The 2015 NFL season is in the books -- and now it's time to turn toward the 2016 NFL Draft. Before the NFL Scouting Combine shines the spotlight on the next crop of incoming talent, Bucky Brooks is taking a division-by-division look back at each NFL team's 2015 rookie class, providing grades and highlighting what teams should be focusing on when they head to Indianapolis.
John Fox's debut season in the Windy City didn't produce a playoff appearance, but the wily coach certainly put down a foundation that could lead to a successful run in the near future. Although he didn't get a single contribution from his top pick (Kevin White, who missed the season with a leg injury), Fox coaxed solid production from an underrated rookie class. Jeremy Langford appears to be the heir apparent to soon-to-be-free-agent Matt Forte's RB1 spot after amassing over 800 total yards from scrimmage and scoring seven touchdowns (six rushing, one receiving). Hroniss Grasu solidified the pivot position during the middle of the season, exhibiting solid instincts and awareness as the primary communicator along the front line. Eddie Goldman and Adrian Amos earned their stripes as rookie starters on a revamped defense. Each flashed the toughness and competitiveness expected from a franchise that traditionally hitches its wagon to the defense. Grade: B
Combine focus: The Bears, who have the No. 11 pick in Round 1, must continue to address the defensive side of the ball to gain ground on their NFC North rivals. The team's lack of pass rushers will prompt officials to take extended looks at Eastern Kentucky's Noah Spence and Georgia's Leonard Floyd as hybrid playmakers, but the team could also focus on Oregon's DeForest Buckner and Clemson's talented duo (Shaq Lawson and Kevin Dodd) as potential five-techniques in its 3-4 system. The void at inside linebacker could lead team officials to pay close attention to Alabama's Reggie Ragland and Missouri's Kentrell Brothers at the combine.
The Lions' disappointing play at the beginning of the 2015 season prompted owner Martha Ford to revamp the organization. General manager Martin Mayhew was relieved of his duties and coach Jim Caldwell faced questions about his job security after the team stumbled out to a 1-7 start. Part of the Lions' problems could be attributed to a rookie class that failed to play up to expectations. Ameer Abdullah was widely celebrated as Barry Sanders 2.0, but he failed to deliver a single 100-yard rushing game in his rookie season. Laken Tomlinson logged 14 starts at offensive guard, but the team's offensive line woes hindered Matthew Stafford's ability to effectively play from the pocket. Quandre Diggs, who contributed as a nickel corner, looks like a keeper as a CB3. Gabe Wright made minimal contributions at defensive tackle; the team needs more from the big-bodied defender in Year 2. Grade: C
Combine focus: The need for a true CB1 has been one of the Lions' most pressing issues for nearly a decade, which is why the team will certainly take a long look at Florida State's Jalen Ramsey, Florida's Vernon Hargreaves, Clemson's Mackensie Alexander and Virginia Tech's Kendall Fuller. On offense, Calvin Johnson's potential retirement could force the team to look at Mississippi's Laquon Treadwell, Baylor's Corey Coleman, Ohio State's Mike Thomas and TCU's Josh Doctson as WR1 candidates. Detroit owns the No. 16 pick.
Despite an off year -- at least, according to their lofty standards -- the Packers should be encouraged by the promising play of their rookie class. The team got immediate contributions from their young DB tandem (Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins) and an unheralded inside linebacker (Jake Ryan). These three played key roles on a defense that carried the team into the Divisional Round of the playoffs. Ty Montgomery teased Packers' teammates and coaches with his talent, but injuries prevented him from making a bigger impact as a WR3. Brett Hundley was the star of the preseason; he looks like a diamond in the rough as a developmental quarterback prospect. Grade: A-
Combine focus: After watching Aaron Rodgers struggle without Jordy Nelson on the field, the Packers could invest in a speed receiver as a potential successor on the perimeter. Baylor's Corey Coleman, Notre Dame's Will Fuller and Ohio State's Braxton Miller could garner significant interest from team officials. The team, which picks 27th in Round 1, also needs to upgrade the defensive tackle position, with B.J. Raji poised to enter free agency. Thus, Green Bay will take extended looks at Baylor's Andrew Billings, Alabama's A'Shawn Robinson and Louisiana Tech's Vernon Butler. The failure of the Clay Matthews at inside linebacker experiment could prompt the team to peek at Alabama's Reggie Ragland and Missouri's Kentrell Brothers.
Coach Mike Zimmer has engineered a quick turnaround in Minnesota behind a homegrown group of players who have developed rapidly under the gruff taskmaster. He worked his magic with 2014 rookies Teddy Bridgewater (QB) and Anthony Barr (LB) during his first season at the helm, and he did it again with 2015 rookies Eric Kendricks, Stefon Diggs and T.J. Clemmings, who played significant minutes in Minnesota's 11-5 campaign. Kendricks and Diggs, in particular, look like blue-chip players with immense potential. Each could shine as a front-line playmaker for a team that looks poised to stay atop the NFC North for several seasons. Trae Waynes didn't make a huge impact as a first-year pro, but he made significant strides down the stretch and should be in line to crack the starting lineup in Year 2. Grade: A
Combine focus: The Vikings, who have the 23rd selection in the first round, certainly will look to add more building blocks to a team that looks like a rock-solid contender. Finding help for Bridgewater in the passing game could prompt the team to spend more time studying the likes of Mississippi's Laquon Treadwell, Baylor's Corey Coleman, Ohio State's Mike Thomas and Pittsburgh's Tyler Boyd as WR1 options. The team also could explore the running back market to see if there's a big-bodied runner capable of stepping in for Adrian Peterson down the road. Alabama's Derrick Henry, Ohio State's Ezekiel Elliott and Arkansas' Alex Collins could draw interest as potential RB1s in the Vikings' downhill system.