A Peek Across The Lake

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A couple of national columnists devoted space to the Vikings and Packers today so I thought I would take a minute to share and weigh in.

Rick Gosselin points out that the Packers have the most returning starters in the NFL with 20, losing only Mark Tauscher - by choice - after he closed the season on IR. This is pretty bad news for the rest of the North as Green Bay had awful luck last year, scoring 40 more points than they allowed in a 6 win season. They should bounce back strong, particularly considering the youth on the team. Gosselin notes:

The Packers may be on to something by trying to keep this current team together. Green Bay endured those struggles last season with the youngest roster in the NFL at an average age of only 25.5 years.

Despite all that youth, the Packers defeated 12-4 Indianapolis and NFC North champion Minnesota, fell in overtime to 13-3 Tennessee and blew fourth-quarter leads in losing four other games. Green Bay had the talent to compete in 2008 but lacked the maturity to close out opponents.

The continued development of a young playmakers – quarterback Aaron Rodgers and wide receiver Greg Jennings are both 25 and running back Ryan Grant is 26 – and an overhauled defensive approach has coach Mike McCarthy believing his Packers can return to Super Bowl contention after a year's absence. Green Bay won 13 games in 2007 and hosted the NFC title game.

Gosselin also mentions that Detroit leads the league in '08 starters no longer on the roster with 9 departures.

In Kevin Seifert's NFC North blog, Seifert predicts that Percy Harvin will be the division's 'breakout' player of the year.

Vikings coaches seem prepared to load him with as big of a role as he can handle -- using him at all three receiver positions in spring drills, as well as a kickoff returner, punt returner and at quarterback in a new Wildcat formation.

In fact, Vikings offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell has added some 15 plays to the Vikings' playbook in anticipation of Harvin's unique skills. "We are up there [in meeting rooms] trying to diagram everything we can," Bevell said.

Okay, for one thing I object to the idea that a first round rookie could ever be a 'breakout' player. Breakout typically implies some years laboring in obscurity before suddenly taking play to a superior level. But I really object to the idea that a rookie wide receiver could be that guy. Harvin may be different, but the fact is that rookie WRs typically do not have great production their first year.

Just look at the best WRs of the decade. Holt, Harrison, Owens, Moss, Fitzgerald and Smith (I apologize if I am overlooking anyone obvious). Of that group only Moss had a great season, making All Pro on a team that set an NFL record for scoring. While many of the others had good years that illustrated their future greatness, none broke 1000 yards receiving or 10 TDs. The Lions' own Calvin Johnson had 49 receptions his first year.

If Harvin can stay clean and healthy I expect him to be an outstanding receiver and playmaker. I believe he is a tremendous talent. But I really don't expect that talent to begin to manifest itself before the last half of '09 at the earliest. There is too much for receivers to learn in the NFL. There are too many adjustments to make.

Getting back to the question of which player in the NFC North is most likely to break out, I probably would just throw that open to discussion. On the Lions my best guesses would by either Bryant Johnson or possibly Jordan Dizon, if he is forced into the lineup. As for the rest of the division? I have no good guesses.

Discuss it Here in The Den