HEADLINE

2017 NFL Draft Reset: Big changes in NFC North

Sports Xchange

April 05, 2017 at 12:25 am.

Bears need receiver for Glennon

The Chicago Bears moved quickly beyond the Jay Cutler era, but the same isn’t true with the Alshon Jeffery era.

They signed quarterback Mike Glennon, who is promoted from backup to Jameis Winston at Tampa Bay to starter in Chicago, replacing the released Cutler.

But with Jeffery gone to Philadelphia, Glennon might appreciate an upgrade in receivers. Signing former Steelers receiver Markus Wheaton and former Titans receiver Kendall Wright did little to alter the perception of the Bears’ receiving corps.

Wheaton constantly battled injuries and logged only two seasons with more than six receptions. Wright is consistently effective as a slot receiver, but also has had health issues.

Considering Kevin White is the new No. 1 and spent his first two seasons mending broken legs, it’s easy to see the Bears drafting a wide receiver in the first or second round.

With Glennon signed, Mark Sanchez under contract as a backup, and pet project Connor Shaw healed from a broken leg, it could make the Bears less likely to reach in the first round for a quarterback from a pool some regard as questionable.

There are obvious needs at cornerback, safety and even defensive end after several weeks of free agency.

The Bears added veteran free-agent cornerbacks Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper, and already have Kyle Fuller, Tracy Porter and two viable candidates for nickel back returning. But they lack two proven safeties, although they might have one after signing Quintin Demps in free agency.

In two seasons since Vic Fangio became defensive coordinator and John Fox head coach, the Bears have three total interceptions by safeties.

Here is a closer look at where the Bears are, how they got here and a shot at what they should do with their first pick in the draft, No. 3 overall.

THE BREAKDOWN
2016 finish: 4th NFC North (3-13)

STATISTICS
TOTAL OFFENSE: 356.5 (15th)
RUSHING: 108.4 (17th)
PASSING: 248.1 (14th)
TOTAL DEFENSE: 346.8 (15th)
RUSHING: 121.9 (27th)
PASSING: 224.9 (7th)

TEAM NEEDS

–1. Safety: Pairing veteran Quintin Demps with an all-around physical force like Jamal Adams or with a big-time playmaker like Jabrill Peppers would be ideal for a secondary that played a huge role in tying the NFL record for fewest turnovers caused (11) last year.

–2. Wide receiver: With no experienced standout receiver, and questions surrounding every other expected contributor, it would be difficult to envision a Bears draft without a receiver being selected in the first or second round. The 6-foot-4 size of Clemson’s Mike Williams makes him an ideal replacement for Alshon Jeffery. Later in Round 1 it would be hard to pass on the ridiculous speed displayed by Washington’s John Ross.

–3. Defensive end: Jonathan Allen would be an easy pick in the first round to come in and start immediately at end, but questions about arthritis in his shoulders persist. The Bears have more talent available to answer their need at cornerback. At end, they have last year’s third round pick Jonathan Bullard, who struggled.

KEY PERSONNEL TRACKER (As of April 3)

–Retained: CB Johnthan Banks, K Connor Barth, C/G Eric Kush, S Chris Prosinski, WR Deonte Thompson, NT C.J. Wilson.

–Added: CB Prince Amukamara (Jaguars), T Tom Compton (Falcons), CB Marcus Cooper (Cardinals), S Quintin Demps (Texans), QB Mike Glennon (Buccaneers), NT John Jenkins (Seahawks), QB Mark Sanchez (Cowboys), TE Dion Sims (Dolphins), WR Markus Wheaton (Steelers), WR Kendall Wright (Titans).

–Lost: QB Matt Barkley (49ers), QB Jay Cutler (released), DE Ego Ferguson (released), QB Brian Hoyer (49ers), WR Alshon Jeffery (Eagles), G/C Ted Larsen (Dolphins), T Matt McCants (Browns), TE Logan Paulsen (49ers), DE Cornelius Washington (Lions), DL Ego Ferguson (released, signed with Packers).

*NFLDraftScout.com analysts suggest (No. 3 overall).

