NFL Nation: Gaines Adams

Draft Watch: NFC North

March, 31, 2011
3/31/11
12:00
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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: decision-makers.

Chicago Bears

General manager Jerry Angelo remains in place for what will be his 10th draft with the Bears, but this will be his first under the new structure he established last spring. Director of college scouting Greg Gabriel left the organization, and director of player personnel Tim Ruskell is now Angelo's right-hand man on all personnel issues. There have been some changes in the internal process, but ultimately Angelo has the final say on draft day. It's been a while since Angelo had a full complement of draft picks after gutting the past two years in trades for quarterback Jay Cutler and defensive end Gaines Adams. He'll pick No. 29 overall this year, the first time he's had a first-round draft pick in three years. Angelo's success in the first round has been mixed. Two of the six players he's selected in the first round over his tenure, tight end Greg Olsen and offensive lineman Chris Williams, figure as starters in 2011.

Detroit Lions

In two drafts since the Lions named him general manager, Martin Mayhew has upgraded the team's talent level and given its fans hope for continued success. It's true that Mayhew has benefited from high selections in those drafts -- he's made four picks in the top 33 over that stretch -- but it's worth noting all of them appear set for long careers. Those who have followed the Lions closely over the years know that hasn't always been the case for high draft picks. Moreover, Mayhew has refused to allow his style to be classified. In 2009, he drafted tight end Brandon Pettigrew at No. 20 overall, his top-ranked player remaining on the board, despite bigger needs at other positions. On the other hand, he targeted tailback Jahvid Best last year as the answer to a specific need. All of which makes him difficult to predict next month, which I'm sure is just the way he likes it.

Green Bay Packers

We might as well start calling this time of year "TTT" -- "Ted Thompson Time." The Packers' general manager has steadfastly relied on the draft to build his team, eschewing veteran free agency in all but a handful of cases, and the approach paid off with last season's victory in Super Bowl XLV. Most of the Packers' top players are Thompson draft picks, from quarterback Aaron Rodgers to receiver Greg Jennings to nose tackle B.J. Raji to linebacker Clay Matthews to safety Nick Collins. True to his personality, Thompson has half-jokingly lamented the time he lost to draft preparation during the Packers' Super Bowl run. He'll have a few extra hours in the first round, where he'll pick No. 32 overall thanks to that little championship thing his team won in February.

Minnesota Vikings

Vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman has run the team's draft for the past four years, although former coach Brad Childress had considerable influence when it came to quarterbacks. That's a big part of the reason why the Vikings are all but barren at the most important position in the game, and that's why it's been almost a singular focus for Spielman and his staff over the past few months. Spielman has a good working relationship with new coach Leslie Frazier, but it's reasonable to assume he will have more complete control over this draft than any other in his tenure.
Ken Whisenhunt is right when he says Levi Brown takes more criticism as a high draft choice than he would take as someone selected later in the process.

That's the way it works. The highest picks in a draft class should outperform their peers.

[+] EnlargeLevi Brown
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesLevi Brown, drafted fifth overall in 2007, can still become an "outstanding" player according to Ken Whisenhunt.
The Arizona Cardinals don't need anyone to remind them that they selected Brown over some All-Pro performers, including Adrian Peterson and Patrick Willis. But it's not as though Brown, a player with 56 consecutive regular-season starts, qualifies as a flat-out bust, either. He moved to left tackle from the right side last season and will stay there.

"He improved last year," Whisenhunt said this week from the NFL owners meeting in New Orleans. "As a left tackle, it's not an easy position to move from right tackle. He will continue to get better. He is a talented football player. The biggest thing he has struggled with is the consistency of his play. But a lot of times you are under the microscope more because you were the fifth pick in the draft."

I would rank Brown, chosen fifth overall in 2007, somewhere around 20th out of 32 first-round picks that year.

Brown has obviously or arguably outperformed the following first-round selections from 2007: JaMarcus Russell, Jamaal Anderson, Ted Ginn Jr., Amobi Okoye, Adam Carriker, Justin Harrell, Jarvis Moss, Aaron Ross, Reggie Nelson, Brady Quinn, Anthony Gonzalez and Craig Davis. Gaines Adams, chosen fourth that year, passed away after Tampa Bay traded him to Chicago.

The following first-rounders from 2007 have obviously or arguably outperformed Brown: Calvin Johnson, Joe Thomas, LaRon Landry, Adrian Peterson, Patrick Willis, Marshawn Lynch, Darrelle Revis, Lawrence Timmons, Leon Hall, Michael Griffin, Dwayne Bowe, Brandon Meriweather, Jon Beason, Anthony Spencer, Robert Meachem, Joe Staley, Ben Grubbs and Greg Olsen.

"The reason we drafted Levi where we did was because we had him rated high enough to go in that position, but we also felt like we had to develop our offensive line and defensive line at that point, because that is where the most critical component of your team," Whisenhunt said. "That is the only way you are going to have a chance to compete. Levi has been a good player. He is often criticized, but I think that comes with being the fifth pick, and I don't understand how you evaluate offensive linemen, because they are not catching passes or running touchdowns in."

Whisenhunt said he thought Brown can and will become an "outstanding" player.

