NFC North Tour: Draft Dodging

Our insiders provide some perspective on the first-round picks — Gabe Carimi, Nick Fairley and Christian Ponder — and take a look at the "best" and "could surprise" selections from the Packers' division rivals.

Chicago Bears

In the end, the Bears got their man.

They also got the self-proclaimed best offensive tackle in the draft when they took Wisconsin's Gabe Carimi with the 29th overall pick.

Most NFL teams didn't agree with the 6-7, 314-pound Carimi's assessment, since he was the fifth tackle and the seventh offensive lineman selected.

But the Bears got a four-year starter at left tackle, who faced some of the top defensive ends in the country. They included first-round picks Ryan Kerrigan of Purdue (16th overall), Adrian Clayborn of Iowa (20th overall) and Ohio State's Cameron Heyward (31st overall). He also benefited from going against another first-round pick in practice, teammate J.J. Watt, who was the 11th overall pick Thursday night.

"I know I can play right away," Carimi said at the Scouting Combine. "That's my best asset. I'm a draft-ready tackle. I'm physically stronger and have more career starts and better knowledge of the game than any other tackle out there. That's why I'm the No. 1 tackle out there."

The Bears did extensive work on scouting Carimi, but they had some anxious moments awaiting their pick and hoping he would last.

"We were really fortunate to get a quality lineman like Gabe," general manager Jerry Angelo said. "Being in our backyard, we were able to see him play a lot. We feel like we can know as much as you can know about this player. He really does fit the profile that we were looking for."

Some talent evaluators believe Carimi is better suited to right tackle, but he believes he'll be fine staying on the left side, where he started 49 games for the Badgers.

"I'm a physical, tough player who finishes plays," Carimi said. "I can run block as well as pass block."

An early run on quarterbacks — four in the first 12 picks — left plenty of defensive line and offensive line talent on the board, areas where the Bears were looking to upgrade. But the available talent on both lines was quickly snapped up starting with Watt at No. 11. Three more O-linemen went from No. 22-25. But, when the next three picks were wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin, cornerback Jimmy Smith and running back Mark Ingram, the Bears were left looking at Carimi to fill their greatest area of need.

The Bears attempted a trade with the Ravens to move up to the No. 25 spot, fearful Carimi would be gone at 29, but Angelo said a procedural glitch on the Bears' part torpedoed that swap, which he apologized for to the Ravens.

"But it worked out," Angelo said. "We got our player and I feel they got their player and we moved on."

Best pick

Tackle Gabe Carimi: He might not ever be a Pro-Bowl left tackle, but the 29th overall pick immediately upgrades the Bears' weak offensive line at one of the tackle positions and should be a starter from Day One.

Could surprise

Safety Chris Conte: The third-round pick seemed to be a huge reach, considering a lot of draft evaluators had him rated much lower. But, considering the huge turnover the Bears have had at both safety positions since Lovie Smith took over (20 changes at each of the safety positions) you can't count Conte out.

Detroit Lions

How do you like the defensive tackle rotation of Ndamukong Suh, Corey Williams, Sammie Hill and Nick Fairley?

That's how the Lions will line up next year — though not necessarily in that order — after taking Fairley, the SEC defensive player of the year for national-champion Auburn, with the 13th overall pick.

"The philosophy here was, we drafted to our strength," coach Jim Schwartz said. "We won our last four games last season and I think you could have a quiz show to name our cornerbacks in those games. But we won because we were very good up front.

Nick Fairley and the commissioner.
Jerry Lai/US Presswire
"He's an impact player at an impact position."

Schwartz doesn't see any problem rotating three defensive tackles.

"We play around 130 defensive tackle snaps a game," he said. "You rotate three guys at 45 snaps a person and you are going to be really fresh. We can keep rolling in waves and waves.

"I thought Suh played too much last year. Not that he wore down but it was too many snaps. You are taking on 700 pounds of man every time you take on a double team."

Mayhew agreed.

"I don't think you can have too many pass rushers, defensive tackles, defensive ends," he said. "We all saw late in the year the impact our pass rush had. It allowed us to win games."

Early on, Fairley was being touted as a top-three pick. But there were lingering questions about his attitude and work ethic, and when four quarterbacks were taken in the top 12, Fairley was available.

"I don't really know why he fell, I am just really glad he did," Mayhew said.

