In this year’s NFL Draft, The Minnesota Vikings will be the last NFC North team to make a selection.
Using the latest Pro Football Network Mock Draft, let’s take a deep dive through which college standouts could end up being on the other side of the line of scrimmage against the Vikings next year.
Detroit Lions (#6 overall - Trade with LAR) - Myles Murphy, EDGE, Clemson
The Motor City Kitties were, towards the end of the year, perhaps the hardest NFC North team to face as one of the hottest teams in the entire league.
A large part of that was due to the blue-collar menace Aidan Hutchinson, who produced 8 sacks as a breakout rookie, but was probably more noteworthy for his effect on Detroit’s locker-room morale down the stretch of the season. Without Hutchinson’s boost, it is easy to imagine the Lions wouldn’t have made their run that almost saw them grab a miracle Wild Card spot in the playoffs.
So this begs the question... What would that tough Lions defense look like with another Aidan Hutchinson on the other end of their D-line? Combined with Myles Murphy, who had 17.5 sacks in 3 years at Clemson, along with a reputation of improvement through his time as a Tiger, that is a question that NFC North quarterbacks would have to answer every time they play Detroit.
Myles Murphy loves the long-arm pass-rush move. And it works well for him. pic.twitter.com/7MZWNhBB80— Brenden Deeg (@BrendenDeeg_) April 4, 2023
The parallels between him and Hutchinson would be hard to miss if the Lions used the #6 overall pick on Murphy. Hutchinson himself was a #2 overall pick only a year ago, and if they got Murphy on the same development plan as Hutchinson, that edge-rushing chemistry could very well be a dangerous possibility, especially for a Lions team that is filled with positive momentum and a positive locker-room culture.
Chicago Bears (#9 overall - Trade with CAR) - Paris Johnson Jr., OT, Ohio State
It is hard to overstate just how confident the Bears are in QB Justin Fields, and by all means, their trade of the first overall pick was a signifier of that confidence. Fields is an asset that Chicago will protect at all costs, even if they didn't offer him much (if any) protection last year.
In fact, he was sacked 55 times, tied with Russell Wilson for most in the league. While Fields is inarguably one of the most mobile quarterbacks in the league, those attempts mean less than nothing if he can’t get past the line of scrimmage. In order to do that, his offensive line needs to get him the time or holes to do so, which it failed miserably at last year. The most dynamic running quarterback of last year saw pressure on over a quarter of his dropbacks, with 119 pressures. Fields is being eaten alive if he doesn’t break loose.
The Bears' offensive line is therefore in need of an NFL-ready offensive line pick, and Paris Johnson Jr. might just be their man. He put up the bench 29 times at the combine, tied for 5th best, with a 6th ranking at the broad jump proving a solid balance of strength and athleticism.
Paris Johnson Jr. can move like a TIGHT END— NFL Rookie Watch (@NFLRookieWatxh) March 30, 2023
The Ohio State tackle allowed just three sacks across three seasons.
One of, if not the best OL in this year’s NFL Draft. pic.twitter.com/KuH2kz2IC6
With impressive strength (even before getting in an NFL weight room), and a long reach, the 6’6 315-lb Johnson Jr. certainly has the build of a top-ten offensive line pick, and would easily slot in as a rookie if the Bears take him at #9.
Green Bay Packers (#15 overall) - Dawand Jones, OT, Ohio State
While the trade to New York remains yet to be completed, even with Aaron Rodgers clearly stating his intentions to follow Brett Favre’s footsteps, no one is certain who will be lining up under center for the cheeseheads next year.
One thing analysts are pretty sure of however is that the Packers need to upgrade their offensive line. Rodgers was sacked 32 times last year, the most since 2019, with 108 pressures (18.2% pressure rate).
WR Christian Watson, after a shaky start to the season, did end up developing into a respectable passing option. That shows that the Packers' offensive regression might be due to something outside of Rodgers’ (or Love’s) control, that being the line.
That is where Paris Johnson Jr.’s Ohio State teammate Dawand Jones could bring some skill and competition to the depth chart. As impressive as Johnson Jr.’s frame was, Jones has him beat at a monstrous 6’8, 374-lb build with an 87 (!!!) inch wingspan. That is an NFL-ready man if I’ve ever heard of one (Damn boy, he thick!). Of course, what he has in size hinders his athleticism, but in terms of sheer power, Jones is extremely hard (if not impossible) to beat.
.@OhioStateFB OT Dawand Jones vs Andre Carter in run defense/run block drill. Easy win for the massive 6-8, 350 lbs OT#Steelers HC Mike Tomlin was front and center for it with some praise for Jones after the rep pic.twitter.com/AogvuQzVf6— Trevor Sikkema (@TampaBayTre) January 31, 2023
The departure of WR Allen Lazard (to the Jets, I may remind you) will leave the Packers back where they started at the beginning of 2022, missing their top receiving option. Given the few more precious milliseconds Jones could bring to the Packer O-Line, Green Bay could very well use their mid-round pick in an attempt to give more time to whoever will be under center.