GREEN BAY: Packers stay on offense, add RB A.J. Dillon, TE Deguara
The Green Bay Packers have stayed on offense throught the first two days of the NFL draft, a major change from their usual strategy.
One day after trading up four spots in the first round to take Utah State quarterback Jordan Love with the 26th overall pick, the Packers added Boston College running back A.J. Dillon in the second round and Cincinnati tight end Josiah Deguara in the third round Friday night.
Before this season, the Packers hadn’t used a first-round pick on offense since taking Mississippi State tackle Derek Sherrod at No. 32 overall in 2011. The Packers went with defense with their first two picks last year, their first three draft choices in 2018 and their first four selections in 2017.
“It was just naturally a very strong offensive draft this year," general manager Brian Gutekunst said. “Certainly where our team sits right now, I thought that was probably where we'd like to make some investments, into the offense. We certainly did a lot on defense over the past couple of years."
Dillon, the No. 62 overall pick, rushed for 4,382 yards and 38 touchdowns in his three-year college career. He ran for 1,685 yards and 14 scores last season.
Although he was one of the busiest running backs in college football with 845 carries in his three years at Boston College, Dillon emphasized he's “good to go" and “healthy as can be" even after such heavy usage.
“I had a lot of carries, but that just goes to show I can handle the workload, I can be the workhorse," Dillon said. “Everyone can know the ball's coming to me, and I can still grind out yards.''
The Packers clearly drafted with an eye on the future when they moved up to take Love, a talented but unpolished quarterback who figures to spend at least the next couple of seasons behind Aaron Rodgers on the depth chart.
Gutekunst said he has spoken with Rodgers since drafting Love. Gutekunst declined to discuss the specifics of the conversation but called Rodgers a “true pro" and said he didn't expect the decision to draft a quarterback in the first round to cause a problem with the two-time MVP.
The selection of Dillon also doesn’t necessarily seem to fill an immediate need. Green Bay already has Aaron Jones, who rushed for 1,084 yards and 16 touchdowns last season. Jamaal Williams is a capable complementary back.
But running back could be a major concern a year from now, as both Jones and Williams are potential free agents in 2021. At least for now, the Packers believes all three backs should work well together.
“That's a three-headed beast that can come in and take this running game to the next level," Packers college scout Mike Owen said. “You've got a nice mixture of running styles. Aaron Jones is more like lightning and you've got the thunder with A.J. Dillon and Jamaal Williams.”
Owen noted that Dillon's physical running style at 6 feet and 247 pounds will enable him to wear defenses down particularly when the weather gets colder. Dillon noted that he's accustomed to playing in cold weather after playing high school and college football in the state of Massachusetts.
Dillon had only 21 career catches at Boston College, though he said that was mainly because he played in a run-oriented offense.
“I'd say I'm for sure an all-purpose back, somebody who can do everything - run the ball, catch and obviously protect the quarterback," Dillon said.
The 6-foot-2 Deguara, picked 94th overall, caught 12 touchdown passes over the last two seasons. He had 39 receptions for 504 yards and seven touchdowns in 2019.
This marks the second straight year the Packers have used a third-round pick on a tight end after taking Texas A&M's Jace Sternberger at that spot last year. Gutekunst said Deguara also has the ability to play other roles such as H-back and fullback.
“Whatever the team needs me to do, I'm willing to do," Deguara said. “I showed in college, I'm able to do a lot of different things. I'm just excited to got to work.”
The Packers have six more picks Saturday as they seek to boost a roster that helped them go 13-3 and reach the NFC championship game last season. They traded their fourth-round pick to acquire Love but still have one pick in the fifth round, three in the sixth and two in the seventh.
Their most apparent remaining needs are adding a wideout to complement three-time Pro Bowl selection Davante Adams and finding some inside linebackers and linemen to shore up a run defense that ranked 23rd in the NFL last season.
-- By Steve Megargee, AP
MINNESOTA: Vikings draft OT Ezra Cleveland, CB Cameron Dantzler
MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Vikings patiently filled major needs on the offensive line and in the secondary with two more picks on Friday night, taking advantage of a deep draft without having to move up and adding three more selections for the final day for good measure.
Boise State offensive tackle Ezra Cleveland went to the Vikings in the second round at 58th overall, and Mississippi State cornerback Cameron Dantzler was their choice in the third round at 89th overall. Then they dealt the 105th pick, one of the compensatory selections at the end of the third round, to New Orleans for picks in the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh rounds.
“You were kind of like, ‘Let’s hold our horses here and just be a little patient and see how things start to fall,’” general manager Rick Spielman said.
The 6-foot-6, 311-pound Cleveland posted some standout numbers at the scouting combine after three years as the starting left tackle for the Broncos.
His athleticism is one of his primary attributes, boasting the mobility to make zone blocks that are key to offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s system. Boise State ran an offense with similar tendencies and philosophies, a transitional advantage amid the virus-caused uncertainty of when rookies will actually be able to get in-person practice time with the new team.
“I think it’s a huge benefit for me to be coming from a zone type scheme and then going right back into one,” Cleveland said.
