been in the running if he had made it through the season. But time and again over 16 games, Delmas proved to be a player the Lions can build around. He demonstrated aggressive tackling, strong ball skills and an admirable competitive edge. Like many young safeties, he ventured into unsportsmanlike conduct territory a few times, and he needs to level off that portion of his game. But in the meantime, there’s nothing wrong with having a feared player on a defense that has long been anything but.

In hindsight: We were among those who questioned the decision to draft tight end Brandon Pettigrew with the No. 20 overall pick, especially with offensive lineman Michael Oher and linebacker Rey Maualuga still available. No matter how good Pettigrew proved to be, is the tight end position more important than an offensive tackle or linebacker? The answer is no. The Lions still have tremendous needs at both positions. But we should say this much: Pettigrew proved not only a strong blocker, but also a dynamic part of the passing game before suffering a season-ending knee injury. He was a good tight end, but having one of those is generally a luxury.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert

If anyone is recommending surgery for Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford, it’s news to him. Stafford said Monday night that surgery on his right knee is “nothing that anybody is telling me, for sure.”

(Hat tip to John Niyo of the Detroit News for catching Stafford’s appearance on WJR radio.)

ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported over the weekend that the Lions were concerned about swelling in Stafford’s right knee last Wednesday and sent a new MRI image to be examined by Dr. James Andrews. If the MRI dictated that surgery was necessary, Mortensen reported, Stafford’s availability for the season is in doubt.

The Lions have been secretive when it comes to injuries and other health concerns, but to this point there is no indication that Andrews has recommended surgery. The Lions will practice through the week before giving players a long weekend off for the bye.

Continuing around the NFC North:
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Division matchups rightly carry pre-eminent importance in every team's schedule. But never underestimate the importance of the interconference schedule -- those four common AFC opponents each NFC North team finds on its schedule every season.

Interconference Matchups
A rundown of seven observations on each division's interconference games:

Tuesday: AFC North vs. NFC North
Wednesday: AFC East vs. NFC South
Thursday: AFC West vs. NFC East

Friday: AFC South vs. NFC West

Last year, Chicago would have earned a playoff spot had it won its final game against the AFC South. Instead, the Bears lost 31-24 to Houston and fell short in the wild-card race. In 2007, Green Bay's division-winning 13-3 record included a 4-0 record against the AFC West. (Second-place Minnesota finished 2-2.)

The Black and Blue has a tough task ahead in 2009, taking on the division that housed two of the NFL's best teams last season in Pittsburgh and Baltimore. So let's take an early look at some of the themes that should develop this season against the (supposedly) rough-and-tumble AFC North and how they might impact the division race in these parts.

1. Detroit was 0-16 last season, but its new coach went 4-0 against the AFC North in his previous job. As the defensive coordinator in Tennessee, Jim Schwartz helped the Titans defeat Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Cleveland and Cincinnati. Included in that run was a 31-14 late-December shellacking of the Steelers. Schwartz's new team is in a much different place than the Titans were last season, but it's a rare advantage to have seen all four interconference opponents the previous season. The Lions can use every edge they can find.

 
  Rich Gabrielson/Icon SMI
  Minnesota's Adrian Peterson will have a bone to pick with Baltimore's Ray Lewis when they meet on Oct. 18.
2. Who will have the last laugh between Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis and Minnesota tailback Adrian Peterson (Oct. 18)? As you might recall, Peterson said at the Pro Bowl that he wanted to gain 12 pounds during the offseason. "I don't think too many guys would be excited to see me at 230 two times a year," Peterson said. But his father told USA Today last month that a group of veterans -- including Lewis -- "set up" his son, hoping to convince him to make a change that ultimately would slow him down. Let's see if Peterson, who by all accounts will remain close to his playing weight of 217 pounds, returns the favor.

3. The AFC North boasts two of the game's best pass-rushing linebackers in Pittsburgh's James Harrison (16 sacks in 2008) and Baltimore's Terrell Suggs (eight). You never know exactly where outside linebackers will line up in a 3-4 defense, but I'm guessing they'll find their way toward the NFC North's host of young right tackles. Chicago (Chris Williams), Minnesota (Phil Loadholt) and Green Bay (Allen Barbre or T.J. Lang) are all expected to have new starters at the position -- and Detroit's Gosder Cherilus is entering his first full season as a starter. Defensive coordinators would be remiss not to test all four spots.

