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.