November 29, 2022


Let's Get It!

Packers Searching for LBs; Bears, Lions Need WRs

7 min read

For this May round of Four Downs, we will be looking at each team’s biggest remaining need as well as notable undrafted free agents who will be going to camp with each franchise.


Biggest Need: Wide Receiver

The Bears addressed their two biggest shortcomings with appropriate fanfare when they drafted quarterback Justin Fields and offensive tackle Teven Jenkins early in the first and second round, but the trade-ups those selections required exhausted Chicago’s supply of Round 3 and 4 picks and left the Bears with a handful of roster holes, none more apparent than at wide receiver. Allen Robinson is a star—he overcame uneven quarterback play in 2020 to produce an above-average receiving DVOA—but he has just one year of team control remaining on a franchise tag, and the receivers behind him range from inefficient to unproven. Fifth-round sophomore Darnell Mooney offers the most hope with 4.38s speed and coming off a breakout Week 17 with 11 catches and 93 yards before an ankle injury precluded him from playing in the team’s playoff loss, but he is out of developmental runway as the Bears’ expected No. 2 receiver. And while sixth-round rookie Dazz Newsome might outplay his draft position with a skill set that fits perfectly in the slot, an opportunity there would likely have to make up for the loss of Anthony Miller, whose rookie deal runs out after 2021 and whom the Bears have aimed to trade this offseason.

Notable Undrafted Free Agents

It’s almost impossible to back up an historically great season like the Bears had on defense in 2018 (-25.4% DVOA, first), but they’ve done well with 10th- and eighth-place DVOA finishes the last two seasons and have the star power among their defensive starters to continue that success. The one position they would likely prefer to upgrade is at outside linebacker across from Khalil Mack, and Virginia product Charles Snowden could be that piece despite his undrafted status. Snowden has a basketball pedigree and size but still developed into a productive college player with 11 sacks and 21 tackles for losses in his junior and senior seasons. He might have been a Day 2 selection but for the broken ankle that precluded his participation in the Senior Bowl in a year when the pandemic made uncertain medicals a non-starter for a bunch of drafting teams. In addition, Stanford defensive lineman Thomas Schaffer has a unique background as an Austrian native. Running back C.J. Marable may be too small at 5-foot-10 and 200 pounds to continue his workhorse role at the next level, but he caught 84 passes for 703 yards in three seasons at Coastal Carolina and could in time fill the Tarik Cohen role for his new team.


Biggest Need: Wide Receiver

The Lions likely won’t be ready to compete for the playoffs in 2021, and they showed great discipline in drafting offensive and defensive linemen with their first three picks when they had obvious deficiencies at the flashier skill positions. That said, for the Lions to reach their goal of Super Bowl contention, they will eventually need to address their receiver group. None of Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, Danny Amendola, Marvin Hall, or Mohamed Sanu will return to the team in 2021. Tyrell Williams and Breshad Perriman are perfect placeholder signings, but on one-year deals and playing this season at 29 and 28 years old, respectively, they are unlikely to be part of the next Lions contender. Fourth-round rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown has the body control and route-running savvy to at least contribute from the slot, but he will likely need a bigger or faster running mate on the outside to stretch the defense and create space for him in the middle of the field.

Notable Undrafted Free Agents

As one would expect of a rebuilding team, the Lions inked a bunch of undrafted free agents, and three of their 13 post-draft additions play wide receiver. Sage Surratt—Chazz’s brother—from Wake Forest is the standout according to Playmaker Score. He rated 12th at the position, ahead of the team’s fourth-round selection St. Brown as well as other notable mid-round picks Nico Collins, Anthony Schwartz, Amari Rodgers, and Dez Fitzpatrick. Despite his 6-foot-3 and 209-pound frame, Surratt may fit best in the slot because of his difficulties with press man coverage and lack of top-end speed. Jonathan Adams from Arkansas State and Javon McKinley from Notre Dame have higher ceilings with their superior athletic traits, but neither player matches Surratt for soft hands, and the latter has suffered from injuries and off-field issues. Among the team’s additions at other positions, center Drake Jackson stands out as pro-ready after spearheading Kentucky’s exceptional pass- and run-blocking for the past three and a half seasons, but he lacks the size or length of a typical NFL lineman. He may have to switch to guard to crack the Lions’ lineup with star lineman Frank Ragnow entrenched at center.


