NFC North looks tougher already

The NFC North was already one of the toughest divisions in football. This weekend, it appears most of the teams in the NFC North became markedly better, including the defending champs.

Let the debating begin.

For those who follow the NFL draft, it's amazing how team-centric they are. The arguments over whether Christian Ponder was the right choice for the Vikings in the first round of the draft is the major topic of discussion among Vikings fans. However, in Chicago, Green Bay and Detroit, that topic is only a running joke that takes a back seat to their own slew of draft picks.

At Winter Park over the weekend, the Viking Update team and the other media crews were in much the same position. With interviews with Vikings personnel and the players, there wasn't a real feel for the picks other teams were making after Ponder came off the board. Names like Da'Quan Bowers to Tampa Bay stood out in the second round – a far cry from the first overall pick projection made back in February. But, for the most part, there was a relative ambivalence to who went elsewhere once the popcorn started popping.

So, how did they do?

The Lions only had five picks, but, for my money, they did the best of anyone in the division. Nick Fairley was a gift with the 13th pick. The potential of him and Ndamukong Suh lining up next to each other for years to come is a frightening prospect. Adding wide receiver Titus Young to take some heat off Calvin Johnson and a between-the-tackles banger in RB Mikel Leshoure gives the Lions offense a much-needed infusion of talent. There is a lot of reason for optimism in Detroit.

Chicago only had five picks, but accomplished what it was looking to do. Gabe Carimi helps bolster the offensive line and defensive tackle Stephen Paea will upgrade the defensive line. Getting a developmental QB in Nathan Enderle is a nice insurance policy for Jay Cutler. Bears fans have reason for optimism.

As defending champs, the Packers picked last and, while their fans always drink the green Kool-Aid, Ted Thompson appears to have had another solid draft. Derek Sherrod completes the plan to draft replacements for offensive tackles Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher (they used their first-round pick last year on OT Bryan Bulaga). They bolstered their offense by building depth at wide receiver and running back by taking Randall Cobb and Alex Green in the second and third rounds. They made 10 picks and drafted for depth at each position. While not a standout draft, for a defending champion that is already the youngest team in the NFL returning several injured starters from 2010, there isn't any complaining going on in Packers Country.

Of the four teams, it would seem the fan base of the Vikings is the most negative about their team's draft choices. A lot of that is tied into to the debate over whether Ponder was worth the risk with the No. 12 pick, but one thing seems certain: The other three teams in the NFC North all look markedly better after the draft than they did before. The division was tough to begin with. Last weekend, it got tougher.

MONDAY NOTES

  • Tampa Bay has never been shy about taking chances. Despite never being a full-time running back in college, it became obvious from the Senior Bowl on that the Bucs were very interested in Cadillac Williams. Asked to be a workhorse RB for the first time in his career after high school, Williams has been plagued with injuries ever since, confirming the doubts some scouts had on making him a top-five draft pick. The Bucs rolled the dice again last weekend, landing a pair of defensive ends, Adrian Clayborn and Bowers, with significant injury questions with their first two picks. If one of them pans out, it will be worth the gamble. If both prove healthy? The Bucs will make their own mark in the NFC South.

  • The 2011 NFL draft is going to be remembered as a footnote on a weekend in global news overshadowed the malaise of the NFL work dispute. With the British royal wedding and the announcement of the killing of Osama bin Laden Sunday, the draft got largely eliminated from the consciousness of those who aren't hard-core fans. It seems a strange coincidence that Donald Trump, who has been hounding President Barack Obama over his birth certificate in recent weeks, would have his prime-time show on NBC pre-empted by the president just days after he pre-empted him on live TV last week. The NFL draft got lost in the shuffle and the momentous court decision that came down during the draft will be lost on history because it didn't measure up on the newsworthiness scale.

  • Numerologists who told us the Vikings would take a quarterback in the first round were right. It's been like comet sightings with the Vikings in their 51 years of drafting college players. They have only taken quarterbacks in the first round three times. All of them have come in years ending with the last two digits the same – Tommy Kramer in 1977, Daunte Culpepper in 1999 and Ponder in 2011. Apparently, Vikings fans can lay back until 2022 to dip into the first-round QB well again.


    John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.



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  • Tampa Bay has never been shy about taking chances. Despite never being a full-time running back in college, it became obvious from the Senior Bowl on that the Bucs were very interested in Cadillac Williams. Asked to be a workhorse RB for the first time in his career after high school, Williams has been plagued with injuries ever since, confirming the doubts some scouts had on making him a top-five draft pick. The Bucs rolled the dice again last weekend, landing a pair of defensive ends, Adrian Clayborn and Bowers, with significant injury questions with their first two picks. If one of them pans out, it will be worth the gamble. If both prove healthy? The Bucs will make their own mark in the NFC South.
  • The 2011 NFL draft is going to be remembered as a footnote on a weekend in global news overshadowed the malaise of the NFL work dispute. With the British royal wedding and the announcement of the killing of Osama bin Laden Sunday, the draft got largely eliminated from the consciousness of those who aren't hard-core fans. It seems a strange coincidence that Donald Trump, who has been hounding President Barack Obama over his birth certificate in recent weeks, would have his prime-time show on NBC pre-empted by the president just days after he pre-empted him on live TV last week. The NFL draft got lost in the shuffle and the momentous court decision that came down during the draft will be lost on history because it didn't measure up on the newsworthiness scale.
  • Numerologists who told us the Vikings would take a quarterback in the first round were right. It's been like comet sightings with the Vikings in their 51 years of drafting college players. They have only taken quarterbacks in the first round three times. All of them have come in years ending with the last two digits the same – Tommy Kramer in 1977, Daunte Culpepper in 1999 and Ponder in 2011. Apparently, Vikings fans can lay back until 2022 to dip into the first-round QB well again.
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