Rob Rang (March 27 mock draft):

–Jamal Adams, SS, LSU. Safety has long been a sore spot in Chicago with only one Bears safety (Mike Brown) earning an invitation to the Pro Bowl over the past 20 years. Adams has that kind of potential and is viewed by some as the safest prospect in the draft. He is a tone-setter with a rare combination of instincts, athleticism and intangibles to make an immediate impact on a defense that made strides a year ago but allowed 24.9 points per game, 24th in the NFL.
Dane Brugler (March 27 mock draft):

–Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State. The Bears signed Prince Amukamara to a one-year “prove-it” deal, but there are still plenty of question marks at cornerback for Chicago. If the doctors give two thumbs up then Lattimore is worth this high selection.

Lions building wall to protect Stafford

The Detroit Lions are trying to be protective of quarterback Matthew Stafford, so they are working harder than President Donald Trump to build a wall.

Last year, the Lions used two of their first three draft picks on offensive linemen who started as rookies — left tackle Taylor Decker and left guard Graham Glasgow.

When free agency started this year they began working on the right side. The Lions signed Rick Wagner to a five-year, $47.5 million deal to replace Riley Reiff at right tackle, and added veteran T.J. Lang for three years and $28.5 million to take over for Larry Warford at right guard.

Travis Swanson is the only holdover starter from the Martin Mayhew era at center.

The Lions opted to focus on the offensive line at the start of free agency rather than replenish their undermanned defense for several reasons, the most important being that 29-year-old Stafford is in the prime of his career.

Also, they want to fix a running game that ranked 30th in the NFL last season, which is why they also signed blocking tight end Darren Fells to a one-year deal.

Here is a closer look at where the Lions are, how they got here and a shot at what they should do with their first pick in the draft, No. 21 overall.

THE BREAKDOWN

2016 finish: 2nd NFC North (9-7)

STATISTICS
TOTAL OFFENSE: 338.8 (21st)
RUSHING: 81.9 (30th)
PASSING: 256.9 (11th)
TOTAL DEFENSE: 354.8 (18th)
RUSHING: 106.3 (18th)
PASSING: 248.4 (19th)

TEAM NEEDS

–1. Linebacker: The Lions signed Paul Worrilow as a potential DeAndre Levy replacement, but still need an infusion of playmakers in the middle of their defense. For now, Worrilow, Tahir Whitehead and Antwione Williams are the projected starters at linebacker. While they also added Nick Bellore (49ers), it’s possible the Lions use a first-round pick on an upgrade, and almost surely will draft a linebacker by the end of Day 2.

–2. Wide receiver: Anquan Boldin is a free agent and could return at some point this spring, but the Lions need another pass catcher at a minimum as insurance for Golden Tate and Marvin Jones. For now, Keshawn Martin, Jace Billingsley and TJ Jones are Nos. 3-5 on the depth chart; that is not an inspiring trio.

-3. Defensive end: Ziggy Ansah should be better after he struggled most of last season with a high ankle sprain, but the Lions don’t have a clear-cut starter at left end. Cornelius Washington, Kerry Hyder, Armonty Bryant and Anthony Zettel also are on the roster, but Ansah is the only proven pass rusher of the bunch.

KEY PERSONNEL TRACKER (As of April 3)

–Retained: DE Armonty Bryant, LS Don Muhlbach.

–Added: TE Darren Fells (Cardinals), CB DJ Hayden (Raiders), DT Jordan Hill (Jaguars), G T.J. Lang (Packers), WR Keshawn Martin, DT Akeem Spence (Buccaneers), T Rick Wagner (Ravens), DE Cornelius Washington (Bears), LB Paul Worrilow (Falcons).

–Lost: S Rafael Bush (Saints), DT Stefan Charles (Jaguars), LB DeAndre Levy (released), T Riley Reiff (Vikings), WR Andre Roberts (Falcons), DT Tyrunn Walker (Rams), G Larry Warford (Saints).

*NFLDraftScout.com analysts suggest (No. 21 overall).

