Draft aftermath: The NFC North

Story by Nick Gourdoux

In my five semesters on staff at The Spectator, I’ve seen three drafts come and go. In fact, I even wrote columns warning teams and fans about the dangers of drafting players according to need. That is why it should come as no surprise to you, my loyal readers, that I am a big fan of what the Packers did on draft day.

When you factor in talent, potential and age, is there a quarterback you would rather have than Aaron Rodgers? A wide receiver more than Greg Jennings? A tight end more than Jermichael Finley? An outside linebacker more than Clay Matthews? I could go on. Clearly, Packers general manager Ted Thompson knows what he is doing on draft day.

Thompson lucked out when tackle Bryan Bulaga fell to him in the first round after spending most of the off-season as a guaranteed top-10 pick. In the second round, the selection of Michael Neal has been regarded as a bit of a reach by other analysts, but I wouldn’t consider it so. From what I understand, he has tremendous potential and could develop into a pro-bowl quality lineman. The Packers don’t have to rush to get him onto the field with an already-solid defensive line. Ideally, Neal would phase out Cullen Jenkins in the next year or two.

Third round pick Morgan Burnett should compete for a starting job as soon as he arrives in camp and, at very worst, would provide depth for often-injured Atari Bigby.

I don’t know much about the rest of the Packers late-round picks, so it would be a waste of my time and yours if I tried to analyze them. I will offer one note, though. A lot of so-called experts have been knocking the Packers because of the fact that they didn’t draft anybody to help at cornerback. To that, I say what about Pat Lee, Will Blackmon and Tramon Williams? The Packers suffered an extraordinary amount of injuries to their secondary last year, so it made the appearance that they weren’t deep at the cornerback position. With everyone healthy, the Packers have a nice mix of talent, potential, experience and youth in the secondary.

While I like what the Packers did, I don’t think they had the best draft of the division. Detroit brought in three players – Ndamukong Suh, Jahvid Best and Amari Spievey — who could find their way into the starting lineup this year.

Suh was widely regarded as the most talented player in the draft, so it comes as a surprise that the Lions actually picked him – I was guessing wide receiver. Best has some injury concerns that lead to him falling to the latter half of the first round, but NFC North fans should remember that Adrian Peterson had injury concerns heading into his draft, yet he turned into one of the best running backs in the league.

I can’t say whether the Lions picked according to need or not because, well, every position for them is a position of need. Still, I feel this draft class was a tremendous first step towards building a respectable team in the not-too-distant future.

The Vikings, on the other hand, baffled me. They chose cornerback Chris Cook with their first pick. While Cook is probably talented, was he really the best player available? I suspect the Vikings were still suffering from Antoine Winfield’s injuries and playoff ineffectiveness, and chose Cook based on need. If they did choose to draft according to need, quarterback Jimmy Claussen would have been the presumable pick. The Vikings have lacked a franchise quarterback since Daunte Culpepper’s career-changing injury a few years back.

The selection of Toby Gerhart is also a bit confusing. Gerhart is certainly talented, and I wouldn’t mind having him on my roster, but I don’t know why the Vikings selected him as high as they did. I suspect the Vikings were trying to fill the void left by Chester Taylor’s departure. The Vikings brass probably had sound reasoning for their picks, and they get paid a lot of money to make those decisions. Still, as a fan, it seems as though they picked players to fill holes, rather than take the most talented players available.
The Bears didn’t have much of a draft class, mainly because most of their picks were sent to the Broncos as a part of the Jay Cutler trade. The Bears didn’t pick in the first two rounds, yet were able to pick safety Major Wright in the third round. Wright, by all accounts I’ve come across, should compete for a starting job, improve the Bears pass defense, and was a very solid pick in the third round. Still, the lack of picks inside the top 75 overall makes this class, generally speaking, pretty weak.

If I had to rank the draft classes of the NFC North, I would put the Lions at the top, followed by the Packers, Vikings and Bears in that order. The Vikings, however, should remain the favorite to win the division if Brett Favre comes back and plays remotely close to the way he did last year. The Packers will improve mainly because their key contributors, for the most part, are just now reaching the prime of their careers. The Lions may not compete for a playoff spot, but they won’t be the pushovers that they were. Any improvement the Bears exhibit will be the result of their free agent acquisitions and not their draft classes.

Gourdoux is a junior print journalism major and editorial editor of The Spectator.