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NFC North rookie grades: Bears bag trio of early-round studs

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The 2018 NFL season is in the books, meaning the 2019 NFL Draft is coming down the pike. But before we completely shift focus to the next crop of prospects entering the league, let's take full stock of the rookies who just finished up Year 1. In this division-by-division Rookie Grades series, we're evaluating each team's 2018 draft class and spotlighting areas to address this offseason. Jeremy Bergman examines the NFC North below.

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A-

CHICAGO BEARS

Round 1: (8) Roquan Smith, LB, 16 games/14 starts.
Round 2: (39) James Daniels, OG/C, 16 games/10 starts; (51) Anthony Miller, WR, 15 games/4 starts.
Round 4: (115) Joel Iyiegbuniwe, LB, 16 games/0 starts.
Round 5: (145) Bilal Nichols, DT, 14 games/6 starts.
Round 6: (181) Kylie Fitts, DE, 6 games/0 starts.
Round 7: (224) Javon Wims, WR, 4 games/0 starts.
Notable rookie FA signings: Kevin Toliver, DB, 15 games/1 start.

Few clubs reaped a better haul from the first two rounds of the 2018 draft than Chicago. After sweating out a testy and lengthy holdout with Smith over some restrictive contract language, the two sides made up and wreaked havoc on the NFC. Smith completed a nasty linebacking corps featuring Danny Trevathan and edge rushers Khalil Mack and Leonard Floyd, leading the team in tackles (121) and making himself an obvious PFWA All-Rookie honoree. Drafted as a center, Daniels filled in at guard for Eric Kush and started from Week 8 on, holding his own against the likes of Sheldon Richardson and Aaron Donald down the stretch. Miller proved a key part of Chicago's revamped receiving corps, leading the team in touchdown receptions (seven) and TD percentage (21.2). A favorite of Mitchell Trubisky's, Miller should be a starter alongside Allen Robinson in 2019. That trio alone makes this class one of the year's best, regardless of the additions that came afterward. Nichols was the only rookie from the last five rounds to stand out in his first season, racking up as many sacks (three) as interior linemates Roy Robertson-Harris and Eddie Goldman, despite playing fewer defensive snaps than either player.

Combine/free agency focus: Chicago holds just five draft picks at the moment, and only one in the first two days (a late third-rounder). That's what general manager Ryan Pace gets for trading for Mack and trading up for Miller. We'd say it was worth it. The Bears don't boast a lot of cap space, but they don't have much to tinker with, either. Their most important impending free agents are probably cornerback Bryce Callahan and safety Adrian Amos, whose rookie deal is up but who is entering a safety-rich market that, last offseason, led some to sign for less than expected. If the Bears want to open up space for both to stay, they could add $6 million in cap room by parting with Dion Sims. Other than the secondary, the only position left to fill is kicker. Cody Parkey probably ain't comin' back, not after he sat down with Savannah and Hoda. Chicago already signed a potential replacement in Redford Jones, but that position battle will be the most closely watched one by Bears fans and Goose Island imbibers all offseason.

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B

DETROIT LIONS

Round 1: (20) Frank Ragnow, OG/C, 16 games/16 starts.
Round 2: (43) Kerryon Johnson, RB, 10 games/7 starts.
Round 3: (82) Tracy Walker, S, 16 games/0 starts.
Round 4: (114) Da'Shawn Hand, DE, 13 games/8 starts.
Round 5: (153) Tyrell Crosby, OT, 10 games/2 starts.
Round 7: (237) Nick Bawden, RB, 0 games/0 starts.
Notable rookie FA signings: Mike Ford, CB, 7 games/4 starts

Matt Patricia's first draft class was like his first season in Detroit: it contained extreme highs and lows, with much room for improvement. This is best exemplified by Ragnow, who was meant to shore up a strong offensive line on paper. The results after one season alongside Rick Wagner, Graham Glasgow and Taylor Decker were iffy. Ragnow allowed the ninth-most pressures of any guard, according to Pro Football Focus. Getting another year under his belt will do him some good. Johnson was a revelation, a running back unlike any Detroit had produced since Barry Sanders. The rookie seized the starting role by midseason and became the first Lions RB to rush for over 100 yards in a game since Reggie Bush in 2013. But a knee injury cut his year short. Johnson should be the starter when he returns, and for years to come. Detroit's greatest find came later in the draft in the form of Hand, who started eight games, racked up three sacks and made the PFWA All-Rookie Team. No Lions interior defensive lineman played more snaps than Hand. He and Damon Harrison will snack on running backs and opposing interior linemen in 2019.

Combine/free agency focus: Detroit enters a complicated offseason filled with big decisions regarding big pieces. After he played just seven games on the franchise tag in 2018 while dealing with shoulder issues, will Ezekiel Ansah receive a second chance from Detroit? Should the Lions stick with guard T.J. Lang after injuries forced the 31-year-old out for 10 games last year? Who should complement Johnson at running back? With Ansah likely on the way out, the first order of business for GM Bob Quinn should be to acquire a more reliable model of pass rusher in free agency or the draft (the Lions select eighth overall), like veteran Trey Flowers, who's due to hit the market, or Clemson's Clelin Ferrell. Detroit must also look to acquire another receiver to pair with Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones, as well as a true pass-catching tight end and another strong secondary member in case veteran safety Glover Quin becomes a cap casualty.