"Any time an offensive lineman gets drafted that high, especially in a fantasy football world where people want you to get dynamic playmakers, you are going to face some kind of criticism," Whisenhunt said. "I have to give Levi some credit. As tough as it's been, he hasn't let it affect him. He has continued to work and get better and I think this will be a big year for him. This is a chance for him to show that he can play this position very well."

Draft Watch: NFC South

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.

Atlanta Falcons

Best choice: Taking Matt Ryan with the No. 3 overall pick in 2008. Yeah, he was the third pick and you should hit when you’re drafting in that territory. But look at how many quarterbacks, including some No. 1 overall picks, haven’t hit. The Falcons did their homework and were totally convinced Ryan was a franchise quarterback when they drafted him. He’s backed it up. You can still debate whether Ryan is an “elite quarterback,’’ whatever that means. But he came to a franchise that probably had hit a lower point than any franchise at any time in NFC South history and has produced nothing but winning seasons. Sure sounds like a franchise quarterback to me.

Worst choice: Jamaal Anderson. He has become a serviceable defensive tackle in the past year or so, but this guy was drafted as a defensive end in the top 10 in a draft where teams were reaching for pass-rushers (see Tampa Bay and Gaines Adams). This falls on a past regime and is part of the reason that regime failed. In four seasons, Anderson has produced 4.5 sacks and, as they head into the 2011 draft, the Falcons are, once again looking for a pass-rusher.

On the bubble: Peria Jerry. The Falcons thought they had a solid pick when they took Jerry in the first round in the 2009 draft. Jerry injured his knee early in his rookie season. He came back last year, but wound up as a backup to 2010 third-round pick Corey Peters. The Falcons are saying they expect a fully healthy Jerry to emerge in 2011. If that happens, there will be vindication. If not, Jerry will go down as a bust.

Carolina Panthers

Best choice: Ryan Kalil. Center didn’t seem like a huge need when the Panthers used a second-round pick on Kalil in 2007, and he did very little as a rookie. But the guy has turned into a consistent Pro Bowler. We won’t weigh this down by going into the labor situation, although the Panthers placed a franchise tag on Kalil. They’re still looking for the first true franchise quarterback in their short history. But they’ve got a franchise center to snap the ball.

Worst choice: Dwayne Jarrett. We’re only going back five years, so Keary Colbert is not eligible and he at least had a few productive moments. But the Panthers compounded that mistake by taking another USC receiver in the second round in 2007. Colbert should have been a major warning sign.

On the bubble: We’ll go with a tie between quarterback Jimmy Clausen and receiver Armanti Edwards. It’s tough to call anyone a bust after just one year, but the production of Clausen and Edwards as rookies makes that very tempting. We’ll give them a pass for the moment because they were emblematic of former coach John Fox’s refusal to embrace a youth movement. They get a fresh start with new coach Ron Rivera, and we’ll see how that works out.

New Orleans Saints

Best choice: Marques Colston. Yep, we’ll go all the way back to the first draft class of coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis as a team. They used the second of two seventh-round picks (No. 252) on the little-known receiver out of Hofstra. All they got was a guy who instantly became a very good No. 1 receiver. His numbers would be spectacular if Payton and quarterback Drew Brees weren’t so good at spreading the ball around. Colston is the definition of a value pick, and guys like guards Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans aren’t far off.

Worst choice: Al Woods. It’s hard to find any flaws in the way Payton and Loomis have drafted. They haven’t totally missed on any early picks. Woods was a fourth-round pick in 2010, but he ended up getting cut in the preseason. You generally expect a fourth-round pick to at least make the roster.

On the bubble: Reggie Bush. Yes, five drafts into this regime, you can still say the first pick Payton and Loomis made is on the bubble. Bush might stay there for his entire career because opinions are widely divided, and that’s understandable. He was the second overall pick in the 2006 draft. He never has produced the kind of numbers you would expect from a running back taken so early, and injuries have slowed him. But the flip side is that Bush is much more than a running back. He’s also a receiver and a return man. When you factor all that in and remember the role Bush played in the Saints' first Super Bowl title in franchise history, it’s tough to say categorically he’s been a bust.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Best choice: Josh Freeman in a landslide. He wasn’t a popular pick when the Bucs traded up to get him in the middle of the first round in 2009. That was only because the Tampa Bay fan base had been schooled from the beginning that defense is most important. But general manager Mark Dominik and coach Raheem Morris departed from that philosophy in their first draft. They landed a franchise quarterback who might not even be close to hitting his full potential.

Worst choice: Dexter Jackson. He was the modern-day Tampa Bay version of Booker Reese, which says a lot. But I’ll say even more and anoint Jackson as the worst draft pick any NFC South team has made in the past five years. In their last draft, former coach Jon Gruden and former general manager Bruce Allen used a second-round pick (No. 58) on the receiver/return man from Appalachian State. They made matters even worse moments after the pick by walking into the media room and saying they had found the second coming of Carolina receiver Steve Smith. It turned out the only things Smith and Jackson had in common were their size and the fact that both had spent some time in North Carolina. The Bucs quickly found out Jackson had no business being in the NFL. Maybe somebody should tell Jackson there's an opening in that flag-football league at the Siskey YMCA in Charlotte.

