NFL roster cuts: AFC | NFC

NFL Nation: Dan Bazuin

Draft Watch: NFC North

March, 17, 2011
3/17/11
12:00
PM ET
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: draft rewind -- examining the past five drafts.

Chicago Bears

Best choice: My initial thought was to nominate receiver Johnny Knox, a fifth-round pick two years ago out of Division-II Abilene Christian. Knox has 96 receptions in two seasons and is as close to a No. 1 receiver as the Bears have. But the 2006 decision to draft kick returner Devin Hester in the second round was inspired. Hester has changed the game and has become one of the best returners in the history of football. He has also made steady improvement as a receiver after converting from cornerback. Hester it is.

Worst choice: The Bears made Central Michigan defensive end Dan Bazuin a second-round pick in 2007. He was taken No. 62 overall but never played a regular-season down for the team. A left knee injury ended his rookie season and a second operation on the knee led to his release in the summer of 2008. I'm not sure if the Bears could have projected the knee problems, but bidding farewell to a second-round pick after one year is problematic.

On the bubble: Chris Williams, drafted as the left tackle of the future in 2008, missed almost half of his rookie season because of a back injury and has started at three different positions in the ensuing two years. As of today, the Bears aren't saying where he will play in 2011. The position changes could merit credit for flexibility, or they could be grounds for criticism because the Bears haven't been able to lock him down at left tackle as they have hoped.

Detroit Lions

Best choice: If you had the option between a pass-rushing, playmaking defensive tackle and a freakishly skilled receiver, which would you take? I would go with the former, which is why I'm making defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh my top Lions choice over the past five years. Receiver Calvin Johnson is an elite player, but to me, Suh plays a more important position. I realize Suh wasn't exactly a surprise pick at No. 2 overall in 2010, but it's rare that a player taken at that spot lives up to the hype so quickly.

Worst choice: This discussion is limited to the past five years, so we can't nominate receiver Mike Williams (2005). Many of the Lions' now-discarded draft picks were selected with former coach Rod Marinelli's Tampa 2 defensive scheme in mind, so it's not surprising they would no longer be around. There is no smoking gun in this time period, so I'll go with receiver Derrick Williams, a third-round pick in 2009 who has failed as both a No. 3 receiver and a kick returner.

On the bubble: Quarterback Matthew Stafford, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 draft, has missed more games (19) than he's played (13) in the past two years. His three-game appearance in 2010 suggested improvement over his 20-interception rookie season, but like any player, Stafford must find a way to stay on the field or he will be a bust.

Green Bay Packers

Best choice: Trading back into the first round in 2009 to select linebacker Clay Matthews was an inspired move. And tight end Jermichael Finley, you might recall, was a low third-round pick in 2008. But in this case, I have to go with finding one of the top receivers in the game at the bottom of the second round of the 2006 draft. Greg Jennings was the No. 52 overall pick that year and not exactly a household name after his Western Michigan career. But he was productive from the moment he arrived in Green Bay and earned a well-deserved Pro Bowl berth last season.

Worst choice: Tennessee defensive lineman Justin Harrell had a history of injuries when the Packers made him the No. 16 overall pick in 2007. Not coincidentally, injuries have prevented Harrell from establishing any sort of career. He has played in 14 games over four seasons, felled by back and knee ailments, among others. Because of the value of his draft position, Harrell gets the nod over Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm, who bombed after the Packers took him in the second round in 2008.

On the bubble: The Packers don't have a player who fits neatly into this category, but on a relative scale I would go with guard Daryn Colledge, a second-round pick in 2006. Colledge has started all but three games over the past five years, making several position changes along the way, but the Packers never seem willing to commit to him for the long term. That trend continued last month, when they tendered him as a prospective restricted free agent but didn't seem interested (yet) in a multiyear contract. Is this the year they find someone to take over his left guard spot?

Minnesota Vikings

Best choice: Defensive end Ray Edwards has 29.5 sacks in his five-year career, including 16.5 in the past two season, some significant numbers for a player taken in the fourth round of the 2006 draft (No. 127 overall). But it's hard to get past the value the Vikings have gotten from receiver Percy Harvin, their first pick (No. 22 overall) in 2009. They put a substantial amount of pre-draft work into his background, and he has not been responsible for any off-field issue that has been publicized. In two seasons, moreover, Harvin has 131 receptions and has been a force as a kickoff returner as well. The Vikings didn't fully grasp Harvin's migraine history, but I'm not sure if many teams did at the time.