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B

GREEN BAY PACKERS

Round 1: (18) Jaire Alexander, CB, 13 games/11 starts.
Round 2: (45) Josh Jackson, CB, 16 games/10 starts.
Round 3: (88) Oren Burks, LB, 14 games/4 starts.
Round 4: (133) J'Mon Moore, WR, 12 games/0 starts.
Round 5: (138) Cole Madison, OG, 0 games/0 starts; (172) JK Scott, P, 16 games/0 starts; (174) Marquez Valdes-Scantling, WR, 16 games/10 starts.
Round 6: (207) Equanimeous St. Brown, WR, 12 games/7 starts.
Round 7: (232) James Looney, DE, 3 games/0 starts; (239) Hunter Bradley, LS, 16 games/0 starts; (248) Kendall Donnerson, LB, 0 games/0 starts.
Notable rookie FA signings: Tyler Lancaster, DL, 12 games/5 starts; Raven Greene, S, 8 games/0 starts; James Crawford, ST, 16 games/0 starts; Tony Brown, CB, 11 games/ 3 starts.

Green Bay went all-secondary with its first two selections in 2018, and it paid off immediately. Alongside veteran Tramon Williams, Alexander and Jackson started the bulk of their rookie seasons at corner, with the former earning PFWA All-Rookie honors and garnering DROY hype after a five-passes-defensed showing against the juggernaut Rams in Week 8. Green Bay's rookie crop of receivers proved necessary, as Geronimo Allison and Randall Cobb both dealt with injuries. MVS (73 targets) and St. Brown (36) saw much more love than Moore (three) and Kumerow (11) and built up solid connections with Aaron Rodgers, but neither wideout locked down a starting or slot role in 2019. Burks, Looney and Donnerson weren't players on defense in their first seasons, and it's unlikely they will be in 2019, barring injuries. Lancaster was a surprising UDFA pickup who started the season on Green Bay's practice squad but ended up compiling 26 tackles. Madison missed the whole season with a personal issue, which The Athletic Wisconsin has since reported was emotional distress connected to the suicide last January of former Washington State teammate Tyler Hilinski.

Combine/free agency focus: With the futures of free agents-to-be Clay Matthews, Randall Cobb and Muhammad Wilkerson up in the air, Green Bay has to look at the front seven, particularly edge rushers, and bona fide receivers in the offseason. Green Bay should also search for free-agent safeties to replace Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who was traded away during the season ( Earl Thomas and Tyrann Mathieu are set to be available), and could explore signing a one-time division rival (former Lions receiver Golden Tate) to provide Rodgers with a proven, sure-handed receiver. The Packers are blessed with three picks in the first 44 selections, including two in the first round, thanks to the Marcus Davenport swap with the Saints in last year's draft. NFL.com's draft analysts see the Pack taking a mid-round edge rusher to start things off, so GM Brian Gutekunst and friends should enjoy the combine, where a trench-heavy draft class will be on full display.

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B-

MINNESOTA VIKINGS

Round 1: (30) Mike Hughes, CB, 6 games/2 starts.
Round 2: (62) Brian O'Neill, OT, 15 games/11 starts.
Round 4: (102) Jalyn Holmes, DE, 5 games/0 starts.
Round 5: (157) Tyler Conklin, TE, 16 games/3 starts; (167) Daniel Carlson, K, 2 games with Minnesota/0 starts (waived by Vikings in September; signed with Raiders in October, played in 10 games with Raiders).
Round 6: (213) Colby Gossett, OG, 0 games with Minnesota (waived by Vikings in September, signed to practice squad, signed by Cardinals in October, played in five games with four starts for Cardinals); (218) Ade Aruna, DE, 0 games/0 starts.
Round 7: (225) Devante Downs, LB, 11 games/0 starts.
Notable rookie FA signings: Holton Hill, CB, 16 games/3 starts; Mike Boone, RB, 8 games/0 starts.

It's hard to evaluate Minnesota's class when its first-round pick played less than half a season. Hughes was playing well and frequently over the Vikings' first five games, even recording a pick in Minnesota's opener, but his year was cut short by a torn ACL in Week 6. Hughes flashed enough to suggest he'll be a formidable starter for years to come. O'Neill stepped up during the last half of the year at right tackle and should pair with Riley Reiff next season as solid bookends in front of Kirk Cousins. Carlson was a bust, at least for the Vikings, who cut the kicker after just two games and three missed field-goal tries; he has since found employment -- and his stroke -- with Oakland. Holmes was a non-factor, while Conklin flashed as a blocking tight end in his limited offensive snaps.

Combine/free agency focus: Passed over for an extension in recent years in favor of his front-seven brethren, Anthony Barr is slated to hit the market, as is Sheldon Richardson. With Minnesota strapped for cap space, both could be gone. But the Vikings will need to focus on the other side of the line first. Long an exploited weakness, the offensive line needs repair at the starting spots on the interior and more depth at tackle. Minnesota can patch those holes in the draft or free agency, though there are few upper-tier offensive linemen to go around. The Vikings would also be smart to go after a third receiver, in addition to replacements for Barr and Richardson.

Follow Jeremy Bergman on Twitter @JABergman.

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