Rob Rang (March 27 mock draft):

–Haason Reddick, OLB, Temple. The Lions addressed concerns along the offensive and defensive lines through free agency, but lost speed at linebacker with the decision to release DeAndre Levy. Reddick recorded 22.5 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks as an edge rusher for the Owls in 2016 before wowing first at the Senior Bowl as a more traditional linebacker and then at the Combine, recording a ridiculous 4.52 second time in the 40-yard dash and 11-foot-1-inch broad jump at 6-foot-1, 234 pounds.
Dane Brugler (March 27 mock draft):

–Jabrill Peppers, SS, Michigan. With Tavon Wilson and Glover Quin both in the final year of their contracts, the Lions could be in the market for an impact safety in this year’s draft. Not without flaws, Peppers is a top-tier athlete with the potential to develop into a NFL defensive playmaker.

Depleted Packers have long shopping list

After a parade of defections in free agency and few additions made to the team, the Green Bay Packers have some catching up to do this spring.

Known for a staunch draft-and-develop philosophy in his 12 years at the helm, general manager Ted Thompson has a bunch of positions to address throughout the three-day draft, which starts April 27 in Philadelphia.

Running back, guard, cornerback and outside linebacker all have been depleted the last two months.

After cutting the veteran duo of Pro Bowl cornerback Sam Shields and running back James Starks in February, the Packers watched several key players flee in free agency in March — lead back Eddie Lacy (Seattle Seahawks), Pro Bowl right guard T.J. Lang (Detroit Lions), versatile defensive back Micah Hyde (Buffalo Bills), future Pro Football Hall of Famer Julius Peppers (Carolina Panthers) and his fellow outside linebacker Datone Jones (Minnesota Vikings).

Green Bay also lost veteran tight end Jared Cook (Oakland Raiders) after just one season and young interior lineman JC Tretter (Cleveland Browns), who opened last season as the starting center in place of an injured Corey Linsley.

Thompson ensured the defense still has a capable complement to pass-rushing linebacker Clay Matthews by re-signing Nick Perry to a five-year, $60 million contract at the outset of free agency. Perry had a career- and team-high 12 sacks last season, including the playoffs.

The GM also tried to bolster the cornerback position, which was ripped to shreds in the 44-21 loss to the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship, by bringing back Davon House on a one-year, $2.8 million deal. The seventh-year pro left Green Bay in 2015 for what turned out to be a short-lived stint with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The one position that won’t need to be addressed in the draft is tight end after Thompson turned a surprising double play by signing veteran playmakers Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks. The 30-year-old Bennett, who is going into his 10th pro season, after winning the Super Bowl with the New England Patriots, landed a three-year, $21 million contract.

Kendricks, a seventh-year pro from Milwaukee who played his college ball at Wisconsin, signed a two-year, $4 million deal.

Here is a closer look at where the Packers are, how they got here and a shot at what they should do with their first pick in the draft, No. 29 overall.

THE BREAKDOWN
2016 finish: 1st NFC North (10-6)

STATISTICS
TOTAL OFFENSE: 368.8 (8th)
RUSHING: 106.3 (20th)
PASSING: 262.4 (7th)
TOTAL DEFENSE: 363.9 (22nd)
RUSHING: 94.7 (8th)
PASSING: 269.3 (31st)

TEAM NEEDS

–1. Cornerback: The return of Davon House to Green Bay after he bolted in free agency in 2015 for a starting job with the Jacksonville Jaguars doesn’t heal a wounded position for the Packers. General manager Ted Thompson bid adieu to veteran standout Sam Shields early in the offseason in the wake of his repeated concussions, and integral defensive back Micah Hyde signed a free-agent deal with the Buffalo Bills. The absence of Shields for all but the opening game reared its ugly head throughout last season, culminating with the defenseless display on the back end against Matt Ryan and Julio Jones in the Atlanta Falcons’ 44-21 NFC Championship rout. Though House should step right in as a starter, the Packers still could use a ready-made contributor early in the upcoming draft as they continue to wait on the development of young prospects Damarious Randall, Quinten Rollins and LaDarius Gunter.

