Jeremiah: New faces in needy places
In the quarterback-driven NFL, the NFC North stands as the premier division, with Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler and Matthew Stafford leading the way. In addition to being standout pocket passers, all three are impressive playmakers with an arsenal of explosive offensive weapons at their disposal. Thus, decision makers in the division have two goals: 1) Add more offensive talents to maximize the potential of their franchise quarterbacks; and 2) stock up on athletic defenders and pass rushers who can get after the other teams' signal-callers. With the 2013 class chock-full of intriguing candidates on both sides of the ball, it was interesting to see how the general managers and coaches in this division chose to fortify their respective rosters.
NFC North notables
Jones experienced a meteoric rise up the charts during his senior season while becoming one of coach Jim Mora's top defensive stalwarts. He displayed excellent first-step quickness and energy as a versatile pass rusher, while also showing he could hold the point as a run defender. Most importantly, Jones conveyed a "hard hat and lunch pail" attitude that impressed coaches and personnel staffs in meetings. The Packers needed to find an effective pass rusher to play alongside Clay Matthews; adding the relentless Jones to the lineup should help.
Heading into the draft, it seemed likely that Long, with his athleticism and legendary bloodlines, would come off the board by the end of Day 2. Few expected the Oregon product to become a first-round pick. Long recorded just four starts at the FCS level during a scattershot collegiate journey that included stops at Florida State (to play baseball), Saddleback College and, finally, Oregon. Long's flashes of brilliance were impressive, but taking such an inexperienced prospect in the first round is certainly a gamble.
Though the Lions weren't able to address offensive-line needs with their first two selections, they might've picked up a third-round gem in Warford. The Kentucky standout is an imposing physical specimen who has the size, strength and power to move defenders off the ball. The Lions haven't been an effective running team lately; having Warford in the lineup could bring much-needed balance to the offensive game plan, giving Detroit the ability to win more close battles.
Note: Click on team names to see complete draft classes.
CHICAGO BEARS: GM Phil Emery took a hammer to the Bears' roster this offseason, rebuilding the team into what should be a more effective group on both sides of the ball. Signing several veteran free agents to fill immediate needs allowed him to implement a draft-day plan in which he could take chances on productive players, regardless of position. Long is considered a reach, based on his inexperience and the Bears' draft position, but he could make that a moot point if he develops into a quality starter early in his career. Jon Bostic, Khaseem Greene and Cornelius Washington will collectively fill the void at linebacker. Each brings athleticism, toughness and instincts -- which could also make them standout special teams players. Overall, the Bears' class has plenty of talent and potential, but the uncertainty surrounding the top selection brings the grade down. GRADE: C
DETROIT LIONS: GM Martin Mayhew and coach Jim Schwartz are intent on returning to the playoffs by relying on a prolific offense and a rugged defense. Thus, the Lions brought in raw (but naturally gifted) defensive end Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah. The native of Ghana, who has played just three years of organized football, is still learning the nuances of his position. If the light comes on for him as a pass rusher and playmaker, he could be the Lions' version of Jason Pierre-Paul. Darius Slay, who was the fastest cornerback at the NFL Scouting Combine, displays the skills to be an effective starter on the perimeter. Devin Taylor is an underrated pass rusher with the length to create disruption on the edges. GRADE: B
GREEN BAY PACKERS: The Packers remain perennial NFC title contenders, despite taking a small step backward on both sides of the ball last season. The team's pass rush was solely dependent upon Matthews, while a lack of offensive balance put too much pressure on Rodgers to win consistently from the pocket. The selection of Jones addresses the former concern; he's a hybrid interior pass rusher with the capacity to produce eight to ten sacks working against guards at the point of attack. He can team with Matthews to create an imposing one-two punch on various stunts and games out of sub-package fronts (think of what Justin Smith and Aldon Smith do with the San Francisco 49ers). On the offensive side, meanwhile, running backs Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin could give the Packers a pair of weapons to feature in one- and two-back formations. Lacy, in particular, could be the rugged workhorse the Packers have been looking for since Ryan Grant's heyday. Oh, and don't forget about potential sleeper pick J.C. Tretter. The former Cornell star has all of the tools to develop into a solid starter on the offensive line. GRADE: B
MINNESOTA VIKINGS: The Vikings pulled off an unlikely triple play by landing three elite prospects in the first round -- the result of GM Rick Spielman's ability to cleverly manipulate the draft board. Sharrif Floyd is a disruptive interior defender capable of manning the point at the 1- and 3-technique positions. He collapses the pocket with force, displaying enough athleticism to get to the quarterback up the gut. Xavier Rhodes is a big, physical corner with the size and athleticism to be effective in a press or Cover 2 scheme. Rhodes' size will encourage the Vikings to line him up against the big-bodied receivers (such as Calvin Johnson and Brandon Marshall) dominating the NFC North. Cordarrelle Patterson is an explosive vertical threat with the speed and burst to blow past defenders on the turf. With Adrian Peterson in the backfield and veteran Greg Jennings functioning as the No. 1 receiver, Patterson should feast on single coverage on the outside. If Patterson can master the go-route, post and comeback, he could wind up leading the NFL in yards per catch as a rookie. GRADE: A+