Saturday, April 30, 2011
NFC North draft analysis
By Kevin Seifert
Normally the end of the draft provides an opportunity to reassess the NFC North teams and start assessing the division race. The task of roster building is largely complete. For the most part, we'll know which teams are stacked, which ones have big holes and who should be favored to win the title.
This year's lockout has turned that convention upside down. Draft weekend is a first step, not the last, in building rosters for the 2011 season. At some point, teams will have an opportunity to sign veteran free agents and collect a class of undrafted rookies. So we'll hold off on any prognosticating for now.
Instead, we'll just take this moment to pull some highlights -- and lowlights -- from the past three days:
The Minnesota Vikings had their choice of talented, game-changing players available to them when the No. 12 overall pick arrived. Nose tackle Nick Fairley, defensive end Robert Quinn and offensive lineman Anthony Castonzo all would have stepped in as immediate starters at positions where the Vikings needed help.
But in the NFL of 2011, no team is any better than its quarterback. And at that moment, the Vikings didn't have one. After an early run took the top three quarterbacks off the board, the Vikings -- based on their own evaluation -- were left to choose between Florida State's Christian Ponder or the likely prospect of leaving this draft without a quarterback they could build their future around.
They chose the former, a decision that one way or the other will define the tenures of personnel man Rick Spielman and coach Leslie Frazier. There is widespread debate about Ponder's aptitude for future success, but in my view the Vikings are better off moving forward with him than sitting on their hands and hoping that a better option would present itself next month or next year or in 2013.
With Ponder in place, the Vikings can tailor their long-term offensive scheme and personnel to a tangible set of skills. And they have to trust their new coaching staff, including offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and quarterbacks coach Craig Johnson, to finish the job by developing and refining Ponder's game.
It wasn't an easy choice, and there are plenty of knowledgeable football people who considered it a reach or worse. But I credit the Vikings for recognizing that the "when" in this equation was just as important as the "who."
No one can argue the value that Fairley, receiver Titus Young and running back Mikel Leshoure will bring the Detroit Lions. But the Lions wrapped up an otherwise successful draft with the same roster holes they started it in. They didn't draft a cornerback and selected only one linebacker, Syracuse's Douglas Hogue, a converted running back, with the No. 157 overall pick.
General manager Martin Mayhew and coach Jim Schwartz have both preached patience, saying their only goal in the draft was to enhance the talent of their roster. "There's a lot of time between now and when the season begins to worry about our needs," Schwartz told Detroit-area reporters.
The Lions made three great picks at the top of the draft. The risk, however, is that in doing so they considerably narrowed their options to fill their other needs. They'll now have to recruit another team's discards through free agency and/or a trade, or they'll have to hope one of the players on their roster makes a significant jump during a lockout that has thus far canceled all team-sponsored offseason programs.
MOST SURPRISING MOVE
Despite botching a trade with Baltimore, Chicago was still able to draft Gabe Carimi in the first round.
We spent plenty of time discussing the Chicago Bears good fortune Thursday night, when they were able to draft Wisconsin offensive lineman Gabe Carimi with the No. 29 overall pick even after botching a trade designed to secure him three picks earlier. But the episode revealed a mistake perhaps bigger than the Bears' failure to report the deal.
The trade wasn't necessary in the first place.
The Bears' "glitch," as general manager Jerry Angelo later referred to it, saved them from wasting a fourth-round pick. It saved them from themselves.
Why were the Bears trying to acquire the Baltimore Ravens' No. 26 overall pick? They were convinced that the Kansas City Chiefs planned to draft Carimi at No. 27. But as we saw, the Chiefs had no such plans. With Carimi on the board, the Chiefs surprised most everyone -- including the Bears -- by leap-frogging the Ravens to draft ... Pittsburgh receiver Jonathan Baldwin.
I'm sure it wouldn't have been the first time a team traded up, and surrendered a second pick, on the false premise of another team's interest. But in the chaos of the moment, I'm sure the Bears were as surprised as anyone that Carimi was available at No. 29.
FILE IT AWAY
Some considered outside linebacker the Green Bay Packers' biggest need entering the draft, but they didn't draft a linebacker of any type until selecting Appalachian State's D.J. Smith near the end of the sixth round (No. 186 overall). The Packers drafted Arizona linebacker Ricky Elmore 11 spots later, but I'm not sure we can project either as a possible starter.
We all know it's unlikely that general manager Ted Thompson will seek a starter via free agency, so the Packers most likely will need to find a starting right outside linebacker from an internal list of candidates. Speaking to Wisconsin reporters Saturday, defensive coordinator Dom Capers spoke highly of incumbent Frank Zombo.
"Frank Zombo played close to 600 snaps for us," Capers said, via the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "We have an awful lot more confidence in Frank than we did a year ago. He's another guy that got better as the season went on. I think he'll be head and shoulders where he was a year ago. I think we'll have good competition."