Worst choice: Safety Tyrell Johnson, whom the Vikings targeted and traded up to the No. 43 slot in 2008 to draft, has been a disappointment and is not guaranteed a starting job in 2011. But as far as impact on the organization, it's hard to look past the decision to trade into the second round of the 2006 draft and select quarterback Tarvaris Jackson. There is no doubt Jackson had some physical skills to get excited about. But ultimately, that decision -- along with former coach Brad Childress' faith in his future development -- set back the franchise and left it in desperation mode this spring.

On the bubble: Right tackle Phil Loadholt was the No. 54 overall pick in 2009 and has started 31 of a possible 32 games since. But is that because he deserves to be an established starter in the NFL, or was he simply the Vikings' best option? There are mixed opinions about Loadholt's performance over that stretch, and it's not clear if the Vikings' new coaching staff considers him an unquestioned starter moving forward.
Jay Cutler and Julius PeppersUS PresswireThe Bears gave up two first-round draft picks and a third-rounder for Jay Cutler. Is he the reason Chicago is on the brink of the Super Bowl? Or does the credit go to Julius Peppers and the defense?
Let's play a game of addition.

  1. The starting quarterback is the most important player on any football team.
  2. The Chicago Bears finished the regular season 11-5, won the NFC North division title and will host the NFC Championship Game on Sunday at Soldier Field.
  3. Jay Cutler is the biggest reason why.

So, in this case, does 1+2=3? Did the Bears need Cutler as their quarterback to advance this far? Was he the key to their resurgence this season? Or could they have followed the same path without making the 2009 blockbuster trade that cost them three high draft choices? In today's Double Coverage, ESPNChicago.com's Jeff Dickerson and ESPN.com NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert discuss that very question.

Kevin Seifert: Jeff, you've been covering the Bears for years. You saw them go to Super Bowl XLI with Rex Grossman as their quarterback. You've lived through Kordell Stewart, Craig Krenzel, Chad Hutchinson, Brian Griese and Kyle Orton. You've seen a team win in spite of its quarterback, and you've seen quarterbacks single-handedly lose games. Let's start it off this way: How much credit do you think Cutler should get for the Bears sitting one step from the Super Bowl?

[+] EnlargeChicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler (6) talks with offensive coordinator Mike Martz, right, and coach Lovie Smith
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhBears quarterback Jay Cutler has thrived in Mike Martz's offense.
Jeff Dickerson: Cutler deserves plenty of credit, Kevin. As much as we want to hammer Cutler for his mistakes -- more on that later, I'm sure -- you can't overlook the fact his quarterback rating was above 100 six times in the regular season. And you guessed it: the Bears won all six of those games.

So if the most important player on the field was arguably the best player on the field nearly half the time, I find it impossible to minimize the positive impact Cutler had on the Bears' playoff run. Is he going to run for public office after he's finished playing football? No. Does he care that we're talking about him today, either good or bad? No. But to sit back and say Cutler was simply along for the ride wouldn't be doing his contributions much justice.

And by the way, thanks for bringing up Chad Hutchinson. I was trying to suppress that memory. What's next? Are we going to break down the NFL career of Jonathan Quinn? I could talk bad Bears quarterbacks all day.

KS: Any time. How about this: Cade McNown, Henry Burris, Shane Matthews and Steve Stenstrom. That pretty much covers it for our generation, I think.

Anyway, I agree it would be wrong to overlook some of Cutler's individual performances this season. He bounced back from some early hits in Week 2 to throw three touchdown passes against the Dallas Cowboys in a 27-20 victory. He forgot about the early interception against the New York Jets and went on to throw for another three touchdowns in a 38-34 victory. His performance against the Philadelphia Eagles -- four touchdown passes, 146.2 passer rating -- was superb. And don't forget his late-game drive against the Detroit Lions in Week 13, the one that locked up the division title.

But I think the question at hand is whether the Bears would have won 11 games with, say, Orton at quarterback. To me, Cutler was not among the top two reasons for the Bears' success this season.

More important was the defense, which limited opponents to 17.9 points per game, and the best special teams in the NFL. As a result of those two factors, Cutler and the rest of the Bears' offense had the best head start in the NFL. No offense had a better average start of its drive (33.7-yard line) than the Bears'.

Do you think the Bears win those games with Orton?

JD: I must first admit to being a card-carrying member of the Kyle Orton fan club. Is there a more underappreciated quarterback in the NFL? That being said, I think you could make the playoffs with a guy like Orton, but the Bears are in a better position to potentially win a Super Bowl with a guy like Cutler.

