NFC North Draft Notes

The Sports Xchange tours the NFC North, discussing Detroit's needs at cornerback, Green Bay's lockout contingency plans and Minnesota's interest in Donovan McNabb.

Detroit Lions

Prince Amukamara or Jimmy Smith?

Draftniks have been debating the relative value of those two cornerback prospects for weeks now. The Lions have no doubt been having the same debate internally.

There is an outside chance Amukamara, from Nebraska, will fall to them at No. 13. Smith, from Colorado, is almost certainly to be available for the Lions. Amukamara has graded out higher than Smith on most draft boards mainly because of citizenship. There are no character issues with Amukamara, no failed drug tests or arrests for minors in possession.

Smith can't say the same.

On the field, though, most scouts believe Smith is the greater talent and the riskier pick. Will the Lions, in desperate need of an elite-level corner, take that risk?

"It's really tricky right now," said ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper, Jr. "I pushed (Amukamara) to No. 13 because I kept hearing Dallas was going to take an offensive lineman. St. Louis could trade up to No. 9 (Dallas) to get (receiver) Julio Jones, but that wouldn't impact the cornerback position.

CB Jimmy Smith
Brian Spurlock/US Presswire

"Jimmy Smith is the hot guy right now. He's moved up because the character issues and the off-the-field stuff isn't as big a deal as people thought it was. He's a top-10 talent and his improvement helps the Lions out a little bit. If they want to move down a little bit and look at Jimmy Smith they probably could because the teams picking after them don't really need a corner."

Kiper went further, saying he thought Smith would be a good choice even at No. 13.

"The teams I've spoken to feel very comfortable about Jimmy Smith," Kiper said. "If you are looking at talent, he's a top-10 guy. If the top teams in the league would take a player, and he's got great talent, it's not a stretch. If Philadelphia is looking at Jimmy Smith and Baltimore is looking at Jimmy Smith, then why shouldn't Detroit?

"Sometimes we look too much into value. Value now is based on team's own preferences. How they value a player. If they feel like they've done all their work on him and they're comfortable, then why not? Talent-wise, it's a no-brainer."

The Lions seem to agree with that. General manager Martin Mayhew spent some time with Smith during a pre-draft visit and he came away impressed.

"I am glad I met with him," Mayhew said during the NFL league meetings last month. "I feel better about him. He was a guy who made some mistakes but who seems to now realize the mistakes that he made. He's a young guy who's very talented. He has a really good skill level, good size and speed and if you look at our corners, we don't have that.

"He's an interesting guy. I have a better feel for him as a person now than before he came in."

Smith's measurables are eye-popping. He's 6-2 1/4, 211 pounds, and he ran a 4.37 at the Combine. He has a long reach (77 inches) and thrives on playing physical, press coverage.

But, Smith failed four drug tests at Colorado. He was busted for minor in possession. His intensity and work ethic were criticized. He raised more flags when he showed up seemingly out of shape at his Pro Day workout.

Mayhew hasn't taken many draft-day risks in his first two seasons. This might be the time to make one.

Green Bay Packers

Packers general manager Ted Thompson is hopeful the 2011 season will be spared interruption by the league's labor rift, but he didn't paint a rosy outlook.

Thompson addressed the nearly two-month-old lockout before he took questions at his pre-draft news conference at Lambeau Field on Thursday.

"What's important to know is the Packers are getting ready for football," Thompson said. "We've got a season schedule (released by the league Tuesday). (Head coach) Mike (McCarthy) has training camp schedules all done. There is no contact with players. But, our players are very professional, and I'm sure they're getting ready. We're hopeful that a deal gets done, just like everybody else."

Yet, the optimism expressed by Thompson was tempered by what he had to say next.

"For the fans, they should know we're planning for several different contingencies," he said.

Thompson wouldn't elaborate on what those contingencies are.

QB Aaron Rodgers
Matthew Emmons/US Presswire

Since the lockout could extend until at least mid-May, when court-ordered mediation between the owners and players is scheduled to resume in Minneapolis, not having a post-draft minicamp for the rookies and organized team activities for all players this spring is a real possibility for the Packers.

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers indicated in a radio interview he did Wednesday on ESPN Cleveland that McCarthy wasn't planning to start offseason workouts for the returning players until after Easter weekend had there been no lockout. That would have been more than a month later than when those workouts started in previous years under McCarthy since the Packers' 2010 season didn't end until they won Super Bowl XLV on Feb. 6.

With the players instead barred from team facilities, Rodgers acknowledged it's getting close to crunch time for him and his teammates to organize football-related workouts on their own.

"I think it's going to be important for some of us to find ways to get together," Rodgers said. "I know I've talked with my receivers, and we're looking at ways to get together and throw the football together this summer, training in San Diego."

Minnesota Vikings

Although NFL teams are prohibited from discussing trades involving players during the lockout, there has been plenty of speculation and reports that the Vikings are interested in Washington quarterback Donovan McNabb.

That comes as a bit of a surprise considering new coach Leslie Frazier has made it clear his preference would be to draft and develop a quarterback.

Frazier also has said that even if 41-year-old Brett Favre wanted to end his third attempt at retirement that Minnesota would have no interest in taking him back.

That makes sense given previous coach Brad Childress will be remembered for never developing or settling on a quarterback during his four-plus seasons in Minnesota.

QB Donovan McNabb
Matthew Emmons/US Presswire

The Vikings made the NFC title game with Favre in 2009, but followed that up with a last-place finish in the NFC North in 2010. Frazier, who was Childress' defensive coordinator from 2007 until Childress was fired last November, saw the pitfalls of the Vikings' failure to develop 2006 second-round pick Tarvaris Jackson.

That resulted in Childress' decision to go with a variety of veterans as stopgaps.

Frazier and Rick Spielman, the Vikings' vice president of player personnel, have spent much of their time in recent months vetting a quarterback class that includes Auburn's Cam Newton, Missouri's Blaine Gabbert, Washington's Jake Locker, Arkansas' Ryan Mallett, Florida State's Christian Ponder, Texas Christian's Andy Dalton and Nevada's Colin Kaepernick.

Newton and Gabbert are expected to be gone by the time the Vikings select 12th overall in the first round, but there is a good chance the other five will be available.

McNabb, 34, was benched last season in favor of Rex Grossman and the expectation is that once the lockout is finished McNabb will be released.

Assuming the Vikings do draft a quarterback, the unknown portion of this is if McNabb would be willing to come to Minnesota as strictly a stopgap before bouncing to another team in quick fashion.

A bridge quarterback might be a good alternative if there isn't time for a rookie to learn new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave's system - which actually is supposed to be built in part around the new quarterback - but whether McNabb would be a good fit is a big question mark.

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