The Packers surprised everyone when they drafted Jordan Love in the first round
The NFC North was anything but predictable in 2019. Green Bay (division champions), Minnesota and Chicago all finished with winning records, while Detroit posted back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since 2012 and '13. The Packers and Vikings both made the playoffs but came up short in the end.
Despite the competitiveness of this division last year, all four teams have major holes to fill. The Packers and Vikings have to replace departed players, Chicago needs improvement at specific positions, and the Lions are in the process of overhauling their roster. Here is how each team filled their needs in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Objective Achieved: Finished tight end makeover
Because of trades, namely the one that brought Khalil Mack to Chicago, the Bears didn't have many draft picks to work with. But GM Ryan Pace and head coach Matt Nagy tried to maximize the opportunities they had and appear to have landed a couple of building blocks in the second round.
Notre Dame's Cole Kmet was widely considered the top tight end in this year's class. Kmet's addition along with free-agent signees Jimmy Graham and Demetrius Harris, combined with the release of last year's starter, Trey Burton, completes what has been a significant overhaul of the tight end position. Utah cornerback Jaylon Johnson (No. 50 overall) could be a future starter and Georgia Southern product Kindle Vildor could develop into a reliable contributor in the secondary. Chicago also added a pair of offensive linemen in Arlington Hambright and Lachavious Simmons, as the team is hoping for a better performance from that group in 2020. Wide receiver Darnell Mooney and edge rusher Trevis Gipson are guys who will probably need to make an impact on special teams before being added to the rotation at their respective positions.
Objective Achieved: Added lockdown corner, next franchise running back
The Lions made plenty of noise with their early-round picks, starting with Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah at No. 3 overall. Instead of trading out of the spot, Detroit took Okudah, one of the best players in this year's draft regardless of position, who will immediately upgrade the secondary. In the second round, the Lions selected Georgia running back D'Andre Swift. The team has had trouble finding a productive running back since Barry Sanders ran wild. If given the opportunity, Swift could end Detroit's six-year drought without a 1,000-yard rusher. At minimum, Swift should team with Kerryon Johnson to give the Lions a formidable All-SEC (Johnson played at Auburn) backfield tandem.
Other picks include guard Jonah Jackson, another Buckeye who could end up starting right away, and defensive end Julian Okwara, who will join brother Romeo in the rotation up front. Wide receiver Quintez Cephus could potentially make some sort of impact as a rookie because of his size.
Green Bay Packers
Objective Achieved: Addressed the future of the quarterback position
In one of the draft's more surprising moves, Green Bay traded up to take Utah State quarterback Jordan Love with the 26th pick. The general expectation around the league was that the Packers would address wide receiver with their first-round pick and instead they had everyone talking about dÃ©jÃ vu considering the similarities between the Love pick and when the team drafted Aaron Rodgers in the first round in 2005 even though Brett Favre was still playing well. While no one is expecting Love to replace Rodgers anytime soon, the chatter surrounding his future with the team isn't going to go away either.
In fact, the Packers don't appear to have drafted any immediate starters among their nine total picks, which is somewhat curious considering this team came one win away from playing in the Super Bowl. Tight end Josiah Deguara (third round) and defensive end Jonathan Garvin (seventh) figure to be added to their respective rotations right away, especially in the case of Deguara with Jimmy Graham now in Chicago. Running back AJ Dillon, the team's second-round pick from Boston College, also could get his chances defending on how heavy a workload Aaron Jones takes on and if additional roster moves are made. And while Green Bay addressed an aging offensive line with three new bodies (Jon Runyan, Jake Hanson, Simon Stepaniak — all taken in the sixth round), they did not draft a single wide receiver. Considering the need and how deep this wide receiver class was that just adds to the mystery surrounding the Packers' draft strategy.
Objective Achieved: Took care of their team needs
The Vikings were the busiest team during the draft with 15 total picks, the most by any team since the draft moved to a seven-round format. Minnesota capitalized on its second first-round pick, trading it for more capital and also made a later trade with New Orleans to acquire even more picks. In the end, the Vikings addressed every key need, adding a couple of immediate starters and several others that should serve as reserves right away.
The big additions are the two first-rounders — LSU wide receiver Justin Jefferson and TCU cornerback Jeff Gladney. Minnesota also landed key projected backups in offensive tackle Ezra Cleveland, cornerback Cameron Dantzler, wide receiver (and potential return specialist) K.J. Osborn, and safety Josh Metellus. On top of that, the Vikings brought in several intriguing prospects that could develop into key contributors down the road. Names to watch in this category include linebacker Troy Dye, defensive ends D.J. Wonnum and Kenny Willekes, defensive tackle James Lynch, and quarterback Nate Stanley. All told, it was an impressive collaborative effort between GM Rick Spielman, head coach Mike Zimmer, his coaching staff, the team's player personnel staff and scouts.
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.
(Top photo courtesy of Utah State Athletics)