The draft and free agency are over and the NFC North teams addressed most of their needs. There are some remaining and some future needs that may arise in 2018 due to expiring contracts. Let’s take a look at the weak areas remaining for each NFC North team.
The Packers added three running backs in the draft but none were great prospects selected in Round 4 or later. Green Bay still has a need for a workhorse back unless rookie Jamaal Williams or Aaron Jones surprises with strong play early. It has been done before with other late round backs but it’s still the exception and not the norm. Ty Montgomery is Green Bay’s best back but he is not a work horse back ready for 200+ carries. Green Bay doesn’t have much experience after cutting Christine Michael.
The Packers drafted Kevin King at pick 33 and brought back Davon House in free agency. However, Green Bay still does not have a number 1 cornerback (Shield cut) unless someone steps up out of the struggling players of Damarius Randall or Quentin Rollins. Both second year players in 2016 had some injuries but struggled before the injuries hit while filling in for Sam Shields (concussion). Ted Thompson hopes one or both make a jump in year 3 and can step into the top CB role. King is a nice prospect but won’t be ready as a rookie to be a number 1 CB. Maybe down the line King could step into that role but he has a lot to prove as a rookie. Gunter really struggled and should be the 4th or 5th CB again alongside Davon House. Green Bay just doesn’t have the shut-down cornerback. If Randall or Rollins struggle again and King plays like a rookie, it will be a long year in pass defense again for the Packers faithful.
Jake Ryan and Blake Martinez are decent young players but they need to step up in big roles at ILB. If they don’t take that next step, Green Bay’s defense will continue to struggle. Joe Thomas is adequate but not a good backup ILB.
Clay Matthews had a terrible 2016 season plus seems to always deal with injuries. Clay must figure out how to regain his old form or the Packers pass rush will take a hit after losing Julius Peppers in free agency. The Packers have some depth in Kyle Fackrell (3rd round 2016), Jayrone Elliot and rookie 4th round pick Vince Biegel. Those players can replace Datone Jones; however, those new backups have big shoes to fill for Julius Peppers. Julius Peppers was still productive for any age and played many snaps for Green Bay.
Future Interior Offensive Line
Jahri Evans is a nice stop gap at right guard but signed only a one year deal. Lane Taylor and Corey Linsley’s contracts both are set to expire after 2017. Green Bay drafted Kofi Amichia in Round 6 as a guard/center depth to replace JC Tretter (Browns) but there is still a future hole at every single interior spot for the Packers in 2017. Jason Spriggs or Kyle Murphy may kick inside to guard down the line but they are needed for tackle depth.
The Lions didn’t add a defensive end until Round 6 of the 2017 draft. Ziggy Ansah is healthy which is a huge boost for Detroit’s pass rush after a down injured year (ankle). However, Kerry Hyder (7 sacks), Cornelius Washington (2 sacks), Armonty Bryant (3 sacks) and Anthony Zettel (1 sack) have a lot to prove at defensive end.
Rookies Jeremiah Ledbetter (6th round DT/DE) and Pat O’Connor (7th round) may be only practice squad players for 2017 unless they can beat out Anthony Zettel. Hyder was solid in 2016 but came out of nowhere. He must repeat that in 2017.
Washington is very athletic and didn’t fit the Bears 3-4 scheme at DE but doesn’t have the production. Washington was injured all of 2015 season too. We’ll see if a change of scenario benefits Washington. Bryant had 3 sacks in 5 games but was injured and dealt with a suspension in 2016. Bryant is more of situational pass rusher for the Lions but does have some pass rush upside. Finally, Zettel showed some flashes as a rookie in 2016 but has trouble setting the edge at De in the run game.
Detroit must find more of a pass rush than in 2016. Better coverage from the back 7 will create more time and coverage sacks but Hyder, Washington and Bryant need to be average at least. Hyder (exclusive rights), Bryant, and Ansah are all free agents next season. Ansah will surely receive the franchise tag for 2018 if they can’t work out a deal this summer or fall.
