Tag Archives: NFC North

NFC North Draft Needs

Minnesota Vikings:

Draft Day needs in the Draft: Defensive Tackle and Guard.

Picks in rounds 1, 2, 3, 5, (three in 6) and 7

Source: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images North America

When you look pretty dominant all season long and then get embarrassed in the NFC Championship game, the disappointment will be pretty tough to brush off your shoulders for the coming months.  The Vikings showed no faith in any quarterback that was on their roster last year and let them all go in free agency.  Luckily for them, they won “the Kirk Cousins sweepstakes” so that is one less position to worry about in the draft. Having the 30th overall pick isn’t too sexy of a first round pick, but it also shows that you’re a good team that needs “just a little more” to push them to that next level.  There are some pretty good guards in this draft but they’d need a miracle to land  Quenton Nelson and some of luck for either Will Hernandez or Isaiah Wynn to fall to them at 30.  Texas tackle Connor Williams seems like someone who just may fall to them though.  In the second round, they may land a talent like USC Rasheem Green, who is  a versatile and athletic defensive linemen who can line up at defensive tackle but would probably be best suited attacking from the outsides.  When you’re a good team, you can also afford to be a little cute in the third round, like getting a wide-receiver/special teams threat like Dante Pettis or a guy who is a nice polished receiver like Daesean Hamilton out of Penn State.  Either one of these guys can go in the third or fourth, and with no fourth round pick, the Vikes would have to make up their mind quickly here.  Later in the draft, watch for another sleeper pick in the receiving core like South Florida’s Marquez Valdes-Scantling, or someone to add to their defensive rotation like Ohio State’s Chris Worling.

Detroit Lions:

Draft Day needs: Linebacker, Defensive tackle and Running back

Pick in every round except for the 6th:

Source: Christian Petersen/Getty Images North America

Let’s just be honest when it comes to the Lions: they are mediocre at best.  Sure with a new head coach, comes a newfound optimism, but we all know what Matthew Stafford is (a stat filler, who is praised by the Fantasy Football geeks) and we all know the limitations of their roster.  With the twentieth pick in the first round, their best bet is to go “best player available.” If they are lucky they should be able to get one of tho Alabama alums on their front seven.  Linebacker Rashaan Evans or defensive tackle Da’ron Payne could fill right in and be a day one starter. In the second round they could find themselves an athletic linebacker in South Carolina State’s Darius Leonard.  Offensively they’ve needed a running back since Barry Sanders, and this draft has plenty of them.  The Lions, could maybe hold out until the third or fourth and get themselves a quality back.  Arizona State’s Kalen Ballage is a nice sleeper who could go in that third or fourth round area.  Ballage is a big back (6’2″, 228 lbs) with power, speed and good hands who can prove to be a sleeper for any team in need of a back.  With a defensive minded coach though, he may look at some sleepers on defense in the sixth and seventh rounds like Tre Flowers, safety out of Oklahoma State, Garret Dooley, linebacker out of Wisconsin or Troy Apke, a safety out of Penn State, projected to go late in the draft, but adds some top level speed to the position.

Green Bay Packers:

Draft Day needs: Corner back, guard and tight end

Packers have 12 overall picks (one in each of the first three rounds, two in the fourth, three in the fifth, two in the sixth and two in the seventh)

Source: David Becker/Getty Images North America

The NFL is just dying to help out Aaron Rodgers, so they gave them four compensatory draft picks this season.  Rodgers doesn’t like his organization or his coach much and at this point the two sides seem like a marriage who will stick it out “for the kids.”  With that being said they are, as of now, the second best team in the division and need to compete with top tier teams in this league.  Although the goal with the 14th overall pick should be to take a corner, it might be hard for them to pass up a pass rusher like Marcus Davenport if he is around – but luck may be on their side and they’ll be able to nab the corner out of UCF Mike Hughes or even the safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, who’s versatility all over the secondary and tackling ability would help them from day one.  This is another team that can go running back crazy in the third, fourth or maybe even fifth rounds.  Jimmy Graham has been added to a list of targets for Aaron Rodgers which includes Davante Adams and Randall Cobb, but Cobb at this point is just an overpaid part of this puzzle and adding a wide-out.  The sleeper wide receiver that I see fitting in well with Green Bay is Boise State’s Cedrick Wilson.  He’s a hard worker, with good hands and route running ability.  He’s also a tall receiver with speed who can be a red zone guy AND a deep threat.  The Packers have so many picks, their scouting team must be looking at players like Wilson and even more players like him who are on an even smaller raider with a high upside. . .

