Instant Impact Veteran: Martellus Bennett – Packers
Fresh off his Super Bowl with the New England Patriots, Bennett decided to go from one team with a future Hall of Fame quarterback to another. The talented vet is an excellent pass catcher down the middle of the field – a dimension the Packers lacked last season. Bennett has caught at least 50 passes in each of his last five seasons in the league, and at just 30 years old is still in the prime of his career. Rodgers-led offenses are fully capable of keeping all receiving threats well-fed, so Bennett shouldn’t need to worry about getting a fair share of targets.
Under-The Radar Acquistion: Markus Wheaton – Bears
The Bears aren’t doing much in 2017, no matter how much their new quarterback thinks they’re playoff-bound. For a team that is likely to be playing from behind for a majority of the season, it’s always the receivers with quick feet and reliable hands that end up benefiting (see: Jeremy Kerley’s 115 targets in 2016). For some perspective, here’s a statistical comparison to think about:
The first stat line are Wheaton’s combined totals from his last two full seasons. The second is another former Steeler – Emmanuel Sanders’ last two years in Pittsburgh. Outside of the targets, the numbers are incredibly similar. The next season after Sanders put up the numbers shown above, he posted a stat line of 101/1,404/9 on 141 targets. Of course, he was catching passes from Peyton Manning, but a lite-version of that improvement is certainly in play for the talented Wheaton.
First Rounder: Jarrad Davis – Lions
The Lions’ current defense is a far cry from the unit that ranked 2nd overall in point per game allowed in 2014. Losing Ndamukong Suh obviously hurt, but there’s more to it. This team lacks an identity on that side of the ball, and the addition of Florida’s Davis helps them build towards one. Davis is a traditional 4-3 outside linebacker, equally adept at covering ground in coverage or stopping the run. From all reports, he’s a high character guy that could develop into a leader for this group.
Late Rounder: Kevin King (2nd Round) – Packers
Green Bay got themselves a steal with the first pick in the second round. The former Washington Huskie is a physical corner, able to bump receivers on the line with his size and finish plays with his tackling ability. His length at 6’3” is exactly what teams covet to counter the star receiver’s in today’s league. King will get a chance to play early with the departure of Sam Shields. Having talented safeties in Ha Ha Clintin-Dix and Morgan Burnett behind him certainly won’t hurt the young players’ development as well.
Non-Player – Strength & Conditioning Coach Mark Uyeyama – Vikings
With so much continuity in the NFC North’s front office and coaching staffs heading into the 2017 season, we’ll go with an oddball pick in the Vikings’ Strength and Conditioning Coach, Uyeyama. Looking into the immediate future, the health of Teddy Bridgewater is a major question mark in Minnesota. The former first-round pick suffered an ACL tear in training camp last year, forcing him to miss the entire 2016 season. He seems to still be in the plan for the Vikings’ future, so rehabbing his knee will be crucial for the team moving forward. Uyeyama and his staff are tasked with getting Bridgewater back into shape and ready to go.
Sources: Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports, Raj Mehta/USA TODAY Sports, Trevor Ruszkowski/USA TODAY Sports, CBSSports.com, Pro Football Reference