NFC North Tour: Draft Dodging

In Chicago, the Bears need a big receiver to complement their speedsters. In Detroit, Jahvid Best's durability concerns the Lions. And in Minnesota, cornerback remains a priority even after drafting Chris Cook last year.

Chicago Bears

The Bears have plenty of big-play ability at wide receiver with speedsters Devin Hester and Johnny Knox, but Earl Bennett is the only proven member of the cast with any size, assuming that inconsistent, 6-foot-2, 201-pound free agent Devin Aromashodu doesn't return.

Bennett is a solid and reliable possession guy. He is unafraid to work the middle of the field, and quarterback Jay Cutler has confidence in him and his steady hands. But, at 6-0 and 204 pounds, Bennett is by far the biggest and strongest of the Bears' established receivers, and there remains a need for a big, physical player who can win jump balls, especially deep down the field.

The Bears thought Aromashodu would be that guy when the 2010 season started, but he displayed an aversion to contact, had some drops in the opener and spent the rest of the season in the doghouse. After catching five passes for 71 yards in the first game, he had five catches for 78 yards in the final 15.

The Bears brought in 6-4, 220-pound Canadian Football League import Andy Fantuz in the offseason and, while he brings great size, he is not the field-stretching type.

Knox (51 receptions, 960 yards, five touchdowns), Bennett (46-561-3) and Hester (40-475-4) are expected to be the Bears' big three again. The 6-0, 185-pound Knox took another huge step toward becoming a No. 1 receiver last year, after a 45-catch, 527-yard rookie season. But, even as he regained his old kick-return magic, the 5-11, 190-pound Hester seemed to regress as a receiver. He caught 17 fewer passes for 282 fewer yards than he did in '09, when he had 57 receptions for 757 yards and appeared at times to be the Bears' No. 1 receiver of the future.

Another undersized wideout, 5-9, 187-pound Rashied Davis, is also a free agent. But he has a better chance of returning than Aromashodu, given his huge contributions on special teams. Davis was phased out of the offense last year and caught only nine passes for 84 yards, but he stepped up in the season finale, when Bennett was hurt, and caught seven passes for 63 yards, proving he can still be a complementary receiver.

No one caught more than 51 passes for the Bears last season, but with running back Matt Forte (51 catches for 547 yards) and tight end Greg Olsen (41-404) involved in the aerial attack, a dominant No. 1 wide receiver isn't a necessity. But it's expected that the Bears will look to add a big pass catcher at some point in the draft.

Players like Indiana's Tandon Doss, Miami's Leonard Hankerson, Boise State's Austin Pettis and Pittsburgh's Jonathan Baldwin might be considered, although the Bears probably won't be thinking wide receiver until at least Round 3, and they might all be gone by then.

Detroit Lions

There is no doubt about who the featured back is in the Lions' offense. That would be second-year player Jahvid Best, whom they traded up to draft with the 30th pick in 2010.

The question remains, though, is Best durable enough to handle the load?

Jahvid Best
Joe Robbins/Getty Images
He battled his way through 15 games last season — amassing 555 yards rushing and 507 receiving with six touchdowns — but he was fully healthy for just two games. In those two, the first two weeks of the season, he racked up 268 yards and five touchdowns.

The rest of the way, though, he was plagued by unrelenting turf toe injuries on both feet.

"It says something about him that he had that injury and continued to battle through," coach Jim Schwartz said. "A lot of guys would miss a month or more with that. It says a lot that he was willing to go out and battle through. He wasn't as good as he could be but he still contributed to the team."

The Lions made their commitment to him clear in the offseason by releasing veteran Kevin Smith, who battled knee and thumb injuries the last two seasons.

"Those are tough decisions," general manager Martin Mayhew said. "Kevin is a guy I really like, his competitiveness and his preparedness. But at the end of the day, you have to make these tough calls. I felt it was time to focus on other guys. It was time to move on."

That leaves Best and veteran Maurice Morris, with fullback Jerome Felton.

Aaron Brown, a speedster out of Texas Christian, has been largely unproductive in his two seasons and doesn't figure to be the in team's plans moving forward.

Thus, it is a good bet the Lions will be targeting a running back, and most likely it will be a back with some size and power to complement Best.

Thus far, the Lions have reached out to three running back prospects — Illinois' Mikel Leshoure, Oklahoma's DeMarco Murray and Hawaii's Alex Green.

Leshoure is probably out of reach for the Lions unless they trade down from their 13th pick. He is likely to go late first round or early second round. But he might be the prototype for what the Lions are looking for. He's big (6-0, 230) and thick and versatile. He has played out of multiple formations at Illinois where he displayed elusiveness and power.

Murray is very similar. He's 6-1, 207 and he also can make tacklers miss or run them over.

Green (6-0, 225) is a bit more raw, but he displayed a powerful burst at the combine. His 10-yard split in a 4.45 40-yard dash was 1.53.

Here are a few other backs the Lions might consider: Owen Marecic, fullback, 6-1, 244, from Stanford; Mario Fannin, 5-10, 231, Auburn; Da'Rel Scott, 5-11, 211, Maryland; and Roy Helu, 6-0, 219, Nebraska.

Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings selected Chris Cook with their first pick in the second round of last year's draft, but that doesn't mean cornerback won't be a priority again this year.

Starting left cornerback Antoine Winfield will turn 34 years old in June. Starting right cornerback Cedric Griffin has torn the anterior cruciate ligament in both knees in the past two seasons and Cook underwent surgery on both knees last season after suffering a torn meniscus in each.

The Vikings traded away Benny Sapp for wide receiver Greg Camarillo just before last season but quickly learned there was no such thing as too much depth at cornerback when Cook and then Griffin got hurt.

Asher Allen, a third-round pick in 2009, struggled at times when used in a regular role and veterans Lito Sheppard and Frank Walker also saw time. Sheppard will be a free agent after a new collective bargaining agreement is in place and isn't expected to return.

Walker was signed as a free agent off the street after Griffin was injured four games into the season.

Louisiana State's Patrick Peterson will be long gone by the time the Vikings pick 12th in the first round, but there is a chance Minnesota could have a decision to make on Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara.

Amukamara is projected as a top-15 pick and was a finalist for the Thorpe award in 2010 after he started 14 games at left cornerback for the Cornhuskers. Amukamara, who is 6-0, 201 pounds, finished his collegiate career with five interceptions in 49 games, but all came during the 2009 season.

The Vikings could look to take a cornerback later in the draft given their multitude of needs (quarterback, offensive line, wide receiver, defensive line, etc.). Minnesota has only one pick in the first three rounds before having seven in the last four rounds, including two in the fifth, two in the sixth and two in the seventh.

Miami's Brandon Harris and Texas' Aaron Williams are projected as first- or second-round picks. Potential second- and third-round picks include Louisville's Johnny Patrick; Virginia's Ras-I Dowling; Texas' Curtis Brown; and Colorado's Jimmy Smith.

Williams is an interesting case because he's projected by some to move to safety and that's another spot at which the Vikings need help.

The Vikings are hoping Griffin and Cook can rebound from their knee issues, but a draft pick could fit into the equation as the eventual starting left cornerback.

Winfield is being used as a nickel cornerback and considering he isn't getting any younger he eventually will need to be replaced.

Of course, if Griffin can't return to form after the two knee surgeries there also is chance there might be an opening for playing time at right cornerback.

There is speculation the Vikings could trade back in the opening round to try to grab a quarterback such as Jake Locker or Christian Ponder and also recoup their third-round pick in making that move. It's possible the Vikings could turn that move into a cornerback.

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