On the bubble: Gerald McCoy. Again, it’s tough to declare anything about a player after just one season. But McCoy was the No. 3 overall pick in last year’s draft. With a weak supporting cast, he got off to a slow start and probably didn’t do himself any favors by talking so much about it. McCoy started to come on as the season progressed but suffered a season-ending injury. Throw in the instant success of Detroit’s Ndamukong Suh and that places lots of pressure on McCoy to become a star in his second season.
It seems like every week in the NFL there are stories about players going against their former teams or coaches facing their former teams. But, when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers play the Washington Redskins on Sunday, the game presents more of a behind-the-scenes grudge match.

Bruce Allen is Washington’s general manager. He held that job in Tampa Bay from 2004 until he (and coach Jon Gruden) got fired after the 2008 season. That made me wonder a bit about how much Allen’s drafting has contributed to Tampa Bay’s surprising turnaround.

[+] EnlargeBruce Allen
AP Photo/John RaouxFormer GM Bruce Allen made some high-profile draft mistakes while in Tampa.
The answer is easy: Not much at all. Go take a look at Tampa Bay’s roster and I’m talking only the current active roster. There are nine guys Allen drafted and you can’t exactly call them the core of Tampa Bay’s resurgence.

Allen did draft safety Tanard Jackson, who is suspended until at least next September for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. He also drafted cornerback Aqib Talib and Davin Joseph, who currently are on injured reserve.

That leaves Allen’s draft haul as center Jeremy Zuttah, backup quarterback Josh Johnson, linebackers Quincy Black, Geno Hayes and Adam Hayward, tackle Jeremy Trueblood, receiver Maurice Stovall, running back Cadillac Williams and linebacker Barrett Ruud.

That’s a less-than-stellar cast. We’ll give Allen credit for drafting the starting linebacker corps, even though Ruud is probably on his way out of Tampa Bay. Trueblood was average for a few years, but he’s now playing behind James Lee. Zuttah’s a decent guy to have swinging between center and guard, but he’s nothing special. Williams had a nice rookie year and has made a couple of inspirational comebacks from major knee injuries, but he could be on the way out as the Bucs look for a younger pair of legs to go with LeGarrette Blount next year. It’s a minor miracle Stovall’s still on the roster and the Bucs would be in deep trouble if they ever had to start Johnson at quarterback.

Joseph’s a free agent next year and there’s no guarantee Jackson will be back. Talib’s a great natural talent, but he’s come with trouble.

Oh, and let’s talk about some of Allen’s other greatest hits. We’re going to leave tragic figures Gaines Adams and Arron Sears alone. But how about receiver Michael Clayton? The Bucs could have had St. Louis running back Steven Jackson or Atlanta receiver Michael Jenkins (a Tampa kid) or New Orleans defensive end Will Smith with that pick.

And who can remember Chris Colmer? Yeah, he’s the offensive tackle Allen drafted in the third round, despite a history of shoulder problems. The injury resurfaced as soon as Colmer joined the Bucs and he never played a down in the NFL.

At least with Clayton the Bucs got one productive season. But Allen’s history with other receivers was even worse. There was fifth-round choice Larry Brackens out of that football factory that sometimes is called Pearl River Community college and, then there was Allen’s all-time worst draft pick.

Yep, Allen saved it for his last draft. He and Gruden used a second-round pick on Dexter Jackson and walked into the media room a bit later and claimed he was going to be the second coming of Carolina’s Steve Smith. Turns out the only thing Jackson and Smith had in common was they were both short and since Jackson had gone to school at Appalachian State, he had spent some time in North Carolina.

But, hey, maybe Allen’s drafts did the current Bucs a favor, after all. If Allen hadn’t botched things at wide receiver the way he did, Mark Dominik never would have had to draft Mike Williams, Arrelious Benn and Sammie Stroughter.

Draft Watch: NFC North

April, 7, 2010
4/07/10
1:00
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NFC Approach: 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: Draft approach.

Chicago Bears

General manager Jerry Angelo's background is a scouting director, so for most of his Bears tenure he accumulated and guarded draft picks as if they were gold. In his first seven drafts with the Bears, he made 28 picks in the first three rounds (an average of four per year). But Angelo has changed his team-building process in the past two years, releasing that grip when offered the opportunity to acquire more established players. He gutted the top of the 2009 and 2010 drafts in trades for quarterback Jay Cutler and late defensive end Gaines Adams, supplementing those losses by signing veteran free agents to fill individual needs. It's not a bad idea when considering Angelo's current situation. The more immediate approach will either work or, after already missing the playoffs for three consecutive years, it will be a mess someone else has to clean up.

Detroit Lions

The talent gap in Detroit remains wide enough that the Lions will continue following their new mantra under general manager Martin Mayhew and coach Jim Schwartz: Talent must trump need at every pick. That was the case last year, when the Lions considered tight end Brandon Pettigrew the best player on their board at the No. 20 overall pick, and will resume in 2010. It is the Lions' luxury and curse. Although some positions are more dire than others, the team needs help at all of them except quarterback. So while the Lions' ideal scenario would be to grab multiple linemen in the first three rounds, they can't afford to force it by passing up players they consider more talented -- no matter what position they play.

