NFC North Draft Review

The Lions were active in day one of the draft; the Vikings had a pass rusher fall into their lap, while the Packers uncertainty with a certain starter forced them to draft a cornerback.

Of course, it will take three to four years to truly determine which teams stocked their rosters with the talent they needed and which ones dropped the ball.

Like any other draft, this one will be looked back upon for the gems teams unearthed during the second day that wind up being solid starters and possibly even Pro Bowl players.

The honest truth is any grade associated with a team's draft bounty is pure speculation. Ultimately, there will be a couple of first round busts who will be out of the league in a few years, and some teams will be struggling down the road because they didn't stockpile enough young talent.

DETROIT LIONS
Lions president Matt Millen, who has taken his share of criticism and more in his first three years on the job, has received positive reviews for the Lions draft. And deservedly so.

The Lions went into the draft in need of speed and Millen maximized his six picks to deliver coach Steve Mariucci the speed and offensive playmakers the Lions have lacked in recent seasons.

Millen made two trades and ended up with the two players he wanted - wide receiver Roy Williams and running back Kevin Jones - in the first round of the draft.

In those two players, the Lions got the offensive weapons they needed to give third-year quarterback Joey Harrington a chance to elevate the Lions from 32d in offensive production.

It's too early to proclaim the Lions contenders but, assuming Williams and Jones are healthy and come close to supporting the team's expectations, the Lions will have a running game to keep opposing defenses honest and a pair of young receivers - Williams and last year's first-round pick Charles Rogers - to spread the field for the running games.

The Lions stuck to their speed theme in their four remaining picks of the draft and at least one of them - linebacker Teddy Lehman - should join Williams and Jones in providing immediate help to the Lions.

Lehman is expected to compete with second-round linebacker James Davis for the weakside linebacker opening left when Barrett Green was signed by the New York Giants. He will also get a chance to play on special teams.

Cornerback Keith Smith of McNeese State (third round) has size and speed but will have to make an adjustment from Division I-AA; linebacker Alex Lewis (fifth round) has speed to run with backs and tight ends but isn't considered a big hitter; and tackle Kelly Butler (sixth round) is a 6-foot-7, 320-pound mauler projected by some draft analysts as a mid-round pick.

BEST PICK: WR Roy Williams of Texas in the first round. Not only did the Lions get the much-needed big-play receiver, by dropping one slot in the first round - from sixth to seventh overall - Lions president Matt Millen landed an additional second round pick that enabled him to move back into the first round for RB Kevin Jones.

COULD SURPRISE: CB Keith Smith of McNeese State in the third round. He has a lot of characteristics - size, speed and athletic ability - required of a shutdown corner. If he can make the adjustment from Division I-AA to the NFL and learn to play a more physical style, he could be a steal in the third round.

GREEN BAY PACKERS The Packers went for speed and athletic ability at the expense of production and intelligence with their premium picks.

By selecting cornerbacks Ahmad Carroll of Arkansas in the first round and Joey Thomas of Montana State in the third, coach Mike Sherman clearly was preparing for not having recalcitrant cornerback Mike McKenzie.

Defensive lineman Donnell Washington of Clemson was the team's second choice in the third round. Punter B.J. Sander of Ohio State also was picked in the third.

Hatley insisted the choices had nothing to do with McKenzie, who has demanded to be traded.

"It had to do with what the board said and what we want," Hatley said. "Any time you can get cover guys you have to address that. It just happened that both of them were corners."

The Packers were petrified during the second half of last season that McKenzie or Al Harris would get injured. Nickel back Michael Hawthorne was re-signed last month but the coaches lost confidence in Bhawoh Jue and don't consider Hawthorne as starting timber.

With McKenzie asking out and Harris entering the final year on his contract and lacking speed, Sherman made his move.

Carroll had just four interceptions in 36 games, including 29 starts. The Packers expect Carroll to walk in as the No. 3 cornerback and nickel back and also make a major contribution on special teams.

Is Carroll, who won't turn 21 until August, capable of starting on opening day if McKenzie is dealt?

"I think he can go in and play cover corner in the slot right now for us," Sherman said. "I'm going to get the first-round pick on the field some way, somehow."

Thomas, 6-1 and 195, has 4.44-second speed in the 40-yard dash compared to Carroll's 4.34 clocking. His forte in the Division I-AA ranks was getting in the face of wide receivers.

"The hardest thing was level of competition," Hatley said. "You didn't see him against a lot of quality receivers. Where he really separated himself was down at the Senior Bowl. We felt like he had a lot of special qualities."