–2. Running back: Thompson fortified the team’s bread-and-butter passing game by signing not one, but two big-play tight ends in free agency with Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks. That’s good news for Aaron Rodgers, who has an abundance of options on the receiving end of his throws. Yet, the Packers have counted more key personnel losses than gains so far this offseason, and one of the big departures happened at running back. Eddie Lacy, thought to be a bell cow in the team’s backfield for many years, is looking to get back on track after two subpar, injury-plagued seasons by joining the Seattle Seahawks. Coupled with the release of James Starks shortly after last season, that leaves the Packers with converted wideout Ty Montgomery and the re-signed Christine Michael as their top two ball carriers going into the spring workouts.

–3. Guard: The Packers are faced with plugging in a starter at right guard for the first time since they shifted stalwart T.J. Lang there from the left side in 2013. That’s because Lang’s productive eight-year run in Green Bay is over after he cashed in as a free agent with a big contract from the rival Detroit Lions. Head coach Mike McCarthy has asserted that veteran Bryan Bulaga, who has experience playing guard, won’t be moving from his longstanding spot of right tackle. Yet, the team’s investment of a second-round draft pick in natural tackle Jason Spriggs last year may prompt some necessary line tinkering, unless Thompson hits on a capable interior player in the draft. The only viable options on the roster are versatile backup Don Barclay, recently signed first-year player Justin McCray and Kyle Murphy, a tackle who essentially had a redshirt rookie season as a sixth-round draft pick.

KEY PERSONNEL TRACKER (As of April 3)

–Retained: T/G Don Barclay, RB Christine Michael, LB Nick Perry.

–Added: TE Martellus Bennett (Patriots), CB Davon House (Jaguars), DL Ricky Jean Francois (Redskins), TE Lance Kendricks (Rams), DL Ferguson (released, Bears).

–Lost: TE Jared Cook (Raiders), S Micah Hyde (Bills), LB Datone Jones (Vikings), G T.J. Lang (Lions), LB Julius Peppers (Panthers), CB Sam Shields (released), RB James Starks (released), C/G JC Tretter (Browns).

*NFLDraftScout.com analysts suggest (No. 29 overall).

Rob Rang (April 3 mock draft):

–Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State. Running back is far from Green Bay’s biggest concern, but after allowing Eddie Lacy to leave in free agency, the Packers will almost surely be looking for help there via the draft. Cook is a top-20 talent, but questions about his shoulders and decisions off the field could lead to a surprising drop on draft day.
Dane Brugler (March 27 mock draft):

–Forrest Lamp, G, Western Kentucky. The Packers lost several offensive linemen to free agency and now have strong question marks at guard. A four-year starter at left tackle, Lamp is a plug-and-play guard in the Zack Martin mold.

Vikes rebuild A. P. (After Peterson)

With the great Adrian Peterson gone, the Minnesota Vikings are searching for a new offensive identity. They declined to pay $18 million to Peterson, who was the face of the franchise since he was drafted in 2007.

The new identity began to take shape early in free agency when general manager Rick Spielman replaced the 32-year-old Peterson with the more versatile 27-year-old Latavius Murray, leading rusher for the Oakland Raiders last season.

Murray is another big back, but his strengths include catching the ball out of the backfield and pass protection and the Vikings see him as a valuable, three-down player as the team transitions to a West Coast style of attack and a ration of shotgun formations that weren’t suited for Peterson.

“We want our face of the franchise to be a Lombardi Trophy,” owner Mark Wilf said. “That’s what drives us. Obviously, we have a tremendous core of great young talent right down the line. We’re very pleased with our quarterback, Sam Bradford, and on the defensive side with so many great core players. We’re building a roster that has a lot of playmakers.”

Murray did undergo ankle surgery after signing with Minnesota, but the problem was known. He will likely miss all of OTAs, but is expected to be ready for training camp.

Besides Murray, the Vikings moved quickly in free agency to add two new starting tackles in Detroit’s Riley Reiff on the left and Carolina’s Mike Zemmers on the right. Spielman said they were two of only five tackles in free agency he would have considered signing. Zimmer said both are better run blockers, but “adequate pass protectors” who “play like veterans that make it difficult for pass rushers to get around” quickly.

