Marrying players and need in the NFC North

After the combine, USC tackle Matt Kalil is looking like the third best player in the NFL draft -- with the Minnesota Vikings holding the No. 3 pick. Brian Spurlock/US Presswire

INDIANAPOLIS -- I spent most of my time here at the NFL scouting combine interviewing NFC North general managers and coaches about the wide variety of issues facing their teams. Many of our posts reflected the information from those interviews, and not all of them directly related to the draft preparations going on here.

So before heading to the airport, let me leave you with a smattering of draft-related thoughts and observations, grounded heavily in some time that ESPN.com bloggers spent Saturday with draft analyst Todd McShay, and tie them as best I can to our four teams.


As of today, Feb. 26, it appears quite likely that quarterbacks will be the top two picks in the draft. Stanford's Andrew Luck will go No. 1 overall to the Indianapolis Colts, and given the importance of the position and the number of quarterback-needy teams out there, it's easy to imagine the St. Louis Rams trading out of the No. 2 pick with a team that wants to draft Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III.

McShay said he would be "really surprised" if that weren't the case, and I can't disagree with him, especially after Griffin ran a stunning 4.38 (unofficially) in the 40-yard dash Sunday morning. Griffin almost certainly is out of the conversation for the Minnesota Vikings at No. 3, in some ways an opportune development because it prevents them from facing a decision on Griffin a year after drafting Christian Ponder.

And that scenario would leave them eligible to select the top non-quarterback in the entire draft at No. 3, a position USC tackle Matt Kalil appears to have solidified in the past few days.

We've written about the possibility that the Vikings would trade down to collect more picks, and then finding what general manager Rick Spielman called a "functional" left tackle later in the draft. Their chances for trading down would drop dramatically if Griffin goes at No. 2, and McShay agreed that the Vikings couldn't (or shouldn't) pass up the opportunity to get Kalil.

"I don't see how it can't be him," McShay said. "People say he is not tough, that he's not competitive. I don't think that at all. I think he's feisty, I think he has a mean streak. I think he's physical. He does everything right.

"The only thing you can point to and say it's not up to level is his strength. I don't think he anchors really well. You watch him sometimes and outside rushers get in and push him back. But then he's able to reset himself, sink his hips and get reset.

"That's the one thing he can improve upon, but he is ready. He is as ready as you're going to get. Kind of like [Cleveland Browns left tackle] Joe Thomas, but a little bit more physical coming out."

Some of you might think that Ohio State left tackle Michael Adams could be a backup plan for the Vikings if they trade down. Here's what McShay said about him: "Everything physically you're looking for. He's big and can move… but you just don't know what you're going to get from him. You're watching and he'll be protecting the passer and he'll decide I don't want to take another step. … Some plays he plays and some plays he doesn't, and you can't have that at left tackle. He teases you."

The Chicago Bears probably will look for receiving help in the first few rounds of the draft, but it might be smart to temper expectations for this class. The consensus top receiver, Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon, isn't built like the elite receivers of this era and, although he hasn't run, isn't expected to flash top-end speed.

And most of the receivers after him after resume holes as well. Let's go through a quick run-down with McShay:

  • Blackmon: "He will struggle to meet the expectations. He'll be a good receiver, don't get me wrong. But I don’t think he's going to be that A.J. Green or Calvin Johnson."

  • Baylor's Kendall Wright, a likely top-25 pick: "I like him, but he drops a lot of passes and has a lot of double-catches."

  • LSU's Ruben Randle: "Of the guys 6-foot-2 and above, he can get down the field the best and is the most athletic. But he is still developing as a route-runner, and he quit on them in the national championship game."

  • Notre Dame's Michael Floyd: "He is really good and has a little more explosiveness."

  • South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery: "If he wants to play [he can be good]. You look at his body and, yeah, he's down to 216 pounds. But it's a 'Jenny Craig' 216. He played at 235, I was told, and put on a little weight after the season. Then he just dumped weight. It was more of a 'get it out of my system so I don't come in at 230.'"

  • Rutgers' Mohamed Sanu: "I like him, he's physical, he has good hands, but he's way overrated. He can't get open."

For any team looking to upgrade the interior of its offensive line, perhaps the Detroit Lions, could find a late-round steal in Stanford guard David DeCastro. McShay considers him one of the top 15 players in the draft and "as good an interior lineman I've scouted," but suggested that his status as a guard means teams will devalue him. That makes DeCastro most likely to be drafted between picks 16-25, McShay said.

The Lions have the No. 23 pick.

Last year, the Lions capitalized on the unexpected fall of highly-regarded defensive tackle Nick Fairley and snatched him up at No. 12 despite minimal need at the position. Could that happen again with North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples?

Coples is one of the draft's top pass rushers, and those players usually are taken among the top 15 players in the draft. But questions about Coples' work ethic could make him available to the Bears at No. 19 or possibly the Lions at No. 23.

McShay said the "percentage of him being a bust is too high" to make a commitment to Coples at the top of the first round.

"He flashes and there are sometimes when he decides to play," McShay said. "But there are times when he stands up. It's like he has a union deal. But when he does it, he's so good. He is so good. He's big, he's quick, he's powerful. He can double-move you. He can beat you with his hands, he can drive you back."

This draft should be a convenient one for the Green Bay Packers, who would benefit from a talent influx on their defensive line at No. 28 overall. McShay said the defensive tackle group is deep in the second and third rounds and there will be "a bunch of guys in the late-round first, early-second rounds who can come in and play."

Mississippi State's Fletcher Cox "is probably the best of that group," McShay said of the linemen who could project into a 3-4 as either a lineman or outside linebacker. Memphis defensive tackle Dontari Poe could nose tackle or end and is "weirdly athletic at 330 pounds," said McShay.

Other possibilities there include USC defensive end Nick Perry, Syracuse's Chandler Jones and Clemson's Andre Branch.