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NFC North: Draft Class Grades

The 2021 NFL Draft has concluded and the NFC North has headlined as one of the biggest winners among the NFL for the event. From exciting first-round talents to late-round sleeper picks, the NFC North turned some heads this year as a division that has been widely scrutinized for its inability to draft well over the years. 

Here’s a more in-depth briefing of the class of 2021 and the most notable picks from each team in the NFC North, in what has quickly resurged as one of the most unpredictable and exciting young divisions in football. 

Chicago Bears: A 

For the first time in years, the Chicago Bears delivered its fanbase a draft that felt productive rather than the usual bundle of embarrassment and frustration. Not only did they address a lack of depth and inconsistency on the offensive side of the ball by bolstering their line and potentially enhancing their run game, but most notably acquired a potential franchise superstar at the quarterback position.

Justin Fields:

Even before declaring for the draft, Fields began to draw comparisons to one of the league’s best in Russell Wilson. He is an athletic and decisive QB with a strong arm and the ability to execute the play-action to perfection. Touted by many as a top-three player at his position in his class, it is safe to say the Bears got the steal of the draft trading up with the New York Giants to acquire Fields with the 11th pick. As we’ve seen over the years the league is shifting to favor the talents of more mobile and athletic quarterbacks, so Fields is in a great position. With a defense that consistently gets stops and is able to keep their offense on the field, a solid running back core, and fresh new talent on the O-Line, Matt Nagy may be in for a treat with the potential first-year phenom. Considering the fact the Bears gave up their 2022 first-round pick to acquire Fields, there is a heavy sense of belief and trust that is going into him as the future of the franchise. 

Tevin Jenkins and Larry Borom: 

One of the biggest inconsistencies of the Bears offense and scheme last year was the lackluster play of the offensive line. Ranking 22nd in pass protection and 28th in rushing, the Bears O-line was disappointing, to say the least. A lack of commitment to the run game along with below-average quarterback play certainly caused some inflation to these numbers. However, it is no secret that the Bears still need some depth in this department. Tevin Jenkins and Larry Borom fill this gap quite well. 

  • Jenkins was one of the most polished linemen in the draft, who personally believed himself to be a first-round talent. He not only possesses superior run-blocking ability coupled with solid pass protection skills, but he plays with a heightened level of toughness and ferocity. He also has the dexterity to move across different positions on the line. He has logged time at right guard, left tackle, and right tackle, and excelled at all of them. This gives Nagy the ability to heavily widen his playbook, specifically his run game which has enormous potential to grow. 
  • Borom is much like Jenkins in the aspect that he can play in multiple positions on the offensive line. While his talents may not match the pedigree of Jenkins, there is still a lot to like. He has a large frame which is suited well for interior blocking and moving defensive tackles out of his way in the run game. His mobility and struggles against speed-rushers have been some cause for concern so it is likely the majority of his snaps will be at the guard position as opposed to getting reps in at tackle.

Detroit Lions: A+

The Detroit Lions arguably had the best draft among any NFL team this year by bringing in one of the best offensive line talents we have seen in years, adding serious speed, depth, and talent on a poor defensive line, along with an underrated cornerback selection to bolster their secondary. 

Penei Sewell:

It’s safe to say that any team will undoubtedly become better when drafting a lineman the quality of Penei Sewell. Regarded by many as a top-five talent before the draft, there’s not enough you can say about the 20-year-old out of Oregon. He has great athleticism, a wide frame, and technique that is impressive for a player of his size. He consistently overpowers his matchups and can engulf multiple pass rushers any time he’s on the field. What makes this pick so great for the Lions is not just in regards to Sewell’s personal play but the support he can provide to Jared Goff. Play-action and completing passes outside of the pocket are two of Goff’s biggest strengths, so having Sewell to protect his blindside in these schemes is going to be vital to the success of the Lions offense. Sewell is also dynamic in the run game and has shown the ability time and again to get to the second level as a lead blocker for his backs. This will be crucial for the young running back core of D’Andre Swift, Jamall Williams, Kerryon Johnson, and the Lions’ 7th round pick in Jermar Jefferson. Not enough can be said about the quality of this selection. 

Levi Onwuzurike and Alim McNeill:

In the simplest terms possible, the Lions were atrocious in terms of their defensive line play in 2020. They couldn’t create pressure in any facet averaging just 1.5 sacks per game and allowed nearly 135 rushing yards per contest. Outside the play of Romeo Okwara who recorded 10 sacks, the D-line was almost non-existent. Now, however, things are starting to look up with the additions of the two young defensive tackles. 

