NFC North rookie grades: Vikings score with Teddy Bridgewater


As coaches and general managers prepare to make potentially franchise-altering decisions in the 2015 NFL Draft, now is the perfect time to look back and see how the choices made last year played out on the field. Bucky Brooks is reviewing and grading each team's rookie class from 2014, as well as highlighting what organizations should hone in on at this month's NFL Scouting Combine -- continuing with the NFC North below. CLICK HERE FOR THE OTHER DIVISIONAL BREAKDOWNS.

Chicago Bears

After watching their defense struggle mightily in 2013, the Bears went "all in" during the draft, acquiring a number of young, athletic players to energize the unit. Although the production didn't really improve (after ranking 30th in overall and scoring defense in 2013, Chicago finished 30th in overall defense and 31st in scoring defense in 2014), the Bears certainly discovered some building blocks for the future. Kyle Fuller has the potential to develop into a "lockdown" corner on the perimeter. He has a knack for coming up with takeaways and gradually improved in coverage throughout the season. With a full offseason of work to refine his technique, he should become Chicago's No. 1 corner in 2015. A move to a new scheme could help defensive tackles Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton -- who "flashed" as rotational players -- grow into solid starters in the near future. The team hit on linebacker Christian Jones as an undrafted free agent, but the jury is still out on the ability of safety Brock Vereen and running back Ka'Deem Carey to become key contributors. Grade: C+

Combine focus: The Bears will certainly rebuild their defense under new coach John Fox, who will place significant emphasis on stocking the front seven with dynamic playmakers, particularly at linebacker. This will lead Chicago to spend a lot of time with Washington outside linebacker Shaq Thompson, UCLA outside linebacker Eric Kendricks and Miami's Denzel Perryman to determine if they'd be suitable replacements for veteran Lance Briggs, who is set to hit free agency. Team officials will also take a close look at the safety class, to see if they can identify an athletic defender with instincts and range. Alabama's Landon Collins will garner interest, but don't discount the Bears taking extended looks at Louisville's Gerod Holliman and Virginia's Anthony Harris.

Detroit Lions

The Lions took a major step forward under Jim Caldwell in his first season at the helm, as the wily coach received key contributions from his veterans and free-agent acquisitions. But he didn't get a lot of production from his rookie class. Tight end Eric Ebron needed time to adjust to the complexities of Detroit's offense, curbing his overall effectiveness as a big-play weapon on the perimeter; though he flashed major talent and potential in his limited opportunities in the passing game, he certainly didn't justify his lofty draft position (10th overall). Linebacker Kyle Van Noy and center Travis Swanson should be solid starters as second-year pros, but they didn't provide the Lions with a significant return on their investment in Year 1. Defensive tackle Caraun Reid could be primed for a bigger role in 2015, with veterans Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley set to hit the free-agent market. Grade: C

Combine focus: The Lions have to prepare for the potential losses of Suh and Fairley, the tackles who anchor the defense with their toughness, physicality and athleticism in the middle. Thus, Caldwell will likely cast his eyes toward rugged defensive tackles like Texas' Malcom Brown, Florida State's Eddie Goldman and Oklahoma's Jordan Phillips. The cornerback position will also garner some interest, with intriguing prospects like Michigan State's Trae Waynes, Washington's Marcus Peters and Wake Forest's Kevin Johnson at the top of the class.

Green Bay Packers

The Packers' run to the top of the NFC North was fueled by some key contributions from rookie starters. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix solidified the safety position, while Corey Linsley and Davante Adams made their marks at center and WR3, respectively. Clinton-Dix was particularly effective as a deep middle defender with the range and physicality to eliminate big plays between the hashes. Green Bay also got help from Richard Rodgers as a TE2 in multiple-tight end sets. The young core made a significant impact on a championship-caliber team, and general manager Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy deserve high marks for identifying a host of "plug and play" players in the draft.
Grade: A-

Combine focus: Green Bay has drafted well over the years, but depth along the defensive line could be an issue if free-agents-to-be B.J. Raji and Letroy Guion don't return. Thus, Thompson and McCarthy could spend considerable time assessing Texas' Malcom Brown, Washington's Danny Shelton and Oklahoma's Jordan Phillips, to see if they have the tools to man the middle of the Packers' defense. The coaching staff will also scour the defensive-back market, to determine if Washington's Marcus Peters, Miami of Ohio's Quinten Rollins, Stanford's Alex Carter and Wake Forest's Kevin Johnson are capable of thriving on the perimeter in Green Bay's scheme.

Minnesota Vikings

Whenever a team identifies a franchise quarterback in the draft, the personnel department and coaching staff deserve glowing marks for setting their organization up for long-term success. Thus, kudos go to the Vikings for landing Teddy Bridgewater at the bottom of the first round and getting their young signal-caller ready to play early in his rookie season. Most importantly, Minnesota built a quarterback-friendly offense around Bridgewater's talents as a cerebral playmaker from the pocket. The team also hit a home run on Anthony Barr, a dynamic linebacker with rush skills. The rookie playmaker earned rave reviews for his ability to create "splash" off the edge, which is scary, considering his limited experience on defense. Jerick McKinnon was a surprise contributor as a change-of-pace back. Grade: A

Combine on NFL Network
In advance of the draft, Marcus Mariota and others will look to showcase their skills at the combine (Feb. 17-23), only on NFL Network. SCHEDULE

Combine focus: The Vikings could be in the market for a marquee running back, depending on Adrian Peterson's status. If they end up looking for a new ball-carrier, team officials will spend considerable time discussing the nuances of the position with Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon, Indiana's Tevin Coleman and Alabama's T.J. Yeldon. And, of course, the staff will spend extra time eyeing the medical record of Georgia's Todd Gurley, to determine the severity of his knee injury and gauge the possible prognosis for a return to health in the fall. If Gurley gets a clean bill of health from the doctors, his stock could rise with the Vikings, who might be in need of a game-changer at the position.

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.



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