Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The 2012 NFC North draft – six months on

The Minnesota Vikings are a 5-3 team that has either a) overachieved and will surprisingly challenge for a playoff spot this season or b) is the beneficiary of a weak schedule and set to crash to earth in the final eight games.

Whatever team the Vikings might be (last week against Tampa Bay, they looked like the latter), the Vikings wouldn't be where they are right now without getting some strong play from the 2012 draft class. The consensus is the general manager Rick Speilman had a great draft – his first where he had the final say on who the Vikings selected.

Just for fun, and because the halfway mark of the season is typically the time to assess these kinds of things, I figured I'd look at the draft picks of all four NFC North teams and see who has gotten the best production out of their draft class. What follows is a listing of each draft pick for every NFC North team, plus any relevant statistics those players have compiled.

Green Bay Packers
Nick Perry LB: (1st round) 18 tackles, two sacks
Jerel Worthy DT: (2nd round) Nine tackles, two sacks
Casey Hayward DB: (2nd round) 25 tackles, four ints
Mike Daniels DT: (4th round) three tackles, one sack
Jerron McMillian S: (4th round) 10 tackles, one int
Terrell Manning LB: (5th round) one tackle, inactive for six games
Andrew Datko OT: (7th round) Cut
B.J. Coleman QB: (7th round) Cut

View from the peanut gallery:  Hayward could be a future star.  With a nose for the ball, he fits right in as a balhawk on a Dom Capers defense that wants turnovers. Perry is the only starter of the bunch, but Hayward, Worthy, McMillan and Daniels have all played ample snaps. The new blood is one reason why the Packers have the eighth-best defense as per Football Outsiders' latest DVOA rankings one year after the Pack had the 25th ranked defense according to DVOA. Overall, Packers GM Ted Thompson has done a pretty good job restocking the defensive cupboard.

Chicago Bears 
Shea McClellin DE: (1st round) eight tackles, 2.5 sacks
Alshon Jeffery WR: (2nd round) 14 catches, 184 yards, 13.1 ypc, 2 TDs, out with a broken hand until week 11
Brandon Hardin S: (3rd round) Placed on injured reserve during the preseason with a neck injury
Evan Rodriguez FB: (4th round) A converted tight end, Rodriguez serves the same role as Vikings fullback Jerome Felton - battering ram who never touches the ball
Isaiah Frey CB: (6th round) Cut
Greg McCoy CB: (7th round) Cut

View from the peanut gallery:  McClellin has been fine as a guy who comes in on passing downs for the Bears. Jeffrey was flashing big play potential until he broke his right hand against Jacksonville. The rest of the draft isn't really worth writing about. But remember the Bears used two third round picks (one of them a 2012 draft pick) to trade for wide receiver Brandon Marshall. All he's done is catch 50 passes for 675 yards and four touchdowns. Not many third-round draft picks will give you that kind of production.

Detroit Lions
Riley Reiff OT: (1st round) Has mostly served as a blocking tight end
Ryan Broyles WR: (2nd round) six catches, 88 yards, two TDs
Bill Bentley CB: (3rd round) 15 tackles
Ronnell Lewis LB: (4th round) two tackles
Tahir Whitehead LB: (5th round) four tackles
Chris Greenwood CB: (5th round)
Jonte Green CB: (6th round) four tackles, one sack
Travis Lewis LB: (7th round) one tackles

View from the peanut gallery: No Detroit draft picks have made an impact so far. Reiff hasn't been able to beat out left tackle Jeff Backus or right tackle Gosder Cherilus. Broyles looked decent the past two games, but now the Lions have traded for WR Mike Thomas, which could cut into Broyles' playing time. Bentley is currently injured and was last seen being flagged for two PI penalties against the Vikings Jerome Simpson. The other five picks are just guys right now.

Minnesota Vikings
Matt Kalil OT: (1st round) Starter since day one of training camp
Harrison Smith S: (1st round) 45 tackles, one int, one forced fumble, one TD
Josh Robinson CB: (3rd round) 31 tackles, one int
Jarius Wright WR: (4th round) Inactive for all eight games
Rhett Ellison TE: (4th round) four catches, 56 yards 
Greg Childs WR: (4th round) Placed on injured reserve during training camp after tearing patellar tendons in both legs.
Robert Blanton S: (5th round) six tackles
Blair Walsh K: (6th round) 17-18 on field goals, four-for-four from 50 yards or more
Audie Cole LB: (7th round)
Trevor Guyton DT: (7th round) Cut

View from the peanut gallery: Probably not much need to go over what these 10 picks have done (or haven't done) for the Vikings. The only disappointing picks here are Wright and Childs – two rookie WRs who haven't improved a very weak crew of Vikings receivers (Childs because of injury and Wright because of performance).  

If I had to judge which NFC North's team's draft has been the least productive after eight games, the Lions win hands down. Some of their rookies might help Detroit win on Sunday's in the future, but they aren't helping right now.

The Bears draft comes in ahead of Detroit's because Shea McClellin actually plays a lot for a deep Bears defensive line. Plus, Chicago used draft chips to acquire Brandon Marshall.

Green Bay's draft has provided strong returns for a defense that needed an influx of talent. Hayward has the most notable stat – the four interceptions – yet fellow rookies Worthy, Daniels, Perry and McMillan have all helped make the Packers defense a better one in 2012.

However, I still would give the Vikings draft the edge over Green Bay's right now (perhaps this is where my Vikings bias gets in the way). I'd say Hayward and Smith cancel each other out - in terms of their level of play, I realize they play different positions. The same holds true for Robinson and McMillan. Kalil's pass blocking alone has greatly improved a sorry Vikings offensive line and I think he's been more of an asset to Minnesota than Worthy and Perry have been to the Packers. The pick that tips the draft in Minnesota's favor for me is Blair Walsh. With his kickoffs that lead to touchbacks and his accurate and strong leg, the Vikings special teams has taken a huge step forward in 2012 compared to 2011.

The Packers have five 2012 draft picks contributing to the team's 5-3 record. The Vikings have five contributing to their 5-3 start (I'll include Ellison in the five). I just think the Vikes have gotten a bit more out of their five.


  1. With weaknesses in the secondary,on the o-line, at kicker and at WR, the Vikings did well to address all four and hit on three of those.

    Wright has been a disappointment so far, but I viewed him as Percy depth anyway. Childs is the heart-breaker. If he would've been awesome and Simpson would've hit his potential (woulda coulda shoulda) MN ought to be sitting at 7-1 right now.

    A few more drafts like this though and the Vikings could become a very consistent 10-win team.

    1. Peter:

      Spielman has been criticized for the dud drafts he oversaw with Miami in the early 2000s, so it's encouraging to see the early returns from the first draft where he was making the final decisions. Lots of weaknesses to strengthen yet, though.