2019 NFL Draft Review: NFC North

NFC North Draft
NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE - APRIL 25: A video board displays an image of Darnell Savage Jr. after he was chosen #21 overall by the Green Bay Packers during the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft on April 25, 2019 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

The 2019 NFL Draft has come and gone. In total there were 254 picks, in seven rounds, over three days. That is a lot of fresh talent entering the league. But the big question on everyone’s mind now is “how did my team do?” Well, that is exactly what we are going to get into here. Specifically, we are going to take a trip around, and grade, the NFC North.

Divisional Draft Grades: AFC East – NFC South – NFC West – AFC North – AFC South – NFC East – AFC West

NFC North 2019 NFL Draft Review

Chicago Bears: B-

Players Drafted: David Montgomery-RB, Riley Ridley-WR, Duke Shelley-DB, Kerrith Whyte-RB, Stephen Denmark-DB

Entering Friday, the Bears were not scheduled to pick until the 87th pick of the draft in the third round. That changed after they shipped that pick along with a fifth-rounder (162nd) this year along with a fourth in 2020 to the New England Patriots. In return, the Bears got the 73rd overall pick and an additional sixth (205th).

They used that pick on Montgomery, who will undoubtedly be given every chance to earn the starting role in camp. He totaled 2,925 rushing yards on 624 attempts in 37 games (28 starts). Montgomery also chipped in 71 catches for 528 yards, showing the versatility that Matt Nagy covets from the position. He takes over the role vacated by Jordan Howard (traded to the Philadelphia Eagles) and perhaps more considering his catching ability.

Chicago went away from needs in the fourth round and picked up wide receiver Riley Ridley whose brother, Calvin, plays for the Atlanta Falcons. Ridley’s stats at Georgia are not eye-popping but he is solid running routes and has good hands. The trade up for Montgomery meant Chicago did not pick again until the sixth round when they picked Shelley who projects as a slot corner. Whyte reportedly has 4.38-speed and kick return experience. Denmark is a 6’3”, 220 lb. corner out of Valdosta St. with 4.46-speed and a receiver background.

Chicago had the tough task (of their own making) of finding difference makers without the luxury of first or second round picks. That very situation makes it tough to give a solid grade, but it appears they got their type of guy at running back. The Ridley pick is surprising but understandable; Taylor Gabriel is not an ideal second or even third receiver. Shelley’s addition likely means that Buster Skrine will not have endless leash despite his contract. Both White and Denmark offer athletics for special teams with upside to contribute elsewhere down the road. They benefit from not having many holes.

Detroit Lions: C

Players Drafted: TJ Hockenson-TE, Jahlani Tavai-LB, Will Harris-DB, Austin Bryant-DE, Amani Oruwariye-CB, Travis Fulgham-WR, Ty Johnson-RB, Isaac Nauta-TE, PJ Johnson-DT

Just for the record, Hockenson should be a fine player and Detroit certainly needed to upgrade the position. But the value (8th overall) can be argued with the needs they have at safety and pass-rusher. Sure they added Trey Flowers in the offseason, but his 7.5 sacks last year were a career-high. Of course, giving the franchise quarterback more weapons is never a bad thing.

Hockenson was the top-rated tight end in this class despite having a teammate who was also a first-rounder. The former Hawkeye is a good first-level blocker and caught 73 balls for 1,080 yards and nine touchdowns. Lions fans just have to hope that he develops in Detroit, instead of elsewhere like his predecessor, Eric Ebron.

The Lions addressed linebacker in the second round taking Tavai but did so with LSU’s Greedy Williams (a much better talent) still on the board at corner. He has an NFL body with good instincts, though he is a liability in space. Harris (81st) is an athletic safety with good size but makes poor reads in coverage. Bryant is the fourth member drafted of a vaunted Clemson defensive line, but good value in the fourth. Oruwariye (146th) is long with good instincts and ball skills but is not the fastest and should avoid the slot. Fulgham (184th) is similar to Marvin Jones. Ty (186th) never started full-time and does not catch passes. Nauta (224th) could help conjure images of New England’s former dynamic tight end duo. PJ (229th) is a space eater.

Detroit filled needs, it just appears they did so out of order. They also passed on two top prospects from right in their own backyard. The overall success or failure of this class will be determined by Hockenson’s development obviously. Tavai is a suspect pick, but Harris hitting (literally and figuratively) early could boost reviews for this class. Rookie tight ends tend to struggle, mostly as blockers. The only outright questionable pick is Johnson (the running back).

Green Bay Packers: C+

Players Drafted: Rashan Gary-DE, Darnell Savage-S, Elgton Jenkins-C, Jace Sternberger-TE, Kingsley Keke-DL, Ka’dar Hollman-CB, Dexter Williams-RB, Ty Summers-LB

If I’m Mike Pettine this grade is probably an A. I get a player that is immediately ready to play in Gary (12th), assuming he is healthy. I also get an exciting safety prospect that, while perhaps smaller than desired, allows hem to send Tramon Williams back to corner or free agency. The reaction of fans at the draft was not one of immediate joy, and one can question if they took the best available, but the picks themselves were not bad.

In 2017, his last healthy season, he had 11.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. The Pack traded up from 30th to 21st overall, sending two fourths (114th and 118th) to the Seattle Seahawks, to take Savage. He was a four-year starter for Maryland with blazing speed and a willingness to mix it up. He also had 7 interceptions over the last two years.

Jenkins in round two (44th) is a value. He is solid if unspectacular but should be good to go with an offseason program under his belt. With the 75th pick, Green Bay took Sternberger (10 TDs in 2018) and Aaron Rodgers should be happy about that. Keke might be a steal in the fifth round if he gets more aggressive with his hands and in general. Holland (185th) has 4.4-speed but little in the form of starting experience (despite advanced age) or takeaways. ‘Juice’ Williams (194th) can go as far as he wants to if he keeps his nose clean. Summers tests well even if it doesn’t always show on tape, though he is a four-year starter and the 226th pick.

Packer fans on television were not overly thrilled (no word on if A-a-ron approves). But with a defense as bad as Green Bay’s has been in recent years, and number 12 under center, the path they took is understandable. Still, they could have used some more offensive line help and even another receiver. The grade is low now but will rise if the early gambles pan.

Minnesota Vikings: B

Players Drafted: Garrett Bradbury-C, Irv Smith, Jr.-TE, Alexander Mattison-RB, Dru Samia-G, Cameron Smith-LB, Armon Watts-DT, Marcus Epps-DB, Oli Udoh-OT, Kris Boyd-CB, Dillon Mitchell-WR, Olabisi Johnson-WR, Austin Cutting-LS

Whatever Minnesota lacks in quality, they might make up for in a quantity. Their 12 picks were the most in the league. One thing for certain, they made a concerted effort to improve the protection in front of Kirk Cousins. Two of their first three picks were interior lineman while Smith could be a new safety valve. The defense even got a little love in this one.

Bradbury (18th) is a former high school tight end who compares favorably to fellow NFC North lineman James Daniels of the Bears. He started 39 games (26 at center, 13 at guard) and was the Rimington Trophy as the nation’s top center in 2018. He is athletic for the position, albeit slightly undersized. With the 50th pick, Minnesota took Smith out of Alabama, a junior with 10 touchdowns the last two season (seven in 2018). If he plays faster he could be a matchup nightmare.

The Vikings selecting Mattison in the third round (102nd) is early confirmation Dalvin Cook will not be a true workhorse. Samia (114th) is another athletic guy up front that could use more strength. Smith (162nd) is a four-year starter and an instinctual leader but an average athlete. The same can be said for Epps (191st), the second of three sixth-rounders after Watts(190th). The latter has a chance to stick. Udoh (193rd) is massive at right tackle and Boyd (217th) is a strong corner who might struggle with shifty assignments. A pair of seventh-round receivers, Mitchell (239th, 10 Td in 2018) and Johnson (247th ) and a serviceman, Austin Cutter (250th, Air Force) round out the class.

This is quietly the best class in the draft, both in quality and quantity. Minnesota, hopefully, addressed both its pass protection and run blocking woes with a pair of interior lineman that should start immediately. The only reason it’s ‘quietly’ is the lack of a splashy pick. But this is a sound haul top to bottom. If there is a downside, it is the lack of an high-upside player in the bunch. Instead, they took players ready to contribute right away.

Draft Weekend Wrap-Up

Every team in the old Black-and-Blue division did alright. The Bears made their limited draft cache count. Detroit, despite the worst grade of the group, still took useful players. Green Bay felt the defense still needed work and found one of each of the types of players GMs look for. Minnesota played the numbers game, but they also made them count. Surely, no real judgment can be made until a few years down the road. But in the immediate aftermath, NFC North fans should feel pretty good right now.

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