Six offensive tackles were taken in the first round, but only one was off the board in the second round when the Vikings came on the clock. Washington has been shopping seven-time Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams, who sat out last season in a health-related dispute with the team, but the Vikings didn’t bite and went with the rookie instead without having to give any assets up.
“We thought about going up, potentially, but we just felt like with all the players left on the board, we would just sit and wait and get our guy,” college scouting director Jamaal Stephenson said.
Cleveland was timed in the 40-yard dash at the combine in 4.93 seconds, the third-fastest among all offensive linemen. He performed 30 repetitions at 225 pounds on the bench press, the fifth-most at his position in Indianapolis two months ago.
“I’m not quite sure if he faced the kind of people that he’s going to see at the NFL level that he saw at Boise. I think there will be an adjustment, like there is for most, but he’s a smart guy,” Stephenson said. “He’ll figure it out. He loves football. He’s tough. We think he’s going to be OK.”
The Vikings have two established tackles in Riley Reiff and Brian O’Neill, so if Cleveland proves to be a quick study Reiff could move to guard. Or Cleveland might slide inside for the time being.
“The coaches will figure out the best five offensive linemen,” Spielman said.
The offensive line has been a clear area of need for the last five years, and the attempts to address that by Spielman have been rather spotty. Center Garrett Bradbury went in the first round in 2019 and O’Neill was a second-rounder in 2018, but they’re among just six offensive linemen the Vikings have taken in the first four rounds over the last five drafts. Reiff, who got a five-year, $58 million contract in 2017, is the only significant free agent signing currently on the roster.
Now Spielman will have ample opportunities on Saturday to enhance the depth up front with a whopping 13 picks — three each in the fourth, fifth and sixth rounds and four in the seventh. He will undoubtedly use the surplus to move up for certain players of interest, but the more drafted players the fewer college free agents they have to try to sign during the post-draft free-for-all.
The Vikings used their two first-round picks to fill voids at wide receiver (LSU’s Justin Jefferson) and cornerback (TCU’s Jeff Gladney). Jefferson went 22nd overall, the fifth wide receiver taken. Gladney was the 31st pick, after the Vikings moved down six spots in a swap with San Francisco that landed them extra selections in the fourth and fifth round.
After letting their top three cornerbacks from last season leave, the Vikings have places for Gladney and the 6-foot-2, 188-pound Dantzler to play right away. They’ll join Mike Hughes, Holton Hill and Kris Boyd at an especially young position group.
Dantzler ran a concerning 4.64-second 40-yard dash at the combine, but the Vikings were confident he’s faster than that and more interested in how well he fared against the best SEC competition including Jefferson’s national champion LSU squad.
Dantzler already has one of the best nicknames on the team: “The Needle.”
“Because I was always skinny,” he said, “but when I hit you, it hurt.”
-- By Dave Campbell, AP
CHICAGO: Bears open draft by taking TE Cole Kmet, CB Jaylon Johnson
CHICAGO - Cole Kmet grew up in the Chicago suburbs cheering for Hall of Famer Brian Urlacher and former star tight end Greg Olsen. His dad, Frank, played on the Bears' practice squad in the early 1990s.
Now, Kmet gets to suit up for his hometown team.
The Bears addressed one of their biggest weaknesses on a struggling offense by drafting the Notre Dame tight end with the No. 43 overall pick Friday night before adding Utah cornerback Jaylon Johnson at No. 50.
“I was just so pumped up,” Kmet said.
Bears tight ends combined for just 395 yards last season and none had more than 91 all year. They now have 10 on their roster after taking the sure-handed, 6-foot-6 Kmet, who started 11 games as a junior last season after missing the first two because of a broken collarbone. He caught 43 passes for 515 yards and six touchdowns.
General manager Ryan Pace said he had opportunities to trade down in the draft with both picks. He stuck with what he had and jumped at the chance to take Kmet, the only tight end to go in the first two rounds.
“You're always, I think, looking at supply and demand,” Pace said. “You know what positions thin out fast.”
Kmet grew up about 45 miles northwest of Soldier Field in suburban Lake Barrington and starred in football and baseball for St. Viator High School. The White Sox showed interest in drafting him out of high school and had him work out at their ballpark. But he opted to play both sports at Notre Dame, where he ultimately focused on football.
With the Bears, he will get to work with one of this generation's most accomplished tight ends in Jimmy Graham. Chicago signed the veteran, hoping the five-time Pro Bowl pick can regain the form that made him a star for New Orleans and Seattle before getting released by Green Bay.
Kmet said he models his game after Rob Gronkowski. Either way, the Bears are banking on big things.
“Yeah I know they’ve been looking for a tight end to fit in the room and stuff,” Kmet said. “And I know they just signed Jimmy, and I think I’m a little different type of player than Jimmy in terms of how I play and how I can be used."
Johnson fills a void in the secondary where the Bears are looking to complement Kyle Fuller.
