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NFC North draft grades: Packers did WHAT?! Vikes, Lions shine

Why provide instant grades on the selections of prospects who have yet to take an NFL snap? Well, you're reading this, aren't you? Considering the makeup of every roster and the factors surrounding each pick, Gennaro Filice and Dan Parr attempt a division-by-division assessment of the 2020 NFL Draft. Keep in mind that these grades are based on draft hauls alone -- picks traded for veteran players were not taken into account. Below is Gennaro's review of the NFC North.


BEST PICK: Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU
Minnesota Vikings, Round 1, No. 22 overall

Locked up through 2023 at an average annual salary of $14.4 million, Stefon Diggs presents nice value at the receiver position. But clearly, he was unhappy in Minnesota, as evidenced by a series of social-media shade throws and sideline tantrums. So general manager Rick Spielman sent the route artisan to Buffalo for a bushel of picks, including the No. 22 overall selection used to acquire Jefferson. Now the Vikings have a polished route runner locked up through 2023 (with an option for 2024) at an average annual salary of approximately $3.3 million. That is making the best of a bad situation. Take notes, Bill O'Brien.

MOST SURPRISING PICK: Jordan Love, QB, Utah State
Green Bay Packers, Round 1, No. 26 overall

Yes, Love's name was loosely connected to the Pack at times in the exhausting pre-draft process. But anyone who tells you they truly saw this coming -- via trade-up in Round 1, no less -- also claims to own original Apple stock (barren bank account be damned). Aaron Rodgers is technically just beginningthe four-year extension he originally signed back in the summer of 2018. At age 36, the quarterback has regressed some from Apex A-Rodge. But let's not pack dirt on his grave quite yet. Rodgers is fresh off an eighth Pro Bowl season where he posted a 26:4 TD-to-INT ratio and led a 13-3 team to the NFC title game. Everyone expected the Packers to significantly upgrade Rodgers' weaponry this offseason. Instead, they signed Devin Funchess to a one-year prove-it deal in free agency before adding a 247-pound running back and a power-blocking H-back in the draft. Oh, and a quarterback of the future. Yeah, let's talk about Love, as it's his name atop this blurb. What is Green Bay getting in the Utah State product? An extremely polarizing prospect. Some compare his natural arm talent to that of Patrick Mahomes. (Nice!) Our own Lance Zierlein comped him to Blake Bortles. (Oof.) Have fun with that quarterback room, Matt LaFleur!

BIGGEST SLEEPER: Julian Okwara, Edge, Notre Dame
Detroit Lions, Round 3, No. 67 overall

It feels quite strange to talk positively about a broken leg, but from the Lions' perspective, Julian's fibula fracture this past November is what allowed Detroit to reunite the Okwara brothers at the reasonable cost of a third-round pick. If the younger Okwara hadn't suffered that injury in a blowout win over Duke, he could have made a strong push for Round 1, especially in this underwhelming crop of edge rushers. And again, not to downplay a broken leg, but ... that's an injury that typically doesn't spawn as much long-term concern as tears to some of the human body's more delicate ligaments and tendons. Checking in at 6-foot-4 and 252 pounds, Julian's far more athletic and explosive than brother Romeo. Combining impressive bend with a strong bull rush, this QB hunter could be just what the doctor ordered in Detroit. After all, only the Dolphins finished last season with fewer sacks than Matt Patricia's Lions.


NOTE: Draft classes are ranked from best to worst within the division.

Minnesota Vikings
RANK: 1 · 2019 RECORD: 10-6-0

» Round 1: (No. 22 overall) Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU; (31) Jeff Gladney, CB, TCU.

» Round 2: (58) Ezra Cleveland, OT, Boise State.

» Round 3: (89) Cameron Dantzler, CB, Mississippi State.

» Round 4: (117) D.J. Wonnum, Edge, South Carolina; (130) James Lynch, Edge, Baylor; (132) Troy Dye, LB, Oregon.

» Round 5: (169) Harrison Hand, CB, Temple; (176) K.J. Osborn, WR, Miami (Fla.).

» Round 6: (203) Blake Brandel, OG, Oregon State; (205) Josh Metellus, S, Michigan.

» Round 7: (225) Kenny Willekes, Edge, Michigan State; (244) Nate Stanley, QB, Iowa; (249) Brian Cole II, S, Mississippi State; (253) Kyle Hinton, OG, Washburn.