Detroit has a good running back in Ameer Abdullah but he is oft-injured. Abdullah has the talent but most prove he can handle 200 carries. Bob Quinn called the foot injury a fluke and we shall see how he rebounds from his injury. Theo Riddick is a great receiving back but is average at best between the tackles. Riddick is dealing with double wrist surgery.
Zach Zenner showed some nice flashes at the end of the 2016 season but must progress more to earn workhorse back touches. Dwayne Washington couldn’t find the hole well as a rookie 7th round pick but has athleticism. Detroit could still add a back like Legarrete Blount or Matt Asiata to be the short yardage TD back in 2017. The Lions need an improved running game and healthy Abudllah/Riddick for 2017. It wouldn’t hurt to add one more power back with a nose for the end zone.
Glover Quin and Tavon Wilson are both free agents in 2018. Backup Don Carey and special team ace is also a free agent in 2018. Miles Killebrew is the only long term solution at safety for Detroit. Detroit didn’t draft a safety in the 2017 draft. Quin, Wilson and Carey can all be re-signed next offseason or even this summer at the right price. Quin will be 31 though so the Lions will be cautious on giving him too much money. Wilson was solid in 2016 but must prove his worth again in 2017.
Weak side Linebacker
The Vikings added Ben Gedeon (ILB) in Round 4 of the draft but still have a hole at weak side LB after Chad Greenway retired. Special team ace Emmanuel Lemur or Kentrell Brothers will get the first crack at the job before 7th round rookie Elijah Lee.
The Vikings still lack a top WR. Laquan Treadwell was drafted in Round 1 last year but was awful as a rookie. He has so much to prove for the Vikings. Adam Thielen and Stefan Diggs are good but are more number 2 WRs. Thielen had good production and came out of nowhere in 2016. Thielen was awarded an extension this offseason. Diggs is signed through 2018 season but battled some injuries in 2016. Minnesota added two receivers but in Round 5 (Rodney Adams) and Round 7 (Stacey Cole). Rick Spielman hopes Round 5 pick from 2016 Moritz Boehringer unleashes his raw talent. Minnesota won’t have a number 1 WR again but have enough weapons with Thielen, Diggs and Rudolph. We’ll see if another WR like Treadwell finally steps up for Sam Bradford.
Sam Bradford was solid/good at times in 2016 but it wasn’t good enough along with poor offensive line play and run game. Bradford’s contract expires after 2017 as does Teddy Bridgewater. Backup Case Keenum signed for only one year this offseason as well. Bradford must prove he can be the long term solution in 2017 or Minnesota will be searching for a QB yet again in 2018.
The Bears passed on Solomon Thomas and Jonathan Allen to take a QB. Jonathan Bullard struggled in his rookie year as a third round pick from 2016. CJ Wilson and Mitch Unrein are backups at best. The Bears did just sign DE Jaye Howard after the draft but he is dealing with a major hip injury and a down year in 2016 with Kansas City cutting him. Akiem Hicks is a good starter but is on the last year of his deal in 2017. Chicago needs one starting DE and another future DE.
Kyle Fuller is back from injury but didn’t exactly excel as a number 1 CB in 2014/2015 for Chicago. Fuller has a lot to prove and the Bears didn’t pick up his fifth year option. Fuller will be a free agent after the 2017 season. Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper were added but don’t inspire much confidence as the number 2 and 3 CBs for the Bears. Amukamara has some solid seasons with the Giants but bombed in Jacksonville and is oft injured. Bryce Callahan was average in 2017 and has the most potential of the young CBs. Jonathan Banks was a former second round pick trying to revive his career. Deiondre Hall and Deandre Carson Houston were 4th and 6th round picks from 2016 that need to develop quickly for Chicago.
Charles Leno and Bobbie Massie are average tackles. Chicago really could upgrade at both spots. Massie was signed long term and will get plenty of chances to improve. Leno will be a free agent after the 2017 season so this is a contract year for him.
Each team has a handful of needs for 2017 and 2018. We’ll see which needs change during 2017 with injuries, progression and regression of players. It should be a fun season with all four teams having a chance for a change. Getcha popcorn ready.