NFC North: NFC Roster Analysis 2011

Detroit Lions cutdown analysis

September, 3, 2011
9/03/11
8:23
PM ET
Check here for a complete list of the Detroit Lions' roster moves.

Surprise move: I don't know if it qualified as a surprise, but it was sure jarring to hear earlier Saturday that veteran punter Nick Harris was ousted. Harris has been the Lions' punter since 2003 and hadn't appeared to be in decline. But rookie Ryan Donahue is 10 years younger than Harris and had an equally strong training camp. Age doesn't always apply to punters as it does to players at other positions, but the Lions must believe Donahue can be their punter for years to come. Meanwhile, the Lions activated cornerback Alphonso Smith from the non-football injury list, meaning they believe he will be ready to play before the sixth week of the season.

No-brainers: You don't always see a six-year veteran as a team's No. 6 receiver, but Maurice Stovall proved he will be a valuable special teams player as well as a possible red zone threat. He beat out 2009 third-round draft pick Derrick Williams, whose potential never materialized and who was still dropping passes with regularity during the preseason. In training camp, it was clear that veteran Nate Vasher was behind younger cornerbacks Aaron Berry and Brandon McDonald. Both Berry and McDonald remain on the roster. Vasher was cut.

What's next: Lions general manager Martin Mayhew is usually good for a couple of trades and veteran acquisitions during Labor Day weekend. You wonder if the Lions want to fortify their running back depth, which currently includes little-used Aaron Brown and an injured Maurice Morris. Chester Taylor is a Detroit-area native. Just saying.

Green Bay Packers cutdown analysis

September, 3, 2011
9/03/11
7:11
PM ET
Check here for a complete list of the Green Bay Packers' roster moves.

Surprise move: Packers coach Mike McCarthy made clear early in camp that he hoped to find a way to keep Graham Harrell on the final roster. It's no secret that No. 2 quarterback Matt Flynn is a pending free agent, and McCarthy thought now wouldn't be a good time to part ways with another quarterback who has spent time developing in the Packers' system. Harrell rebounded from a shaky start to camp, but I guess the Packers couldn’t find a place for him on a roster that includes five tight ends and a whopping 10 linebackers. I would expect him to return on the practice squad, assuming he clears waivers.

No-brainers: It's hard not to connect Jermichael Finley's pending free agency with the high number of tight ends the Packers kept. The list included two rookies, D.J. Williams and Ryan Taylor, along with veterans Andrew Quarless and Tom Crabtree. When you have a big-time starter entering a contract year, it makes sense to ensure your future bases are covered. Meanwhile, I don't fault the Packers for limiting themselves to five receivers, and in the process cutting loose Chastin West and Tori Gurley, among others. Both could return via the practice squad, and the veteran depth they have at the position would have made it difficult for a No. 6 receiver to be active on game day. Finally, the Packers chose to keep veteran tailback Ryan Grant and release the younger Dimitri Nance. Smart move.

What's next: The Packers have already found two trade partners for their players, sending fullback Quinn Johnson to the Tennessee Titans for an undisclosed draft pick and guard Caleb Schlauderaff to the New York Jets for an undisclosed draft pick. There aren't any obvious holes on their current 53-man grouping, so the Packers' primary goal Sunday will be to get as many of their just-released players through waivers and onto the practice squad as possible.

Chicago Bears cutdown analysis

September, 3, 2011
9/03/11
6:45
PM ET
Check here for a complete list of the Chicago Bears' roster moves.

Surprise move: The Bears have now bid farewell to three locker room stalwarts: Center Olin Kreutz, receiver Rashied Davis and now tight end Desmond Clark. The Bears released Clark as part of Saturday's roster cutdown, deciding to keep undrafted rookie Kyle Adams instead. Clark said via Twitter that "I played my butt off but sometimes it's more about the business." The Bears indicated that he was released with an injury. Regardless, intentionally or otherwise, the Bears have at least temporarily created a player leadership void.

No-brainers: After last week's communication fiasco, there was little doubt that running back Chester Taylor would be part of this cutdown. The Bears need only two tailbacks behind starter Matt Forte, and those roles will be filled by Marion Barber and Kahlil Bell. They also kept fullback Will Ta'ufo'ou. I don't know if the Bears entered training camp planning to keep undrafted rookie receiver Dane Sanzenbacher, but his quick ascension as a slot receiver was obvious by the midpoint of the preseason. Quarterback Jay Cutler loves throwing to him.

What's next: The Bears' depth at linebacker is a little scary. They kept only five at the position, with Brian Iwuh and undrafted rookie Dom DeCicco as the reserves behind Lance Briggs, Brian Urlacher and Nick Roach. You would think the Bears would at least scan the waiver wire for additional depth, especially with Briggs nursing a knee injury. And with Barber and Bell having suffered preseason injuries, the Bears might check out emergency running back depth as well.

Minnesota Vikings cutdown analysis

September, 3, 2011
9/03/11
6:23
PM ET
Check here for a complete list of the Minnesota Vikings' roster moves.

Surprise move: Either the Vikings have confidence in a number of unproven offensive linemen or they have their sights on some veteran acquisitions later this weekend. They released guard/tackles Chris DeGeare and Ryan Cook, both of whom saw substantial action at right guard during the injury rehabilitation of starter Anthony Herrera. This version of their 53-man roster features three centers and a total of 10 offensive linemen. The group includes two rookies (DeMarcus Love and Brandon Fusco) and one first-year player in Patrick Brown. The Vikings' arrangement here remains under construction, as far as I’m concerned.

No-brainers: Undrafted tight end Allen Reisner was one of the big surprises of camp. He not only pushed veteran Jeff Dugan off the roster but also forced the Vikings to keep four tight ends on their roster. I wondered whether the Vikings would release safety Tyrell Johnson, who has struggled to maintain his starting job in the face of a modest challenge from Jamarca Sanford. In the end, the Vikings didn’t have enough in-house experience to make that move. But watch out down the road for rookie Mistral Raymond, who forced his way onto the initial 53-man roster and is clearly respected by coaches.

What’s next: You would think the Vikings would be on the lookout for two areas in particular: Linebackers and running backs. The decision to release veteran Heath Farwell left them with five linebackers, only two of whom have starting experience. The current backups are special-teams ace Kenny Onatolu and undrafted rookie Larry Dean. With new starter Erin Henderson still establishing himself, you wonder if that is enough depth. Meanwhile, the Vikings kept only three tailbacks (and no fullbacks). Both of Adrian Peterson's backups, Toby Gerhart and Lorenzo Booker, were dealing with injuries as recently as last week. Depth is definitely an issue and could be addressed in the next 24-48 hours.

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