Divisional needs: NFC North preview

The NFC North returns arguably the most competitive division in
all of football. The Packers and the Vikings are both coming off
playoff appearances and the Bears coming off a 10-win season. Per
the usual, the Packers refrained from making any major additions in
free agency while the Vikings stole Greg Jennings right out from
under them. But it was the Bears making the most of the offseason
with the additions of Martellus Bennett, DJ Williams, Matt Slauson
and Jermon Bushrod.

There is no clear-cut favorite between the three to win the
division, and even the Lions, coming off a disappointing four-win
season in 2012, will be a tough out.

When there is no clear-cut advantage within a division, I always
turn to the quarterbacks, and it would be hard to bet against Aaron
Rodgers even with a depleted receiving corps.

Detroit Lions

Finished: 4-12

Drafting: 5th

Needs: DE, OT, CB, LB

The Lions have made some fantastic moves this offseason and are
much better than the 4-12 club from last year. Reggie Bush should
fill in nicely at a position that has been a revolving door for the
Lions in recent years because of injuries. Also, Bush complements
Mikel LeShoure very well in style of play.

Re-signing Louis Delmas was big and he will be even better if he
can finally stay healthy for a full season … a tall order for a
player that has never played all 16 games in a season and only 19
out of 32 in the last two years. Glover Quin will pair with Delmas
to become a very solid tandem of safeties, but they will have their
hands full unless the Lions upgrade at cornerback.

Had they been able to retain defensive end Cliff Avril, the
Lions would have addressed the need for an offensive lineman to
protect Matthew Stafford’s blindside. Now, they will have to
draft the best player available between the two positions —
and at No. 5 overall, they can’t afford to miss.

The Lions, whether it be a pass rusher or a lineman, need a
player to come in and contribute in a big way from Day 1.

At pass rusher, they would be looking at either Dion Jordan or
Ziggy Ansah. Jordan is most likely going to Jacksonville at No. 2
and Ansah is still somewhat of a project . If offensive tackle Eric
Fisher is still of the board, he is the obvious choice. That would
allow for Riley Reiff to move over to his more natural side and
Fisher to become a franchise left tackle.

The wild-card could be Dee Milliner, the most-talented corner in
the draft. Unless a team trades up for him, it’s likely that he
will be available when the Lions pick fifth. The Lions are in
desperate need for a corner and Milliner would walk into a starting
role. Can Detroit justify taking Milliner if Fisher is still
available? It will be interesting to see how their board is
setup.

Chicago Bears

Finished: 10-6

Drafting: 20th

Needs: OG, CB, LB, DT

Chicago fired Lovie Smith after a 10-win season and will enter
the 2013 campaign with Marc Trestman as the new head coach.
Trestman will bring along two new coordinators in Aaron Kromer and
Mel Tucker. All three coaches are new to Chicago, but are all
veterans of the league and are great hires for this team. There is
no doubt that there will be a strategic shift in style, both
offensively and defensively.

Under Smith, this defense played basic schemes, but played them
very well while thriving on creating turnovers with forced fumbles
or interceptions. Smith preached for the first tackler to rip the
ball away and for the rest of the team to fly to the play and
secure the tackle … the exact opposite of what most defensive
coaches preach. The timing is right for a shift in philosophy as
the Bears will be without two of their three starting linebackers
from last year, one of which is future Hall of Famer Brian
Urlacher.

Offensively, Trestman is the quarterback whisperer and his hire
immediately made Jay Cutler better. The Bears needed to address the
offensive line and did so by adding Bushrod and Slauson, but they
could still target a linemen with another early selection to add
some depth at the position. Sitting at No. 20 overall, the Bears
may be just outside the range of the top offensive linemen in the
draft, both at tackle and guard. They may have the option of either
Menelik Watson or D.J. Fluker, but with the top-five linemen
already off the board, it’s likely they look elsewhere with their
top pick.

The most obvious position to address is inside linebacker. They
could start the run on inside linebackers as Minnesota and Houston
pick behind them and each team looks to add at that position.
Chicago could go with the more athletic Alec Ogletree or the
more-polished Manti Te’o. Te’o has obviously gotten
some negative publicity throughout the evaluation period for the
girlfriend hoax, but also for his measureables at the combine. His
4.82 40-yard dash was slower than expected, but he is the classic
example of a player actually playing faster on the field than he
does on the track.