Chicago Bears:

Draft Day needs: Offensive Line,  Linebacker, Corner back

Draft Picks: 1, 2, two in round 4, 5, 6 and 7

Source: Scott Cunningham/Getty Images North America

The Bears were the talk of last year’s draft who moved up to get “their guy,” quarterback Mitch Trubisky of UNC.  Mitch didn’t look like a franchise guy last year, but the Bears barely resembled much of a football team in general in 2017.  The Bears addressed their wide-receiver issue by signing Allen Robinson as their new number-one wide-out and they even added Taylor Gabriel and tight end Trey Burton for good measure.  The offensive line seems to always be an issue with the Bears, even when they get it right personnel wise – an injury or two wreck all kinds of havoc. The Bears are hoping and praying they land Quenton Nelson, the Notre Dame guard, who might not only be the best offensive lineman in the draft but one of the drafts best players, over all.  If the Bears don’t land him in the first, they may try to trade back to land either Georgia guard Isaiah Wynn or another Notre Dame talent, the tackle Mike McGlinchey.  Chicago kept themselves busy in the offseason and even signed linebacker Aaron Lynch from the 49ers, but that’s not the “umph” that will help to put this linebacker rotation into the next level.  Much like what was mentioned earlier with the Detroit Lions, Chicago may find themselves looking at South Carolina State’s Darius Leonard or maybe even the freakishly athletic linebacker out of Georgia, Lorenzo Carter.   The Bears will look to get some depth and hopefully some sleeper talent with the corner position, and they may be able to find that in  later rounds with Arizona’s Dane Cruikshank or they may look in their state, Illinois State product Davontae Harris to be more specific.

 

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

Chicago Bears 2015 Preview

To call last year’s 5-11 finish “disappointing” would be one of the more obvious understatements of the year.  The Bears were supposed to have a high-flying, unique, high-scoring offense led by head coach Marc Trestman.  Instead, the Chicago faithful saw a coach that looked over-whelmed, a team that didn’t look interested in playing and a franchise that became an embarrassment to itself.  Ownership called for the heads of head coach Marc Trestman and general manager Phil Emery and replaced them with veteran coach John Fox and hired Ryan Pace, who is now the NFL’s youngest general manager.   It is up to Fox and Pace to rebuild a broken franchise and rebuild the trust between the team and it’s fans.

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A lot of people are surprised to see that Jay Cutler is still the quarterback of the Chicago Bears, but the truth is – his price tag is too much to move him or cut him.   Despite all the negativity spewed in Cutler’s direction he still managed to throw for over 3,800 yards and 28 touchdowns, while finishing with the best completion percentage of his career at 66%.   Cutler’s eighteen interceptions are a combination of carelessness, poor route running and usually playing from behind last season.  It’s been said before and it will be said again – this is Cutler’s “make it or break it” year.  The organization doesn’t seem to be one-hundred percent behind the gun-slinger QB, so it’s up to Cutler to cut down on his mistakes and surprise some folks.  He still has the arm strength and athletic ability at the quarterback position that many of the league’s so called “elite” do not.

Most see Matt Forte as a hardcore, do it all back.  It’s true – if we’re talking about fantasy football standards.  Forte finished with 1,038 yards rushing and an incredible 808 yards receiving last year but at 3.9 yard a rush, it’s apparent he isn’t the back he once was.  Forte, of late has been average at best as a pass blocker and his ability to break tackles has gotten worse over the years.  There is a lot of wear and tear on Forte so expect coach John Fox to use three backs often.  The new coaching staff seems to like sophomore back Ka’Deem Carey who is more of the bruiser back, while rookie Jeremy Langford out of Michigan State is the speedster back.  Langford ran a forty time of 4.4. and like Forte, doesn’t break many tackles, but unlike Forte – has youthful legs that haven’t been ran into the ground yet.