  • Levi Onwuzurike showed glimpses of greatness at Washington. His ability to disrupt the run game and penetrate the line of scrimmage with great speed is game-changing and creates a multitude of problems for any opposing offense. Not to mention, he was great at making plays in the open field. His pre-snap instincts are among the best in the draft and his athletic prowess gives him the ability to quickly move across opposing blocking and collapse the pocket. He is not the best when it comes to bringing down the Quarterback or recording sacks, but the pressure he’s able to generate plays well into the hands of his defensive ends who are established pass rushers in the NFL.
  • Alim McNeill plays a very similar style of football to his draft counterpart in Onwuzurike. He is also not much of a pass rusher, but his presence on the D-Line is prominent. He clogs the line and run game well and is able to get good leverage on his matchups. He has great power and strength which causes him to draw the attention of multiple linemen at times. When he gets one-on-one matchups, his ability to get through the line of scrimmage is dominant. Again, this interior presence and ability to get opposing quarterbacks out of the pocket plays well into the Lions’ scheme. 

Ifeatu Melifonwu:

Arguably the worst part not just of the defense, but the entire Lions team, the secondary for Detroit was simply not good enough to compete. In fact, some claim it was the worst secondary in all of football for the 2020 season. Ifeatu Melifonwu may be able to address some of these concerns. Standing at 6’3 and possessing superior athleticism, Melifonwu is one of the best physical and technical corners coming out of the draft. He shadows his assignments quite well and can stay with them the length of the field. After a disappointing rookie season from the Lions’ 3rd overall pick in 2020, Jeff Okudah, bringing in some more young new talent may help the defensive core develop over time into one of the league’s best. 

Green Bay Packers: B+

To the surprise of likely nobody, the Green Bay Packers once again chose to improve upon their strengths as a team by bolstering their secondary and offensive line. Once again, they neglected to improve upon their arsenal of offensive weapons until the third round. 

Eric Stokes:

This was arguably the most interesting pick of the first round. It was no secret before the draft that Aaron Rodgers had finally had enough with the Packers’ management and was looking for a way out, so in a way this pick makes sense. There’s no longer a pressure to please Rodgers, though it didn’t seem like it was a priority of the franchise in the first place. Additionally, it gives the Packers a chance to put someone on the opposite side of Jaire Alexander. Stokes, although a surprising selection among the remaining corners, is no player to be disregarded. He has great footwork and speed along with possessing a high IQ of the game which his collegiate coaches often raved about. He also has good size standing at 6’1 with excellent instincts that allow him to match up well with anyone. There is a lot more to like about Stokes than there is to dislike, but it keeps fans wondering as to when the Packers will address their offense especially in light of the recent situation with Rodgers. 

Josh Myers:

The Packers did an excellent job of maintaining the pedigree of their offensive line with the pick of Josh Myers. After Corey Linsley decided to take his talents to the Los Angeles Chargers, there was a major hole at the Center position. Now the spot can be filled either by Myers or Elgton Jenkins. As a prospect, Myers is a solid fit for the franchise. He is great in the run game and gets to the second level with ease, with the ability to pick up linebackers in the open field at times. He’s also an anchor in the passing game and shows great effectiveness in the shotgun formation. Even if Rodgers is out of Green Bay for good, Jordan Love still remains in good hands with this offensive line. 

Amari Rodgers: 

Another mid-round offensive talent that isn’t going to blow you away initially but definitely has the potential to become something special. Amari Rodgers is great for the Packers in the aspect that he can be multi-dimensional as a kick returner and potentially fills the hole at slot receiver. It would have been ideal for the first year wideout’s development to play with one of the greats in Aaron Rodgers, but it is seeming more and more like he’ll be catching passes from Jordan Love. Still, Amari Rodgers possesses great qualities to be successful as a slot wideout in the NFL. His quickness and ability to break quickly after snaps play along with incredible hands and ability to read the defense mid-action plays well into his future. From a technical and intangible standpoint, Rodgers has all the tools to be great in coming years. 

Minnesota Vikings: B+

The Vikings had a mediocre yet productive draft this year. None of the picks will blow you away or provide generational talent, but they were necessary selections that will eventually help make the Vikings quality contenders in the NFC. 

Christian Darrisaw:

The Vikings offensive line saw itself take a step back this year in terms of productivity and being regarded as one of the league’s best, but it was still solid. The addition of Christian Darrisaw definitely puts the Vikings and Dalvin Cook back on track to be one of the premier running games in football this season. Darrisaw is a huge frame with great athleticism who can dominate both the running and pass game. His technique is among the best in the class and uses angles to his advantage exceptionally. Whether he will be playing at left tackle or guard is still up for debate, but the Vikings have undoubtedly secured a great pick in Darrisaw whose impact will be felt for years to come. 

Kellen Mond:

It’s safe to say that nobody could have seen this pick coming. In hindsight, however, the pick does make sense to a degree. There is no questioning that Mond has talent and has shown signs of greatness throughout his collegiate career, but the highs and lows are a package with Mond and there have certainly been glaring inconsistencies in Mond’s performances. The franchise right now seems unsure as to what they want to do with Kirk Cousins as he is heading into the final year of his contract. He is by no means playing bad football, but it may not be the direction the Vikings are hoping to go at this point in time. Allowing Mond, who already fits the modern quarterback stereotype in today’s NFL, to sit behind Cousins the next year may not be such a bad idea. Mond certainly has the athleticism and arm to be successful, now it’s more so a fact of hammering down the technicalities and improving his craft as a quarterback.

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