Let me explain.

I firmly believe if Orton quarterbacked the Bears in 2009 they probably would have won three more regular-season games (against the Packers, Atlanta Falcons and San Francisco 49ers). They would have finished 10-6 and perhaps earned an NFC wild-card playoff berth. Cutler cost the Bears those games because of a barrage of turnovers and terrible decisions. But that's where the ride would've ended with Orton, in my opinion.

Could Orton have beaten the Cowboys, Eagles or Jets in 2010? Maybe. But with apologies to Jim Mora, we're talking playoffs, Kevin, playoffs!

[+] EnlargeChicago Bears defensive end Julius Peppers
Mike DiNovo/US PresswireThe Bears' defense, led by Julius Peppers, gave the offense a head start on most drives.
Believe me, I know Cutler's only career postseason victory came against Seattle this past weekend, and he could easily go out Sunday and throw five interceptions against the Packers. But he could just as easily throw five touchdowns.

That's why the Bears are better off with Cutler -- because Orton hit his glass ceiling as an NFL quarterback. Cutler has not. Look at how Cutler tore up the Jets. The defense struggled, and it needed a lift from the quarterback position to beat a tough opponent. Cutler delivered. I'm not saying Orton is incapable of leading a team to victory over playoff-quality teams, but the chances Cutler can do it are greater.

Sorry, Kyle. I loved your neck beard. But I have to go with Cutler on this one.

KS: It's all fantasy talk, of course. We'll never know if Orton would have played well enough last year to compel the Bears to keep offensive coordinator Ron Turner this season. We also don't know if Mike Martz would have wanted Orton this season.

But the Bears gave up two first-round draft picks and a third-rounder for Cutler. Has he provided them enough value for those picks? Or could they have used those draft picks to improve themselves in other areas?

It would be wrong to say that Cutler hasn't had a positive impact on the Bears this season, but I'm not willing to say he was the key to the Bears' division title, either. But if the Bears go to the Super Bowl, no one is going to care about that distinction.

JD: And you know Cutler is happiest when nobody cares!

I guess it's possible Jerry Angelo would have turned those two first-round selections into starting-caliber players. But I've seen the Bears use high draft choices on the likes of Michael Haynes, Roosevelt Williams, Mark Bradley, Dusty Dvoracek, Dan Bazuin, Michael Okwo, Jarron Gilbert and Juaquin Iglesias. So to assume Angelo would've waved his magic draft wand and taken the right guys? Well, that would be misguided, to say the least. Despite all the warts, I'm happy with Cutler and feel the Bears are now in a better position to win their first Super Bowl since the 1985 season because of him.

I could talk bad Bears draft picks all day.

KS: Spoken like a longtime Bears follower. Basically what you're saying is that while Cutler has demonstrated some flaws, his acquisition nevertheless prevented the Bears from making another series of draft mistakes! Perfect. I love it.

On that note, Jeff, this has been fun. I think we can agree Cutler has made a positive impact on the Bears' run to the NFC Championship Game. Could they have done it without him? That's up for debate.

Draft Watch: NFC North

April, 14, 2010
4/14/10
1:01
PM ET
NFC decision-makers: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: decision-makers.

Chicago Bears

General manager Jerry Angelo is preparing for his ninth draft with the Bears, and his approach has changed significantly during that time period. He had a number of hits early in his career, from cornerback Charles Tillman and linebacker Lance Briggs in 2003 to receiver Bernard Berrian in 2004 to kick returner Devin Hester in 2005. But a few stumbles since then -- defensive end Dan Bazuin in 2007 among them -- have coincided with a move away from the draft focus; Angelo has gutted the 2009 and 2010 drafts to acquire veteran players. Angelo takes into account the opinion of coach Lovie Smith but has final say on the entire draft approach.

Detroit Lions

General manager Martin Mayhew emerged from the staff of former president/CEO Matt Millen with a strong understanding of the failures in that regime. Mayhew revamped the draft process, added more people to internal conversations and listens carefully to coach Jim Schwartz. It's hard to find a trend for Mayhew's thinking so early in his career, but his first draft produced nine players who saw action in 2009. At least four -- quarterback Matthew Stafford, tight end Brandon Pettigrew, safety Louis Delmas and linebacker DeAndre Levy -- will be starters at some point in 2010. Private as a player, Mayhew operates in near secrecy with the Lions.

