Flash-forward: 2009 NFC North draft review

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Jun 05, 2012



By Scott Kacsmar
Cold, Hard Football Facts draft-a-holic


They say you need three years before you can truly grade a draft. For once, “they” are onto something.
 
Year one is to gain experience and get acclimated to the league. Year two should focus on improvement. By year three, the team should have a pretty good idea of whether or not they have a player worthy of being a long-term contributor.
 
Rather than rush to judgment over 2012 rookies that have yet to play a down, we went back to the 2009 NFL Draft to collect data and grade each team’s draft class through three seasons. This is the first of an eight-part series, and we begin with the division that held the No. 1 overall pick.
 
Notes: Players listed in bold are still on the active roster of the team that drafted them. A player with his games played (GP) and games started (GS) listed in red has appeared in games for a team other than his draft team. “CarAV” refers to data from the Approximate Value system at Pro-Football-Reference.com. References to snap data credited to Pro Football Focus.
 

4. CHICAGO BEARS

Sacrificing the draft for a quarterback

The 2009 offseason was a pivotal one for the Bears, as they went against their team’s history and aggressively made a move for a quarterback. Their target was Denver’s Jay Cutler. The cost of the trade became Chicago’s first-round picks in 2009 and 2010, their third-round pick in 2009, and QB Kyle Orton. Denver also sent a fifth-round pick to go along with Cutler.
 
It’s a steep price to go after a potential franchise quarterback, which partially explains why the Bears have had the worst 2009 draft in the NFC North division. While Cutler threw 26 interceptions in 2009 (7-9 record), the Bears reached the NFC Championship game the following season, and were 7-3 last season before Cutler’s season-ending injury. It is hard to fault a team for going after a quarterback.

The Class

Rnd Pick Player Pos. College GP GS CarAV 2012 Team
3 68 Jarron Gilbert DT San Jose St. 5 0 0 Buffalo
3 99 Juaquin Iglesias WR Oklahoma 1 0 0 Houston
4 105 Henry Melton DT Texas 31 15 7 Chicago
4 119 D.J. Moore CB Vanderbilt 32 1 4 Chicago
5 140 Johnny Knox WR Abilene Christian 45 27 20 Chicago
5 154 Marcus Freeman LB Ohio St. 0 0 0 None (retired)
6 190 Al Afalava DB Oregon St. 17 13 5 Tennessee
7 246 Lance Louis G San Diego St. 30 17 6 Chicago
7 251 Derek Kinder WR Pittsburgh 0 0 0 None
 
Best Pick: WR Johnny Knox (5.140) – Interesting to note the fifth-round pick Denver sent to the Bears in the Cutler trade turned out to be the best player Chicago drafted that year. Knox has been a big-play receiver with a career average of 16.6 yards per reception. His first career catch was a 68-yard gain. He has 133 receptions for 2,214 yards and 12 receiving touchdowns in 45 games, but an incredibly ugly back injury last season could threaten his 2012 return. Knox made the Pro Bowl as a kick returner for the 2009 season.
 
Worst Pick: WR Juaquin Iglesias (3.99) - You can take your pick with the third round disaster Chicago suffered here. Iglesias was active for just one game with the Bears, and he played a whopping two snaps. He has never made a reception in a regular season game. Iglesias has since been on practice squads for the Vikings and Texans. As a receiver that steadily improved at Oklahoma, Iglesias was expected to be a good target for Cutler, but it never came close to panning out.
 
The Others:
DT Jarron Gilbert (3.68) – Played just four games and a grand total of 35 snaps for the Bears in 2009. He had one tackle. He has since gone on to do irrelevant things with the New York Jets (2010) and Buffalo Bills (2011-present).
 
DT Henry Melton (4.105) – After not playing his rookie season and sparingly in his second, Melton moved into a starting defensive tackle role in 2011 and had an impact on the Bears’ pass rush with 7 sacks. With several of his best games coming late in the season, he could be an interior pass-rusher to keep an eye on going forward.
 
CB D.J. Moore (4.119) – After playing three games in his rookie year, Moore has seen significant time as a backup/nickel CB. He has returned an interception for a touchdown in each of the last two seasons. For the fourth round, it’s a solid depth choice.
 
LB Marcus Freeman (5.154) – The Ohio State linebacker never made the Bears final roster in 2009, and never appeared in any regular season games for any team. He retired in 2010 due to an enlarged heart and now coaches linebackers at Kent State.
 
SS Al Afalava (6.190) – Forced into a starting strong safety role as a rookie, Afalava made 13 starts for the Bears, but often struggled. The Bears looked to improve their safety position by bringing in Chris Harris in the offseason. Afalava was cut as the Bears got down to their 53-man roster for 2010. He’s currently with the Titans.
 