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The Bears traded Brandon Marshall to the NY Jets, which leaves a void in the Bears wide receiver depth chart.  Physically, Marshall provided a great blocking receiver and one of the more difficult wide outs to cover “one on one.”  Marshall’s attitude and “out spoken” nature made him dispensable to the Bears’ eyes so that leaves it up to Alshon Jeffrey to take over as the number one guy.  Jeffrey locates the ball in the air better than most, but his route running is still a question.  He has a ‘lazy’ approach to football, which will eventually land him in Fox’s doghouse; and without Brandon Marshall on the other side of Jeffrey, who knows how effective he’ll be all season long.  At the present time, it looks like the Bears will be without their first round draft pick, wide receiver Kevin White out of West Virginia.  White has everything it takes to be a top receiver in this league, but because of a shin injury, the Bears will be lucky to see him anytime after week seven (if at all).   Eddie Royal was acquired free agency and was dealing with a hip injury in the pre-season, the hope is, to rekindle the chemistry he had with Cutler back in their Denver Broncos days.  Tight End Martellus Bennett was amazing last year, but his off-season rumblings about the organization and some comments aimed directly at quarterback Jay Cutler show that he isn’t too happy with his current situation.  The Bears patience with Marquess Wilson may be running thin as he was battling a hamstring injury most of pre-season.

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The offensive line is a unit seemingly headed in the right direction but Jordan Mills needs to tighten up at right tackle.  Mills’ head just doesn’t seem to be in the game sometimes and gets beat out by quicker defensive ends pretty quickly.  Most Bears fans expect guard Kyle Long to be moved to tackle one day, but Long is arguably the best player on the roster, so there is no real reason to move him out of the guard position.  Long has two Pro Bowl appearances to match his two years he’s been in the league – there is no reason to doubt his ability to be a pro-bowler for the next 7-8 years.  The Bears drafted Oregon Duck Hroniss Grasu in the third-round of this year’s draft and although it appears he won’t be starting right away, the Bears love his quickness and awareness at the position, so if veteran Will Montgomery slips up, Grasu will be put in with no hesitation.  Jermon Bushrod has been a slight disappointment since his arrival to Chicago but is still a top-ten left tackle in the league.

Defensively the Bears are shifting to a 3-4 scheme, orchestrated by one of the more aggressive defensive coordinators in football Vic Fangio.  While with the 49ers, Fangio 3-4 attack was one of the best in the league, unfortunately for Fangio, he does not have anywhere near the talent on this Bears team as he did in San Fran.  The Bears acquired linebacker Mason Foster in March of 2015 and he did not even make the final 53 man roster in Chicago.  Surprisingly enough, veteran Jared Allen who is converting from defensive lineman to linebacker did as well as Willie Young who is recovering from an Achilles injury he suffered last season.  If Young is able to use his athleticism to his advantage he may be able to get back to racking up another ten sacks as he did last year.  Jon Bostic was the team leader with 127 tackles last season.  The Bears have a lot of depth at linebacker with Pernell McPhee and Lamaar Houston, who is looking to impress after a disappointing season last year.  For some reason Shea McClellin stays on this Bears roster. . .

Rookie Eddie Goldman will man the nose-tackle position in the Bears’ 3-4 attack.  He looks the role of a prototypical nose-tackle and was a good run-stopper while at Florida State.  Last year the Bears drafted Ego Ferguson in the second-round and it looks like they will move him from the tackle spot over to the defensive end spot.  Ferguson is a good athlete but there has to be patience with his learning curve at the position.

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With the departure of long-time Bear and fan-favorite Charles Tillman, the Bears went to free agency to find a veteran to help lead this secondary.  They found one in former New York Giants safety Antrel Rolle.  Rolle has lost a step and isn’t as effective as he once was, but the formal all-pro will bring a much needed voice into this Bears’ locker room.  Rolle’s patience will be tested as there is a lot of youth around him.  Opposite of Rolle is Brock Vereen who struggled a lot last year and if the sophomore struggles early the Bears will plug in former Penn State Lion Adrian Amos.  Amos is a good ball hawking safety but isn’t the best tackler at the position.  The wild card in this Bears secondary is second-year man Kyle Fuller.  In his rookie season Fuller quickly saw how things can turn in this league.  For the first half of the season he looked like a stud out there but then he quickly found himself out of position and even picked on by other teams.  Fuller has the support of the locker room and this organization still feels he can be a top corner in the league.