4. This season will be a referendum on whether Orlando Pace can still play left tackle in the NFL. During the free-agent period, Baltimore heavily courted Pace but wanted him to move to right tackle so that youngster Jared Gaither could continue his development on the left side. Pace, however, wanted to maintain his traditional position and ultimately signed with Chicago. The Ravens have installed rookie Michael Oher as their new right tackle and suddenly have a raw set of tackles. We'll soon find out if Pace can give the Bears a full year at left tackle, or whether the Ravens were right to hold firm on youth.

5. To the extent that practicing against a 3-4 defense helps in game preparation, Green Bay should have a clear advantage over its NFC North rivals. The Packers' offense spent all spring practicing against its 3-4 scheme and won't face that choppy in-season transition when preparing for the Steelers, Ravens and Browns. This is becoming less of an issue every year as more NFL teams return to the 3-4 -- the total is expected to be 13 in 2009 -- but familiarity can only help the Packers in this vein.

2009 team schedules: NFC North
Chicago Bears
Detroit Lions
Green Bay Packers
Minnesota Vikings
6. The Bears, Packers and Lions all are working hard to improve their weak pass rush. Two AFC North teams -- Cincinnati and Pittsburgh -- are hoping to shore up their pass protection. Which teams can make quicker enhancements? You might know that the Bengals gave up the NFL's third-most sacks last season (51). But it might have escaped you that the Steelers were right behind them with 49 sacks allowed. It almost goes without saying that the best way to stop the Bengals' Carson Palmer and the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger is to keep them from throwing the ball.

7. AFC North teams like to think of themselves the same way we do here in the Black and Blue, as hard-nosed, bad-weather running teams. Minnesota defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams are two of the best run-stoppers in the game, and there's a little stretch of the season where they would be particularly missed should their NFL suspensions kick in. (Such a scenario would require a prolonged but ultimately unsuccessful legal challenge to their NFL discipline.) The Vikings play Baltimore and Pittsburgh in consecutive October weeks (Oct. 18 against the Ravens and Oct. 25 at Pittsburgh). That makes for two old-fashioned football matchups -- if the Williams Wall is on the field.

Who benefits most?
In some ways, this schedule ensures that each NFC North team will be playing 10 divisional games this season. There are many similarities between the general styles of the Black and Blue and AFC North. Minnesota's defense should match the intensity of the physical offenses of Pittsburgh and Baltimore. Green Bay's offense shouldn't be surprised by the 3-4 defense, but its own defense won't have the advantage of surprise, either. It's too early to make specific predictions, but it's safe to say that whoever has the divisional advantage in the NFC North will also fare best against the AFC North.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Interesting story from Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times, who reports that linebacker Lance Briggs participated in an autograph session over the weekend with a heavy wrap on his right hand. Briggs told people at the event he had cut the hand while shaving with a straight-edge razor.

The Bears apparently were unaware of the injury. Briggs has been working out in the Bears' offseason strength and conditioning program but was not there Monday. According to the report, Briggs has assured the team the injury isn't serious. He's been asked to report to the Bears' practice facility Tuesday to allow it to be examined.

It would technically be a violation of Briggs' contract if he didn't report a significant injury, but it appears this one won't qualify. Yet it's still a bit jarring to see photos of the Bears' best defensive player with a wrap over his hand in the middle of the offseason.

Continuing around the NFC North:

  • Bears quarterback Jay Cutler sent a text message to third-round receiver Juaquin Iglesias on Saturday to begin establishing a rapport, writes David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune.
  • New Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford appeared on the "Late Show with David Letterman" Monday night and read the evening's Top Ten list. Here's a link to the list and here's some video.
  • Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com examines the Lions' unfortunate penchant for fourth-round busts in the draft.
  • Minnesota officials held a conference call with season ticket-holders Monday, according to Judd Zulgad and Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune. Co-owner Mark Wilf addressed the status of coach Brad Childress (he's very safe) and vice president Rick Spielman explained why the Vikings opted for receiver Percy Harvin in the first round over offensive tackle Michael Oher (they were targeting Phil Loadholt in the second round).
  • Sean Jensen of the St. Paul Pioneer Press looks at the Vikings' roster post-draft.
  • Green Bay has invited two quarterbacks, Utah's Brian Johnson and Tulsa's David Johnson, to their rookie minicamp on a tryout basis, according to Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
  • Wide receiver Jamarko Simmons, who signed a free agent contract with the Packers after the draft, broke all of Greg Jennings' records at Western Michigan. Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.