Green Bay Packers

The Packers have largely sat out the free-agent market over the past four years, leaving them to fill all of their needs through the draft. As a result, general manager Ted Thompson hasn't been afraid to trade down to accumulate additional picks and provide maximum depth on his roster. This tack values volume over elite pedigree but has brought players like receiver Greg Jennings and defensive tackle Johnny Jolly to the team. Thompson did trade up last year to grab linebacker Clay Matthews in the first round, but in general that has been an exception to his rule. I'm guessing the Packers wouldn't be opposed to moving below their No. 23 overall pick this year if it means an additional choice in the late second or early third round.

Minnesota Vikings

Minnesota vice president Rick Spielman inherited a relatively talented roster in 2007 and thus has used the draft to target individual players his scouts have identified for specific roles on the team. By my count, Spielman has made seven draft-day trades to position himself to take the players he wanted over the past three years. Those players include receiver Sidney Rice (2007), safety Tyrell Johnson (2008) and linebacker Jasper Brinkley (2009). Expect more of the same this year from Spielman, who has the luxury of drafting purely for value rather than need.

Draft Watch: NFC East

March, 31, 2010
3/31/10
1:00
PM ET
NFC 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 week 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: History in that spot.

Dallas Cowboys

My colleague Mike Sando from the NFC West bureau has done some outstanding research on this very topic. Over the past 15 years, he's discovered that running backs have been quite popular at No. 27. From 1995-09, there were four running backs taken, three wide receivers and three offensive linemen. True to form, the Colts selected Donald Brown at No. 27 overall in '09 and there's a good chance he'll start for the next six or seven seasons.

In '08, the Chargers selected cornerback Antoine Cason at No. 27. He's had four interceptions and 10 pass breakups in his first two seasons. Teams at the bottom of the first round love it when cornerbacks slip a little bit. That's why I keep saying the Cowboys will keep a close eye on Rutgers cornerback Devin McCourty. And remember, you heard it here first. In '07, I took at trip to Tulsa, Okla., to do a story on a former team roper named Robert Meachem. He'd become a star receiver at Tennessee and the Saints selected him at No. 27 . Meachem was a huge disappointment in his rookie season, reporting to work out of shape. But now he's a key member of the Saints' elite corps of receivers. So in the past three years, you've seen teams connect on those late first-round picks.

New York Giants

Most people believe the Giants need to draft a linebacker in the first round. And as Sando's research indicates, that's been a very popular position at the No. 15 spot, where the Giants will be. In the past 15 drafts, teams have selected five linebackers at No. 15. Will Alabama's Rolando McClain still be available? We're about to find out. The Steelers selected Florida State linebacker Lawrence Timmons at No. 15 overall in '07 and I'd say that's worked out pretty well. The Chiefs took offensive tackle Branden Albert out of Virginia in '08 and last year the Texans went with former USC linebacker Brian Cushing. That's two excellent linebackers at No. 15 in the past three years. Bodes pretty well for Giants fans.

Philadelphia Eagles

For whatever reason, there's been an inordinate number of defensive backs taken at No. 24 overall. And it wouldn't surprise me to see the Eagles continue that trend. The team could take a safety or cornerback and feel pretty good about it in my mind. The Eagles have a lot of practice selecting in this range, so they won't get caught off guard. Last year, the Falcons took defensive tackle Peria Jerry out of Ole Miss in the No. 24 hole. And in '08, the Titans selected running back Chris Johnson, now the most prolific runner in the league. In '07, the Patriots drafted Miami safety Brandon Meriweather and turned him into a pretty versatile player. And how can anyone forget the No. 24 pick in the '05 draft? It was the ultimate green room debacle, Cal quarterback Aaron Rodgers. That's obviously worked out pretty well for the Packers.

Washington Redskins

There's no real consensus at the No. 4 pick over the past 15 drafts. But there's only been one quarterback taken No. 4 overall -- if you can believe that. The position is so valuable that the top player at that position (Sam Bradford this year) is almost always gone by No. 4. Last season, the Seahawks played it really safe with Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry, who's going to be an excellent player in the league for years to come. The Raiders selected Arkansas running back Darren McFadden No. 4 overall in '08 and you can't say that's really panned out for them. Of course, nothing they've done the past decade has really panned out for them. The Bucs took Clemson defensive end Gaines Adams No. 4 overall in '07 and we all know that his life ended tragically this past January. In '06, the Jets found an excellent left tackle in D'Brickashaw Ferguson of Virginia. The Redskins would be wise to follow the Jets' lead in three weeks. In '05, the Bears went with Texas running back Cedric Benson. But I wouldn't worry about the Redskins taking a running back at No. 4. There's no one good enough to tempt them at that spot. Shanahan would rather go with the old warhorses, Clinton Portis and Larry Johnson.

Draft Watch: NFC North

March, 17, 2010
3/17/10
12:00
PM ET
NFC Needs Revisited: 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: Biggest needs revisited.