OG/OT Lance Louis (7.246) – Started four games in 2010, followed by 13 starts on the right side of the line in 2011. Chicago’s offensive line has struggled a lot in recent years, but Louis performed even worse last season after Cutler was injured. The Bears appear to be moving him back to guard, which should help. Generally, not starting an offensive lineman from the seventh round in the draft is usually a good strategy as well.
 
WR Derek Kinder (7.251) – The receiver from Pittsburgh never caught on in the NFL, registering zero career regular season games after the Bears cut him on August 31, 2009.
 

3. MINNESOTA VIKINGS

A bit of a migraine

At the time of the draft, the Vikings had no idea Brett Favre would be playing quarterback at a very high level for them in 2009. Fortunately, they provided some help to Favre in the form of a first-round wide receiver and a second-round right tackle.
 
While Percy Harvin has been a good player for the Vikings, his small frame and problem with migraines have been a concern for his durability. He missed three games in his first two seasons, but after believing to have fixed the migraines, he played all 16 games in 2011.
 
Problem is there wasn’t much left at the quarterback position in the wake of Favre’s retirement. There’s also not much left of what was already a small five-man draft class after Asher Allen’s recent retirement. The Vikings traded their fourth-round pick in 2009 to Houston for Sage Rosenfels, who never played a down for the team.

The Class

Rnd Pick Player Pos. College GP GS CarAV 2012 Team
1 22 Percy Harvin WR Florida 45 35 32 Minnesota
2 54 Phil Loadholt OT Oklahoma 47 47 21 Minnesota
3 86 Asher Allen CB Georgia 36 21 9 None (retired)
5 150 Jasper Brinkley LB South Carolina 32 4 4 Minnesota
7 231 Jamarca Sanford DB Mississippi 41 18 8 Minnesota
 
Best Pick: WR Percy Harvin (1.22) – A standout at Florida, Harvin has the ability to be a big-play receiver, an effective runner out of the backfield (52 carries in 2011), and he’s been a Pro Bowl returner with four career kick return scores. His versatility has produced 5,821 all-purpose yards, which ranks him 6th for a player after three seasons.
 
Worst Pick: CB Asher Allen (3.86) – Started 21 games for the Vikings in three years. There are two problems with Allen. First, he continuously struggled in coverage, which is a no-no in this league. Second, he’s already retired at age 24. The cause is unknown, but it could be health-related. Another reason to consider this a bad pick: Lardarius Webb was taken two picks later by Baltimore. Webb is one of the rising stars at CB in this league, while Allen has already checked out.
 
The Others:
RT Phil Loadholt (2.54) – The Vikings needed a tackle, and with Loadholt, Sebastian Vollmer (58th to New England) and William Beatty (60th to NY Giants) all on the board, they probably made the right decision for their team. Loadholt is much more of a run blocker than he is a pass protector, and that fits Minnesota’s offense better with the great Adrian Peterson. Vollmer has been good, but the Patriots love to line up in shotgun and throw the ball. Loadholt had his best season in 2011, though he’s still far away from Pro Bowl-caliber.
 
LB Jasper Brinkley (5.150) – Received four starts as a rookie after E.J. Henderson suffered a season-ending injury. However, he played more of a special teams role in 2010, and had just 18 snaps. He missed all of 2011 after undergoing hip surgery.
 
FS Jamarca Sanford (7.231) – He started 15 games at FS last season, but the Vikings field a brutal pass defense that allowed opposing passers a 107.6 passer rating. According to Pro Football Focus, Sanford allowed a 114.8 rating when targeted in 2011. His 8 allowed touchdowns were the most among all safeties. Minnesota needs to find a better player to start at safety, putting Sanford back on the bench.
 

2. GREEN BAY PACKERS

First round key to defensive turnaround and Super Bowl title

It was a struggle defensively in the 2008 season; the first year Aaron Rodgers took over for Brett Favre as starter. The Packers, one year removed from a 13-3 season and NFC Championship appearance, finished just 6-10. But relief was fast to come with the selection of nose tackle B.J. Raji with the 9th overall pick in 2009.
 
However, Raji was not the biggest move the Packers made, as they pulled one over on Bill Belichick and the Patriots by trading up to select pass rushing linebacker Clay Matthews with the 26th pick. Green Bay immediately improved to one of the best defenses in the league, and after Raji moved into a starting role in 2010, they were arguably the best defense. During their 2010 Super Bowl run, Raji scored on a pick six in the NFC Championship, and Matthews forced a huge fumble by Rashard Mendenhall to start the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLV.
 
While Green Bay’s defense really faltered in 2011, these two first-round additions from the 2009 draft are cornerstones for Dom Capers’ defense and the success of the Packers.

