Taking a second look at the NFC North draft

April, 28, 2009
4/28/09
12:00
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

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:

  1. Signing a veteran backup for Culpepper.
  2. Making Stafford the No. 2 and crossing their fingers.
  3. 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.

 
  Charles Sonnenblick/Getty Images
  The addition of Percy Harvin could take some playing time away from Minnesota veterans.
If receiver Percy Harvin is as dynamic as advertised, some of Minnesota's veterans are going to lose playing time. We're not sure exactly who will give up his role to make room for Harvin, but the math is simple: Only 11 players are allowed on the field at a time.

Will it be slot receiver Bobby Wade, who has led the Vikings in receptions in each of the past two years? Will it be split end Sidney Rice, who was slowed for most of last season by a knee injury? Will it be backup tailback Chester Taylor, who also serves as the third-down back? You could envision Harvin in all three of those roles, to varying degrees, if the Vikings use him extensively on offense.

But don't assume the Vikings will immediately insert Harvin into multiple roles on offense. In 2007, it took an injury to Taylor for the Vikings to give Adrian Peterson regular playing time early in his rookie season. It wouldn't be out of the question for coach Brad Childress to ease in Harvin with initial duties as a punt and kickoff returner.

One Vikings player who seems likely to lose his role is right tackle Ryan Cook. It seems a matter of when, and not if, second-round pick Phil Loadholt wins that job. The Vikings gave Cook nearly 2 1/2 years to make the transition from center, his college position at New Mexico, and now seem close to moving on.

The Vikings might give Cook a chance to win the center job vacated by Matt Birk, but John Sullivan -- a sixth-round pick in 2008 -- is the most likely successor. Ironically, Cook could prove a valuable reserve because he can eliminate the need to carry a backup center on the roster. Cook and Artis Hicks could both serve as multi-positional reserves on game day.

Does Green Bay really plan to use Ryan Pickett as a 330-plus pound defensive end? That's one of several options after the Packers drafted nose tackle B.J. Raji in the first round. General manager Ted Thompson and defensive coordinator Dom Capers both noted the flexibility they have with Pickett, who has been a defensive tackle in the Packers' 4-3 defense since arriving in 2006.

 
  Chris Morrison/US PRESSWIRE
  Clay Matthews could be an option to start for the Packers at one outside linebacker spot.

The Packers don't have an established starter at left end in their new 3-4 defense, although it has been presumed Johnny Jolly would open training camp at that position. Pickett could factor in there, or Capers could develop a rotation that allows both Pickett and Raji to get regular playing time at nose tackle. The latter option might work best, keeping both men fresh and allowing Raji to ease into the lineup in anticipation of Pickett's entry into the free-agent market after the season.

What happens to Packers linebackers Brady Poppinga and Brandon Chillar now that it appears neither will start in the base 3-4 defense? I'm not sure if anyone has the answer to that question yet, but Poppinga is only one year removed from a four-year contract extension that pays him almost about $2.7 million this season.

At the very least, it will be comforting to have a pair of established veterans behind a pair of presumed starters whose competency in the new scheme is untested. Former defensive end Aaron Kampman is expected to start at one outside linebacker position and you would assume the Packers are targeting rookie Clay Matthews for the other.

Technically, Matthews must beat out Poppinga and possibly Chillar for a starting job. But I don't think Thompson would have given up two third-round picks to trade up for Matthews if he didn't think anticipate immediate production.

Could cornerback D.J. Moore end Nate Vasher's career in Chicago? Moore, a fourth-round pick over the weekend, was a regular playmaker at Vanderbilt and should compete for the Bears' nickel position. If Moore can hold down that job, and Corey Graham wins the starting job opposite Charles Tillman, would the Bears keep Vasher -- and his bloated contract -- as a fourth cornerback?

Usually it's not wise to jettison a competent cornerback, given how difficult it is to play the position. But you wonder whether it would be a healthy situation to keep Vasher in that scenario.

There are a lot of "ifs" here, and we shouldn't rule out the possibility of Vasher rejuvenating his career in training camp and winning the starting job outright. We also shouldn't assume Moore, who was the 18th cornerback taken in the draft, will be ready for a nickel role. But it's a scenario worth considering nonetheless.

Imagine if the Bears enter the season with two of their top three receivers boasting zero NFL receptions. It's a realistic possibility when you consider that Earl Bennett is the leading candidate for the No. 2 receiver and third-round pick Juaquin Iglesias could win the No. 3 job.

There are other options as well, most notably veteran Rashied Davis. It's also possible that the Bears could grab a veteran free agent before the start of the regular season. But after drafting three receivers Sunday, the Bears will at least give themselves some time to evaluate what they have before making their next move.

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