Chicago Bears

Last month: The Bears started five different safety combinations last season and have a pressing need for a ball-hawking free safety. Al Afalava could fit as a strong safety, but the Bears don't seem to trust any of their incumbent safeties in deep coverage. The Tampa 2 scheme doesn't always put safeties in position to make big plays, but the Bears' free safety has too often been a liability. Chicago could also use depth at defensive end after the death of Gaines Adams and the expected departure of Adewale Ogunleye.

Now: The Bears have addressed some of the needs we first identified last month via the free-agent market, signing defensive end Julius Peppers to replace Ogunleye and Chester Taylor to provide premium depth in the backfield. But both safety positions remain noticeably untouched. There have been some suggestions that the Bears pursue St. Louis safety O.J. Atogwe, a restricted free agent who would require no compensation to pry from the Rams. Barring a run at him, safety ranks with offensive line as the Bears' top needs with the draft looming in five weeks.

Detroit Lions

Last month: Depth is an issue at most positions, but none moreso than in the Lions' interior offensive and defensive lines. They are in position to draft an elite defensive tackle with their No. 2 overall pick, be it Oklahoma's Gerald McCoy or Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh. They also will be scouring the nation for candidates to play both guard positions alongside center Dominic Raiola. A receiver to steal some coverage from Calvin Johnson should be a priority after the middling performance of free-agent acquisition Bryant Johnson last season. There could also be a need at tight end, where starter Brandon Pettigrew is recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament and his two backups -- Casey Fitzsimmons and Will Heller -- are eligible for unrestricted free agency.

Now: The Lions have addressed the interior of their defensive line, acquiring defensive tackle Corey Williams from Cleveland and hosting defensive tackle/end Anthony Hargrove, a restricted free agent, on a visit. Veteran guard Chester Pitts is scheduled for a visit, but the left guard position might ultimately be filled through the draft. It's also not out of the question that the Lions target Oklahoma State left tackle Russell Okung with the No. 2 overall pick. The Lions have addressed their No. 2 receiver position with free agent Nate Burleson and re-signed Heller, two other areas of need we discussed.

Green Bay Packers

Last month: Both of the Packers' starting offensive tackles, Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher, are pending unrestricted free agents. At 34 and 33, respectively, neither player has a long career ahead of him. The Packers might have addressed one of the positions by drafting T.J. Lang last year, but they could use additional depth and options considering both positions must soon be turned over. Injuries last season revealed a need for depth in the defensive backfield, especially at cornerback, and the Packers also need to determine whether they will replace outside linebacker Aaron Kampman.

Now: Clifton and Tauscher have both re-signed, but finding a left tackle of the future remains one of the Packers' top priorities as the draft approaches. Clifton signed a three-year deal, but it's not clear how long he will play. As per their philosophy, the Packers haven't addressed any needs by signing free agents from other teams. They'll target their remaining need positions in the draft. In addition to left tackle, that positional list should also include outside linebacker and cornerback.

Minnesota Vikings

Last month: Whether or not quarterback Brett Favre returns in 2010, the Vikings must establish a succession plan at the position. They've drafted three quarterbacks in the past four years, but among that list -- Tarvaris Jackson, Tyler Thigpen and John David Booty -- none are signed for 2010. There's no reason to believe the Vikings consider Sage Rosenfels a long-term solution, so drafting a quarterback would seem to be among their highest priorities. Another area of need is at cornerback, where starter Cedric Griffin is recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament and nickelback Benny Sapp is a pending unrestricted free agent.

Now: The Vikings re-signed Sapp to give them an alternative if Griffin isn't ready to start the season, but cornerback could still be a high priority in the draft. The loss of Taylor makes depth at running back an issue, but that is one position where it makes sense to go young. As draft boards begin to shape up, it will be interesting to see if the Vikings get an opportunity to fill their need for a long-term quarterback answer. Will there be anyone of that description available with the No. 30 overall pick? That debate remains unsettled.

Draft Watch: NFC South

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.

Atlanta Falcons

In general manager Thomas Dimitroff’s first draft in 2008, the Falcons went almost exclusively with offense, mainly because they wanted to build around quarterback Matt Ryan and left tackle Sam Baker. That draft was a huge success and it helped the Falcons build a solid offensive core. Last year, Dimitroff switched over almost entirely to defense. The jury is still out on that class because defensive tackle Peria Jerry and safety William Moore missed almost all of their rookie seasons with injuries. But both will be back and will fill defensive needs. The products of the last two drafts mean the Falcons are now in a situation in which they can go any way they want. Dimitroff doesn’t mess around and talk about “the best player available." He admits the Falcons draft on need. They’ve narrowed their needs this year. Although defensive end and linebacker currently top that list, the Falcons no longer need to spend the whole draft on one side of the ball.

Carolina Panthers

In recent years, the Panthers have been very daring in the draft. Two years ago, they traded back up into the first round to get tackle Jeff Otah, after already landing running back Jonathan Stewart. That cost them a 2009 first-round pick, but they still traded up in last year’s second round to get defensive end Everette Brown. That cost them this year’s first-round pick and they won’t be picking until the second round -- at least as of now. The last couple of years have shown general manager Marty Hurney is willing to take big chances. After an offseason purge of veterans, the Panthers suddenly have a lot of needs all over the place. Hurney’s demonstrated a recent willingness to trade up and that certainly could come in handy this year. But the problem is the Panthers don’t have a lot of currency to move up.