The Class

Rnd Pick Player Pos. College GP GS CarAV 2012 Team
1 9 B.J. Raji DT Boston Col. 46 33 17 Green Bay
1 26 Clay Matthews LB USC 46 43 36 Green Bay
4 109 T.J. Lang OT East. Michigan 44 19 13 Green Bay
5 145 Quinn Johnson FB LSU 24 5 1 Tennessee
5 162 Jamon Meredith OT South Carolina 17 4 2 Tampa Bay
6 182 Jarius Wynn DE Georgia 36 4 5 Green Bay
6 187 Brandon Underwood DB Cincinnati 23 0 2 Oakland
7 218 Brad Jones LB Colorado 35 13 8 Green Bay
 
Best Pick: LB Clay Matthews (1.26) – The Packers got a top-five player in the entire draft late in the first round. Matthews is the only player in the 2009 class with three Pro Bowl selections, and he was first-team All Pro in 2010. Though his sack total dipped to just 6.0 last season, his relentless pursuit still put him among the leading linebackers in quarterback hits and hurries.
 
Worst Pick: FB Quinn Johnson (5.145) – At over 250 pounds, this fullback did make 20 regular season appearances and 4 starts for the Packers, but he never carried the ball and caught just 5 passes for 30 yards. He was traded to the Titans in 2011, and then briefly spent time in Denver before returning to Tennessee. There was never much room in the Packers’ backfield for Johnson, as fan-favorite John Kuhn has occupied most of the snaps at fullback.
 
The Others:
NT B.J. Raji (1.9) – A starter for the last two seasons, Raji has offered the Packers that rare athletic ability that comes with the massive size required to play nose tackle. Like many players on Green Bay’s defense, his 2010 season was much better than his 2011, though go figure Pro Bowl voters rewarded him for the wrong year.
 
OT T.J. Lang (4.109) – A good depth pick. Lang started at left guard last season and provided good pass protection for Aaron Rodgers, though like Green Bay’s line in general, he struggled in the running game.
 
OT Jamon Meredith (5.162) – After making Green Bay’s practice squad as a rookie, Meredith has bounced around from Buffalo to Detroit to the New York Giants and even the Steelers. He’s appeared in 17 games (none for Green Bay) with four starts, and is currently with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
 
DE Jarius Wynn (6.182) – Has been a backup the last three years, seeing an increase in playing time each season. Given the other defensive line options available at this point in the draft, Wynn was a good selection.
 
DB Brandon Underwood (6.187) – Despite appearing in 23 games, Underwood only played 63 defensive snaps with the Packers. He did not make the 53-man roster in 2011, and is currently a safety with Oakland.
 
LB Brad Jones (7.218) – Few players taken in this seventh round have had as much playing time as Jones. Formerly a starter, he provides depth at OLB.
 

1. DETROIT LIONS

The new era of Detroit football begins

After the embarrassing 0-16 season in 2008, many changes were necessary for the Detroit Lions. They hired Tennessee defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz to be head coach, and fortunately held the No. 1 pick in a draft where a franchise quarterback was the top prospect.
 
Many of the great turnaround jobs in NFL history were built on the arrival of a new coach and quarterback, and that’s what Schwartz and Matthew Stafford appear to be doing for the Lions. Now if only they could teach their 2011 draft class how to stay out of jail … But that review is for another day.

The Class

Rnd Pick Player Pos. College GP GS CarAV 2012 Team
1 1 Matthew Stafford QB Georgia 29 29 21 Detroit
1 20 Brandon Pettigrew TE Oklahoma St. 43 43 20 Detroit
2 33 Louis Delmas FS West. Michigan 41 41 16 Detroit
3 76 DeAndre Levy LB Wisconsin 43 37 17 Detroit
3 82 Derrick Williams WR Penn St. 18 1 0 Pittsburgh
4 115 Sammie Lee Hill DT Stillman 44 15 9 Detroit
6 192 Aaron Brown RB TCU 22 2 2 Cincinnati
7 228 Lydon Murtha OT Nebraska 9 4 2 Miami
7 235 Zack Follett LB California 17 2 2 None
7 255 Dan Gronkowski TE Maryland 21 5 4 Cleveland
 
Best Pick: QB Matthew Stafford (1.1) – Maybe it was the easiest pick of them all, but the Lions wasted no time in making the right move and taking the best quarterback in the draft. Due to injuries, there was a waiting period before the Lions could really feel confident in Stafford, who missed 19 games in his first two seasons. But once he started all 16 games in 2011, Stafford rewrote the not-so-deep record books for Detroit passers. He threw for 5,038 yards and 41 touchdown passes in leading the Lions to their first playoff season in twelve years. The future looks bright for a change at the quarterback position in Detroit.
 
