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Thursday, April 24, 2014
NFL Nation: 4 Downs -- NFC North

By ESPN.com staff

 
Are the Detroit Lions thinking of moving up in the draft? If not, why did they host Jadeveon Clowney on a recent visit? But what about the possibility of moving up to take Sammy Watkins to pair him up with Calvin Johnson as a dynamic receiving tandem?

 That’s one of the questions our NFC North reporters -- Rob Demovsky with the Green Bay Packers, Ben Goessling on the Minnesota Vikings, Michael C. Wright on the Chicago Bears and Kevin Seifert filling in on the Lions -- will tackle in this installment of 4 Downs.

With all of the offseason movement in the NFC North, which move will have the biggest impact? Will Julius Peppers have a bigger impact with the Packers or will Jared Allen make a bigger splash with the Bears?

Will the Bears’ defense, buoyed by offseason acquisitions, enjoy the kind of resurgence in 2014 that their offense did in 2013?

Now that Adrian Peterson has reached 29 years old, will his production decrease, or will Norv Turner’s offense invigorate him?

Find out what our reporters are thinking.

First Down

Fact or fiction: The best draft move the Lions could make is moving up for Sammy Watkins.



Rob Demovsky: Fact. There's something to be said for making your strength even stronger. Clearly, with Calvin Johnson, the Lions' passing game is their strength -- they were third in the league in passing yards per game last season -- so why not make it even more difficult to stop? The addition of Watkins would give Matthew Stafford another big-play option.

Ben Goessling: Fiction. As exciting as it would be to see Watkins in the same offense as Calvin Johnson, the Lions likely would need to move up from No. 10 to No. 4 or 5 to get Watkins. That would be the kind of expensive trade that could mean Martin Mayhew doesn't have enough picks to improve the team's defense. The Lions could use an upgrade to their secondary and at linebacker, and they'd likely find some good options there with the 10th overall pick. The Lions need another complement to Johnson, but defense is too big of a priority to make a costly trade up to get Watkins.

Kevin Seifert: Fiction. Adding Watkins to a group that includes Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate would be one of the top power moves in recent memory. And, yes, the best way to build a team is to draft the best players and fill in positional gaps via free agency. But mortgaging the next two drafts seems like a steep price for a wide receiver on a team that has already committed the NFL's third-most salary-cap space ($20.3 million) at the position. The Lions' best move would to be clearheaded and take the best player remaining at No. 10.

Michael C. Wright: Fiction. By now, the Lions should've already learned their lesson about investing too heavily in receivers. Besides that, Detroit needs help on defense if it wants to win now. The club has several defensive tackles set to become free agents after the 2014 season, it needs a safety and a cornerback, and it could stand to use some help at linebacker, too. The Lions already have several weapons on offense in Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush, in addition to free-agent acquisition Golden Tate. They can't neglect a defense that seems to always lack depth once injuries hit. This is also one of the deepest drafts in recent years for receivers, meaning the Lions could address defense first, then come back and add another target for Stafford in a later round. That would be the best course of action for Detroit. But the Lions haven't always done what's best (even though things seem to be improving with Martin Mayhew on board).

@mikecwright False. Megatron&Tate are a good one two punch & corner and safety are bigger needs.WR is deep; the opportunity cost is too high

- Ragan (@DupesSA) April 21, 2014


Second Down

Fact or fiction: Julius Peppers will make a greater impact on the Packers' defense than Jared Allen will make on the Bears' D.



Demovsky: Fact. The Packers didn't have a single defensive lineman record as many sacks as Peppers did for the Bears last year, when he had seven. Even if he's only able to replicate that, it'll be an upgrade for the Packers' defense, which badly needs another pass-rusher to complement Clay Matthews, who faces near-constant double teams.

Goessling: Fiction. It's hard to know what the Packers will get from Peppers. The Bears are essentially asking Allen to do what he's always done, and as consistent as Allen's been, you know what you're getting. He'll probably produce 10-plus sacks and stay on the field, though he looked a step slower last season. With Peppers, though, the Packers' decision to put him opposite Clay Matthews is a big gamble -- on Peppers' ability to pick up a new position, to move around in the Packers' defense and to remain productive at age 34. It could work out splendidly, but as consistent as Allen is, I'm not ready to bet that Peppers will make a larger impact.

Seifert: Fiction. Call me boring, but I don't foresee one having a dramatically different impact than the other. Both will provide something their teams didn't have last season. The Packers will get a player athletic and versatile enough to spur defensive coordinator Dom Capers' creativity and legitimately draw attention away from linebacker Clay Matthews. Allen offers a classic outside pass rush that Peppers failed to provide the Bears last season.

Wright: Fiction. The Bears played it very diplomatically publicly while ushering Peppers out of the door, but even if his base salary for 2014 wasn't so astronomical, the club still didn't want him back. That's because some within the organization felt Peppers gave the Bears just five to six solid snaps per game in 2013. That sentiment falls right in line with Peppers' longstanding reputation as a player who doesn't go all-out consistently. So even if Allen's impact with the Bears in 2014 is minimal, I'd venture to guess it would be more than what the Packers will get from Peppers. That's not to say Peppers has lost it. He hasn't. He can still play at a high level when motivated. And he'll definitely be motivated in Green Bay. At the same time, Allen has never been accused of taking plays off, and over several years has earned a reputation as a high-motor player. That's exactly what the Bears need. Besides that, Peppers will be playing in a scheme totally different than anything he's ever done in the NFL, while Allen moves to a scheme similar to what he did in Minnesota. Everything considered, Allen has the best chance to be the more impactful player.