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 Kevin Seifert

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Brandon Pettigrew is my Knowshon Moreno.

Huh?

Let me explain. During our ESPN.com blogger mock draft this week, I gave Detroit running back Knowshon Moreno with the No. 20 overall pick. In doing so, I cited a quote from Lions coach Jim Schwartz, who said the team would not allow "need to trump talent" in this draft. In other words, the talent-poor Lions weren't in position to focus on a particular position at any point in this weekend's draft.

A few of you, uh, disagreed with that thinking and pointed out the needs of the Lions' horrendous defense. But given the choice between Pettigrew -- a tight end from Oklahoma State -- and USC linebacker Rey Maualuga, the Lions jumped on Pettigrew. (They also passed on Mississippi offensive tackle Michael Oher.)

The Lions probably have more of a need at tight end than at running back. But you can't make an argument they need more help at tight end than at linebacker. But I'm telling you, this is the way Detroit is going to conduct itself this weekend and moving forward. They're going to take the top player on their board, regardless of position, at every spot in the draft.

How you evaluate Pettigrew is an entirely separate issue. Is he as good as the Lions think he is? We'll know soon enough. But the point is that Detroit ranked him highly on its board, and the presence of a potential starting middle linebacker and a new left tackle wasn't enough to deviate from that approach.

Final questions

April, 24, 2009
4/24/09
3:00
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

We've been talking about this thing since January. Now, we've finally made it to the eve of the NFL draft. Soon we'll be under way -- and actually getting some answers to the questions we've been asking for months.

Aside from that nagging issue of Detroit's negotiations with quarterback Matthew Stafford, here is the latest on the key issues facing NFC North teams this weekend:

Will the Lions actually make a pick at No. 20 and No. 33, as currently scheduled? We all know the Lions have five of the first 82 draft choices, but overall they have eight for the weekend. Given their across-the-board personnel needs, that's not a high total. (Especially when you consider they have none in the fourth or fifth rounds.) The lower third of the first round, and the top of the second, are considered high value picks and the Lions should have opportunities to trade at least one of them to accumulate more picks in the middle of the draft. Here's another question: If USC linebacker Rey Maualuga is available at No. 20, as he is in Mel Kiper Jr.'s final mock draft, do you take him or trade down?

Has Jeff Backus played his last down as a left tackle for the Lions? There has been talk of moving Backus to left guard if the Lions drafted a left tackle with the No. 1 overall pick. But assuming Stafford is the guy, Detroit might not be in position to draft a left tackle who is ready to start instantly. The Lions must hope Mississippi tackle Michael Oher falls to them at No. 20. A Stafford-Oher pairing not only would allow the Lions to move Backus to guard, but it would also give Detroit the flexibility to concentrate on defense for the remainder of the draft. For what it's worth, Kiper has Oher going to San Diego at No. 16.

Would Ted Thompson take Alabama tackle Andre Smith? The answer seems to depend on whom you talk to. I've heard from some people who don't think Thompson would take on a player with as many red flags as Smith has displayed, no matter how good a player he might be. (Smith left the scouting combine early, was out of shape at his pro day and recently changed agents.) Others consider Thompson a traditional personnel man whose top priority is football ability. If it's the latter, Smith will be a Packer if he's available. It's also possible we'll never find out. Kiper has Smith going to Cincinnati at No. 6, three spots ahead of the Packers' choice.

Where are the Packers going to get much-needed help at defensive end and linebacker if they go offense in the first round? Well, they still have an early second-round pick and two choices in the third to address those issues. For the sake of conversation, I'll pass along ESPN analyst Todd McShay's take in his seven-round mock draft. With the No. 41 overall pick, McShay had the Packers taking Cincinnati linebacker Connor Barwin. McShay also had the Packers taking Oregon cornerback Jairus Byrd in the third round and USC defensive end Kyle Moore in the fourth.

Would Minnesota really pull the trigger on Florida receiver Percy Harvin? We know the Vikings have put an awful lot of work into researching Harvin's history, probably more than could be expected if it were all a smokescreen. (Would coach Brad Childress really spend a day on Florida's campus three days before the draft just to throw off other teams?) There are so many red flags on Harvin that it's hard to believe the Vikings would draft him. But they might view him as a special talent who wouldn't be available at No. 22 were it not for the issues he has encountered. Alas, the Vikings might never get a chance to make this decision. Kiper, at least, has Harvin going to the New York Jets at No. 17.