New Orleans Saints

Mickey Loomis is another general manager who doesn’t try to make you believe he’s only looking for the best player available. Recent history has shown Loomis makes sure he gets what his team needs, even when it’s not always the most popular pick. Take last year’s trade up in the fifth round to get punter Thomas Morstead. Fans griped, right up until Morstead began having one of the best rookie years ever by a punter. The last two first-round picks, Sedrick Ellis and Malcolm Jenkins, were made based solely on need. Loomis had his hands tied last year with only four draft picks, mainly because of the trades he made for Jeremy Shockey and Jonathan Vilma and two draft choices were injured before the season ever started. Loomis has a pretty full complement of picks this year and, although the Saints are the champions, they still have needs. Nothing major, but last year showed the importance of depth and Loomis will make sure the Saints add depth in their areas of need.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

We’re talking about two different regimes here. Mark Dominik and Raheem Morris took over last year and Bruce Allen and Jon Gruden were calling the shots before that. These two regimes demonstrated two very different styles. Allen and Gruden were all about winning now and they did plenty of patchwork with veterans and didn’t have great drafts. Gaines Adams, the top pick in 2007, didn’t work out, but 2008 first-round choice Aqib Talib has shown promise. Allen and Gruden also left their successors with a bunch of young offensive linemen, although that group was a little disappointing. Dominik and Morris value the draft more highly than their predecessors and they’re proud of the fact they’ve accumulated 10 picks for this year. They believe in building through the draft and they started that process last year by getting Josh Freeman who they believe is a franchise quarterback. He’s in place and the challenge now is to build around him.

US PresswireThe Bears have been wheeling and dealing in free agency, landing Julius Peppers, Brandon Manumaleuna and Chester Taylor.
Wasn't it only a couple of months ago when we were arguing whether Chicago was too, uh, financially conservative to fire coach Lovie Smith and pay an $11 million buyout? (I believe the urban dictionary would refer to it as "cheap.")

We have now passed into another world. Friday, the Bears guaranteed roughly five times that amount to three veteran free agents in a frenetic attempt to reverse their recent fortunes. As we discussed Thursday night, free agency was the Bears' only option for making impact additions this year thanks to a draft gutted by trades for quarterback Jay Cutler and defensive end Gaines Adams.

But unlike the mixed message they sent by retaining Smith, the Bears have made no secret of their willingness to pay a premium price for the best available players at their respective positions. Tight end Brandon Manumaleuna received $6 million in guarantees to serve as a blocking tight end and tailback Chester Taylor got $7 million guaranteed even though he isn't likely to start.

And the centerpiece of Chicago's free-agent haul is defensive end Julius Peppers, who will get about $40 million in guarantees to provide what the Bears hope is consistent double-digit sack totals for the foreseeable future.

Peppers played on both sides of the defensive line in Carolina and could fit anywhere with the Bears. I don't have to remind Minnesota fans how he destroyed Vikings left tackle Bryant McKinnie in a December game last season, and as of Friday it's not clear who he would match up with in Green Bay. Via Twitter, incumbent right end Alex Brown called Friday "a great day" and added: "The [B]ears defense will be tough."

As Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune soberly pointed out, the Bears still need to find a way to improve their personnel at safety. I'm not willing to say Peppers will single-handedly solve their defensive woes over the past few years. But with the expected return of middle linebacker Brian Urlacher and the confidence that's provided when a premier pass-rusher is on the field, the Bears have the potential to be much improved.

We're not even 24 hours into the NFL's first foray into uncapped free agency, and already it's clear the Bears will be the league's big spenders. How many of you would have believed that a few months ago?

Draft Watch: NFC South

February, 24, 2010
2/24/10
2:00
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.

Atlanta Falcons

Some people called Thomas Dimitroff a genius after his first draft. Some called him an idiot after his second. I still lean toward the genius tag because we truly haven’t seen enough of Peria Jerry and William Moore, who got hurt early last year. It’s way too early to call any pick Dimitroff has made a bust. To find a true bust, all you have to do is go back to the year before Dimitroff and Mike Smith took over. Bobby Petrino and Rich McKay were so locked in on getting a pass-rusher that they reached for Jamaal Anderson, who has become a mediocre defensive tackle after Smith moved him inside.

Carolina Panthers

The jury’s still out on defensive end Everette Brown, last year’s top pick. But the Panthers have pretty much nailed it on every top pick since John Fox and Marty Hurney have been in power. Problem is they haven’t hit on much beyond the first round. Remember Dwayne Jarrett, Rashad Butler, Keary Colbert and soon-to-be Hall of Famer Eric Shelton? But, hey, if Shelton hadn't been such a tremendous bust, the Panthers never would have drafted DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart.

