While the Bears' greatest area of need remains the offensive line, it's not written in stone that they'll take an O-lineman with their first-round pick (29th overall) on April 28.
No one should be surprised if they target the defensive line with that first choice, especially after parting ways with defensive tackle Tommie Harris on Feb. 28. Nose tackle Anthony Adams, a 16-game starter last year, is eligible for free agency, if and when it starts.
Since taking over as the Bears' draft-day decision-maker in 2002, general manager Jerry Angelo has used his top pick on a defensive lineman three times and drafted 14 of them in nine years.
Matt Toeaina played ahead of Harris most of last season, starting 10 games, but Harris reclaimed the starting job late in the season. Henry Melton, a fourth-round pick in 2009, is undersized at 6-3 and 260 pounds, and he was mostly a situational pass rusher last year.
Marcus Harrison, a third-round pick in 2008, will have an opportunity to earn significant playing time at one or both of the tackle spots, but he has been a huge disappointment. The 6-3, 312-pounder was a game-day inactive 11 times last year and had a total of one tackle.
Because the current crop of draft-eligible defensive linemen is so talented and so deep, especially at end, it's possible that starting-caliber players could be available through the end of the second or third round.
Wide receiver is another area the Bears would like to upgrade. But Angelo has never used a first-round pick on a wideout.
1. Offensive line: Center Olin Kreutz will be 34 in June and right guard Roberto Garza will be 32 later this month. Left guard Chris Williams was supposed to be the left tackle of the future. J'Marcus Webb started 12 games as a rookie at right tackle. Left tackle Frank Omiyale showed improvement over the course of the season, but he may not be the long-term answer.
2. Defensive tackle: Nose tackle Anthony Adams is unrestricted, and 3-technique Tommie Harris was terminated after failing to live up to his $40 million extension in 2008. Marcus Harrison has been a career underachiever. Solid, blue-collar worker Matt Toeaina can play nose or 3-technique, where he started 10 games last season, but he might be just a placeholder.
3. Wide receiver: There is some big-play ability here, especially with Johnny Knox and Devin Hester and Earl Bennett is a solid and reliable possession guy. But there is a need for a big, physical player who can win jump balls.
Inside the war room
Illinois defensive tackle Corey Liuget is the same type of quick, penetrating 3-technique tackle that Tommie Harris used to be, and if he's still on the board at 29 he'd be attractive. However, if one of the top offensive linemen — Wisconsin's Gabe Carimi, Boston College's Anthony Castonzo or Florida's Mike Pouncey — fall to them, the Bears would be hard-pressed to pass.
The Lions' offensive and defensive lines are expected to return intact whenever the 2011 season rolls around. The defensive line is, in fact, the strength of the team.
But general manager Martin Mayhew said that would not preclude him from drafting either an offensive or defensive lineman with the 13th overall pick, even though there are pronounced needs in other areas.
"Sometimes when you add a player it might not make sense on the face of it," Mayhew said. "But when if you see what's on the horizon and you look down the road and around the corner, it does make sense."
This particular draft is rich in offensive and defensive linemen. The Lions have an aging left tackle in Jeff Backus (he'll be 34) and a right tackle — Gosder Cherilus — coming off microfracture knee surgery. Even though the defensive line is relatively young and deep, it is the catalyst of the Lions' defensive philosophy. They won't pass up the chance to add another key piece.
"We have a lot of needs and we will take the best available player," Mayhew said. "(The defensive line) has to be the strength of our team in the future and it's a big part of our defensive philosophy. There are a lot of intriguing guys here, a lot of good defensive ends and a lot of versatile guys who can play outside and rush from the inside. That is definitely an area we will look to address."
The Lions will draft a linebacker and a cornerback at some point. But leaving the Combine, the general consensus was they weren't going to be able to get the right player at those positions with the 13th pick.
Although, there is a slight chance that Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara could slip to 13. If that happens, the Lions would likely take him.
One thing that is certain, the Lions are not going to draft a quarterback.
"I am putting all my eggs into the Matt Stafford, Shaun Hill, Drew Stanton basket," Mayhew said. "I haven't evaluated a lot of these quarterbacks. When we interview our 60 guys, we won't interview a single quarterback."
Barring an unexpected reversal, the Lions will have only five draft picks. They lost their sixth-round pick in a trade and their seventh-round pick was forfeited after they were found guilty of tampering.