The Bears are in an up-hill battle.  With a new philosophy on both sides of the ball and new faces just about everywhere, the Bears will be learning as they go.  All eyes will be on Jay Cutler this season – but then again, they always are and it doesn’t seem to bother him either way.  The Bears start out the season in rough fashion against Green Bay, Arizona and then Seattle – things can get ugly quick in Chicago if they start out 0-3.

Predicted Record: 7-9

Predicted Pro Bowlers: Kyle Long, Jay Cutler, Martellus Bennett

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

Green Bay Packers 2015 Preview

Something has to be said for a team that never spends big bucks on players that aren’t their own.  A team that plays in Wisconsin and somehow still stays popular in the eyes of America’s most popular sport.  And aside from all the majestic allure which is the Green Bay Packers – nobody knows how they they blew a twelve point lead against the Seahawks in the final minutes of the NFC Championship Game.  That has to sting a bit.

For all the credit given to quarterback Aaron Rodgers, there is no denying the genius that is head coach, Mike McCarthy.  McCarthy proves every season that he can re-invent his own offense and find niches in his defense to help keep offenses frustrated at least.  This year McCarthy is taking a step back from his own responsibilities and has given assistant coach Tom Clements play calling duties on offense.  This is a big chance to take considering it has been McCarthy’s vision and insight that has guided one of the best offenses in recent years, but if McCarthy trust Clements, you have to feel it’s for good reason.

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Regardless of who’s calling plays, the camera will always be on Aaron Rodgers.  The league’s reigning MVP does it all, and with a smug smile. . .  His accuracy is tops in the league and his chemistry with his teammates rivals only the Patriots’ Tom Brady.  As much as fans love Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson, one has to question if they would have anything close to the success they have without Rodgers.   Randall Cobb re-signed with the Packers in the off-season and is now part of a receiving core that not only features two-pro bowl caliber players – but maybe three.  Of course it’s still early for the second year man Davante Adams to be considered an all-pro or pro-bowler, but when his number was called, it seemed as if he played like a veteran.  The youngster might be just as confident as Cobb and just as reliable as Nelson when it all comes down to it.

Running back Eddie Lacy had a slow start last season and comparison’s to fellow Alabama running back Trent Richardson were being made prematurely.  Fortunately for the Packers, Lacy turned it up and became the piece this offense needed to ease some of the pressures off of Rodgers.  In front of Lacy is the same offensive line that helped him finish the season with over 1100 rushing yards.  The Packers kept this unit in tact when they re-signed tackle Bryan Buluga.  This is a smart and reactionary unit that Rodgers has all the trust in the world in.

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The part of this offense where Rodgers has zero trust in is tight end.  Andrew Quarless has been around for a while and has never been a difference maker while Richard Rogers has the same collegiate pedigree as Aaron Rodgers, but that and the last name are pretty much all those two have in common.

Defensively, the Packers got lucky with the signing of the veteran Julius Peppers.  Peppers played with trying to prove a point last year and we all got it: He wasn’t finished.  Peppers is on the latter side of 35 and realistically, expecting the same intensity all season long from the veteran should be done with caution.  Clay Matthews is the “Aaron Rodgers” of this defense, as the camera seems to never stray to far from the linebacker.  Coach McCarthy shifted him from outside to insider linebacker last season and it seemed to generate more of a pass rush (as McCarthy figured it would).  AJ Hawk is now in Cincinnati, which makes the inevitable move of Sam Barrington taking Hawk’s job, a little less uncomfortable.

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Tramon Williams left Green Bay for a paycheck but Sam Shields and Casey Heyward figure to be the one-two guys at cornerback position this year, although Michah Hyde may slip out of nickel and into one of those one-two spots to the surprise of nobody.  Ha-Ha Clinton Dix played his rookie season with a few mental lapses at the safety spot, but his upside is what keeps this team optimistic.  Dix plays out of position usually thinking too much or trying to make a big hit/play, but he’ll realize that the game will eventually just come to him.  Morgan Burnett splits the safeties with Dix, but the Packers might be telling Burnett to keep that spot warm until mid-season for rookie safety Damarious Randall.  The Arizona State product has great hands and is a high impact tackler who isn’t afraid of coming down to the line of scrimmage and make a play.