New Orleans Saints

Jahri Evans, Marques Colston, Tracy Porter and Thomas Morstead have all been gems found beyond the first round. General manager Mickey Loomis hasn’t had anything approaching a bust since the days when Jim Haslett was coaching. There were a fair amount back then. But they’re gone now and that’s part of the reason the Saints won the Super Bowl.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Let’s be nice and start by giving the Bucs credit for finding a franchise quarterback in Josh Freeman last year. And for getting receiver Sammie Stroughter in the seventh round. Everybody likes to rip general manager Mark Dominik and coach Raheem Morris. But part of the reason the Bucs are in the shape they’re in is because Jon Gruden and Bruce Allen were busy using early picks on guys like Gaines Adams and Dexter Jackson. They somehow thought Jackson could be the second coming of Carolina’s Steve Smith.
For the past month, NFL teams have evaluated and graded every player on their roster. They've determined whom they want to keep and who can leave. Their priority lists are stacked for offseason acquisitions. As they head to the scouting combine this week, they have a clear picture of their perceived strengths and weaknesses.

I'm all about improving a team through the draft, but I've never understood why some fans and media members put more faith in the nebulous form of a future draft pick over a player who has spent a year or more in the team's program. If everyone is doing their jobs well, those players should be in better position to help out than a rookie just out of college.

In that spirit, let's take a look at one player on each NFC North team who -- with reasonable development -- could help alleviate some pressure to acquire upgrades at his position. (Hat tip to Aaron of Kansas City, Mo., for suggesting the idea as part of last week's mailbag request.)

[+] EnlargeJarron Gilbert
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesJarron Gilbert has an opportunity to fill a void on the Bears' defensive line.
Chicago Bears

Player:
Defensive lineman Jarron Gilbert
Status: Entering second year. Turns 24 in September.
2009 performance: One tackle in four games.
2010 hopes: The road couldn't be paved any more clearly for Gilbert, the Bears' top pick of the 2009 draft. Left end Adewale Ogunleye is a pending free agent and is expected to move on. Ogunleye's likely replacement, Gaines Adams, died last month. That left Gilbert and Henry Melton as the remaining internal candidates to start at left end. Good outside pass-rushers almost never become available on the free-agent market, and without a pick in the first or second round this season, it will be difficult for the Bears to draft one capable of making an immediate impact. To this point, Gilbert's greatest claim to fame is being the draft prospect who jumped out of a pool. He spent most of 2009 in an unofficial redshirt year under defensive line guru Rod Marinelli, so it's hard to know if Gilbert is capable of holding down a starting job in 2010. It's not even clear if the Bears consider him an end or a tackle. But if it's the former, Gilbert will get every opportunity to help the Bears out of this jam.

Detroit Lions

Brown
Player: Running back Aaron Brown
Status: Entering second year. Turns 25 in October.
2009 performance: A total of 1,166 all-purpose yards, mostly via kickoff returns.
2010 hopes: Starting tailback Kevin Smith is rehabilitating a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee while also trying to overcome two shoulder injuries that slowed him in 2009. Backup Maurice Morris is also under contract, but Morris doesn't have the kind of big-play abilities Brown displayed last season. The Lions were exasperated at times with Brown's mental errors, but perhaps an offseason of studying can help him move past those issues. He might not be an ideal every-down back, but Brown could add an explosive element to the Lions' offense if they trust him enough to put him on the field. His development could ease some of the urgency to add further depth behind Smith and Morris.

Green Bay Packers

[+] EnlargeBlackmon
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireWill Blackmon is a veteran in the Green Bay secondary.
Player:
Defensive back Will Blackmon
Status: Entering fifth year. Restricted free agent. Turns 26 in October.
2009 performance: Played three games before tearing anterior cruciate ligament in left knee Oct. 5 at Minnesota.
2010 hopes: Because the Packers haven't revealed their tender offers for restricted free agents, we can't say with certainty that Blackmon will return to the Packers in 2010. But based on the typical timetable for ACL rehabilitation, Blackmon should be cleared for the start of training camp. And if he's healthy and ready, Blackmon would add experienced depth to a position ravaged by injuries at the end of last season. With Al Harris rehabilitating a similar injury on a later timetable, the Packers might have to open camp with nickelback Tramon Williams as a starter. It's always possible that a rookie could help at nickelback, but all things equal, the Packers would probably be more comfortable with veteran experience at the position. Jarrett Bush struggled in that role during some games last season, opening up an opportunity for Blackmon if he's up to it.

Minnesota Vikings

Player:
Cornerback Asher Allen
Status: Entering second year. Turned 22 in January.
2009 performance: 27 tackles, one interception, one forced fumble in 10 games.
Allen
2010 hopes: The Vikings need Allen to become a full-time player, if not a starter, to avoid facing a sudden shortage at cornerback. Starter Cedric Griffin's status is uncertain after he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during the NFC Championship Game; it would be a surprise if Griffin is cleared for the beginning of training camp. The 2009 nickelback, Benny Sapp, is a pending unrestricted free agent and probably earned himself a decent contract after making seven starts in 2009. I'm guessing the Vikings don't want to overpay to bring back Sapp, especially considering Griffin will eventually return and that fellow starter, Antoine Winfield, is signed through 2013. As a rookie, Allen had a strong training camp but was buried on the depth chart when the season began. He's aggressive against the run, a decent tackler and displayed solid instincts when on the field. A natural progression would make him the nickelback in 2010, a role that would allow him to fill in for Griffin. Otherwise, the Vikings will have to shell out more money for Sapp or another free agent.