Green Bay Packers

General manger Ted Thompson is entering his sixth draft as the Packers' top football decision-maker. All personnel men value the draft, but you would be hard-pressed to find one who puts such unequivocal faith in it as the sole avenue for stockpiling the roster. Thompson has signed only a handful of notable free agents during his tenure and none in the past three years. On the other hand, the Packers' regular starting lineup in 2009 included 18 players originally drafted by the team. Thompson lost a valued adviser in new Seattle general manager John Schneider, but he also leans on director of college scouting John Dorsey and director of football operations Reggie McKenzie.

Minnesota Vikings

Rick Spielman doesn't have the title of general manager, but as vice president of player personnel, he has run the Vikings' past three drafts. Spielman uses an intricate numbering system that places players in groups by their potential and then assigns a number -- sometimes carried out to decimal points in the ten-thousandths -- to rank each of them within that group. The approach led Spielman to choose receiver Sidney Rice over Dwayne Jarrett in 2007, among other decisions. He has also been willing to take injury and/or character risks in the first round if he's comfortable with his staff's research and evaluation.

Draft Watch: NFC North

March, 10, 2010
3/10/10
12:00
PM ET
NFC Recent History: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: Recent history.

Chicago Bears

The Bears have been unable to add fresh blood to their pass rush, striking out on defensive end Dan Bazuin in 2007 and getting nothing so far from defensive end/tackle Jarron Gilbert (2009). That void, along with a lack of first- or second-round picks this year, left the Bears no choice but to pursue free agent Julius Peppers. The Bears have also drafted seven defensive backs over the past three years, and only one of them -- cornerback Zack Bowman -- figures as a lock to contribute in 2010. Those failures have left the Bears still looking to fill perhaps both safety positions this offseason. That's one position where you can find a starter in the later rounds, and it almost assuredly will be a focus for the Bears next month.

Detroit Lions

About the only position the Lions have placed on the backburner is quarterback, thanks to their decision to draft Matthew Stafford last year. Although Stafford hasn't yet proved he is the Lions' long-term answer, the money he received as the No. 1 pick all but guarantees he will be their starter for the next few years at least. Otherwise, well-known recent failures have left the Lions scrambling to fortify nearly every other position. Given the frequency with which they have drafted first-round receivers, they never should have needed to sign free agents Bryant Johnson and Nate Burleson in successive years. The failure of defensive linemen Cliff Avril, Andre Fluellen and Ikaika Alama-Francis to provide impact has necessitated a 2010 overhaul that should continue with a defensive tackle coming with the No. 2 overall pick of the draft.

Green Bay Packers

The Packers' biggest problem is that several years of above-average drafting has left them with a lineup of restricted free agents who have established themselves as starters and are ready for their second contracts. In this draft, the Packers shouldn't need to focus on safety, thanks to incumbents Nick Collins and Atari Bigby. They are in pretty good shape at receiver with former draft choices Jordy Nelson and James Jones backing up Greg Jennings and Donald Driver. Tight end Jermichael Finley's emergence makes his position a secondary priority. Injuries to former second-round pick Pat Lee has made cornerback a priority, and the inability to draft a successor at left tackle forced the Packers to re-sign Chad Clifton last week.

Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings head into the 2010 draft with quarterback at the top of their need list in part because they haven't been able to develop former second-round pick Tarvaris Jackson into a long-term starter. They also parted ways with second-day draft picks Tyler Thigpen and John David Booty. But beyond that position, however, focused drafting has left the Vikings able to draft the best available player with most of their picks this year. Although he is still developing, former second-round pick Tyrell Johnson is a starter. The same goes for former sixth-round pick John Sullivan at center and former second-round pick Phil Loadholt at right tackle.

Draft Watch: NFC North

February, 24, 2010
2/24/10
2:08
PM ET
NFC Busts/Gems: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: Busts and late-round gems.

Chicago Bears

Gems: The Bears took a chance on an unknown with elite speed in the fifth round last year and came up with receiver Johnny Knox, a Division II college player. Knox caught 45 passes, including five touchdowns, as a rookie and made the Pro Bowl as a kickoff returner. Cornerback Zack Bowman, a fifth-round pick in 2008, has seven interceptions in 17 career games. He appears to have the makeup to be a long-term starter. Busts: Running back Cedric Benson, the No. 4 overall pick in 2005, was released after three years. Defensive end Dan Bazuin, a second-round pick in 2007, never played for the Bears.