Defensively, they turned to Green Bay to plug a potential hole at the three-technique tackle spot. They gave former Packers first-round pick Datone Jones a one-year, $3.75 million prove-it contract.

Eight unrestricted free agents departed, including left tackle Matt Kalil (Carolina), nickel corner Captain Munnerlyn (Carolina), punter Jeff Locke (Indianapolis) and Cordarrelle Patterson, who went to Oakland after leading the NFL in kick returns three times in four years while never truly developing as a receiver.

Here is a closer look at where the Vikings are, how they got here and a shot at what they should do with their first pick in the draft, No. 48 overall.

THE BREAKDOWN
2016 finish: 3rd NFC North (8-8)

STATISTICS
TOTAL OFFENSE: 315.1 (28th)
RUSHING: 75.3 (32nd)
PASSING: 239.8 (18th)
TOTAL DEFENSE: 314.9 (3rd)
RUSHING: 106.9 (20th)
PASSING: 207.9 (3rd)

TEAM NEEDS

–1. Right guard: Head coach Mike Zimmer said at the league meetings that he has four starters he’s comfortable with on the offensive line before adding, “We got to figure out the right guard position.” The Vikings released Brandon Fusco and Mike Harris, the starters at the position in recent years. Fusco, who rose from late-round pick to earn a lucrative long-term deal a couple years ago, became a major disappointment because of injuries and ineffective play.

–2. Running back: Even after signing Latavius Murray to help fill the hole left by Adrian Peterson’s departure, the Vikings are eager to tap into the deep pool of talented, versatile runners available in this year’s draft. The Vikings have only shifty, third-down back Jerick McKinnon as a reliable backup at this point. The other running backs on the roster are C.J. Ham, who didn’t play as a rookie free agent a year ago, and Bishop Sankey, a third-year pro who played in 29 games for the Titans from 2014-15, but didn’t play a game while with the Chiefs a year ago.

–3. Tight end: The Vikings made a strong push to sign Jared Cook, but weren’t able to land him. Presumably, they’re still on the lookout for help in that area since no other tight end was signed. They have three tight ends under contract, but have only one — Kyle Rudolph — who stands out. David Morgan, mainly a blocking tight end, was drafted in the sixth round a year ago mostly because the team figured it would lose Rhett Ellison in free agency this year, which it did. When he’s at full strength, Ellison is a much better, more versatile blocker than the developing Morgan. The other tight end on the roster is Kyle Carter, a practice squad player who went undrafted out of Penn State a year ago.

KEY PERSONNEL TRACKER (As of April 3)
PLAYERS RE-SIGNED

–Retained: CB Terence Newman.

–Added: DE Datone Jones (Packers), QB Case Keenum (Rams), RB Latavius Murray (Raiders), P Ryan Quigley, T Riley Reiff (Lions), T Mike Remmers (Panthers), punter Ryan Quigley (formerly Jets, Cardinals).

–Lost: LB Audie Cole (Jaguars), DE Scott Crichton (released), TE Rhett Ellison (Giants), G Brandon Fusco (released), LB Chad Greenway (retired), G Mike Harris (released), WR Charles Johnson (Panthers), T Matt Kalil (Panthers), P Jeff Locke (Colts), CB Captain Munnerlyn (Panthers), WR/KR Cordarrelle Patterson (Raiders), T Andre Smith (Bengals).

*NFLDraftScout.com analysts suggest (No. 48 overall).

Rob Rang (Special pick for this reset):

–Dan Feeney, G, Indiana. A possible plug-and-play solution at right guard, Feeney possesses the quickness and balance critical for success in an offense looking to get the most out of free-agent addition Latavius Murray.
Dane Brugler (Special pick for this reset):

–Dan Feeney, G, Indiana. As the Vikings look to stabilize the right guard position, Feeney is a plug-and-play option who also offers the versatility to play other positions if needed.

Agree? Disagree? Still shopping?

Based on the team’s current status, those are our suggestions for that first pick. To double check or find another candidate see NFLDraftScout.com’s full mocks and ratings.

–Frank Cooney, founder and publisher of The Sports Xchange and NFLDraftScout.com, is in his sixth decade covering football and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee. TSX team insiders contributed to this article.