Still on the board were defensive ends Da'Quan Bowers and Robert Quinn, as well as defensive back Prince Amukamara. Both Bowers and Quinn had health issues and Amukamara slipped to the Giants at No. 19.

"Suffice it to say, we had Nick rated higher than those other players," Schwartz said.

Mayhew said he was worried that Minnesota would take Fairley at 12 and was prepared to trade down if that happened. But neither Mayhew nor Schwartz had any worries about Fairley's character.

"He's a defensive lineman," Schwartz cracked. "Those things might fall into bonus categories when you are talking about defensive linemen being grumpy and mean. Those are good things."

The Lions brought Fairley in last week.

"He was outstanding," Mayhew said. "He will do great with us. I played with his defensive line coach (at Washington) — Tracy Rocker — and spoke very highly of the young man. I spent a lot of time with him here in our building. He's a good player and a good person. He will fit in well here."

Best pick

Defensive tackle Nick Fairley: Without question, Fairley was a bonus. Mayhew said he would have traded out of the 13th pick had Fairley been snatched up by Minnesota at No. 12, which he feared. The defensive line is the foundation of the team and the basis of their entire defensive philosophy. Adding Fairley to a defensive tackle rotation of Ndamukong Suh, Corey Williams and Sammie Hill is about as good as it gets.

Could surprise

Wide receiver Titus Young: The Lions got virtually no production out of the third wide receiver position last season. With the speedy Young, they feel like they finally have a threat who can take the top off a defense and create space underneath for Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson and Brandon Pettigrew.

Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings spent the months leading up to the NFL draft vetting just about every draft-eligible quarterback.

They decided to put their faith in Florida State's Christian Ponder, making him the 12th selection in the first round. There had been some thought the Vikings might take Washington's Jake Locker but he was gone to Tennessee at No. 8.

Locker was the second of three quarterbacks to go in the top 10. Carolina had selected Cam Newton No. 1 and Blaine Gabbert fell to 10th before Jacksonville worked a trade with Washington take him.

The selection of Ponder wasn't met with positive reviews from fans attending the Vikings' draft party at Winter Park. Their preference seemed to be that Minnesota would have selected Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara but the fact the Vikings went the quarterback route should have surprised no one.

"Quarterback was a huge need for us, everybody knows that," said Rick Spielman, the Vikings vice president of player personnel.

The hope of Spielman and new coach Leslie Frazier is that Ponder will end the succession of veteran quarterbacks the Vikings paraded through Winter Park during Brad Childress' four-plus seasons as coach.

The Vikings were impressed by Ponder at a private workout last month that was attended by Spielman, Frazier, new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and quarterbacks coach Craig Johnson.

"You rarely get a chance to take a swing at a young quarterback and we felt that it was a no-brainer to take Christian Ponder," Spielman said.

Ponder becomes only the third quarterback taken by the Vikings in the first round in their 51-year history, joining Tommy Kramer (1977) and Daunte Culpepper (1999).

Ponder had a 22-13 record as a starter in four seasons at Florida State and is known for his intelligence — he earned his undergraduate degree in 2.5 years and obtained his master's degree before his senior season — but also being somewhat injury prone.

Ponder said the expectations he will face won't impact him. "I've dealt with being the face of Florida State and handling the pressure there," he said.

"Obviously, it's a whole other level in the NFL, but I don't think anyone puts as much pressure on me as I will myself. No one's expectations exceed mine."

The Vikings could attempt to sign a veteran free agent to play in front of Ponder for a season, but there also is the chance he will step in as the team's starter. Frazier said Ponder will be competing with Joe Webb and Rhett Bomar for the job, but that's a bit hard to believe.

"I want it to still be an open competition with the guys that are on our roster," Frazier said. "It will be those three. What happens with free agency? Who knows? We'll eventually get to that point. But right now it's a competition between those three and we'll line up with the best guy when we get ready to line up against the Chargers [on Sept. 11 in the regular-season opener]."

Best pick

Tight end Kyle Rudolph: Rudolph was projected as a first-round pick by some, so the Vikings grabbed him when he was still around with the 43rd overall selection. Should step in and play an immediate role in this offense and could be used in two-tight end sets with Visanthe Shiancoe.

Could surprise

Defensive tackle Christian Ballard: With defensive tackle Kevin Williams facing a potential four-game suspension to begin the season, Ballard could have an opportunity to see playing time right away.

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