NFL

How Did NFC North Teams Fare in the Last Three NFL Drafts?

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NFL executives used to insist it takes three years to properly evaluate a draft class. Unfortunately, that crap doesn’t fly anymore. In today’s NFL, teams realize the best way to build a contender while staying under the salary cap is to get immediate contributions from players on their rookie contracts. With that in mind, we are kicking off a new series examining how every team has done over the last three drafts.  

To prevent our evaluations from turning into a novel of biblical lengths, we will focus on three players from each team’s recent draft classes: the best pick, the worst pick and the X Factor. This week: the NFC North. If you missed our previous pieces, check out the AFC NorthAFC EastAFC SouthAFC West and NFC East draft reviews.

Chicago Bears

Best Pick: WR Alshon Jeffery (Second Round, 2012)

Kyle Long gets consideration for this spot, as well, but Jeffery’s numbers are too good to ignore. Over the last two seasons he has caught 174 passes for 2,554 yards and 17 touchdowns. Those are elite numbers that could be even better if the Bears had any sort of stability at the quarterback position. With Brandon Marshall now in New York (Jay Cutler always had tunnel vision for Marshall dating back to their days in Denver), Jeffery could be in for a monster season.

Worst Pick: DE Shea McClellin (First Round, 2012) 

A man without a position, McClellin is on the move again. After fizzling out at defensive end in his first two seasons and failing to catch on as an outside linebacker last year, McClellin will now try playing inside linebacker in Vic Fangio’s 3-4 defense. He will compete for playing time with Mason Foster and Jon Bostic, but given McClellin’s middling production to date (80 tackles and 7.5 sacks over the last three years combined), it is hard to see him playing a significant role.

X Factor: OT Jordan Mills (Fifth Round, 2013)

Mills surprised a lot of people when he won the starting right tackle job as a rookie. Things didn’t go smoothly (he finished as the lowest rated right tackle by Pro Football Focus), but he only allowed 2.5 sacks and graded out near the league average as a run blocker. He hoped to make big strides in his second season, but foot and rib injuries slowed his progress. He was forced to move to left guard late in the season after Matt Slauson landed on injured-reserve and may have found a new home in the inside.

“He’s a versatile athlete,” said former Bears coach Marc Trestman of Mills. “He’s got strong hands. He’s obviously a large man.”

Detroit Lions

Best Pick: DE Ezekiel Ansah (First Round, 2013)

The Ghanaian-born Ansah was considered a raw prospect when the Lions chose him with the No. 5 overall pick (he didn’t start playing football until college), but he has been productive and consistent since joining the NFL. He has 81 tackles, 15.5 sacks and five forced fumbles over his first two seasons while playing a big part in Detroit’s league-best run defense. Things will get much more challenging in 2015, with Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley no longer there to control the middle of the line, but Ansah still looks like a player on the rise.

Worst Pick: WR Ryan Broyles (Second Round, 2012)

In three seasons Broyles has caught 32 passes for 420 yards and two scores. Part of that is due to injuries — he has endured two ACL injuries and an Achilles injury over the last five years — but part of it is his inability to beat out the players around him. He will have to dominate this offseason to prove he is deserving of a place in the rotation.

“The reason why he didn’t play was because nobody got hurt,” said GM Martin Mayhew of Broyles. “The other guys were featured in our offense, we had plans for those guys in the offense, and he was our first reserve off the bench.”

X Factor: LB Kyle Van Noy (Second Round, 2014)

Van Noy missed half of his rookie season recovering from sports hernia surgery, a setback that landed him on temporary injured-reserve. He never found a meaningful place in the rotation upon his return, finishing the season with just a half-dozen tackles. Now that he’s healthy, Van Noy figures to play a big role. He is a disruptive player who makes plays in the backfield and flashes strong instincts. He can be a difference-maker for a Lions defense that will look a lot different this season.

Green Bay Packers

Best Pick: OT David Bakhtiari (Fourth Round, 2013)

Bakhtiari has started all 32 games at left tackle since being drafted. He made great progress in his second season, adding some bulk to help him clear running lanes and anchor against bull rushes. Based on pass-block ratings alone, Bakhtiari ranked ninth among left tackles in 2014 according to Pro Football Focus. He still has room to improve, especially as a run blocker, but there is no reason to doubt that will happen given how much improvement he has made already in his young career.

Worst Pick: DT Jerel Worthy (Second Round 2012)

Worthy played only a minor role as a rookie. He tore his ACL in the 2012 season finale, an injury that prevented him from making anything more than a negligible impact in 2013. He was traded to the Patriots prior to last season for a conditional late-round pick, but New England cut ties with him before the season rather than pony up the selection. He is currently with the Chiefs, but as far as the Packers are concerned, Worthy was a flat-out bust.

X Factor: DT Khyri Thornton (Third Round 2014)

Thornton spent his rookie season on injured-reserve with a hamstring injury, but that “IR” designation was basically the Packers giving him a redshirt season after he showed up to training camp woefully out of shape. He has reportedly put in some serious work since to improve his weight and conditioning; if he can keep that up, he has a chance to crack the defensive line rotation and bolster Green Bay’s No, 23-ranked run defense.

Minnesota Vikings

Best Pick: QB Teddy Bridgewater (First Round, 2014)

Anytime you can land a franchise quarterback at the bottom of the first round, you have to consider yourself extremely fortunate. That’s exactly what the Vikings did, as Bridgewater left no doubt over the second half of his rookie season that he is ready to wear the “franchise QB” mantle. He threw 10 touchdowns against just six interceptions over his final six games and improved by leaps and bounds as the season progressed.

Said offensive coordinator Norv Turner of Bridgewater: “It’s pretty incredible to me what he’s done, how he’s handled it, the things he’s gotten done and what he’s really done is made everyone around him better and that’s a quality that you’re looking for.”

Worst Pick: OT Matt Kalil (First Round, 2012)

What a fast fall for Kalil, who made the Pro Bowl during his rookie season (riding Adrian Peterson’s coattails). He failed to make much progress in his second and then completely imploded in 2014, allowing 13.5 sacks. Kalil blames his struggles on his surgically-repaired knee, which affected his performance and confidence. He says he is healthy now, so there are no more excuses to be had. As the top offensive lineman selected in 2012, he absolutely has to be better.

X Factor: WR Cordarrelle Patterson (First Round, 2013)

The Vikings knew Patterson would be a project when they drafted him. Unfortunately, his progress came to a screeching halt last season when he played his way out of the rotation and was relegated mostly to kick-return duties. Patterson remains an incredible athlete with game-breaking speed — and he’s working with a strong QB/play-caller tandem — but he needs to learn how to read defenses and run precise routes before he can even start to reach his massive potential.


About Michael Lombardo

Michael Lombardo

Michael Lombardo has spent more than 10 years as a team expert at Scout.com, primarily covering the Chargers, Cardinals and Panthers. He has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and other venues.