Biggest Need: Inside Linebacker

Wide receiver seemed a virtual lock to be the Packers’ biggest post-draft need given the recent history of their front office, but lo and behold, in Amari Rodgers the team drafted the perfect receiver to complement their roster just in time for star quarterback Aaron Rodgers to demand a trade. That drama will likely dominate the discussion of their franchise for the time being, but much more quietly, the Packers placed a lot of trust in undrafted and fifth-round sophomores Krys Barnes and Kamal Martin with their eschewal of a linebacker selection on Day 1 or 2 of the draft. With veteran Christian Kirksey released and now in Houston, Barnes and Martin are Plans A, B, and C at the position. Sixth-round rookie Isaiah McDuffie could help in time. He has an excellent motor and great instincts as a coach’s son, but he’s also undersized, much like Barnes. The Packers frequently rely on dime defenses with the defensive back depth to support that decision, so the Packers may ask less of their interior linebackers than most teams do, but they still carry a major risk with their inexperience at the position that could bite them when they face run-oriented teams such as the division-rival Vikings.

Notable Undrafted Free Agents

The Packers’ early-draft pivot toward offense made defense a priority for the team in undrafted free agency, and not just at linebacker. The team made a pair of additions at defensive tackle and one at safety to try to complement star veterans Kenny Clark and Adrian Amos. At the former position, Carlo Kemp brings experience and leadership qualities as a Michigan team captain but lacks ideal size, and Jack Heflin offers potential with prototypical tools and excellent work ethic but is more of a mystery—he was a walk-on at Northern Illinois with just one year of Power Five experience as a graduate transfer to Iowa. At the latter, Christian Uphoff from Illinois State is versatile with a physical approach that could be ideal for the Packers’ defensive back-heavy lineups that in 2020 struggled to stop the run (24th in adjusted line yards).


Biggest Need: Safety

The Vikings’ need at safety is relative since they still have five-time Pro Bowler Harrison Smith at the position, but Smith is now 32 years old and on the back nine of his career. And free-agent addition Xavier Woods signed the one-year, $1.8-million contract of a placeholder as the team now starts its search for a long-term replacement for Anthony Harris, who left for the Eagles in free agency. The Vikings likely view fourth-round rookie cornerback Camryn Bynum as a safety prospect. His lack of athleticism may make it difficult for him to play the press-man coverage required by a cornerback in head coach Mike Zimmer’s defensive scheme, but unlike his predecessor Harris, Bynum has no college experience at his new position. Things would have to develop perfectly for him to start in 2022 and possibly even anchor the team’s defensive secondary with Smith a risk to retire after his current contract expires as the end of this season.

Notable Undrafted Free Agents

More even than at safety, the Vikings’ 2020 statistics suggest a need in the front seven, where the team finished in the bottom five in adjusted line yards, adjusted sack rate, and defensive pressure rate. Free-agent additions Dalvin Tomlinson and Stephen Weatherly, opt-out returnee Michael Pierce, and injury returnees Danielle Hunter and Anthony Barr will hopefully fix those deficiencies, but the team still did well to create depth and plan for the future with their undrafted free agent signings of defensive tackles Jordon Scott and Zeandae Johnson and linebacker Tuf Borland. Borland is the biggest name of that trio after a productive career at Ohio State, but his small stature and lack of speed may sabotage his tremendous instincts at the next level. Scott and Johnson are better athletic fits for the NFL at their position and even enjoyed some success rushing the passer from the interior of their college lines. Meanwhile, the team added kicker Riley Patterson and long snapper Turner Bernard to take another swing at fixing their seemingly cursed special teams unit. Patterson made 64 of his 83 field goal attempts at Memphis, a 77.1% rate that would have bested Dan Bailey’s accuracy in two of the last three seasons.

Portions of this article previously appeared on ESPN+.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *