Welcome to the North, where the teams hate each other more than they hate the bitter cold they play in. Last season, the North was shaken up as the Minnesota Vikings, not the Green Bay Packers, ran roughshod over the division. Detroit struggled through most of the season, but managed to get one game below .500 while Chicago stayed in mediocrity for a third straight season. But what happens this season? Who can make moves in the draft to win the division? This is my outlook on the NFC North.
2015 Record: 11-5 (1st in division)
Playoff Standing: Lost in Wild Card Game (Finished 3rd in conference)
Analysis: Minnesota, in one season, went from being a team that fought for second and third in the division to a team that destroyed the rest of the division and won it in glorious fashion in Lambeau. The Vikings have a wrecking crew of a defense that knows how to rush the passer and keep a deep enough backfield to not allow yards. And the offense is just as good, with Teddy Bridgewater at the helm and their big gun of Adrian Peterson running the ball through the teeth of the defense. But this team still feels like its missing something on offense, and last year it was hard to put your finger on it. Could it be a new tight end? A new wideout? What does a team that came close to being a legitimate dark horse in the playoffs need to push themselves over the top?
Draft Picks: 23rd in the 1st round, 54th in the second round, 86th in the third round.
Players to Watch out for: Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss and Michael Thomas, WR, Ohio State. Look as much as I like Cordarrelle Patterson, Stefon Diggs, and Jarius Wright, Minnesota needs a receiver that is a deep threat. I believe with either of these picks, who both can play on the inside and outside, the Vikings would be able to properly spread out the offense, allowing more open space for Adrian Peterson to get downfield and allow Teddy Bridgewater to show off that arm he has. Now Treadwell has been hit by the injury bug, which could be a detractor for Viking fans, but his output is too much to pass up. And if Thomas is the pick, while he isn’t the tallest receiver, he is deceptively fast and can be a burner against the rest of the NFC North. If Minnesota picks either of these teams, expect the horns in the Twin City to blow nothing but thunderous sound.
2015 Record: 10-6 (2nd in division)
Playoff Standing: Lost in the Divisional Playoffs vs. Arizona (Finished 5th in conference)
Analysis: This team is iffy. An argument could be made that the Packers went through the season with a stack of injuries on both sides of the ball. Another argument could be made is that Aaron Rodgers damn near carried that team to the playoffs. But we have to look at what did happen, and they aren’t good. First and foremost, the defense for the Green Bay Packers was absolutely horrendous, they could stop the run, nor could they stop the pass. The offense line for the Packers needs an APB put out to find them, because they allowed Aaron Rodgers to get hit at a clip that was unbelievable. Finally, the Green Bay Packers not only lost to the Detroit Lions for the first time since 1991, they did not win a divisional game at home. This team needs some retooling and we know where to start.
Draft Picks: 27th in the 1st round, 57th in the 2nd round, 88th in the 3rd round.
Draft Players to Watch: Kenny Clark, DT, UCLA, Adolphus Washington, DT, Ohio State, Scooby Wright, LB, Arizona. Now you are probably wondering why I picked three defensive players for the Packers to watch, and the answer is simple. Starting March 8, Green Bay enters the season with 16 free agents, with 6 of them being on the starting rotation on defense. Green Bay needs to realize that they can no longer beat teams in the North with their quarterback, they need a defense that can back them up. Minnesota and Detroit have both beaten Green Bay at least once each year for the past 4 years and Green Bay’s defense needs to be able to stop or at least slow down these teams so that their offense can beat them. Now we have covered Clark before, but when it comes to Washington and Wright, both of these guys can cause havoc on offenses. Washington has great vision for a defensive tackle and has a nose for the ball. Wright is a terror. An absolute terror who can play in the field and get in the trenches and get after the ball. And the one thing he has over a lot of LB’s in the draft is that his speed and tackling ability should make him a top five pick. If Green Bay picks one of these men, expect Green Bay to discount double-check its way to another divisional title.
