NFC North grades are in's Steve Lawrence plays the role of teacher in assigning report-card grades to the drafts of the Packers' NFC North Division rivals.

The Green Bay Packers can't contend for an NFL championship until they can contend in the NFC North. Let's take a look at the North, starting with the first-place Bears.

Chicago Bears

Only five teams in the NFL scored fewer points than the Bears' 260 last season — four of those teams finished in last place in their divisions and the other was 5-11 Detroit, showing that while defense may win championships, you need an offense to win.

So, you'd think the Bears would turn their draft focus to the offense, right? Wrong.

The Bears spent their first five picks on defense before spending their sixth-rounders on a running back and a guard. Worse, because their defense already was so strong, none of the picks — especially second-round project Devin Hester, who is a brilliant returner but has no position on either side of the ball — is expected to even push for a starting job.

Chicago traded out of the first round, didn't add a quarterback to provide depth behind always-injured starter Rex Grossman, journeyman Brian Griese and ineffective Kyle Orton, and didn't take advantage of the deepest tight end class in eons to solidify perhaps their weakest position.

The Bears have all 22 starters returning for the coming season, but it's not as if the team is so perfectly constructed that some fresh faces wouldn't provide upgrades.

Steve's grade: C-minus

Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings, once again big spenders in free agency, were primed to make some big strides during the draft. Instead, even with four of the first 64 picks last weekend, Minnesota isn't much better today than it was last week.

The first two picks will help — linebacker Chad Greenway in the first round and cornerback Cedric Griffin with the first of three picks in the second. Greenway is good in coverage and can get to the passer, but he's someone the Packers will be able to exploit if they become the smashmouth team it looks like GM Ted Thompson is building. Griffin can play corner or safety. He's not blazing fast but he's probably got enough speed to play corner, and he's a big hitter.

The other second-rounders were major reaches. Tackle Ryan Cook was deemed a second-day talent by many, and quarterback Tarvaris Jackson has a huge arm but is as raw as a frozen steak. It's almost impossible to believe he'd be an adequate starter should ancient Brad Johnson get injured.

The fourth-round pick, defensive end Ray Edwards, has some tools but lost his starting job at Purdue last season.

Steve's grade: C

Detroit Lions

Let's see: The Detroit Lions are just coming out of the Joey Harrington era and are embarking on the Jon Kitna/Josh McCown era? Sounds like a great reason to pounce on USC's Matt Leinart, who — even while I predicted he'd at least fall to Green Bay at No. 5 — shockingly fell all the way to Detroit at No. 9.

So what do the Lions do? Well, of course they select a linebacker who suffered five concussions while in college.

Ernie Sims, Detroit's first-round pick, is a superb player who's been compared to fellow Florida State alum Derrick Brooks and was ranked about on par with the Packers' top choice, A.J. Hawk. One scout said Sims plays harder than any linebacker he'd ever seen, which is terrific until you remember his problem with concussions.

Sort of like how the Texans' draft will be judged more on the play of the guy they passed over, Reggie Bush, instead of the guy they selected, Mario Williams, the Lions' draft will be judged a failure — almost regardless of what Sims does — if Leinart becomes a star in Arizona.

The next two picks, however, were terrific. Second-rounder Daniel Bullocks could be an immediate starter at safety, while third-rounder Brian Calhoun was a fantastically versatile running back at Wisconsin who will excel in a third-down role.

Steve's grade: B-minus

So where does all of this leave the Packers? Certainly, the Bears and Vikings are light-years ahead of the Packers, but Green Bay caught up a bit last weekend, if only because Chicago and Minnesota didn't vastly improve themselves in the draft.

The Packers' defense, for all its personnel shortcomings and lack of big plays created, did a decent job of keeping teams out of the end zone last season. Add Hawk, fellow linebacker Abdul Hodge and free-agent cornerback Charles Woodson to the mix, and the defense should be even better.

The offense lacks big names, but if second-round pick Daryn Colledge and veteran Kevin Barry make successful transformations to guard, and if the running back trio of Ahman Green, Najeh Davenport and Samkon Gado are healthy, turnover-free and productive, then the Packers might be able to pound their way a lot closer to the Vikings and Bears than the experts think.

Of course, that's a lot of "ifs". So, an early NFC North prediction: Chicago and Minnesota finish 10-6, Green Bay at 7-9 and Detroit at 6-10.

Lawrence is a regular contributor to Send comments to

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