NFC North Tour: Draft Dodging

The Bears need a defensive tackle to replace longtime stalwart Tommie Harris; the Lions need a major upgrade at cornerback and will have a big question to answer; the Vikings need defensive line help.

Chicago Bears

Tommie Harris, who was drafted in 2004, was the Bears' best first-round draft pick in the last 10 years.

Harris made three straight Pro Bowls, from 2005 through 2007, and he was the quintessential, disruptive three-technique tackle that the Bears crave in their Cover-2 scheme. But Harris' play had deteriorated so badly since his last Pro-Bowl trip, that the Bears cut him on Feb. 28 rather than pay him a $2.5 million roster bonus, a $500,000 workout bonus and a $2.31 million base salary for 2011.

Now, the Bears badly need a three-technique tackle to replace Harris, and his successor is not on the roster.

In addition, Anthony Adams, who has played on the nose and at the three-technique, is an unrestricted free agent. Even if the Bears re-sign the underrated, underappreciated Adams, which they should, they're thin at a position that general manager Jerry Angelo and coach Lovie Smith have prioritized. The 6-foot, 310-pound Adams is a bit undersized for the nose, but he is active and has enough quickness to occasionally disrupt.

Marcus Harrison (6-3, 312), a third-round pick in 2008, showed flashes as a rookie playing both tackle positions, but he has been a career underachiever who seems to have regressed. He lacks a great work ethic and, as a result, suited up for just five games in 2010 and finished the season with one tackle. The hope for Harrison is that more snaps in training camp and the preseason will motivate him to put forth more of an effort and make an impact. If not, he won't be back next season and, depending how the draft and free agency go, he might be playing for a roster spot.

Solid, blue-collar worker Matt Toeaina was given a contract extension late last season. But the 6- foot-2, 308-pounder is more of a role player and, although he can also play both tackle spots, he's better suited to nose tackle.

The 6-foot-3, 260-pound Henry Melton opened some eyes last year, but that was as a situational tackle, where he displayed some pass-rush ability, notching 2.5 sacks in limited snaps.

The full-time tackles - Adams, Toeaina, Harris and Harrison - had a total of 5.5 sacks. Harris had eight all by himself in his last Pro-Bowl season.

Illinois' Corey Liuget is a player with traits similar to Harris, but he is not considered to have as much upside as Harris did. Still, Liuget would upgrade the interior line immediately and could easily be in the starting lineup on opening day. However, the Bears would probably need several bits of good luck to have the Illini junior on the board at No. 29. Iowa's Christian Ballard is a more realistic possibility if the Bears decide they must have defensive line help before addressing the offensive line.

And, if character concerns cause North Carolina's Marvin Austin to slip far enough, the Bears could get a steal in the second round.

Detroit Lions

In a perfect world, Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara would somehow fall to the Lions at No. 13. General manager Martin Mayhew and coach Jim Schwartz would be doing cartwheels in the war room.

They acquired Chris Houston from Atlanta last season and that alone was a major upgrade at the right cornerback position. But Houston, a four-year veteran, is intent on exploring free agency - whenever that might be once the new collective bargaining agreement is set.

That leaves a whole lot of uncertainty on both sides. The Lions also re-signed veteran Nate Vasher before the lockout, but they see him more as a nickel back and reserve.

They have three young promising corners - Aaron Berry, Alphonso Smith and Prince Miller, but as Mayhew said before the Combine, they showed great promise but didn't do all that much in the games. Smith was the best of the bunch, with a team-high five interceptions before injuring his shoulder, but was torched against the Patriots on Thanksgiving.

So cornerback continues to be a position of need, but the consensus among draft experts is that Amukamara, as well as No. 1-ranked cornerback Patrick Peterson from Louisiana State, will be long gone by the time the Lions are on the clock.

Which brings us to talented but troubled Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith.

Would the Lions be interested in a self-proclaimed shutdown cornerback? One who has great size (6-2, 211 pounds), good speed (4.37), long reach (77 inches) and thrives on playing physical, press coverage?

Of course they would.

But would they draft that same player if they learned he might have some character issues; that he had some minor brushes with the law and four failed drug tests during his college career? That he fired one agent and hired another before he even competed at the Scouting Combine?

There are definitely some red flags, but the answer to the question is they haven't ruled him out. If the Lions could trade down into the 20s and maybe acquire another pick (they only have five in this draft), they could take a chance on Smith.

"I learned a long time ago that you can't judge a guy on a quote, on what a guy said or what you heard that he said," Mayhew said. "If you don't know the guy, you can't judge him."

Mayhew spent some time getting to know Smith recently when Smith came in for a pre-draft physical. As you might expect, the person he met was far different than the one he'd read about.

"I was impressed with Jimmy Smith," Mayhew said. "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 better feel for him as a person now than before he came in."

Minnesota Vikings

There has been plenty of discussion about the Vikings' desire to select a quarterback that could become their long-term answer at the position, but anyone who has followed the various mock drafts knows that many of them have the team grabbing a defensive end with the 12th overall pick on April 28.

There is a good reason for this.

Although a new collective bargaining agreement isn't in place, and thus the rules of free agency aren't known, the Vikings are bracing to lose starting left end Ray Edwards. Edwards, who has five years of NFL service, wasn't pleased last offseason when he didn't receive a contract extension and is expected to sign elsewhere if given the opportunity.

Minnesota did sign defensive end Brian Robison to a three-year, $14.1 million contact just before the lockout began, but at 6-foot-3, 259 pounds, he is considered by some to be better suited toward starting at right end or as a situational pass rusher at left end.

That is the role in which Robison has been used, as well as inside in nickel situations. The Vikings used a fourth-round pick on Southern Cal defensive end Everson Griffen last year, but he has had a couple of run-ins with the law this offseason in California and there will be some concerns about his reliability.

As for the right-end position, that is manned by Pro Bowl player Jared Allen, whose preference is to play as many snaps as possible.

Add in the fact that coach Leslie Frazier has made no secret of his desire to see improvement from the defensive line as a whole and it's no surprise that the expectation is the Vikings will address the defensive front early in the draft.

"We are going to try to upgrade our defensive line," Frazier said. "It may be through the draft, it may be through free agency. That's a scenario where we want to do some things that can really help our defensive line. We're aging at one of the spots. We need to do some things to improve. One of the mantras has been being good against the run, stopping the run. We've kind of slipped a little bit so we have to take a look at some things and see what we have to do to improve in that area."

When Frazier speaks of his team aging at a spot he's talking about nose tackle. Pat Williams is 38 years old and is set to be a free agent when the lockout ends. When that will happen is, of course, an unknown.

The fact is this draft is extremely deep at end, meaning a top-level player could be there at No. 12.

Speculation on which direction the Vikings might go has included North Carolina's Robert Quinn; Wisconsin's J.J. Watt; Iowa's Adrian Clayborn; California's Cameron Jordan; and even Clemson's Da'Quan Bowers.

Bowers has been expected to go much higher than 12th, but appears to be dropping because of reports that he failed to pass physicals. Whether this is accurate information or is being floated by a team hoping that Bowers simply drops remains to be seen.

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