Worst Pick: WR Derrick Williams (3.82) – At Penn State he was an explosive player and a jack-of-all trades, scoring 22 touchdowns on receptions, runs, kick returns and punt returns. It seemed like a good fit for Detroit’s passing game, but the stigma of Big Ten players being less athletic crept up again when he ran an underwhelming 40-yard dash of 4.55 seconds. Williams was released by Detroit after two disappointing seasons in which he only caught 9 passes (on just 18 targets) for 82 yards. He is currently trying to earn a spot with the Steelers. Interesting to note Pittsburgh’s Mike Wallace was taken two spots after Williams, which just makes Detroit’s pick look that much worse.
 
The Others:
TE Brandon Pettigrew (1.20) – When you draft a quarterback, you might as well give him the best tight end in the draft if you can. That’s what Detroit did. However, Pettigrew has not developed into one of the more dangerous players in the league. He has gone over 700 yards the last two seasons, but he has 11 career touchdowns on 184 receptions. One has to wonder if the Lions would have been better served adding an explosive receiver like Hakeem Nicks or Kenny Britt to go alongside Calvin Johnson. Pettigrew was a good pick, but with those wide receivers and a pass-rusher (who just happens to be your division rival now) like Clay Matthews available, it probably was not the best pick.
 
FS Louis Delmas (2.33) – Detroit had their pick of safeties at the top of the second round. They went with Delmas over Patrick Chung (New England). It’s a somewhat questionable call as neither has been a standout player, but Chung has made a few more big plays in less playing time (5 interceptions to 2 for Delmas). Detroit’s defense struggled last season when Delmas missed five games, but his return in the playoffs did not help matters as Drew Brees torched the Lions for big plays and 466 yards passing.
 
LB DeAndre Levy (3.76) – Has been a solid contributor to the defense with 37 career starts, but has struggled in pass coverage throughout his career. Levy had a career-high 109 tackles in 2011, but like the rest of Detroit’s defense, his season went south down the stretch.
 
DT Sammie Lee Hill (4.115) – Started 12 games as a rookie on what was another disastrous Detroit defense, but the Lions improved their interior defensive line in 2010 with acquiring Corey Williams and of course drafting Ndamukong Suh. Regardless, Hill has provided good depth and has played well in situational roles the last two seasons.
 
RB Aaron Brown (6.192) – Just another “dime a dozen” back to get drafted late and contribute little to a team. Okay, maybe that’s being too harsh, as Brown at least averaged 4.2 yards per carry the 45 times he did run the ball for Detroit. He is now trying to make Cincinnati’s roster.
 
OT Lydon Murtha (7.228) – Never made Detroit’s final roster, but did get placed on the practice squad.  The Miami Dolphins signed him to their roster in 2009 and he’s appeared in nine games with four starts for them. Murtha spent 2011 on injured reserve.
 
LB Zack Follett (7.235) – Initially made Detroit’s practice squad before appearing in 12 regular season games in 2009. He was able to start two games in 2010, but suffered a season-ending injury. The Lions released him during the 2011 preseason.
 
TE Dan Gronkowski (7.255) – It is hard to get rid of those Gronkowski brothers. After an injury to Pettigrew, Dan was called up from the practice squad and made one reception in his career with Detroit. He was then traded on September 4, 2010 to the Broncos for Alphonso Smith, which was another Detroit disaster. Dan joined his brother Rob, briefly, in New England, and is now with the Cleveland Browns.

SUMMARY

Team Detroit Green Bay Minnesota Chicago
Players 10 8 5 9
Still on team 5 5 4 4
Total GP 287 271 201 161
Total GS 179 121 125 73
Total CarAV 93 84 74 42
 
While the value of first-round vs. fifth-round may make Percy Harvin vs. Johnny Knox a wash, Minnesota ranks ahead of Chicago because they still got value out of their complete (smaller) class. It is too hard to overlook the third round debacle the Bears suffered.
 
Detroit had two more picks (and higher ones at that) than Green Bay, but their ability to find key contributors with their first four picks, including their quarterback, give them the top ranking in the NFC North 2009 draft rankings.
 
We are sure Green Bay, winners of Super Bowl XLV, won’t mind.
 
Up next: AFC North, and some of the biggest steals of the draft.
 
Scott Kacsmar is a football writer/researcher who has contributed large quantities of data to Pro-Football-Reference.com, including the only standardized database of fourth quarter comebacks and game-winning drives. He never drank the Derrick Williams Kool-Aid. You can send any questions or comments to Scott at smk_42@yahoo.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @CaptainComeback.

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