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Bold Predictions for the 2020 NFL Draft Class: NFC North Edition

Charlie Neibergall-Associated Press

Part six of our eight-part NFL Draft recap takes a look at the draft classes of the NFC North. This division may have had the most controversial drafts of 2020. The Green Bay Packers took offensive skill position players, but not at the spots you would think. The Detroit Lions were surprisingly unsuccessful in their attempt to trade out of the third overall selection. Even the Chicago Bears, who didn’t have a first rounder, managed to stem some controversy by adding yet another tight end to their roster early in the draft.

While many of the teams in this division may receive subpar draft grades from the media, there is an inherent problem with letter grades in draft recap articles. Your own bias of players and selections is unavoidable. If you think the team should have gone in a different direction, that will impact your grade of the selection. Even if the selection was a great fit, the person doing the “grading,” might miss that.

Therefore, the best way to grade a draft is to isolate how each player fits into the system they were selected to. Which player will succeed, despite being disliked by the draft media? Which player will fail, despite being a media darling for the majority of the draft process? Who had the deepest draft, who had the weakest draft, and what team was able to find their next superstar?

These are the winners, losers, and bold predictions from the 2020 NFL Draft classes of the NFC North.

Chicago Bears

The Selections: Cole Kmet, Jaylon Johnson, Trevis Gipson, Kindle Vildor, Darnell Mooney, Arlington Hambright, Lachavious Simmons

Even though the Bears went into the draft with a disadvantage (the Bears did not have a first round pick because of the Khalil Mack trade), they still struggled to acquire assets that will help them in years to come.

Cole Kmet was a short-sighted selection. The Bears are going to get production from the tight ends on their roster in 2020. Even though Kmet is the best of the bunch, Chicago’s other needs should have superseded them selecting Kmet.

The Bears day three depth selections also lacked a sense of direction. Following the Bears signing of Robert Quinn to play opposite Khalil Mack, Chicago still felt the need to select Trevis Gipson. The Bears failed to address either tackle position up front offensively, which is a major misstep. Chicago’s offensive line has holes in it, and this offensive line class was terrific.

Overall, the direction of the Bears draft was questionable at best. General Manager Ryan Pace failed to address some major needs. However, Pace did manage to make one quality selection.

Bold Prediction: Jaylon Johnson Has the Second Best NFL Career from this Cornerback Class

Naturally, this prediction would be much bolder if Johnson was going to be the best of the bunch. However, Jeffrey Okudah exists. Having said that, this prediction is still quite out there, so let’s pose the argument for it.

Johnson went to an ideal system. Defensive Coordinator Chuck Pagano forces his corners to play physical man-to-man coverage. It helps Pagano unleash his complex blitz packages at opposing offenses. Johnson is best when he’s close to the line of scrimmage. He was one of the better corners in the class at directing receivers off of their route combinations. Johnson’s length allows him to excel in trail coverage, which is a quality that all physical corners must possess. His ball skills are adequate as well.

This is such an ideal pairing in Chicago. Johnson will work magic in Pagano’s defense. Asking him to equal the production that CJ Henderson will give in Jacksonville might be too much. Nevertheless, there is no question that the Bears have a potential steal on their hands in Jaylon Johnson.

Detroit Lions

The Selections: Jeffrey Okudah, D’Andre Swift, Julian Okwara, Jonah Jackson, Logan Sternberg, Quintez Cephus, Jason Huntley, John Penisini, Jashon Cornell

Detroit had an interesting draft class. Everyone assumed the Lions would be successful in trading down from the third pick. Instead, Detroit was locked into the selection. Then, Detroit took a running back in round two, despite still having a number of needs to address.

In a weird turn of events, General Manager Bob Quinn put on a terrific show after that. He landed a relentless pass rusher in Julian Okwara at the top of round three. Jonah Jackson could be the Lions starting right guard in 2020. Detroit also added some decent depth pieces in Logan Sternberg and Quintez Cephus. Sternberg is physical upfront; he can provide a massive boost to the Lions run game. Cephus was a late-round darling of many in the draft media because of his ability after the catch and his short-area quickness.

Even though the Lions didn’t acquire the extra assets they wanted by trading out of the third pick, the salvaged a decent draft class. The selection in round two is what will draw the headlines in a few months. While many may think D’Andre Swift is a perfect fit anywhere, this might be the last place he wanted to go.

Bold Prediction: D’Andre Swift Stumbles in Detriot

The word “bust,” is thrown around too often in NFL Draft circles. If Swift fails, many will attempt to label him a bust. As a prospect, he looks like a “can’t miss.” Swift is lethal in and out of cuts. He leaves defenders in the dust when he plants his foot and changes directions. Swift has the ability to create big plays in the open field, but he’s also a really smart runner between the tackles. There’s no way this guy can fail at the next level, right?

Here’s the problem for Swift. Detroit is where running backs go to die. Kerryon Johnson should have been a quality running back, but injuries have derailed him. The list of failed running backs in Detroit reads as long as the botched quarterback selections in Cleveland. For some reason, Barry Sanders has left a curse upon this franchise.

Swift will likely be no different. Not only do the Lions struggle to commit to the running game, but their offensive line is questionable at best. Neither Taylor Decker nor Hal Vatai, are big-time run blockers. The interior of their offensive line is subpar at best right now. Swift might literally have to be Barry Sanders to be successful behind this offensive line. It’s hard to ask running backs to make something out of nothing on a consistent basis. Even someone as talented as Le’Veon Bell couldn’t do it last year in New York.

When you factor everything in, Swift may struggle in Detroit despite his talents. This is why the term “bust,” is unfair for a player like Swift. He was put in a terrible situation, which will ultimately be his downfall.