Detroit Lions

Gems: Running back Aaron Brown, a sixth-round pick last year, proved to be an explosive and exciting playmaker. He'll get more playing time as he limits mental errors, but his speed and open-field running ability give him the capacity to be a difference-maker. Linebacker Zack Follett, a seventh-round pick in 2009, is a strong special teams player. Busts: The Lions' mid-decade mistakes, from quarterback Joey Harrington to receivers Charles Rogers and Mike Williams, have been well-chronicled. The Lions have only one player remaining from the 2006 draft, linebacker Ernie Sims, and receiver Calvin Johnson is the only 2007 draftee expected to make a significant impact in 2010.

Green Bay Packers

Gems: Defensive lineman Johnny Jolly, a sixth-round pick in 2006, has proved to be a solid starter at both tackle and now end in the Packers' 3-4 scheme. His immediate future is threatened by a looming trial for felony drug possession in Houston, but from a football perspective, he has been a hit. Guard Josh Sitton, a fourth-round pick in 2008, might have been the Packers' most consistent offensive lineman last season. Busts: Quarterback Brian Brohm, the No. 56 overall pick of the 2008 draft, stumbled from the start and didn't make it through his second year with the team. Among other things, Brohm struggled with his downfield accuracy. He is now on Buffalo's roster. Defensive lineman Justin Harrell, the No. 16 overall pick in 2007, has been plagued by what could ultimately be a career-ending back injury and has made minimal impact.

Minnesota Vikings

Gems: Center John Sullivan started 16 games in 2009, a year after Minnesota made him the No. 187 overall pick of the 2008 draft. Although he wasn't perfect, Sullivan has already given the Vikings more starts than many sixth-round picks provide. A fourth-rounder in 2006, defensive end Ray Edwards has been a full-time starter for the past three years. Over that span, he has 18.5 regular-season sacks plus another four in the playoffs. Some have expected even more from him, but that's pretty good production for a second-day pick. Edwards was part of a draft that has helped make up for a disastrous 2005 affair. Busts: In that 2005 draft, the Vikings had three picks in the top 49, but none made an impact. Receiver Troy Williamson couldn't catch the ball, defensive end Erasmus James tore the same anterior cruciate ligament twice and offensive lineman Marcus Johnson couldn't hold a starting job.

Bears: Cutdown analysis

August, 31, 2008
8/31/08
10:19
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

View the Bears' official list of cuts and their 53-man roster here.

Biggest surprise: The Bears gave up on defensive end Dan Bazuin pretty quickly. Bazuin was a second-round draft choice in 2007 but missed the season after suffering a knee injury during rookie mini-camp. He told the Chicago Sun-Times that he wasn't 100 percent during training camp, but nevertheless the Bears aren't willing to give him any more time to develop. Linebacker Mike Okwo, a third-round pick last season, also ran out of time to prove himself. The receiver-thin Bears also cut two wideouts who have been productive this summer: Mike Hass and Brandon Rideau.

No-brainers: Quarterback Caleb Hanie was one of the Bears' few offensive bright spots this preseason. The original plan was to save a roster spot and enter the season with Kyle Orton and Rex Grossman as the only quarterbacks on the active roster. In that scenario, the Bears would have a third quarterback on the practice squad. But Hanie's performance opened enough eyes that he probably wouldn't have made it through waivers. Rather than risk losing him, the Bears kept him on the 53-man roster.

What's next: It's still not out of the question that the Bears could seek additional depth at quarterback. Hanie might be easier to get through waivers after the first cycle of claims happen. Otherwise, this is pretty much the team that Bears will take into the season.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

We'll make this post the clearinghouse for NFC North cuts Friday, and we'll source each player with a link. (Teams aren't necessarily announcing these moves, but some enterprising beat reporters are digging them out.)

Check back for updates throughout the day.

CHICAGO BEARS

MINNESOTA VIKINGS


Bears start the cut party

August, 29, 2008
8/29/08
3:54
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

As you know by now, NFL teams are required to cut their rosters to 53 players by Saturday afternoon. Rather than one big announcement, this tends to be a drawn-out process in which teams inform players over the course of the next 24 hours before making any official announcements.

Our plan will be to bring you the news as it trickles out and then come back with analysis on each team when this round is complete. Keep in mind, of course, that teams usually tweak their rosters throughout Labor Day weekend as waiver claims are awarded and last-second trades completed.

With all that said, the Chicago Bears already have started the trickle. Chicago Sun-Times beat writer Brad Biggs is keeping track on his blog. Biggs reports the following players have been told they will be cut: Defensive end Dan Bazuin, fullback Lousaka Polite and receiver Mike Hass.

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