Fillability Index: NFC North
Cold, Hard Football Facts for Aug 17, 2008
The Fillability Index is our annual look at each team's off-season acquisitions and departures.
We continue today with the NFC North, the once-vaunted Black & Blow Division. Between the chaos in Green Bay, the optimism in Minnesota, the typical QB troubles in Chicago and the Motor City comedy troupe that is the Lions, perhaps no division is more wide open here in 2008.
The Fillability Index is the best way found anywhere in the seedy underworld of online football analysis to measure the off-season moves of each NFL team. Its brilliance is found in its simplicity: we size up each team based upon their statistical strengths and weaknesses last year, as measured by their rankings in all of our Quality Stats, and then determine whether they made the necessary off-season personnel moves to shore up those weaknesses.
Pretty simple. Yet nobody else does it.
So on to the Index.
(Index Key: Bend = Bendability Index; Score = Scoreability Index; PYPA = Passing Yards Per Attempt; DPR = Defensive Passer Rating; OHI = Offensive Hog Index; DHI = Defensive Hog Index; Big Play = Big Play Index; Relativity = Relativity Index; ST = Special Teams)
RB Kevin Jones (Detroit)
WR Marty Booker (Miami)
WR Brandon Lloyd (Washington)
LB Brendon Ayanbadejo (Baltimore)
WR Bernard Berrian (Minnesota)
TE John Gilmore (Tampa Bay)
DT Jimmy Kennedy (Jacksonville)
WR Muhsin Muhammad (Carolina)
DT Darwin Walker (Carolina)
1 (14) Chris Williams, OT, Vanderbilt
2 (44) Matt Forte, RB, Tulane
3 (70) Earl Bennett, WR, Vanderbilt
3 (90) Marcus Harrison, DT, Arkansas
4 (120) Craig Steltz, S, LSU
5 (142) Zack Bowman, CB, Nebraska
5 (158) Kellen Davis, TE, Michigan State
7 (208) Ervin Baldwin, DE, Michigan State
7 (222) Chester Adams, OG, Georgia
7 (243) Joey LaRocque, LB, Oregon State
7 (247) Kirk Barton, OT, Ohio State
7 (248) Marcus Monk, WR, Arkansas
Bears Fillability Overview
Chicago's offensive line was so porous last year that you could have used it to strain pasta. The club ranked 31st in our Offensive Hog Index and dead last in rushing, with a truly awful 3.14 yards per attempt.
To put that sad, anemic figure into perspective, consider that more than half the league (17 teams) averaged 4.0 yards per rush attempt or better last year. Also consider that Chicago's Black & Blow Division rivals in Minnesota averaged 5.33 YPA last year – an amazing 70 percent better per attempt than the Bears.
The Bears attacked the weakness with their first pick of the 2008 draft, beefy offensive tackle Chris Williams. They added two more offensive linemen in the seventh around, among their stash of supplemental picks. The Williams selection proved the Bears knew where their greatest problems lay last year. But the Vanderbilt product recently underwent back surgery and will not be available to play for at least the first several weeks of the season.
The Bears furthered attacked this weakness by grabbing former Lions running back Kevin Jones, who was released, and then adding former Tulane running back Matt Forte with their second pick in the draft.
The additions may not be enough to jumpstart the offensive line and the ground game here in 2008 – especially with the Williams injury – but they do mark strong steps in the right direction.
The passing attacks also remained a problem last year – No. 22 in Passing Yards Per Attempt – and there seems little hope of this ever becoming a strength until the Bears finally find a quarterback to replace Sid Luckman (still the franchise's all time passing yardage leader 58 years after he last played).
The Bears announced Monday that Kyle Orton will be their No. 1 man once the bullets start flying in September. They also added a slew of wide receivers in the draft and in free agency to give him some targets. The continuing evolution of the thrilling Devin Hester at wide receiver, meanwhile, could prove to turn Kyle Orton, Rex Grossman or you, for that matter, into the second coming of Dan Marino or Peyton Manning. But don't cross your fingers.
Still, the passing game should show at least some improvement in 2008.