The Packers should not see a drop off in offensive production because it’s the same squad returning.  Tom Clements knows well enough to not get cute and let this machine operate on it’s own.  Defensively, they may be weak on the defensive line, but expect coordinator Dom Capers to throw in a lot of pressure from his aggressive safeties.

Predicted Record: 10-6

Predicted Pro Bowlers: Aaron Rodgers, Ha-Ha Clinton Dix, Eddie Lacy, Jordy Nelson

G.W. Gras

Twitter @GeeSteelio

Detroit Lions 2015 Preview

It seemed like yesterday that the Detroit Lions were supposed to be turning the fortunes of their franchise around and giving the Motor City a contender.  Now it seems like they are  learning how to gradually get expectations back down to reality.  The hire of Jim Caldwell was received with mostly positive feedback, but that’s because he was replacing Jim Schwartz.  That’s the equivalent of moving from tap water to bottled water.  Not saying Caldwell didn’t keep his players in line better than Schwartz did, but he doesn’t exactly sell you on being the head coach to turn a team’s fortune’s around.

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The Lions lost N’damukong Suh and Nick Fairley in the off-season.  They expected Suh to sign for the big bucks elsewhere (and he did, with Miami) but they also thought they have a more-than-good-chance at re-signing Fairley.  The Lions have proven veteran Haloti Ngata now, but he can’t fill the void left by Suh, let alone Suh and Fairley. Something has to be said about Ngata no longer being on the Ravens as well.  Teams like the Ravens, Steelers and Patriots, do their homework and never get emotional with their players.  If they feel like they can part with somebody – there has to be a reason behind it.  Steven Tulloch returns this season at linebacker and will play alongside the equally aggressive DeAndre Levy.  Levy and Tulloch will be relied on a lot in blitz packaging now more than ever with the losses to their line.

This defense’s one true pass rusher and star is defensive end Ziggy Ansah.  Ansah is 6’5″ and two hundred and seventy eight pounds of pure athlete.  His quickness and strength at the line are amongst the best in the league but this could be a season which frustrates the young star, who will see double teams every week and on almost every down.

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The secondary was celebrated last year, especially safety James Ihedigbo who lead the NFL with seven interceptions.  Once again, because of the strength lost at that defensive line, expect teams to not be scared and to even run deeper routes against a team that for years never gave the quarterback time to do so.

Even on the offensive side, the “trenches” are a place for concern.  It wasn’t good last year and that is one area in football that you don’t just flip and become great at in one off-season.  The guard position may be their only dependable spots and that comes in the form of mostly unknown Larry Warford and rookie Laken Tomlinson out of Duke.

The running game is always just a weird situation in Detroit and this year they have the incumbent starter in Joique Bell but behind him are rookie Ameer Abdullah and Theo Reddick who showed some flashes last year.  Abdullah gets a lot of fan fare for running for over 1600 yards in his final season at Nebraska but the truth is, his smallish frame has had over 750 carries in the last three years, while having suspect hands and being a risk in pass protection.  He tore the lid off of defenses like Florida Atlantic, Illinois and Rutgers but looked human, or even average against the likes of Michigan State, Wisconsin and USC.

Calvin Johnson is getting as much hype before a season as he usually does, but he is still regarded as a top three wide-out in every conversation.  Johnson had some durability issues last year but thanks to the acquisition of Golden Tate, the offense always had a game breaker at the wide receiver position last season.  It was good to see Tate go off like he did, not only for himself but also because it forced Matthew Stafford to rely on somebody else other than Johnson.

