NFC North: NFL draft 09
I didn't forget about ya. I'm just a bit, uh, delayed, in bringing you the answer to last weekend's trivia question.
On the occasion of Detroit's selection of Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford with the No. 1 overall pick of the draft, we asked you to name the last Bulldog quarterback to make a Pro Bowl. Matt of Muncie was quick with a response.
The answer to your trivia is Fran "The Man" Tarkenton!
Tarkenton, drafted by Minnesota in 1961, was selected to nine Pro Bowls during his career with the Vikings and New York Giants. He and Stafford are two of seven Georgia quarterbacks to be drafted in the common era, according to research from ESPN Stats & Information.
Using ESPN.com's handy draft information sorter, you can easily find the other six. As it turns out, Tarkenton has been the only Georgia quarterback ever to make a Pro Bowl. I'm not planning an unfriendly takeover of Chris Low's SEC blog, but in the interest of full disclosure, here is the full list:
Dean of Davenport voices the question the whole world is asking. (Or, at least a few Detroit fans).
What are the chances of the Lions going after ILB Larry Foote? They quasi-addressed the MLB position in the draft and I think adding a seasoned vet like Foote would allow DeAndre Levy to not have to be "thrown into the deep-end" at a position he hasn't really played.
First, it needs to be noted there are conflicting reports about Foote's availability. Foote, who grew up in Detroit and played at Michigan, has told multiple media outlets that he is a free agent and that playing for his hometown team is priority No. 1. But Foote hasn't technically been released yet, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and ESPN.com, and has merely been told that he will be let go at some point.
It's possible the Steelers are trying to create a trade market, but they probably missed their window over draft weekend. Most teams know the Steelers will release him if they can't trade him, and probably sooner rather than later.
When he finally is on the market, the Lions would be foolish not to fully investigate the possibility of bringing him in. They obviously aren't head-over-heels excited about Foote, or they could have acquired him during draft weekend. He started all 16 games last season for the Steelers but was going to lose his starting job to former first-round pick Lawrence Timmons. Foote has seven seasons of wear-and-tear on his body and probably is on the downside of his career.
That said, Foote would instantly be the best middle linebacker on the Lions' roster. Everything is relative, and the position is too important to experiment with. Much as the Lions hope to start veteran Daunte Culpepper at quarterback while No. 1 pick Matthew Stafford develops on the sideline, they should also seek a veteran like Foote to play middle linebacker rather than hope Levy can learn the position and excel immediately.
The Lions are building for the long-term, and there is nothing wrong with that. But there is also nothing more demoralizing than having opponents run the ball down your throat on a weekly basis. That's what happened to the Lions last season, and it's one thing they should endeavor to stop immediately in their new regime.
Sorry. I'm not going to dish out draft grades. Don't like 'em. Rarely look at 'em. Seems like a waste of time to slap an overall grade on a body of work that won't be reconciled for at least two years.
So what can we say about the NFC North's draft? Why don't we take a look at its impact on each team's roster? What's changed? Where are the new battles? What does it tell us about the status of veteran players and other elements the teams haven't overtly acknowledged? Let's jump in:
|James Lang/US PRESSWIRE|
|How soon quarterback Matthew Stafford sees the field remains to be seen.|
After signing No. 1 overall pick Matthew Stafford, Detroit now has an important decision to make for its quarterback depth chart. Stafford has joined a group that includes Daunte Culpepper and Drew Stanton. (ESPN's John Clayton reports the Lions waived quarterback Drew Henson on Monday.) It's generally assumed the Lions prefer to start Culpepper while Stafford develops on the bench. But the team must decide whether it wants Stafford to be the No. 2 quarterback or No. 3 when the season opens.
It's an important distinction. If Culpepper is injured, are the Lions prepared to push Stafford onto the field? If not, do they trust Stanton to play in the short term? The answer to the latter question appears to be "no," giving the Lions these options:
- Signing a veteran backup for Culpepper.
- Making Stafford the No. 2 and crossing their fingers.
- Elevating Stanton to the backup spot and crossing their fingers.
Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said before the draft that he preferred to sign a veteran. If that's still the case, look for some movement soon. It will be interesting to see if the Lions place a claim on ex-Miami quarterback John Beck, who was waived Monday.
Detroit surrendered an NFL-high 172 rushing yards per game last season, but to this point the Lions have added only one new player to the traditional run-stopping positions of an interior defense. Nose tackle Grady Jackson will help clog the middle, and better coaching could also elicit improvement. But the Lions still have some ground to cover after drafting only one defensive tackle and one potential middle linebacker.
Third-round pick DeAndre Levy will get a chance to play middle linebacker, but that could be more out of necessity than design. Will the Lions re-sign Paris Lenon? Will they pursue former Seattle linebacker Leroy Hill, who had his franchise tag rescinded over the weekend? You would think the Lions will keep searching unless Levy puts on a show at rookie minicamp this weekend.
|Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images|
|Did the Vikings have designs on drafting former Kansas State quarterback Josh Freeman?|
We also touched on a side angle to the draft that merits further discussion. Here's the relevant exchange:
John (Wisconsin): There was a rumor that the Bucs traded up to get Freeman because they feared the Vikings were interested as he was coached by two Vikings coaches. Any truth to it?
Kevin Seifert: I have heard nothing to suggest that rumor was true. I would have been stunned. It's possible the Vikings put that out there to try to get people off the Harvin scent.
I had heard that report, and after a quick search, I found it here on the NFL's Web site. Tampa Bay already was situated at No. 19, meaning the Vikings would have had to move up five spots to leapfrog the Bucs to get Freeman.
I don't mean to nitpick, but this report got enough traction that it bears inspection. First, none of the Vikings' primary assistant coaches were at Kansas State during Freeman's career. (If I missed someone on this list, let me know. I could be bleary-eyed.) Second, we should draw the distinction between what the Bucs thought might happen and what the Vikings were intending.
It's very possible Tampa Bay believed the Vikings were making a covert play for Freeman, considering their lack of an established starter as well as the dropoff in the quarterback position after Freeman. And while there was no overt evidence of the Vikings paying special attention to Freeman, ESPN analyst Todd McShay and others had been drawing a connection between the two in mock drafts.
It's possible the Bucs believed the Vikings were publicizing their interest in Florida receiver Percy Harvin to mask their true intention of grabbing Freeman. You never know when it comes to the draft.
That said, I don't think the Vikings gave any deep thought to drafting Freeman. They committed to a competition between Tarvaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels at a time when they knew Freeman could be available to them in the draft. They weren't interested in drafting a first-round quarterback, from everything I've heard.
Indeed, it seems pretty clear the Vikings were zeroed in on Harvin for several days heading into the weekend.
Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press tackles the delicate task of juxtaposing Matthew Stafford's record-setting contract with the severe economic problems facing his new city.
Sharp: "Stafford's a Detroiter now. The richest rookie contract in NFL history ensures that he'll never share the economic upheaval gripping many in his newly adopted city, but it's important that Stafford proves that he at least hears their pain. He must prove himself worthy of the work ethic that still defines Detroit, especially in crisis."
So far, so good, according to Sharp. Stafford will receive $41.7 million in guaranteed money over the next few years, but he spoke genuinely about finding a way to help Detroiters. I jumped into his interview session Sunday and heard him say he wanted to find an avenue he is "passionate" about so that he could participate in the recovery beyond simply writing a check.
Sharp suggested buying tickets for families who have lost their jobs, or buying some foreclosed homes and turning them over to families in need. Whatever it is, Stafford seems interested in helping. The best thing he can do, of course, is turn the Lions around.
Stafford: "I also want to give them something to cheer about on Sundays. Winning football games takes a lot off people's minds, and we have the unique opportunity as NFL players to provide an entertainment source for people."
We're getting a bit of a late start here Monday but I hope you understand. Before we start the sprint, let's take a quick look around the division on the morning after the draft. (Yes, it is still morning.)
- Stafford isn't assuming he will open the season on the Lions' bench, writes Angelique S. Chengelis of the Detroit News. "I'm going to fight like hell to get out there as soon as I can," Stafford said.
- Jim Souhan of the Star Tribune on the Vikings' draft: "[Brad] Childress and [Rick] Spielman -- with a financial assist from [Zygi] Wilf -- have built something close to a championship-caliber roster. If, that is, Childress and his quarterbacks are ready to take advantage of their advantages."
- Among the undrafted players the Vikings signed was Boise State running back Ian Johnson, the player who proposed to his cheerleader/girlfriend immediately after the Fiesta Bowl two years ago. The Star Tribune has a preliminary list of signed players here.
- Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette on the second day of the Packers draft: "... [Ted] Thompson's second day was like his first in one way: The emphasis was on big-body positions on both sides of the ball."
- The Packers are no closer to knowing who their starting right tackle is after this draft, writes Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
- Chicago is projecting third-round pick Jarron Gilbert as a defensive tackle, according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times.
- Third-round receiver Juaquin Iglesias has the best chance of contributing to the Bears right away, writes David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Whether it was the luck of the (value) board or a conscious decision, Detroit wasn't able to substantially upgrade its interior defense during this weekend's draft.
From a pure need perspective, upgrading at defensive tackle and middle linebacker might have been at the top of the Lions' list after finishing last in run defense among NFL teams in 2008. But the Lions didn't draft a single man who played one of those positions last year, instead choosing the highest-valued players on their board regardless of position.
Third-round pick DeAndre Levy will shift from outside linebacker to the middle, and fourth-rounder Sammie Lee Hill projects as a defensive tackle after playing on the end last year at Stillman College. But Levy's 236-pound frame hardly addresses the Lions' need to get bigger on their defensive front, and Hill figures to have a steep learning curve based on his level of competition in college.
"We stayed with our board," coach Jim Schwartz said. "You don't want to strictly draft on need just to take players your scouts don't have a good feel for or your coaches don't have a good feel for. You'd rather take somebody that you like. We still have opportunities to fill some holes."
General manager Martin Mayhew has spoken repeatedly about improving the size of the Lions' front-seven defensive players, but the Lions also made no immediate strides in that department over the weekend. Hill is 330 pounds, but Schwartz acknowledged it is "unrealistic" to assume he'll be ready to contribute right away.
"We went into the draft saying, 'Let's not go into the draft saying we have to help this position,'" Schwartz said. "What you do is go in and say, let's grade the talent, let's take the talent and let's fit them into our needs."
Levy, meanwhile, is now in the mix on a very thin depth chart at middle linebacker. Incumbent Paris Lenon remains an unsigned free agent, and 2008 second-round pick Jordon Dizon has been considered too small at 230 pounds to vie for the position.
Levy isn't much bigger than Dizon, but Schwartz said he fits the primary job description regardless.
"Watch him hit," Schwartz said, noting that Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis was 228 pounds when the Ravens drafted him.
Mayhew said last week the Lions would still have some holes after the draft. He was right.
That's it for now. I'm headed to the Detroit airport, and I hope we've hit all the appropriate angles during the inaugural week of draft coverage for the ESPN Blog Network. Check back Monday morning -- er, late Monday morning -- as we ramp up another week in the NFC North.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Chicago finally found a safety in the 2009 draft, but it doesn't look like he projects as the type of coverage-oriented free safety they're in dire need of.
Oregon State's Al Afalava, taken midway through the sixth round, was a late-rising draft prospect who was not invited to the combine. He was known for his hitting and intimidation in college, not so much for his coverage skills. In fact, one of the first things you find when you Google him is a video clip of a monster hit against Oregon. Note that the receiver held on to the ball.
You can get good value at the safety position deep in the draft, and you would think Afalava has a chance to be a dynamite special teams player. But a starting free safety? At this point, that's probably a stretch.
This post contains no (known) misprints.
Yes, Chicago drafted a receiver named Johnny Knox from Abilene Christian in the fifth round. To my knowledge, he's no relation to that Johnny Knoxville guy. But it is true that Knox was clocked between a 4.29 and a 4.34 in the 40-yard dash this offseason. (His composite combine score was 4.34.)
(Knoxville's best 40 time probably came after he set himself on fire or something. But, we digress.)