Draft Watch: NFC North

February, 17, 2010
2/17/10
12:00
PM ET
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

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: biggest team needs.

Chicago Bears

The Bears started five different safety combinations last season and have a pressing need for a ball-hawking free safety. Al Afalava could fit as a strong safety, but the Bears don't seem to trust any of their incumbent safeties in deep coverage. The Tampa-2 scheme doesn't always put safeties in position to make big plays, but the Bears' free safety has too often been a liability. Chicago could also use depth at defensive end after the death of Gaines Adams and the expected departure of Adewale Ogunleye.

Detroit Lions

Depth is an issue at most positions, but none moreso than in the Lions' interior offensive and defensive lines. They are in position to draft an elite defensive tackle with their No. 2 overall pick, be it Oklahoma's Gerald McCoy or Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh. They also will be scouring the nation for candidates to play both guard positions alongside center Dominic Raiola. A receiver to steal some coverage from Calvin Johnson should be a priority after the middling performance of free agent acquisition Bryant Johnson last season. There could also be a need at tight end, where starter Brandon Pettigrew is recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament and his two backups -- Casey FitzSimmons and Will Heller -- are eligible for unrestricted free agency.

Green Bay Packers

Both of the Packers' starting offensive tackles, Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher, are pending unrestricted free agents. At 34 and 33, respectively, neither player has a long career ahead of him. The Packers might have addressed one of the positions by drafting T.J. Lang last year, but they could use additional depth and options considering both positions must soon be turned over. Injuries last season revealed a need for depth in the defensive backfield, especially at cornerback, and the Packers also need to determine whether they will replace outside linebacker Aaron Kampman.

Minnesota Vikings

Whether or not quarterback Brett Favre returns in 2010, the Vikings must establish a succession plan at the position. They've drafted three quarterbacks in the past four years, but among that list -- Tarvaris Jackson, Tyler Thigpen and John David Booty -- none are signed for 2010. There's no reason to believe the Vikings consider Sage Rosenfels a long-term solution, so drafting a quarterback would seem to be among their highest priorities. Another area of need is at cornerback, where starter Cedric Griffin is recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament and nickel back Benny Sapp is a pending unrestricted free agent.
The Buccaneers just sent out some quotes about Gaines Adams, the Chicago Bears defensive end who died Sunday and began his career with the Buccaneers.

Adams
Adams, the fourth overall pick by Tampa Bay in the 2007 draft, was traded to Chicago in October.

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family of Gaines Adams during this sad day," Bucs co-chairman Joel Glazer said. “It is a tragedy to lose someone at such a young age and our entire organization is deeply saddened by this news."

"Gaines was a part of the Buccaneer family and this is a tragic loss," general manager Mark Dominik said. “Everyone who met Gaines came away knowing what a great young man that he was."

Adams, who never quite reached his potential as a player, was frequently challenged and criticized by coach Raheem Morris before the trade. But Morris had strong praise for Adams.

"Gaines will be missed by all of us, especially by his teammates in our locker room," Morris said. “He was a true team player and a positive influence to everyone he met. My prayers go out to his family."

Veteran cornerback Ronde Barber might have had the strongest words of all.

“Gaines was a quiet, humble kid and is far too young to be gone," Barber said. “He had so much potential that had yet to be achieved and I am very sad that the full extent of his life won’t be realized.”

Remembering former Bucs DE Adams

January, 17, 2010
1/17/10
12:21
PM ET
Just heard some very sad news as I drove home from the airport. Chicago Bears defensive end Gaines Adams has died.

Adams
I don’t know many details. Adams was drafted with the fourth overall pick in 2007 by the Bucs and expectations were high because this was a very talented kid. But Adams never really prospered with the Bucs, and they gave up on him October, when they traded him to the Bears.

I thought Adams might be ready to turn the corner when I sat down with him for this column in May. At that point, Adams was talking about how he had gotten stronger and had been working on pass-rush moves. He also was excited about Tampa Bay’s changes on the coaching staff and was very optimistic.

I won’t claim that I really knew Adams, but he seemed like a nice, respectful person when I did that interview. It’s sad that his life ended too soon.

Gaines Adams, RIP

January, 17, 2010
1/17/10
12:04
PM ET
I’m guessing you’ve seen the terrible news Sunday morning out of Greenville, S.C., where Bears defensive end Gaines Adams was pronounced dead at 9 a.m. ET.

Adams
As of this posting, there are no details available about the circumstances. Adams was 26.

Needless to say, our thoughts and prayers should be with Adams’ family. The Bears’ loss is far less significant, but is nevertheless worth discussing.

The Bears acquired Adams from Tampa Bay last October as a bit of a long-term project. Adams had elite athleticism but hadn’t parlayed that into the sack totals normally expected from the No. 4 overall pick of a draft. Bears general manager Jerry Angelo hoped that some extended tutelage from defensive line coach Rod Marinelli, along with some offseason work in the weight room, would stabilize and elevate Adams’ play.

If so, there likely would have been a starting spot open for Adams in 2010. Veteran Adewale Ogunleye is a pending free agent, and it would have made perfect sense to slide Adams into that role rather than spend the money to bring Ogunleye back.

Make sure you check ESPN Chicago throughout the day as more details emerge.video

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