Since he started running Minnesota's drafts back in 2007, Rick Spielman has impressively drafted 16 Pro Bowlers. Still, his past few prospect hauls haven't proven nearly as fruitful as the glory classes of 2015 and prior. Consequently, we've seen an uptick in heat on the GM's seat. Prior to January's Wild Card Weekend upset of the Saints, Spielman received a public vote of confidence from Vikings owner Mark Wilf. But the fact remains that the GM's contract -- like that of head coach Mike Zimmer -- is set to expire after the 2020 season. So this sure feels like a make-or-break draft class for Spielman. At this moment -- days after the picks were made and long before anyone's set to take a real, live NFL snap -- I think Rick nailed it. And not just because he made half the picks in the entire draft. (OK, 15 to be exact.) The Vikings' first three selections could very well produce three Day 1 starters. Jefferson replaces Stefon Diggs opposite Adam Thielen in the receiving corps, while Gladney and veteran CB Mike Hughes will hit the starting lineup following the departures of Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes. Cleveland might claim the tackle slot opposite Brian O'Neill, kicking Riley Reiff inside to guard and giving Minnesota the most athletic bookend duo in the league -- a highly enticing possibility, given how much the Vikings' outside-zone scheme relies on OL mobility. One Day 3 pick to keep an eye on is Dye. A long, athletic linebacker with legit coverage chops, the 6-foot-3 231-pounder led Oregon in tackles during each of the past four seasons. He might be limited to special teams duty in Year 1, but don't be surprised if Dye eventually joins Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr in the starting lineup, giving the Vikes a versatile linebacking corps ideally suited to the modern game.

Detroit Lions
RANK: 2 · 2019 RECORD: 3-12-1

» Round 1: (No. 3 overall) Jeff Okudah, CB, Ohio State.

» Round 2: (35) D'Andre Swift, RB, Georgia.

» Round 3: (67) Julian Okwara, Edge, Notre Dame; (75) Jonah Jackson, OG, Ohio State.

» Round 4: (121) Logan Stenberg, OG, Kentucky.

» Round 5: (166) Quintez Cephus, WR, Wisconsin; (172) Jason Huntley, RB, New Mexico State.

» Round 6: (197) John Penisini, DT, Utah.

» Round 7: (235) Jashon Cornell, DT, Ohio State.

After spending months broadcasting across the universe that the Lions were open for business at No. 3, GM Bob Quinn ended up keeping the pick and taking the right player. Considering need, positional value, scheme fit and talent of the actual prospect, the Okudah selection was completely/appropriately predictable. The same cannot be said about Detroit's second-rounder. Despite the fact that the Lions haven't finished in the top half of the league in rushing offense since Barry Sanders' retirement last millennium, Detroit was rarely mentioned as a potential landing spot for Swift. Perhaps because this same Lions regime aggressively targeted Kerryon Johnson via second-round trade-up just two years ago. Or maybe it was all that presumptuous pre-draft chatter about Swift being the only first-round back in this class. Once that designation actually applied to Clyde Edwards-Helaire on draft night, though, and Swift fell into the second round, the Lions pounced. As you can surmise by the grade atop this blurb, I'm not here to lecture anyone about the folly of spending valuable draft currency on a running back. In fact, I applaud this pick. Johnson, who has a lengthy injury history going back to his Auburn days, has missed nearly half the games in his two NFL seasons. And while Bo Scarbrough was a pleasant surprise down the stretch of a lost season, let's not pretend his 4.2 yards per carry portended future stardom. With all due respect to Pro Bowl wideout Kenny Golladay, this offensive roster isn't exactly bursting at the seams with electric playmakers. Swift brings exciting juice to the run and pass games. Early in Round 3, Quinn attempted to fill a void that's marred Patricia's defense two years running: edge rush. In a draft class light on top-end sack artists, Okwara could end up as a third-round coup. Quinn and Patricia also continued their passion project of rebuilding the offensive line with a pair of mid-round guards: one who specializes in pass blocking (Jackson) and one who belligerently mauls opponents in the ground game (Stenberg).

Chicago Bears
RANK: 3 · 2019 RECORD: 8-8

» Round 2: (No. 43 overall) Cole Kmet, TE, Notre Dame; (50) Jaylon Johnson, CB, Utah.