It is unknown if the Lions filed an appeal of those charges — the deadline was Feb. 28 — but from the way Mayhew talked, it's doubtful.
"When this kind of thing happens, you have to go back and reevaluate what you did, what you didn't do and things you can do differently," he said. "Then you have to move on. We're moving on.
"We haven't made a final determination on what the next step is, but from our standpoint, there are so many positive things going on with our franchise and it doesn't make a lot of sense to wallow around in something negative."
1. Outside linebacker: Mayhew said he viewed both Bobby Carpenter and Ashlee Palmer as candidates to start at outside linebacker next season. But if camp opened today, they would be competing against themselves. The Lions need to restock the position. There is an outside chance that the Lions could seek a starting middle linebacker either in the draft or through free agency and move starting middle linebacker DeAndre Levy to the outside, which is his natural position.
2. Cornerback: The Lions tendered free-agent cornerback Chris Houston, but he still wants to pursue free agency. The Lions have several promising young cornerbacks on the roster — Alphonso Smith, Aaron Berry, Brandon McDonald, Tye Hill and Prince Miller — but as Mayhew said, "All those guys have talent, all have upside and potential, but not many have performed at a high level in games."
3. Wide receiver/running back: The Lions will be looking to add depth in the fourth or fifth rounds at these two spots. The third-receiver spot was a major disappointment last season and the health of backup running back Kevin Smith is a lingering concern. He had two more surgeries (knee and shoulder) this offseason.
Inside the war room
In a perfect world, a cornerback like Prince Amukamara will fall into their lap at 13. But in the third year of a major reconstruction, the Lions still have to draft the best available player regardless of position.
Thus, if a left tackle like Colorado's Nate Solder or USC's Tyron Smith is there at 13, and he's the best on their board, they will take him. If a versatile defensive lineman like Wisconsin's J.J. Watt or Cal's Cameron Jordan is there, they would take him.
The goal is to get five players that will be on the 53-man roster next season, regardless of position.
The Vikings have several areas where they would like to improve, but the obvious position that is in focus is quarterback.
Coming off a 6-10 season and last-place finish in the NFC North, the Vikings have lost quarterback Brett Favre to retirement and Tarvaris Jackson isn't expected to return. That leaves Joe Webb and Rhett Bomar on the roster.
Coach Leslie Frazier has made no attempt to hide the fact he wants to address the quarterback position. The only question is how that will be done. The uncertainty surrounding the NFL's labor situation, and the threat of a work stoppage, means the Vikings only sure way to address the need in the coming months might be in the April draft.
The expectation is that Missouri's Blaine Gabbert and Auburn's Cam Newton will be gone by the time the Vikings pick 12th overall. That leaves Minnesota in a bit of a no-man's land when it comes to potentially selecting a quarterback in the first round unless they decide to trade up or back.
Washington's Jake Locker is a guy who could be on the radar but it might be early to take him 12th.
It also would not be surprising if the Vikings elected to use their top pick on a defensive lineman — another position at which Frazier has said he is looking for an upgrade — and then take a quarterback later.
The list of candidates that could go in the second round include Nevada's Colin Kaepernick or Florida State's Christian Ponder.
Quarterback: Favre and Jackson are expected to be gone and while Webb showed flashes during his two starts at the end of the season, this is a position at which the Vikings need a long-term solution. There is a chance the Vikings could look to draft a quarterback and then sign a veteran free agent.
Defensive end: Starting left end Ray Edwards and his backup, Brian Robison, could hit free agency depending on what happens with the new CBA. That would leave the Vikings with second-year player Everson Griffen, who has had some off-the-field troubles this winter. A first-round pick could step in as a starter.
Safety: Madieu Williams hasn't lived up to expectations since signing a big free-agent contract in 2008. Husain Abdullah beat out 2008 second-round pick Tyrell Johnson and 2009 seventh-round pick Jamarca Sanford for the other starting job last season. There could be a move to upgrade here.
Inside the war room
The Vikings are taking an extremely close look at all available quarterbacks in this draft, with the potential they could take one in the first round. The most obvious early-round pick would be Washington's Jake Locker, who rebounded from a subpar Senior Bowl by putting on a better performance at the NFL Scouting Combine.
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