The Bears have now addressed their receiver position in very different ways. They took Oklahoma's Juaquin Iglesias at the end of the third round, hoping he can quickly develop into a serviceable possession receiver. And now they have Knox, one of the fastest players in the draft.
New quarterback Jay Cutler would have felt much better had the Bears acquired Anquan Boldin over the weekend. But at the very least, Chicago has inserted some new and intriguing blood into the position.
Green Bay's first pick of Day 2 played left tackle his last two years of college. But you should probably slow down if you assume Eastern Michigan's T.J. Lang, selected with the ninth pick of the fourth round, is the heir apparent to left tackle Chad Clifton.
Lang was a late bloomer on the NFL draft charts, so much so that he was not invited to the combine. But after an impressive postseason showing, teams started investigating him. Lang visited 10 teams, including the Packers, but most of them projected him as a guard. (Atlanta told him they might use him at center.)
That doesn't mean the Packers won't take a look at him at tackle. But guard is the usual landing place for a player with the kind of makeup described here by Scouts Inc.:
Plays with an edge and an effective hand fighter. Upper body strength appears more than adequate and flashes the ability to deliver a violent initial punch. Finishes blocks. ... Stays engaged and makes it difficult for defensive linemen to get their hands up in passing lanes. Gets adequate knee bend, does a good job of resetting feet and can hold ground against bull rushers. Leans too much and is vulnerable to push-pull moves. Takes too long to redirect and going to have some problems countering double moves. Lacks elite initial quickness and going to have a harder time preventing edge rushers from turning the corner at the NFL level.
Speaking to the Oakland Press before the draft, Lang said he enjoyed his visit to Green Bay and added: "Going to Lambeau was definitely nice, just all the history there. It's kind of a small town, just a blue-collar, hard-working town and I think I'd fit in there pretty good, too."
Worry not. Chicago finally got its receiver Sunday morning, one of several the team conducted private workouts with during the pre-draft evaluation process. He'll fit right in with the Bears', uh, low-profile group of receivers.
Oklahoma's Juaquin Iglesias was the next-to-last pick of the third round at No. 99 overall. It's the second consecutive year the Bears have drafted a receiver in the third round; in 2008, they grabbed Earl Bennett of Vanderbilt. By most accounts, Iglesias is a big-bodied possession-type receiver at 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds. That's the type of player who could provide a nice complement to Devin Hester's big-play ability.
Here's what Scouts Inc. had to say about Iglesias' toughness:
Not afraid to go over the middle. Tough blocker that plays with an edge and won't hesitate to put unsuspecting defenders on their backs. (See second quarter of 2008 Texas game.) Flashes a powerful punch and the ability to sustain blocks.
Bears coach Lovie Smith has said Bennett will get the first chance to win the starting job opposite Hester. Rashied Davis is the Bears' only other returning veteran of note, which means Iglesias should have a chance to win the No. 3 receiving job. I wouldn't hold your breath, considering the typically slow adjustment time for receivers in the NFL, but the opportunity is definitely there.
Posted by ESPN's Rachel Nichols
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- No surprise to see the Lions deal their No. 65 pick to the Jets. The exchange got them a later pick in the third round, plus a fourth-rounder and a seventh-rounder -- which is exactly what general manager Martin Mayhew told me they wanted to do going into this weekend.
Mayhew told me they had eight picks but he'd like at least 10 as he faced a team riddled with needs.
"We could use a lot of everything, to be honest with you," Mayhew told me. "In reality, if you look up and down our roster, we could take any position."
In some ways, this is protecting the investment the Lions already made. They just gave Matthew Stafford $41.7 million in guaranteed money -- and while they say they won't rush him onto the field, no one gets paid that much to sit too long. When Stafford does start playing, the Lions need to surround him with as many talented bodies as possible.
Rachel Nichols is an ESPN bureau reporter based in New York and covering the Lions' draft.
Chances are you've heard of Chicago's first pick in the 2009 draft. Yes, the Bears drafted the Pool Jumper -- San Jose State defensive end Jarron Gilbert -- with the fourth pick of the third round Sunday.
