It's hard to believe that another NFL Draft is already fast-approaching.
But before we get too into the thick of 2022 draft speculation, NFL.com's Gennaro Filice gave grades to each NFC North team for its respective 2021 rookie class.
Filice gave the Vikings a "C" grade for their class of 11 picks led by tackle Christian Darrisaw. Filice wrote the following:
Minnesota sensibly could've taken Darrisaw at No. 14 overall, but the Vikings traded down, scooped up a pair of third-round picks ... and still nabbed Darrisaw at No. 23. A nagging groin injury significantly limited the rookie's offseason work and ultimately cost him the first month of the regular season, but he took the starting LT [reins] in mid-October and acquitted himself pretty darn well ... until an ankle injury cost him two games in December. Outside of the health issues, Darrisaw definitely showed enough to make you believe he could man Minnesota's blind side for years to come.
Minnesota's grade ultimately suffered, Filice noted, because the Vikings "didn't get much bang for their buck" in the later draft picks. He specifically pointed to guard Wyatt Davis, who played just 28 snaps – and exclusively on special teams.
The biggest non-Darrisaw returns from this class probably came via [Camryn] Bynum, who showed promise in a transition from college cornerback to NFL safety. [Kene] Nwangwu also deserves some ink for his potency as a kick returner, having posted touchdowns of 99 and 98 yards.
Of the four NFC teams, Filice graded the Lions the highest with an "A-minus." He said Detroit "deserves a hearty slap on the back for the rookie class as a whole." It's worth taking a look at Filice's thoughts on the division rival whom the Vikings will of course see twice next season.
Of course, it wasn't smooth sailing from Day 1, even for [Penei Sewell]. … [The] Lions tackle clearly didn't immediately feel comfortable in his transition to the right side of the line. But … Sewell eventually settled in to become a dominant force. […] In his final eight games of the season, he allowed just one sack while continually blowing open holes in the ground game. And speaking of second-half surges, [Amon-Ra] St. Brown's production exploded when the calendar flipped to December.
While some of the other picks in Rounds 2-4 experienced ups and downs (and injuries), [nose tackle Alim] McNeill was a player who offered strong potential on the nose – 330-pounders aren't supposed to be that athletic.
Felice gave Green Bay a "B" and Chicago a "B-minus."
McKinnie's startup among 10 companies selected for SportsTech Accelerator
It's been a while since tackle Bryant McKinnie laced up his cleats for a game, but he hasn't stepped away from the world of sports.
In fact, McKinnie has helped develop a sports-related tech company called LetzChat that translates customer interactions — including subtitles, text messages, phone calls, chat support and websites — into the viewer's language, which offers opportunities to enhance sports viewing.
LetzChat was recently selected as one of 10 tech startups for Comcast NBCUniversal SportsTech Accelerator.
Tim Casey of Forbes wrote the following:
Indeed, the pandemic has actually hastened the growth of technology in sports as leagues, teams and investors re-assess their businesses and seek innovative ways to do things more efficiently. Comcast's inaugural SportsTech accelerator began in February 2021 with 10 startups and was done virtually due to the pandemic.
This year's program is similar in that it features 10 startups and lasts 12 weeks. But while most of the programming and sessions will be conducted virtually, the participants will come together in person for a few days in late March and early April in Texas and get behind-the-scenes looks at the NASCAR race at the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, the PGA Tour's Valero Texas Open in San Antonio and WrestleMania 38 in Dallas.
According to Casey, McKinnie's LetzChat and the other nine companies were selected from a group of 811 applicants.
Each of the companies receive a $50,000 investment, split evenly between Comcast and Boomtown, in exchange for an equity stake in the business. During the next 12 weeks, the startups will have a program tailored towards them that will help them with business strategy, marketing, finance and other topics.
From last year's cohort of 10 startups, there have so far been 29 pilot programs where the companies had a chance to test whether their product/innovation works in a real-world setting and five commercial deals where the companies completed revenue-generating deals.