Chicago's other weakness last year was its No. 19 ranking in Defensive Passer Rating, a sad mark for its once-feared defense. You don't win in the NFL if you can't stop the pass effectively – hell, just look at the Giants last year. They were 10-6 when they played only mediocre pass defense in the regular season. They turned it on in the playoffs, shutting down the league's three best passing attacks (Dallas, Green Bay, New England) in consecutive games.
The performance of the pass defense will be a critical element in the potential rebirth of the 2006 NFC champions.
Chicago Fillability Grade: B+
DETROIT (2007 Quality Stats rankings)
CB Leigh Bodden (Cleveland)
CB Brian Kelly (Tampa Bay)
S Dwight Smith (Minnesota)
TE Michael Gaines (Buffalo)
DT Chuck Darby (Seattle)
LB Gilbert Gardner (Tennessee)
S Kalvin Pearson (Tampa Bay)
LB Boss Bailey (Denver)
CB Fernando Bryant (New England)
DT Shaun Rogers (Cleveland)
RB TJ Duckett (Seattle)
DE Kalimba Edwards (Oakland)
RB Kevin Jones (Chicago)
S Kenoy Kennedy (Unsigned)
LB Teddy Lehman (Tampa Bay)
QB J.T. O'Sullivan (San Francisco)
OG Damien Woody (New York Jets)
1 (17) Gosder Cherilus, OT, Boston College
2 (45) Jordon Dizon, LB, Colorado
3 (64) Kevin Smith, RB, Central Florida
3 (87) Andre Fluellen, DT, Florida State
3 (92) Cliff Avril, DE, Purdue
5 (136) Kenneth Moore, WR, Wake Forest
5 (146) Jerome Felton, FB, Furman
7 (216) Landon Cohen, DT, Ohio
7 (218) Caleb Campbell, S, Army
Lions Fillability Overview
Detroit reminds us of the age-old question: what do you get the team that sucks at everything?
Conventional wisdom would tell you that the team that sucks at everything can improve just by adding warm bodies.
Ahh, but conventional wisdom never met Matt Millen.
To put Detroit's annual statistical suckage into the perspective last year, consider the case of its passing game. The passing attack generated a lot of buzz early in the 2007 season, what with its galaxy of first-round wide receivers and the rebirth of passing pigskin prophet Jon Kitna. Yet this passing attack ended the season at a mere 17th in Passing Yards Per Attempt.
Detroit's biggest off-season problem, though, was shoring up the 31st-ranked pass defense last year, and their groups of Offensive and Defensive Hogs who were a perfect matched set at 29th each in their respective Hog Indices.
The Lions attacked their offensive line problems by devoting their No. 1 pick to offensive tackle Gosder Cherilus. The efforts to improve the pass defense centered around a slew of free-agent pick-ups, most notably former Cleveland cornerback Leigh Bodden, who snagged six INTs last year.
All in all, though, with so many holes to fill, it's hard to see the Lions plugging all the leaks in a single off-season. Captain Millen's track record also fails to inspire confidence, too. We're reserving a grade until further evidence arrives.
Detroit Fillability Grade: Incomplete
GREEN BAY (2007 Quality Stats rankings)
LB Brandon Chillar (St. Louis)
QB Brett Favre (NY Jets)
TE Bubba Franks (NY Jets)
CB Frank Walker (Baltimore)
DT Corey Williams (Cleveland)
2 (36) Jordy Nelson, WR, Kansas State
2 (56) Brian Brohm, QB, Louisville
2 (60) Patrick Lee, CB, Auburn
3 (91) Jermichael Finley, TE, Texas
4 (102) Jeremy Thompson, DE, Wake Forest
4 (135) Josh Sitton, OT, Central Florida
5 (150) Breno Giacomini, OT, Louisville
7 (209) Matt Flynn, QB, LSU
7 (217) Brett Swain, WR, San Diego State
Packers Fillability Overview
Well, nothing really happened with the Packers this off-season.
They didn't even have a first-round draft pick, and they made only a single acquisition in free agency, grabbing linebacker Brandon Chillar from the Rams.