Chicago could also decide to pair a defensive tackle with Henry
Melton, who has grown into the best pass rushing interior defensive
lineman in the entire NFL. If they did that, Sylvester Williams
from UNC or Sheldon Richardson from Missouri would be obvious
upgrades with the 20th overall pick.

Minnesota Vikings

Finished: 10-6. Eliminated by Green Bay in the
wild-card round

Drafting: 23rd and 25th

Needs: LB, DT, CB, OG, S

Minnesota managed to squeak out a surprising playoff appearance
in the 2012 season, but it would be hard-pressed to match that
success in 2013. The Vikings can’t count on Adrian Peterson
having another near-record-breaking year. If they can’t find
some balance in that offense, they won’t even be sniffing a
playoff run.

Christian Ponder got off to a hot start in 2012 and was one of
just two starting quarterbacks to complete the first four games
without throwing an interception. He threw two picks in Week 5 and
then it was all downhill from there. The Vikings added a weapon for
Ponder in Greg Jennings, but lost Percy Harvin. While I don’t
have the position listed in the biggest needs for the Vikings
above, wide receiver could very easily be one of their two picks in
the first round.

With the 23rd and 25th picks in the draft, the Vikings should
have the ability to select an elite talent at the receiving
position.

Cordarrelle Patterson is my No. 1 prospect, but Tavon Austin is
a very similar playmaker albeit at four inches shorter and 40
pounds lighter. Both prospects could be gone by the time the
Vikings pick. If so,  Keenan Allen could be an attractive
option. Allen could have been the top overall receiver in this
draft had it not been for a knee injury that kept him out of the
evaluation period altogether.

The other position of need is at inside linebacker and, like I
discussed with the Bears at No. 20 overall, the Vikings would be
looking at Ogletree or Te’o. I also have Kevin Minter being a
first-round talent, but don’t think he fits in with the
scheme of the Vikings as well as the other two. Minter is more of a
run-fitting thumper but lacks the overall athletic ability to be
comfortable dropping into zones and playing in the Minnesota
Cover-2 scheme.

Green Bay Packers

Finished: 11-5. Eliminated by San Francisco in
divisional round

Drafting: 26th

Needs: OL, RB, OLB, WR, S

As expected, the Packers remained quiet during the offseason
signing period, but that didn’t prevent other teams from
targeting their players. The Vikings signed away Greg Jennings,
Rodgers’ most reliable target. Then, the Colts signed Erik Walden
and the Chiefs signed Frank Zombo, leaving them very thin at
outside linebacker, a position that was already in need of an
upgrade.

The Packers were also hit with the retirements of Donald Driver
and Jeff Saturday. While neither of those players will have a
direct impact on 2013, it still leaves the Packers with additional
voids to fill.

With the 26th pick, the Packers could go in a number of
directions, addressing any of the five needs listed above.

The Packers need help at the skill positions, but No. 26 could
be too early to draft a running back. Also, the wide receiving
position is so deep, that they will most likely look to address
that in the mid to later rounds. That leaves them with a couple of
options including offensive line, outside linebacker or safety.

I like the versatility of Wisconsin’s Travis Frederick, who
played center and guard for the Badgers. Frederick, much like
former teammate Peter Konz, could come in and start at a position
of need. The gamble with Frederick is many people think he could be
available in the second round. Should the Packers wait and see if
Frederick is available with the 55th overall pick?

Outside linebacker could be very intriguing as we continue to
see Jarvis Jones from Georgia slide down evaluation boards with a
spinal stenosis medical condition scaring off multiple teams. He is
one of the most natural pass rushers in this draft and if he is
there at No. 26, he would be a very attractive option to rush the
passer opposite Clay Matthews. Although Green Bay used a high pick
on this position last year on USC’s Nick Perry, he
didn’t transition into the 3-4 defense as well as they were
hoping.

Replacing Charles Woodson at the safety position seems to be the
pick that makes the most sense. Matt Elam, Jonathan Cyprien or even
Eric Reid are options. Each has positives and negatives, but has
qualities that justify late first- or early second-round
consideration.

The wild card for the Packers could be tight ends Tyler Eifert
or Zach Ertz. They have had well-documented displeasure with
Jermichael Finley’s on-field contribution as well as contract
disputes that may only allow for him to be in Green Bay for just
one more year. It wouldn’t be overly surprising to see them
scoop up one of the two best tight ends in the class rather than
address a more immediate position of need.