2015 Record: 7-9 (3rd in the division)
Playoff: Did Not Qualify (Finished 9th in conference)
Analysis: Now I writing this not as a Detroit Lions fan, or even as a biased sports blogger. I am only going the bring up the facts, and the facts are that three things hindered the Detroit Lions this season. The first was the fact that former offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi failed this offense and that led to losses through the first half of the season. The second thing was that the defense wasn’t whole due to the departing of Fairley and Suh, the Linebacker corps was shaky along with Deandre Levy being injured for the entirety of the season. The third thing was that the team lost games that legitimately came down to the referees screwing over the team in two big games: the Monday night game in Seattle and the home game against Green Bay. But Detroit has to move on and now that they have new GM Bob Quinn, along with finishing the season off strong, the team goes into the 2016 season with two questions: what is the long-term plan for Calvin Johnson and what pick can Detroit make that will give them a deep run in the playoffs?
Draft Picks: 16th in 1st round, 46th in the 2nd round, an Unknown amount of picks in the 4th round.
Draft Players to Watch: Josh Doctson, WR, TCU, Cayleb Jones, WR, Arizona, Su’a Cravens, LB, USC, Jaylon Smith, LB, Notre Dame. Okay lets start with the offensive side of the ball and why I chose not one, but two wideouts. In this draft, offensive tackle is one of the biggest draft positions this year and Detroit can pick up a good lineman in the 4th and later rounds or they could be looking at the free agency as well. Now the reason I picked these two is because while I don’t think Calvin Johnson is going to retire (he would have done it by now, there’s no reason to drag it out if he was going to hang it up) he eventually will retire. I feel as though Detroit needs to spend a draft pick and grab a receiver to be coached up by Megatron and Tate to become a bona-fide star on the outside. Now Jones is a sleeper pick who I think could be more dangerous as a player than people give him credit for. Doctson needs no explanation, as he is simply the next big thing at receiver and no one can deny it. Now moving to defense, Su’a Cravens is someone they should look at because he is a pure hybrid player. The dude is big enough to play linebacker and rush the passer and lineman, but he also is fast enough to play deep as a strong safety and be somewhat of the Kam Chancellor of the team. Finally, there is Jaylon Smith. Look I know he is injured and won’t be available to play this year, but if I’m a team, I’d be licking my chops to get him. He is a bulldog and can cover from sideline to sideline. His tackling ability is outstanding and he can knock down would be blockers with ease. If Detroit can pick at least one person on both sides of the ball, expect the Roar in Detroit to shake the entire NFL kingdom.
2015 Record: 6-10 (4th in division)
Playoffs: Did Not Qualify (Finished 13th in conference)
Analysis: Oh, boy. This team sucks. Like I don’t know why they get national prime time games. Somebody please explain it to me. The Chicago Bears have been at the bottom of the division for multiple years and yet they call the Lions the symbol of mediocrity. But lets look at the upside. Chicago has their franchise quarterback, no matter how bad he is. They also managed to keep wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, but that also means they will lose running back Matt Forte. On top of that, they are also trying to shop Martellus Bennett. There is no update on former number one pick Eddie Goldman or Kevin White and they need a new stalwart on defense. Lets see what they should do to get over .500 this upcoming season.
Draft Picks: 11th in the 1st round, 41st in the 2nd round, 72nd in the 3rd round.
Draft Players to Watch: Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama and Andrew Billings, DT, Baylor. Now the reason I pick these two is because they are the easiest fixes for the Bears. Henry, despite my dislike for Alabama players coming into the NFL and their track record, Henry could be a game changer in the NFC North. His size could cause problems for tackling him in open space, as he is a lot bigger than most backs coming into the NFL this season. While he isn’t the fastest back in the draft, he definitely is one of those backs that once he starts moving, it’s like watching a boulder catch speed going down a hill: it’s going to get faster and getting in the way will get you crushed. Now when it comes to Billings, I look at his massive size causing issues for lineman trying to block him, plus his speed for a 300 pounder is just terrifying. He can definitely get past the offensive lineman in front of him and demands a double team. Still don’t think he is a threat? Think of it this way, this dude was so much of a monster on defense that he took attention away from teammate Shawn Oakman, and still put up impressive numbers. If the Bears pick one of both of these guys, expect the Windy City to begin making a move back towards normalcy.
Well that is my outlook on the NFC North. We now see that Minnesota needs more on the offensive outside, Green Bay needs a Defense, Detroit needs to replace Calvin and rebuff their linebacker corps and Chicago needs a prayer. Come back next week where we will stay in the North but check out the AFC side of the cold north.