Some teams were completely put off by Thomas' know-it-all personality but not the Packers. He was described as "mouthy" and "full of himself" but "not disrespectful" by one NFL scout.

The Packers plan to start Washington out at three-technique tackle behind Cletidus Hunt and Kenny Peterson, but Hatley thinks he is agile enough to play left end, where Aaron Kampman and Chukie Nwokorie hold sway.

Sander, 6-3 1/2 and 219, will be the heavy favorite to win the job vacated when Josh Bidwell was let go in unrestricted free agency. Travis Dorsch, who flopped as a fourth-round pick in 2002 with Cincinnati, remains a possibility.

BEST PICK: CB Ahmad Carroll lacks size. He's a junior. He missed spring practice each year because of participation on the track team. What Carroll has is blazing speed and three years of experience in a pure press system. The Packers intend to bump even more under new defensive coordinator Bob Slowik than they did under Ed Donatell.

COULD SURPRISE: DT Corey Williams, sixth round, Arkansas State -- Drafted three rounds after Donnell Washington and won't have the big money in his pocket and the pressure of being a first-day pick. Don't be surprised if he has more impact. Stout inside and moves well laterally. Not afraid to work hard. Comes from a small school and has a lot to prove.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS Although drafts are hard to grade until years later, the Vikings appear to get a passing grade.

On Day 1, they added an immediate starter (DE Kenechi Udeze) at a key need in the first round, a soon-to-be starter (Auburn weak-side linebacker Dontarrious Thomas) at their biggest position of need in the second round and versatile depth on the defensive line (Ohio State's Darrion Scott) in the third round.

"Build that defense," said smiling defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell. "We don't need any more Randy Mosses."

The Vikings are pretty much set on offense. On Day 2, they addressed their lack of depth on the offensive line by adding 6-7, 323-pound Nat Dorsey, a junior from Georgia Tech.

Then, for the most part, it was back to building a defense that collapsed down the stretch after a 6-0 start in 2003. Southern Mississippi middle linebacker Rod Davis (fifth round) provides much-needed depth behind E.J. Henderson, while South Carolina's Deandre' Eiland (sixth round) can play nickel back, safety and help out on special teams.

The Vikings strayed from their plan not to take a running back. Using the fourth-round pick they acquired in the first-round trade with Miami, the Vikings selected Tulane's Mewelde Moore, the most productive pass-catching receiver available.

The Vikings stuck to their philosophy of taking only highly-productive college players. Udeze had 16.5 sacks for the co-national champions last season; Thomas ranks eighth in Auburn history with 350 tackles; Scott had 8.5 sacks during Ohio State's 2002 national championship season; Moore is one of only two players in NCAA Division I-A history with 4,000 yards rushing and 2,000 receiving; and Davis led the nation in total tackles and solo tackles last season.

The biggest concerns about the Vikings' draft are the shoulder injuries Udeze and Scott suffered last season. Udeze had a sprained rotator cuff and Scott a torn labrum.

Neither missed any playing time because of the injury. They insist they're 100 percent, and the Vikings' medical staff cleared them.

But the injury concerns did drop Udeze from a projected top-10 selection to No. 20, while Scott fell from a second-round projection into the third round.

If the Vikings are right and the injuries aren't serious, then maybe coach Mike Tice was right about the draft when he said, "I don't see how it could have gone any better for us."

BEST PICK: That's simple. The first one, Southern California defensive end Kenechi Udeze. One of the Vikings' biggest weakness last season was the lack of an outside pass rush. Chuck Wiley, a forgettable backup, finished the year as the starter at right end. Linebacker Nick Rogers was moved in as the projected starter after the season just in case the Vikings couldn't find a starter. Vikings coach Mike Tice already has announced Udeze as the starter and every-down player. Udeze had 16.5 sacks for the co-national champions last season. Not only did the Vikings get Udeze, they also were able add a fourth-round pick by trading down one spot with Miami.

COULD SURPRISE: Fourth-round pick Mewelde Moore, a solid running back with exceptional pass-catching ability, might be the heir apparent to soon-to-be 30-year-old third-down back Moe Williams. The Vikings have a recent history of making wise third-round picks, selecting RB Onterrio Smith in the fourth round last year and CB Brian Williams in 2002. Moore is one of two players in NCAA Division I-A history with at least 4,000 yards rushing and 2,000 receiving. The first was Stanford's Darrin Nelson, who also played for the Vikings.


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