Great post, fronted -Kevin
The offseason tends to be a start and stop affair; either news comes in all at once or not at all. With the draft done we are in one of those liener times for news which results in us looking and analyzing the same things over and over. The key is to try and present it in a different way.
Every year there are players and coaches that benefit from the new influx of talent that come in. Whether it's a quarterback who just got some new weapons, a pass rusher who sees a guy who can distract the offense away from him, or a coach that gets a player who can change the X's and O's of his scheme....the draft makes a team stronger and opens the door for a lucky few. So who are those lucky few in the NFC North? Well some are obvious and some aren't; but let's start close to home with......
Clay Matthews. As Thursday wound down the Packers selected Nick Perry and as soon as that pick came in there was a sharp divide on whether this was a good pick or not. It didn't matter whether you are talking about fans or professional talent evaluators, there was an equal amount of people who loved the pick or those who were cool towards the pick. Regardless of what you thought about the pick itself there is one thing that all seem to agree on, that Perry is an upgrade from what the Packers had and should take the pressure of the Claymaker.
B.J. Raji. It has been pointed out more than once that the Packers didn't just pick six defenders, but also drafted two defenders for each level of the defense. Despite this, there was only one position that the Packers drafted two of on defense, namely, defensive end. This has to be good news for Raji. It was no secret that Raji had a down year last year and there seems to be two reasons for this....1) that he was overused and gassed and 2) he missed the attention that was drawn to Cullen Jenkins. Well getting two young guys (both of whom tend to be interior pass rushers) and a FA who is an interior pass rusher (Anthony Hargrove) should take the pressure off Raji and address those two things that areas that slowed him down last year.
Dom Capers. We Packer fans are passionate and fanatic, but sometimes we can be fickle. If you look at the attitude of APC sometime in late 2010 or early 2011 you would get the picture that Dom Capers was some kind of rock star. The guy could do no wrong. If you only tuned in later in the fall of 2011 through the end of the 2011 season you would think that Capers was a guy who couldn't figure out anything and might even be fired. Really Capers was a guy who doing the best he could with some truly inferior parts....well now he got some much needed reinforcements.
The Detroit Lions
Matthew Stafford. I'm a fan of Bryan Bulaga, always have been, and Riley Reiff reminds me a lot of Bulaga. Really the whole pick is similar to the Bulaga pick. The Lions have older tackles who are battling injury problems and prior to this pick they didn't have a succession plan at tackle. Reiff can play swing tackle and let the vets play as long as they can for year one and then be ready to keep Stafford clean for the foreseeable future. If that wasn't enough they also got a receiver who should help him work things over the middle in Ryan Broyles. Now his value was down because of an injury and may not be 100% this year, but so what? There are some positions that rookies can come in and make a big impact, but receiver is not typically one of them. Sure it can happen, but really receivers need a year or two of learning their craft to really come along; so the fact that Broyles may not help this year shouldn't make Stafford any less happy as long as he can see the big picture of the pick.
Gunther Cunningham. After these picks that make Stafford happy the Lions spent the rest of the draft getting guys to fill out their back seven...and boy did they need it. Three OLB's and three DB's later and this team should be able to hold up a bit better in coverage. This should make Cunningham's life a bit easier and prevent backup QB's from destroying them in games they need to win.
Mikel LeShoure. This is a guy who's had a bad start to his NFL career. A nasty injury during camp and a bad offseason. I wouldn't blame the Lions for cutting bait at this moment. It's very hard for any player to come back from an Achilles' injury, let alone a running back. Mix that with some bad press and you've got a guy who should be lucky that he's still in the NFL. Mix that with the fact that the Lions didn't really get a guy who could fill in for a whole left on the roster if the Lions did decide to move on.
The Chicago Bears
Julius Peppers. All that stuff I said about Clay Matthews? Yeah, you can say the same sort of stuff about Peppers too. Having Shea McClellin on the other side should help take some of the pressure off and let his freakish talents come out all the more. This is amplified with the fact that McClellin's motor runs pretty high; this means he'll be working every down to get the QB and help decrease the double teams that Pep sees.
Brian Urlacher. Since I'm not at WCG I can say this with a lessened amount of backlash, but Urlacher is nearing the end of his great career. He's very fortunate that the Bears didn't get a chance at Luke Kuechly or another MLB that would be the heir to push Urlacher out of town.
Brandon Marshall. I'm working under the assumption that most of the high picks will work out for the moment. That means that, as far as this analysis is concerned, Alshon Jefferies lays off the Whoppers and shows up for camp in shape and ready to go. With that in mind Jefferies is big and fast enough to draw some of the extra coverage Marshall's way and help Chicago have a contemporary offense rather than last year's Matt Forte with a sprinkle of Jay Cutler offense.
Christian Ponder. Last year Ponder didn't really impress me, but I'm willing to give him a pass on that. He was a rookie on a terrible offense. He really had only one NFL capable receiver to throw to and basically no offensive line. That's tough for a rookie to deal with...sure Cam Newton made it work but he had a couple more receivers and really he just has more talent. This year though Ponder doesn't have those same excuses. The Vikings did a good job of addressing their offensive line with one pick, Matt Kahlil. This should shore up the line...well except Phil Loadholt, but Ponder should be able to work with that. They also got some receivers and an H back that can help open up some options. So this year tells us what the Vikes really have in Ponder.
Jared Allen. It's sad when a player as good as Allen wastes such a great season on such a terrible team. The guy put up a historic numbers, but that didn't really help translate to wins. Worse, it didn't really help their defense since the back end was just so awful. The addition of Harrison Smith and some young talent at the corner should help hold up and allow the pressure Allen puts on QBs to mean something besides just stats.
Leslie Frazier. This is a coach that looked like he was set up to fail. Not hired by the GM, lost some power over the offseason and handed a team with a serious talent gap between them and their division rivals. Last time I saw something like that it was what Ted Thompson handed Mike Sherman after Sherman was stripped of his GM title. It didn't work out well for Sherman in the end. So why is Frazier a winner? Well the Vikings did alright in the draft and they increased their talent level as a whole. Sure that's not hard when the team in question had a severe gap in talent and drafting high in each round...but having a good draft and making generally good selections make the coach's job easier. If he can scrap a 7-9 season out of this group he might be able to save his job for next year.
So those are the winners. The real winners is probably not limited to these guys. This particular division was generally pretty good with the draft and the teams got better. I personally don't think that the gaps that existed before the draft really closed too much from last year considering the needs of the teams and how the board actually worked out.
Next....NFC North Draft Losers.