If they miss or pass on Harvin, will the Vikings still take a receiver at No. 22? The whole world seems to think so. Kiper has them taking Rutgers receiver Kenny Britt, while McShay predicts Maryland's Darrius Heyward-Bey. I've been slow to this bandwagon, believing the Vikings would be more likely to take an offensive tackle if all things are equal. But as it turns out, all things might not be equal. Arizona tackle Eben Britton likely will be available at No. 22, but there are some indications the Vikings aren't high on Britton at that value spot.

Will Chicago get an impact player at No. 49 overall? It probably depends on what position they draft. Unless the market tanks, you can reasonably expect at least five receivers to be off the board when the Bears' pick arrives. The chances aren't high of the draft's sixth-best receiver contributing right away. If they go with a receiver, he's more likely to be a complementary/developmental player. The same can't be said for safety, however. If things fall the right way, the Bears could have their pick of perhaps every safety in the draft. Western Michigan's Louis Delmas, Alabama's Rashad Johnson and Missouri's William Moore could all compete for a starting job right away.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

The most interesting thing about Matthew Stafford's chat with SportsNation on Thursday was the matter-of-fact way he discussed playing for Detroit. The Lions, of course, have offered no public indication that they plan to draft Stafford -- only that they want to have their eventual pick signed before the draft.

  NFL Draft Vignette: Matthew Stafford
  NFL.com Video
  An inside look at quarterback Matthew Stafford from Georgia.

But Stafford offered few caveats when asked about playing for the Lions. Does he know something we don't? Or did the format just lend itself to the answers below? Check them out:

Jon (Atlanta, GA): How are you going to adjust from an environment of 80+ degree weather and 15,000+ coeds dressed in sundresses to Detroit?

SportsNation Matthew Stafford: (3:31 PM ET ) Well, Detroit has a dome, so it shouldn't be too cold, hopefully.

Alex(Detroit, MI): Matthew, Will it be weird to be throwing to a Yellow Jacket if you get drafted by Detroit? How fun will it be to throw to Calvin Johnson?

SportsNation Matthew Stafford: (3:32 PM ET ) It will be awesome. I don't think it will be weird at all. It will be a lot of fun. He's an outstanding player.

Barron Detroit MI: With Detroit Allowing a league High 55 sacks. Do you think you will be able to get the necessary time to complete the passes needed.

SportsNation Matthew Stafford: (3:33 PM ET ) I think so. I think that starts with the running game. The Lions were down so much that they had to throw the ball. That gave the defense a chance to get to the QB. You have to stay ahead as much as you can.

Bob (Detroit): Hey Matt give the people some encouragement tell us why you would save our franchise!

SportsNation Matthew Stafford: (3:41 PM ET ) It's going to be a guy that steps in and brings a winning attitude and won some college football games. With a new staff and other guys coming in, we'll bring a winning attitude.

Daniel (Atlanta Ga): how disappointed would you be if you were not drafted first overall.

SportsNation Matthew Stafford: (3:38 PM ET ) It would be a little bit disappointing, but I 'm going to make the best out of any situation I go to.

As noted earlier, Stafford is Detroit's likely choice in the estimation of ESPN analysts Mel Kiper and Todd McShay.

McShay has been critical of Stafford's aptitude at No. 1 overall but believes the Lions are moving in that direction. We'll know soon enough. While we're at it, let's look at McShay's latest choices -- released Thursday -- for the rest of the NFC North who currently own first-round picks. (You need an Insider subscription to view the entire draft.)

DETROIT LIONS

No. 1 overall: Stafford
No. 20 overall: Mississippi offensive tackle Michael Oher

My take: The Lions won't know for sure if Oher will be available if they bypass Baylor's Jason Smith and Virginia's Eugene Monroe to take Stafford. But ultimately, the chance to have a great quarterback could prove more tempting than the likelihood of having a 10-year starter at left tackle.