A first-team All Pac-12 selection the past two seasons, Johnson thought he should have gone higher in the draft — maybe in the first round. But surgeries in recent years on both shoulders, including an operation on his right shoulder following the combine, might have impacted his stock.
Johnson had two interceptions and a team-high 11 pass breakups as a junior despite playing last year with a torn labrum.
“I'm not sure how much my shoulder hurt my draft stock,” he said. “I feel like it could have. ... At this point, it doesn't matter because they didn't pick me and the Bears did. Clearly, my shoulder's not too big of an issue.”
Johnson said he is “forever grateful and thankful” to be drafted.
Chicago came into the night with seven selections over the final two days of the draft. The Bears have a fifth-rounder (163), as well as two each in the sixth (196, 200) and seventh (226, 233).
They had to wait a day to make their first pick because they did not have a first-rounder for the second year in a row. They dealt them to Oakland for star pass rusher Khalil Mack prior to the 2018 season.
The Bears have been busy in the offseason after going 8-8. The Monsters of the Midway came into the year with Super Bowl hopes after winning the NFC North at 12-4, only to miss the playoffs for the eighth time in nine years.
They acquired former Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles from Jacksonville to compete with quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, after the No. 2 overall pick in 2017 struggled in his third season.
The Bears also added to a defense that has excelled in recent years. They signed former All-Pro pass rusher Robert Quinn to take the pressure off Mack.
They addressed one issue in the secondary by drafting Johnson. They could still use a safety to go with Eddie Jackson.
“Just being able to be a part of that defense and add some value to their defense, to their organization, will be big time,” Johnson said.
-- By Andrew Seligman, AP
DETROIT: Lions take Swift in 2nd round, Okwara and Jackson in the 3rd
DETROIT - D’Andre Swift's favorite all-time running back is Barry Sanders, even though he was born after the Hall of Famer ended his career with the Detroit Lions.
Swift heard so much about Sanders that he watched the way he ran and tried to emulate him.
The Lions, clearly, loved what they saw Swift do at Georgia.
Detroit took Swift early in the second round of the NFL draft on Friday night with a slightly surprising pick.
The Lions had a pair of selections in the third round, including No. 85 overall as part of the trade that sent Pro Bowl cornerback Darius Slay to Philadelphia. They used that third-round pick from the Eagles in a deal with Indianapolis to move up to No. 75 to select Ohio State guard Jonah Jackson.
Lions general manager Bob Quinn disputed a report that Detroit backed out of a trade to acquire the No. 90 pick from the Houston Texans, whose coach, Bill O’Brien, was shown on TV visibly upset.
“I’m not sure what that was about, but we didn’t have a trade," Quinn said.
Detroit took Notre Dame linebacker Julian Okwara earlier in the third round. His brother, Romeo, is a defensive end for the Lions.
“It’s definitely a dream," Julian Okwara said. “I’m pretty much speechless. I’m kind of just still letting it marinate and thinking about it."
He does not, however, need much time to ponder where to live in the Motor City.
“I’m looking forward to living a rent-free year," Julian Okwara said.
In his ninth game for the Fighting Irish last season, the 6-foot-4, 252-pound Okwara broke his left leg and his college career was over.
“I’m good to go and ready for the season," he said.
Okwara had 15 1/2 career sacks and 24 tackles for losses over his last three years at Notre Dame.
With its first pick of the night, Detroit decided Swift was too good to pass up at No. 35.
The 5-foot-8, 212-pound Swift was projected to possibly be a first-round pick.
He is known for being a big-play running back who has good vision and makes quick cuts. Swift entered the draft after running for 1,218 yards and seven touchdowns as a junior.
Despite sharing time in a talented backfield with the Bulldogs, he had 2,885 yards rushing and 20 touchdowns. The three-down running back also had 73 career catches for 666 yards and five scores.
The pick suggests the Lions may not be confident oft-injured running back Kerryon Johnson can stay healthy.
“I’m just looking forward to compete,” Swift said.
The Lions addressed a need with what appeared to be a perfect fit Thursday night, selecting Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah with the No. 3 pick overall.
Swift and Johnson potentially give the offense a potent backfield to help take pressure off quarterback Matthew Stafford. The passing game features a receiving corps that is perhaps the strength of the team on either side of the ball.
Jackson will have an opportunity to start in the spot vacated by Graham Glasgow, who left in free agency to sign with Denver. Okwara, meanwhile, helps the linebacking corps become perhaps the best part of the defense.
The Lions had an extended opportunity to evaluate Jackson while he practiced and played for their coaching staff at the Senior Bowl. When Jackson was still on the board in the third round, Detroit moved up 10 spots to get him. The Lions also picked up a sixth-round selection in exchange for the No. 85 pick and fifth- and sixth-round picks.
Jackson transferred from Rutgers to play with the Buckeyes, including Okudah, in 2019.
“I went to Ohio State just looking for opportunity, just to be able to showcase my ability and pounce on another platform," Jackson said.
The Lions go into Saturday with a pick in the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh rounds. They will likely look to add depth on both lines and perhaps a wide receiver.
-- By Larry Lage, AP