» Round 5: (155) Trevis Gipson, Edge, Tulsa; (163) Kindle Vildor, CB, Georgia Southern; (173) Darnell Mooney, WR, Tulane.

» Round 7: (226) Arlington Hambright, OG, Colorado; (227) Lachavious Simmons, OG, Tennessee State.

Chicago throwing a two-year, $16 million deal at over-the-hill TE Jimmy Graham was one of the bigger head-scratchers in free agency. And then Ryan Pace turned around and spent the team's top pick on Kmet, adding a 10th tight end(!) to the Bears' roster. Chicago waived Dax Raymond on Monday, bringing the TE clown car's occupancy back to single-digit passengers, but what's going on here? Are the Bears trying to exorcise the demons of the Greg Olsen trade? Publicly trolling Mike Martz? Cornering the TE market in a fantasy draft? How about using the No. 43 overall pick to address a true offensive need on the line? Seven picks later, Pace did home in on the defense's biggest void -- cornerback -- with the selection of Johnson. Given his alluring mix of physical traits, ball skills and cerebral play, the Utah corner might be a steal at No. 50 overall. Then again, Johnson was only available there because he's fresh off his third shoulder surgery. In the fifth round, Chicago took a couple swings at small-school speedsters -- a CB in Vildor (4.44 40-yard dash) and a WR in Mooney (4.38) -- and Pace has a nice track record of finding talent in the middle rounds (SEE: Eddie Jackson, Adrian Amos, Nick Kwiatkoski, Tarik Cohen and Jordan Howard). The sixth-year GM needs some hits in this draft class, or else the Halas McCaskey fam could hit the eject button.

Green Bay Packers
RANK: 4 · 2019 RECORD: 13-3-0

» Round 1: (No. 26 overall) Jordan Love, QB, Utah State.

» Round 2: (62) AJ Dillon, RB, Boston College.

» Round 3: (94) Josiah Deguara, TE, Cincinnati.

» Round 5: (175) Kamal Martin, LB, Minnesota.

» Round 6: (192) Jon Runyan, OG, Michigan; (208) Jake Hanson, C, Oregon; (209) Simon Stepaniak, OG, Indiana.

» Round 7: (236) Vernon Scott, DB, TCU; (242) Jonathan Garvin, Edge, Miami (Fla.).

Palace intrigue in Titletown!

By now, you've heard all the juicy anecdotes surrounding Green Bay's stunning, STOP-THE-PRESSES selection of Love. But let's quickly review, because the drama here runs thick:

-- On draft day, Aaron Rodgers shared his Round 1 wishes with former punter/current sports talker Pat McAfee: "We haven't picked a skill player in the first round in 15 years, so that would be kind of cool." The Packers responded by ... trading up to draft his eventual replacement.
-- Of Rodgers' 364 career touchdown passes, exactly one has landed in the hands of a first-round pick. ( A 1-yard toss this past December to Marcedes Lewis, a former first-round pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars.)
-- Supreme Packers scribe Bob McGinn offered his thoughts on the sitch in a piece on The Athletic after the draft: _Public niceties aside, my sense is (head coach Matt) LaFleur, fresh from a terrific 13-3 baptismal season, simply had enough of Rodgers' act and wanted to change the narrative. With a first-round talent on the roster, the _Packers_ would gain leverage with their imperial quarterback and his passive-aggressive style.
-- Supreme Packers icon Brett Favre offered his thoughts on the sitch in an appearance on the Rich Eisen Show after a conversation with Rodgers: " Tom Brady, and myself, Joe Montana and Peyton Manning, just to name a few, finished their career elsewhere. ... I think you're going to see that trend more and more, and I think Aaron will finish somewhere else."

Well alright! Now, to Rodgers' credit, Love said the two-time league MVP reached out to him on Friday to offer congratulations. Good on Rodgers. But you have to imagine he's absolutely livid right now -- and it's hard to blame him. The Pack spent their second-round pick on a hulking power back and their third-rounder on an H-back, while failing to snag a single receiver in a draft class that's purportedly historically deep at the position. Is Green Bay becoming ... a run-first operation? When you add everything up, it's impossible not to be utterly obsessed with the ...

Palace intrigue in Titletown!

Follow Gennaro Filice on Twitter @GennaroFilice.

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