NFL Draft needs: NFC North

Minnesota Vikings

Finished: 3-13

Drafting: 3rd pick

After years of holding off the perception of rebuilding, the Vikings finally appear to see that it is time. Minnesota was noticeably absent in free agency and appears ready to try to rebuild around second-year quarterback Christian Ponder. I liked what I saw of him, though it was still a considerable reach to take him at No. 12 in last year’s draft.

They passed on players like defensive tackle Nick Fairley, center Mike Pouncey and defensive end Ryan Kerrigan. All would have been valuable additions to the rebuilding effort. At the very least they could have traded back, picked up additional picks and still would have likely landed Ponder, or could have picked Andy Dalton ahead of the Bengals.

Fate has dealt the Vikings a good hand in 2012 because of the availability of offensive tackle Matt Kalil with the third overall pick, which happens to address the Vikings’ No. 1 priority. The Vikings’ needs are many, and a case could be made for defensive back Morris Claiborne or receiver Justin Blackmon, but Kalil is a can’t-miss tackle whom you can rebuild your offensive line around to protect your young quarterback.

With the 35th pick they may have the chance to pick up wide receiver Kendall Wright from Baylor or maybe Stephen Hill from Georgia Tech. At No. 66 in the third round, they could pick up a much-needed defensive back in Alfonzo Dennard from Nebraska.

Rebuilding is a tough position for a former interim head coach to be in. Leslie Frazier’s team will be staring up from the bottom of the NFC North, with Green Bay, Detroit and Chicago all laying claim to be legitimate Super Bowl contenders.

Chicago Bears

Finished: 8-8

Drafting: 19th pick

Jay Cutler’s injury was the best thing to happen for Chicago. How can that be? The Bears now know what they look like when he’s not there. After starting strong, they fell to 8-8 and out of the playoffs without their often-maligned quarterback. The key now is to protect him and give him some weapons to push the ball down the field.

Mike Tice takes over as offensive coordinator, which means there will be a well-defined focus on the running game. Franchising Matt Forte assures the Bears can do that. They signed running back Michael Bush as insurance, even though that didn’t sit well with Forte.

They tried for a couple of years to make do with their offensive line and wide receivers, but it hasn’t worked out. This has to be the priority in free agency and the draft. After getting rid of Greg Olsen before the 2011 season, the tight end position also might need to be addressed. They did re-sign Kellen Davis, but they’ve been waiting for him to live up to his potential for a while. They have four picks in the first three rounds, so they can get a great deal done.

Of course, their biggest offseason move was the trade for wide receiver Brandon Marshall. The Bears have plenty of speed in Johnny Knox and Devin Hester, so Marshall as a go-to No. 1 receiver could be huge. If they address the offensive line, tackle Mike Adams from Ohio State would be a great pick if he makes it that far.

With their second-round pick, they may look at tight end Dwayne Allen from Clemson or maybe guard Kelechi Osemele from Iowa State, if either is still on the board. Tight end Michael Egnew from Missouri would be a great third-round selection, but he may not last to the 74th pick.

Detroit Lions

Finished: 10-6 — Eliminated in wild-card round

Drafting: 23rd pick

Jim Schwartz and Martin Mayhew deserve great credit for turning around the talent in Detroit. They have been spot on in drafting the likes of Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley, Jahvid Best, Louis Delmas, Titus Young, Mikel Leshoure, Matthew Stafford and Brandon Pettigrew — all of these picks in the last three drafts.

The offensive line and secondary need to improve and develop depth. However, after Best got hurt the Lions were totally devoid of a running game, and that might turn out to be the top priority going into the draft.

Defensive back Janoris Jenkins continues to be brought up in this area despite his off-the-field issues. He’s a top-10 talent who could be a steal for the Lions as long as they know what they are getting. Safety Mark Barron is a solid pick, coming out of Alabama in a much-needed area. Running back Doug Martin from Boise State would certainly fill a need, but they could probably get better value at this position later.

We continue to bring up Iowa State guard Kelechi Osemele in the second round here, and if they don’t take a running back earlier (and they likely won’t), Chris Polk from Washington might be a good fit. He has good speed but is also an effective inside runner. In the third round with the 86th pick, Cyrus Gray from Texas A&M would be an excellent inside pounder to go with Best.

Green Bay Packers

Finished: 15-1 — Eliminated in divisional round

Drafting: 28th pick

The Packers have been one of the least active teams in free agency the last couple of years, and 2012 was no different. Of the current starters, only three started their careers someplace else. The biggest change for the Packers came at center, where they lost Scott Wells, but signed former Pro Bowler Jeff Saturday. The re-signing of tight end Jermichael Finley also was an important move.

The offense will look to continue to work on building the line to protect the team’s top asset, quarterback Aaron Rodgers. They might also look to add a quality running back to the mix. Having said that, the Packers will also focus a great deal on rebuilding a defense that fell off dramatically last season, falling from a No. 5 ranking in 2010 to last in the league.

The Packers can use defenders at virtually every position. Coming up with a presence opposite Clay Matthews is a huge need, as is depth and eventually replacements for safety Nick Collins and future Hall of Fame cornerback Charles Woodson, who is 36.

Defensive end Nick Perry from USC could be a consideration, or running backs Doug Martin of Boise State, or David Wilson from Virginia Tech. Defensive end Whitney Mercilus of Illinois was somewhat of a one-year wonder, but could be a good pickup if he falls to 28.

With their second-round pick, they could be looking at defensive back Chase Minnifield of Virginia, running back Chris Polk from Washington or defensive end Jared Crick from Nebraska.