If only some big news, other than the retirement of their old quarterback, came out of this remote Lake Michigan town.
The true potential impact of Brett Favre's retirement, and then the team's insistence on moving on when he tried to reinsert himself into the starting lineup at the beginning of training camp, can be seen in the fact that the Packers were one of the best passing teams in football last year, ranking No. 3 in Passing Yards Per Attempt, behind only New England and Dallas.
The Packers will be hard pressed to match that feat again in 2008.
Some say that the decision to stick with the untested Aaron Rodgers was a strong show of confidence in the player from the Packers organization. But then you see they also spent two of their nine draft picks on quarterbacks and realize that the franchise is clearly hedging its bets with Rodgers still yet to prove himself.
(When the Packers said that they had "moved on" after Favre announced his retirement, you have to consider all the dominos that had fallen in the offseason, including devoting so many resources in the draft to the QB position.)
But grabbing these quarterbacks, including former Heisman Trophy candidate Brian Brohm and national champion Matt Flynn, were probably solid bets to make, considering that the Packers had zero in the way of statistical weaknesses and, in fact, were the most statistically consistent team in football last year: Green Bay was the only team to rank in the Top 10 in every single one of our Quality Stats last year. They were no worse than seventh in anyone of our indicators. So you might as well plan for the future.
If there was one area of concern, it's a pass defense that was 6th in Defensive Passer Rating – a low mark by Green Bay's otherwise lofty standards. The Packers did little to strengthen this area and if they have trouble stopping opposing passers it will make it only more difficult to win and only exacerbate the inevitable growing pains of life under a new quarterback.
Green Bay Fillability Grade: C
MINNESOTA (2007 Quality Stats rankings)
DE Jared Allen (Kansas City)
WR Bernard Berrian (Chicago)
QB Gus Frerotte (St. Louis)
S Michael Boulware (Houston)
RB Maurice Hicks (San Francisco)
LB Derrick Pope (Miami)
CB Benny Sapp (Kansas City)
FB Thomas Tapeh (Philadelphia)
S Madieu Williams (Cincinnati)
DT Ellis Wyms (Seattle)
DT Spencer Johnson (Buffalo)
RB Mewelde Moore (Pittsburgh)
FB Tony Richardson (New York Jets)
S Dwight Smith (Detroit)
LB Dontarrious Thomas (San Francisco)
S Tank Williams (New England)
WR Troy Williamson (Jacksonville)
2 (43) Tyrell Johnson, S, Arkansas State
5 (137) John David Booty, QB, USC
5 (152) Letroy Guion, DT, Florida State
6 (187) John Sullivan, C, Notre Dame
6 (193) Jaymar Johnson, WR, Jackson State
Vikings Fillability Overview
Conventional wisdom says that the Vikings are just one player away – namely, their quarterback – from becoming a Super Bowl contender this year.
Normally, that's sound advice. The Vikings dominated running the ball last year (5.33 YPA, among the greatest marks in history), and they dominated stopping the run on defense (their Defensive Hogs allowed a mere 3.13 YPA). Given the obvious and well proven impact a quarterback has upon the fortunes of a team, conventional wisdom in this case makes a lot of sense.
But conventional wisdom might also over-estimate Minnesota's overall success last year. Namely, the Vikings also need to show marked improvements in a defensive unit that ranked 23rd in the NFL last year in Defensive Passer Rating. If you can't stop the pass, you can't win games.
Obviously, bringing in 2007 NFL sack leader Jared Allen should improve a defense that was 24th last year forcing Negative Pass Plays (7.75 percent of opposing QB dropbacks). The Vikings also added a safety, Tyrell Johnson, with their first pick of the draft (second round).
Considering the overall defensive efficiency of the Vikings last year – 3rd in our Bendability Index – they're all steps in the right direction.
But keep in mind that the Vikings lived and died on the strength of the Big Play last year (5th in our Big Play Index). They need to reproduce that performance in 2008, and show improvement in both passing offense and passing defense to fulfill the Era of Good Feeling that's overtaken the Gopher State.
Minnesota Fillability Grade: B
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