Gilbert is a complete freak of nature (see video below). At 6-foot-5 and almost 290 pounds, Gilbert jumped out of the shallow end of a pool in a pretty amazing feat of explosion. Gilbert apparently performed the jump on a whim last year after being told that former Chicago and St. Louis safety Adam Archuleta had done the same thing. The video also depicts Gilbert squatting 635 pounds. Yikes.
Does that mean Gilbert can help the Bears' pass rush, which sometimes looked like it was submerged in water itself last season? (Be prepared for many such cheap analogies as the days and weeks continue.) Gilbert had 7.5 sacks in 12 games at San Jose State last season. Here's what Scouts Inc. said about his pass-rush skills:
Has a lot of potential and was very productive in this facet of the game. He has a quick first step and good closing burst as a pass rusher. Can change directions once he gets through the line of scrimmage. Has long arms and good instincts to obstruct QB's view as a passer.
Say this much: After a boring Day 1 of the draft, the Bears certainly spiced things up a bit Sunday morning.
I mentioned Saturday that at the very least, Minnesota had some explaining to do after drafting Florida receiver Percy Harvin with the No. 22 overall pick. The Vikings have gone out of their way to emphasize character and citizenship in the wake of their 2005 "Love Boat" embarrassment, and Harvin isn't exactly a blue-chip prospect in either category.
But it appears that Harvin convinced coach Brad Childress during a day-long visit Wednesday to Gainesville, Fla. Childress not only met with Harvin, but also his family, Gators coach Urban Meyer and other members of the Florida football staff. According to Harvin, the day went like this:
"It was kind of like we were just buddies and just doing a lot of things. We went out to eat. ... For the most part it was just hanging out and getting to know each other. It was a great, tremendous visit. Even after that we kind of texted each other. Everything was very good."
Childress told reporters in Minnesota that he asked Harvin to drive him to his family's house so he could meet his relatives. At one point, Childress said he grabbed his notebook -- much like a reporter -- and started checklisting the questions he had jotted down.
Childress: "I am very aware that somebody can put their best foot forward in the time that you are there, but I just think the whole talking to the guys on the staff, talking with him, being able to spend time with him, understand where he is at, how he was raised, being able to talk to his stepdad, being able to talk to mom, being able to talk to grandma, and spend some time that you normally wouldn't get a chance to spend. I asked him if it took him back to college recruiting, because there I was with their Shih Tzu and bouncing a baby on my knee, literally. So I just think, obviously, you want to do the right thing. You want to make sure you are bringing the right people in here. Can he fit? Can he coexist? Can he be a good teammate? All of those kind of things."
Harvin reportedly tested positive for drugs at the February scouting combine, of which Childress said:
"I think he is a guy that has made a mistake. I think we have all made mistakes. I think the big thing is that you look it in the eye; you recognize it for what it is, you admit to it and then I think how you deal with adversity as you go forward. Do you let it bury you? Or do you fix it? That's part of growing up. That's part of that growing process."
The drug issue is one of many questions about Harvin, who reportedly has had some difficulty accepting coaching during his career. Childress admitted that he might not have been willing to take on a player with Harvin's baggage during the early part of his tenure in Minnesota -- when he was attempting to strike a "culture change" in the locker room. "It's a risk-reward type thing." Childress said.
I was as surprised as anyone when the Vikings started investigating Harvin, but I do believe they were in position to take a risk with this draft. (Especially when it was mitigated by taking a potential starting right tackle in the second round in Oklahoma's Phil Loadholt.) There aren't many personnel holes on this Vikings team, and from a football perspective Harvin could add a playmaking element that nears the impact of tailback Adrian Peterson in 2007.
ESPN analyst Herm Edwards said Saturday night that Harvin is the kind of car guaranteed to crash at some point, so the key is having a good mechanic to fix him when he's damaged. That's the role Childress has taken on in this scenario. If he and his staff can keep Harvin focused and motivated, the Vikings have executed one of the coups of draft weekend.
If they can't, however, they'll have a hard time justifying their public stance about maintaining the character of their locker room.