NFC North drafts lack instant impact

With the exception of Minnesota, which traded for Pro Bowl pass rusher Jared Allen, the 2008 difference-makers are likely to come after the first-rounders.

For once, the NFC North teams' drafts lacked star power.

That's what happens when the teams remove themselves from the NFL's outhouse. For the first time since 1996, no NFC North team found itself drafting in the top 10. That's a far cry from the 2005-07 drafts, when the North garnered seven top-10 picks.

Because of it — and because this draft supposedly had only six top college players, and then a whole bunch of good guys after them — the 2008 draft looked rather Ted Thompson-esque.

Let's start with the Chicago Bears. The Bears figure to go into this season with either Rex Grossman or Kyle Orton as their quarterback. With three quality quarterbacks on the board, the Bears of course took ... offensive tackle Chris Williams.


Next, there's the Detroit Lions, who had made it a tradition of drafting big-name players (especially receivers) who flopped in the NFL. This year, they traded down from No. 15 to 17 in the first round, then selected offensive tackle Gosder Cherilus.


Late in the first round, it was the Packers' turn. With the top cornerbacks off the board, Thompson was sure to upgrade the offense by getting one of the elite tight ends or fortify the secondary with safety Kenny Phillips, right? Nope, he traded back. Three of the top tight ends remained on the board at No. 36. So, of course, Thompson added another piece to the deepest position on the team with receiver Jordy Nelson.

No yawn on this one, but puzzling nonetheless.

The Vikings had the most productive draft, even though they had just one selection in the first four rounds. While the drafts of their NFC North rivals lacked sizzle, Minnesota acquired Pro Bowl defensive end Jared Allen from the Chiefs for first- and third-round draft picks. With 43 sacks in his first four seasons, Allen figures to be a menace for years to come.

"I love it. It's all focused on us now," said nose tackle Pat Williams, who will join Allen, defensive tackle Kevin Williams and end Ray Edwards to form perhaps the NFL's best defensive line. "Adrian Peterson got all the pub last year. Adrian Peterson, Adrian Peterson. Now, (the attention is on the) defense. We're going to have some fun."

Beyond Allen, will there be any immediate impact from last week's festivities? Yes.


Draft mega-bust Cedric Benson gets some competition with second-round pick Matt Forte out of Tulane. Forte rushed for a whopping 2,177 yards and 23 touchdowns last season. Though it came against suspect Conference USA competition, Forte had two 300-yard games and three others in which he topped 200.

"I felt like our running game obviously was one of the weak spots on our football team," Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said. "He gives us a big back; a three-down back. He's got enough speed to get to the outside, and he has the ability to make people miss at the second level. Those two areas where we could really never find any consistency, which made us an easy team to defend."

Third-round pick Earl Bennett out of Vanderbilt is the SEC's all-time leader with 236 receptions. He's been compared to the Steelers' Hines Ward. Now, who's going to throw him the ball?


The Lions haven't had a great runner since Barry Sanders. They hope they've rectified that problem with Central Florida's Kevin Smith. The third-round pick rushed for 2,567 yards (and 29 TDs) last season. That led the nation and was just 62 yards short of Sanders' record 2,628 at Oklahoma State.

"I wanted the kid," Lions coach Ron Marinelli said. "We all did. We sat down and watched all these runners on tape. He came out first every time for us."


Minnesota's top pick came in the second round with safety Tyrell Johnson, who played at Corey Williams' alma mater: Arkansas State. Johnson, the Sun Belt Conference's all-time leader in tackles, was a late riser up draft boards, and he'll be the heir to Darren Sharper.

It's a reach, but if there's going to be one impact player from the Vikings' draft, it will be quarterback John David Booty — who Minnesota acquired after swapping picks with the Packers. Minnesota has one hole in its offense — quarterback — and if Tarvaris Jackson struggles, Booty could get a chance.


Think the Packers didn't select an immediate starter in this draft? No. 3 cornerbacks league-wide play on about 65 percent of the defensive plays, and that figure is about 50 percent in Green Bay. Thus, second-round pick Patrick Lee, a speedy, physical cornerback, has a chance to be an immediate upgrade over last year's nickel corners, Tramon Williams and oft-injured Will Blackmon. Lee picked off four passes in a five-game stretch last season, and averaged 25.8 yards on kickoff returns.

Steve Lawrence is a frequent contributor to E-mail him at

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