@RobDemovsky true, because the bears will play Allen on every down and wear him out. Making him less effective.

- kay oh (@shredmon) April 21, 2014


Third Down

Fact or fiction: Chicago will achieve a turnaround on defense similar to what the team experienced on offense in 2013.



Demovsky: Fiction. Unless your definition of turnaround is a slight improvement, don't expect this defense to jump into the top 10 after ranking 30th last season. The Bears have added some nice pieces, especially on the defensive line with Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston, but this defense was downright bad in 2013. A major turnaround could take several years.

Goessling: Fiction. I like what the Bears did to their defensive line, adding Lamarr Houston, Willie Young and Jared Allen, but their safeties are still suspect, their young linebackers are still learning and they're going to count on players like Charles Tillman, D.J. Williams, Lance Briggs (if he's healthy) and Allen, who will all be at least 32 when camp starts. The Bears will be better on defense, but I'm not ready to say unequivocally that they'll turn things around after having the league's worst rushing defense in 2013.

Seifert: Fiction: Some important team-building remains, most notably through the draft. But I'm not convinced the Bears have done enough yet to expect such a dramatic turnaround. (Remember, the Bears' offense ranked second in scoring in 2013 after finishing No. 16 in 2012.) Free agency has promised a different lineup, but will it be better? As many as six projected starters will be at least 30 years old. That's not a profile for massive turnaround.

Wright: Fiction. The Bears will definitely turn things around, but I don't see the improvement being near as dramatic as what the club did in 2013 on offense. And that's OK. If the Bears can reach mediocrity on defense in 2014, that would be a huge win because the club now has a potent offense that can flat out stack points on the board. The Bears set single-season franchise records for net yardage (6,109), net passing yards (4,281), completion percentage (64.4), passing touchdowns (32), passer rating (96.9) and first downs (344) in addition to finishing eighth in total offense (381.8 yards per game), second in scoring (27.8-point average) and fifth in passing yardage (267.6). I don't see the Bears rewriting the franchise record books on defense next season, which would be incredibly difficult anyway given all the great defenses fielded in the past by this franchise.

@mikecwright False.There will be turnaround but nothing that great.Secondary still needs work and the chemistry might not be there for team

- Matt Varney (@HeadCoachVarney) April 21, 2014


Fourth Down

Fact or fiction: At age 29, Adrian Peterson will be invigorated by a new offensive scheme and buck the trend of running backs declining in their late 20s.


Demovsky: Fact. If we've learned anything about Peterson, it's that we should never doubt him. Not after what he did following his ACL tear. That said, 2,000 yards might not be realistic. If his 1,266 yards from last season was a disappointment, then so be it, but there aren't many teams in the league who wouldn't be happy with that right now.

Goessling: Fiction. Peterson will still be productive in Norv Turner's offense and could relish the opportunity to get the ball as a pass-catching threat for one of the first times in his career. But running backs at his age -- and with that much wear and tear -- don't tend to stay at that level forever, and Peterson's three surgeries in the past three offseasons are concerning. If he does what LaDainian Tomlinson did for Turner at age 29 (1,110 yards rushing and 426 receiving), is that bucking the trend? Maybe, but that would still only be Peterson's sixth-best season in terms of total yards. So I'll say fiction. Even though I expect Peterson to have a solid, productive season, I don't think we're looking at some fountain of youth in Turner's offense.

Seifert: Fact. I'll say this: Peterson doesn't need to be invigorated as much as he needs a transition path for continued elite production. After all, he rushed for 1,266 yards in 14 games last season. But he has undergone significant surgery in each of the past three winters, and offensive coordinator Norv Turner wants to involve him more in the passing game. More receptions and fewer carries sounds like a good plan for preservation.

Wright: Fact. But I'm not even so sure it will be as much about a new offensive scheme. Peterson just isn't human. Just kidding; sort of. Peterson is coming off his worst season since 2009 in terms of yards per attempt (4.5). But think about that for a second. Most running backs would be downright giddy averaging 4.5 yards per carry. I know Peterson has taken a pounding over the years and he's coming off yet another surgery. But doesn't that always seem to be the case for Peterson, dating all the way back to college? At Oklahoma, Peterson dislocated a shoulder in 2004, suffered a right high-ankle sprain in 2005 and a broken clavicle in 2006, which led to scrutiny going into the 2007 draft about his durability and longevity. Seven seasons and 10,115 yards later, Peterson's still here, giving defenses fits. Minnesota needs to get Peterson some help (like a quarterback) for sure. But I honestly think Peterson is such an extraordinary physical specimen, hard worker and determined player, he'll buck the trend for a while the way Fred Taylor did it. Taylor rushed for 1,202 yards in 2007, completing that season just weeks before his 32nd birthday. The year prior, Taylor rushed for 1,146 yards.

@GoesslingESPN false. Wear and tear catching up....he'll still be a good RB, but his glory days are behind him.

- Vikings Fan Page (@Kevin_VFP) April 21, 2014