Green Bay Packers

The Selections: Jordan Love, AJ Dillon, Josiah Deguara, Kamal Martin, Jon Runyan Jr., Jake Hanson, Simon Stepaniak, Vernon Scott, Jonathan Garvin

Well Packers fans, this draft ain’t it. Green Bay kicked things off by selecting their first offensive skill position player in round one since Aaron Rodgers. The problem is, they picked another quarterback!

Listen, there is a great chance Jordan Love becomes successful at the next level. He was the one guy of the top four quarterbacks in this draft that had to sit his first year. Love has a cannon for an arm, but he forces a lot of throws. Sitting for a few years will help him learn to read NFL coverages. He will become better at finding a secondary read just by studying film.

Having said all of that, none of this helps them win right now. The Packers were one game away from the Super Bowl last year, yet chose to look at the future instead of the present. Aaron Rodgers still has plenty of football left in the tank, so why not get him a weapon he can actually use?

The same can be said for A.J. Dillon. Dillon is a punishing rusher between the tackles. He put up excellent numbers at Boston College, even though opposing defenses knew he was the entire offense. However, Aaron Jones has proven himself to be a feature back. Why waste a second-round selection on someone who will not be “the guy,” right away?

Green Bay’s draft was one of the biggest misses of any team in 2020. In fact, the missteps will lead to the departure of a superstar in future years.

Bold Prediction: Because of Green Bay’s Selections in 2020, Aaron Rodgers Play on a Different Team in 2021

Aaron Rodgers has been known to sound off on the Packers organization in years past. Despite what he may say publicly, it’s hard to imagine that Rodgers is thrilled about this behind closed doors. Packer legend Brett Favre went as far as to indicate that Rodgers would finish his career elsewhere because of the Jordan Love selection. Truth be told, he’s right, and it’s for a number of different reasons.

First off, Rodgers could become a cap casualty in 2022, should the Packers opt to go in that direction. If Jordan Love is ready to go by then, the Packers can open up cap space by moving Rodgers. More importantly, Rodgers has the star power and contract power to pressure the Packers into getting traded, if that is his ultimate goal.

Second, the Packers were one game from the Super Bowl last year. Green Bay entered this draft with needs at receiver, defensive line, offensive line, and in their linebacking core. So naturally, these are the places they would look to select players right?

THEY DID NOT ADDRESS ANY OF THESE NEEDS BEFORE ROUND FIVE!

How does General Manager Brian Gutekunst justify not getting his future hall of fame quarterback the weapons necessary to get to the Super Bowl in an all-time wide receiver class? How does Gutekunst justify not selecting Patrick Queen to command the middle of the Packers defense after the loss of Blake Martinez? Even if the Packers wanted to pull an “Aaron Rodgers,” with Jordan Love, what about just picking a receiver in round two? The Jets managed to nab Denzel Mims in the back end of the second round. Green Bay couldn’t have done something similar?

To sum up, the Packers brass just told a future hall of famer that they do not believe in him for the immediate future. When you line up every piece of information, it seems to lead towards Rodgers playing elsewhere at the end of his career. It just might be sooner rather than later.

Minnesota Vikings

The Selections: Justin Jefferson, Jeff Gladney, Ezra Cleveland, Cameron Dantzler, D.J. Wonnum, James Lynch, Troy Dye, Harrison Hand, K.J. Osborn, Blake Brandel, Josh Metellus, Kenny Willekes, Nate Stanley, Brian Cole II, Kyle Hinton

Minnesota’s draft class is the lone star in a division of garbage. The Vikings crushed each of their first three selections. Justin Jefferson‘s versatility and ability at the catch point should make him a perfect fit in the Vikings offense. Jeff Gladney is an elite man cover corner. His versatility makes him an ideal fit as well (Gladney mirrors receivers from the boundary and slot corner positions very well). Ezra Cleveland also has versatility at the next level, largely because of his elite athleticism.

The Vikings also cleaned up in the later rounds. James Lynch and Troy Dye could develop into starters down the line. Lynch will transition to a three-technique nicely at the next level, while Dye should be a quality weakside linebacker in the passing game. Minnesota also scooped up Harrison Hand, who’s competitiveness at the catch point and footwork in off coverage could make him the steal of the draft.

General Manager Rick Spielman used his assets very well during the 2020 NFL Draft. However, the first round is the round that gets the most attention, and Spielman picked two studs in round one.

Bold Prediction: Jeff Gladney Has the Second Best NFL Career from this Cornerback Class

“Wait, Jordan didn’t you just make this statement about Jaylon Johnson? How can you make the same bold prediction for two different people?”

Here’s the thing though; bold predictions for each team’s draft classes have to be independent of other predictions. Much like Jaylon Johnson, Jeff Gladney went to a perfect scheme fit. Head Coach Mike Zimmer likes aggressive corners with good mirroring skills that have some versatility. Gladney can play man coverage all over the field. Therefore, the argument is there for Gladney to have a strong NFL career. Hence why the prediction is a duplicate.

With the departure of Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes, the Vikings will now start Gladney along with Mike Hughes. Both cornerbacks have nickel ability, which is a huge asset schematically for Zimmer. The concern, of course, is that both corners are on the smaller side. Which one of these players can step up and command a boundary position?

This is where Gladney really has a chance to shine. Mike Hughes is a really good slot corner, and maybe Dantzler or Hand can play the boundary at times as well. However, none of these corners have the game that Gladney does in man coverage. If his footwork in off coverage improves, Gladney has the chance to turn into a shutdown corner.

So even though this is a duplicate prediction from above with Jaylon Johnson and the Bears, the prediction also has its merits. Time will tell which one winds up being correct.

Jordan Katz
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