GREEN BAY PACKERS

No. 9 overall: Boston College defensive tackle B.J. Raji

My take: This is a serious possibility considering the proven willingness of Packers general manager Ted Thompson to take the best available player. Raji is the best defensive tackle in the draft.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS

No. 22 overall: Florida receiver Percy Harvin

My take: Harvin's status seems to have slipped amid recent reports about his character and alleged drug use. From a football standpoint he's an excellent value at this spot. Minnesota vice president Rick Spielman recently went out of his way to note the Vikings have eliminated 78 players from their draft board for various red flags. Does this mean the Vikings won't draft Harvin? Or that they want people to think they won't?

Mel Kiper's latest

April, 9, 2009
4/09/09
1:00
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

You've been waiting for it, and now it's here: ESPN legend Mel Kiper Jr. is offering up a four-round mock draft for Insider subscribers. It's behind the pay wall of ESPN.com, but since I like you guys so much, I'll steal some the high-profile NFC North picks for Black and Blue readers (just keep 'em to yourselves).

(Remember, Chicago doesn't pick until No. 49 overall because of the Jay Cutler trade.)

DETROIT LIONS

No. 1 overall: Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford
No. 20 overall: Mississippi offensive lineman Michael Oher

My 1.5 cents: Kiper has been all about Stafford for months, so that's no surprise. But Oher at No. 20 would be a pretty nice catch. And, for all you Lions fans who want a linebacker at that spot, let's just say Mel has a certain Ohio State player who backs up the line landing in Detroit during the second round.

GREEN BAY PACKERS

No. 9 overall: Boston College defensive tackle B.J. Raji

My 1.5 cents: Nose tackle is one of the few defensive positions the Packers seem to have locked down with Ryan Pickett. But general manager Ted Thompson has always been about taking the best player. Raji is a force. Kiper has the Packers addressing the offensive line in Round 2. Packer types: I'd like to follow-up on Raji in a future post. Your thoughts?

MINNESOTA VIKINGS

No. 22 overall: Rutgers receiver Kenny Britt

My 1.5 cents: For whatever reason, everyone seems to think the Vikings will take a receiver with their first pick. In this scenario, Britt is the best available with Missouri's Jeremy Maclin and Maryland's Darrius Heyward-Bey off the board. Arizona offensive lineman Eben Britton is also available here.

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.

On the Clock: Minnesota Vikings

March, 25, 2009
3/25/09
9:30
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Team needs: Right tackle, receiver, quarterback

 
  Matthew Sharpe/Getty Images
  Michael Oher, if he falls to No. 22, would be an immediate starter at tackle for the Vikings.
Dream scenario: This draft offers a deep pool of tackles, but the No. 22 pick could end up to be no-man's land for the position. It's likely too low for any of the top three tackles -- Baylor's Jason Smith, Virginia's Eugene Monroe and Mississippi's Michael Oher -- and possibly too high for a second tier that includes Alabama's Andre Smith and Arizona's Eben Britton. Smith's status as a pure left tackle doesn't help Minnesota, anyway. So in a dream scenario, Oher would slip low enough for the Vikings either to draft at No. 22 or trade up a few spots to grab. That move would give the Vikings an immediate starter at perhaps the weakest position on their offense.

Plan B: If the draft shakes out the way it's currently projected, the Vikings might need to shift gears to receiver. They already attempted to upgrade the situation, but free agent T.J. Houshmandzadeh signed with Seattle instead. It's likely that several, if not all, of the draft's top receivers will be available at No. 22 overall. The Vikings will likely have their pick of two of the following three players: Maryland's Darrius Heyward-Bey, Florida's Percy Harvin and North Carolina's Hakeem Nicks.

Scouts Inc. take: I think Hakeem Nicks makes a lot of sense in the first round. He's a guy that is versatile and you can even play him out of the backfield. You pair him with Adrian Peterson and you have to really big, versatile threats. The Vikings' quarterback situation concerns me and that's something they need to address. But I do think that giving another option to a guy like Sage Rosenfels or even Tarvaris Jackson, who I think is still trying to learn the system. Having a guy that runs routes where the quarterbacks can get the ball out of his hands quickly is a good thing. -- Jeremy Green, Scouts Inc.

Who has final say: Rick Spielman enters his third draft as the Vikings' vice president of player personnel. Spielman works alongside coach Brad Childress but has authority over draft-day decisions. Ten of his 13 draft choices remain on the roster.

Now on the clock: Philadelphia Eagles, March 26.

Previous On the Clock: New England Patriots. The team-by-team series.

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