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Quarterback Matthew Stafford has been given weapons around him every season, but it’s something about him and not what’s around him that turns people off from this Detroit offense.  His accuracy is suspect and his decision making makes some of the NFL’s most classic gunslingers scratch their collective heads.  One of the pieces they brought along with Tate last year was rookie tight end Eric Ebron, but for the lack of productivity he provided it could’ve been Zac Efron out there and nobody would’ve noticed.  Ebron struggled with blocking assignments, route running and getting on the same page with Stafford, which isn’t exactly easy to do anyway.  Ebron is in a fortunate position in this offenses passing game and needs to step up quickly or the team will look to Ryan Broyles or newly acquired free agent receiver Lance Moore to become the third wheel in this passing game.

Predicted Record: 6-10

Predicted Pro Bowlers: Ziggy Ansah, Calvin Johnson

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

Minnesota Vikings 2015 Preview

In his first year as head coach, Mike Zimmer was left thinking “What if?”

What if, Adrian Peterson was able to play more than one game?

What if, the Vikings started Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback from day one?

The Vikings finished the season 7-9, but four of those losses came at a point differential of three points or less.  Most Vikings fans look at the last five games the Vikings played though and consider optimism.  They went 3-2 and rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater seemed to get better every week.

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This season Bridgewater gets the help he didn’t have last year with the return of running back Adrian Peterson starting in the backfield.  Peterson has earned the right for people not to doubt his abilities, no matter the wear and tear or age of the veteran running back.   Last season Jerrick McKinnon and Matt Asiata, filled in admirably splitting carries in Peterson’s absence, but let’s be serious – Peterson can do the work of three running backs on a team.   The addition of Peterson, should only be a positive for the even-keeled Bridgewater.  Offensive coordinator Norv Turner must be thrilled because of Peterson returning and a full off-season for tight end Kyle Rudolph to recover from nagging injuries that have plagued him the last two years.

Rudolph would benefit greatly  in a well balanced Norv Turner offense, but the questions come from the threats on the outside.  The Vikings acquired Mike Wallace from Miami, who was pretty much a bust for the Dolphins.  Wallace provides a deep threat but not much else.  The Vikings seem like they got a bust in their own in Cordaralle Patterson, who currently is fourth on the depth chart.  Patterson has all the physical tools, but seemingly lacks the focus and heart (some would say) to be anything more than a big kick returner.  The Vikings return their best receiver from last year Charles Johnson, who started the season on the Cleveland Browns practice squad, so. . . there’s that. . .

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The offensive line might be a continuous work in progress during the season which should bring some cause for concern.  The younger players on the line David Yankey (left guard) and Matt Kalil (left tackle) must show that they can hang in this league or they might be rotation players at best.  Kalil came in with high hopes from USC in 2012 and was looked on as a player who can protect the blindside on this team for a decade.  This might be his last chance.

Defensively the Vikings have veterans up front, who bought into coach Mike Zimmer’s defensive scheme and by mid-season were able to put it all together.  Linval Jospeh left the bright lights of New York to come play for Minnesota at about $3.5 million a year and it worked out for both sides.  Last year the Vikings drafted linebacker  Anthony Barr out of UCLA in the first round and this season they supplied him a reunion of sorts by drafting his teammate out of UCLA Eric Kendricks.  The familiarity between the two athletic linebackers is something to keep an eye on as they both grow in Zimmer’s defense.

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There is a lot to like in the secondary of this defense.  Last year, as a rookie Antoine Exum was adamant about not wanting to convert from corner back to safety, but this year it looks like the he will be playing safety alongside Harrison Smith who has a motor that doesn’t stop.  Reports from Vikings camp has been that the staff is very pleased at the leap in maturity Exum has taken.  In front of the safeties are two first round picks at corner back.  Xavier Rhodes (2013) and Trae Waynes (this year’s eleventh pick).  Waynes will probably start at nickel corner and battle for that second spot with veteran Captain Munnerlin.  If Rhodes is a quick learner, this is the kind of secondary that can cover a lot of ground against even the best passing attacks in the league.

Everyone knew, Mike Zimmer was a great hire for Minnesota when they made the change last year.   He says all the right things publicly and has veterans and rookies buying into his philosophies.  The defense should be fine this year while the offense is going to need a lot of help from  that offensive line.  Although having Peterson back is great, Bridewater is going to need one of these receivers to become his go-to-guy.

Predicted Record: 9-7

Predicted Pro Bowlers: Xavier Rhodes, Harrison Smith, Adrian Peterson

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio