NFC North tour: Pre-draft edition

You know all about the Packers, so catch up with the draft needs in Chicago, Detroit and Minnesota.

Chicago Bears: A quiet Saturday

The first day of the draft should be extremely uneventful for the Bears. After trading their first- and third-rounders as part of the Jay Cutler deal, their only first-day pick is No. 49 overall.

They don't pick again until No. 99, a compensatory selection for losing Bernard Berrian in free agency last spring, and then again at No. 119.

Since they have added three offensive linemen and two safeties in free agency, the Bears' greatest remaining need is for an all-around wide receiver. But it's possible they might decide that anyone left at the 49th spot isn't going to provide much of an immediate impact, which is what they were looking for when they paid the price for Cutler.

If general manager Jerry Angelo and coach Lovie Smith decide they need to get better at wide receiver immediately, they could address the situation in free agency after the draft. It's possible the Bears could address wide receiver in free agency and the draft.

The only young wideout who appears to have much potential is last year's third-round pick, Earl Bennett, and you have to question how much promise he holds considering he couldn't get on the field last year despite playing behind one of the weakest WR groups in the NFL. Bennett didn't catch a pass last season, although coaches say they expect much-improved play from him this season.

Ohio State wide receiver Brian Robiskie makes a great deal of sense for the Bears if he's around at No. 49. He would be the perfect complement to burner Devin Hester. Robiskie is more polished than most rookie wideouts, and he has the size and ability to do the possession-type duties that would be wasted on Hester. The Bears have also shown interest in Georgia's Mohamed Massaquoi and Oklahoma's Juaquin Iglesias.

If the Bears decide to pass on a wide receiver, they might instead take a developmental project along the offensive line. Two of their free-agent pickups — Orlando Pace and Kevin Shaffer — are hardly youngsters, and the Bears have practically ignored the O-line in the past several drafts.

Of more immediate need could be a pass-rush threat, even one who figures to play strictly in passing situations. No Bears player had more than six sacks last season and, with the possible exception of defensive tackle Tommie Harris, they don't have anyone on the roster who can be considered a serious threat to hit double digits, unless new D-line coach Rod Marinelli is really a miracle worker.

Georgia Tech's Michael Johnson could be a nice fit, but it's doubtful he'll be on the board. Ditto for Cincinnati's Connor Barwin, who seems to be leaping up draft boards.

Free safety is another potential consideration. Josh Bullocks was added in free agency, but he might not be much better than a stopgap solution. Their other free-agent safety, Glenn Earl, might not even have that much of a future, considering he's missed the past two seasons with a foot (Lisfranc) injury.

The problem with the Bears' holdover safeties is that they're all basically strong safety types with limited coverage skills.

Team needs: Wide receiver, pass-rushing defensive end, offensive tackle, safety, running back.

WR — The Bears don't have a legitimate go-to guy, and it's still a bit of a stretch to call Devin Hester a No. 2, although if he continues his sharp learning curve, he could be there this season. The only other wide receiver on the roster with NFL experience is Rashied Davis, probably no better than a No. 4 in a good offense. The Bears need a big receiver, one with speed to stretch the field or enough bulk and toughness to work the middle.  Last year, the combined total of the five other wide receivers currently on the Bears' roster — John Broussard, Devin Aromashodu, Davis, Brandon Rideau and Earl Bennett — was 35 catches and 445 yards — all by Davis.

Pass-rushing DE — Nobody on the team had more than six sacks, and when the Bears don't get pressure with the front four the defense struggles, as it did much of last season and the season before that. Since Mark Anderson has disappeared in the two seasons since he had 12 sacks as a rookie, the Bears could be looking for a situational pass rusher/developmental player in the draft to help out on passing downs initially and perhaps develop into an every-down player.

OT — Recently signed Orlando Pace will start at left tackle, which means last year's first-round draft pick, Chris Williams, should start at right tackle after missing much of last season following training camp back injury. Williams played a handful of snaps in the second half of last season, mostly on special teams. ORT John Tait has retired, and unrestricted free agent John St. Clair, a 16-game starter at left tackle, signed with the Browns. UFA Frank Omiyale, who started one game in four seasons with the Panthers, is expected to challenge incumbent Josh Beekman for the left guard job. Kevin Shaffer, who was cut by the Browns, should be the swing tackle, but the Bears are in trouble if they have to play him at left tackle.

FS — Kevin Payne started all 16 games last season, four at free safety and 12 at strong safety, where he's a much better fit. Craig Steltz had been penciled in at free safety until the Bears picked up Josh Bullocks, who could be their answer. Steltz is a better strong safety, anyway. If Bullocks has matured past the brain cramps that have hindered his play in the past, the Bears shouldn't have to worry as much about this spot, but historically the Bears seem to lose more safeties to injury than the average NFL team.

RB — Matt Forte had an excellent rookie season, but the Bears don't want to have to give him 25 touches a game. Last season they had no choice, since backups Kevin Jones, Adrian Peterson and Garrett Wolfe all represented a major drop-off in performance from Forte. A big, strong, between-the-tackles, short-yardage banger would greatly reduce the wear and tear on Forte.

Detroit Lions: More than No. 1

With five of the first 82 picks in the NFL draft, including the No. 1 overall pick, the Lions have an opportunity to build a foundation amid the rubble of the league's first 0-16 season.

"We need to take advantage of those," coach Jim Schwartz said.

Poor drafts led to this low point. President Matt Millen was fired last year, and this will be the first time general manager Martin Mayhew makes the final call in the draft.

Mayhew and Schwartz believe in building from the inside out. They want a bigger, stronger team that runs the ball and stops the run. The Lions' roster is so decimated that they will consider all options and, in general, take the best player available. They won't reach for a particular position.

"We're going to look at every possibility that we can to improve our team, and we're going to go in with an open mind," Schwartz said. "We talked about the No. 1 pick. Would you trade it? Maybe. Would you be comfortable with picking a quarterback there? Maybe. Would you be comfortable picking a left tackle there? Maybe.

"I think at our point where we are as an organization, we need to be open to everything. We're not at the point where one player is going to put us over the top, so we need to look at the big picture, not the small picture."

Mayhew has said signing the No. 1 pick before the draft is of "critical importance." The Lions have had preliminary negotiations with multiple candidates, but 10 days before the draft, they hadn't moved past that point. Asked if the No. 1 pick was set, Schwartz said: "No, not 100 percent. There's still discussions to be had."

Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford appears to be the leading candidate, with Baylor left tackle Jason Smith, Virginia left tackle Eugene Monroe and Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry also in the mix.

The Lions also have the No. 20, No. 33, No. 65 and No. 82 picks, plus two sixth-rounders and a seventh-rounder. They have the ammunition to move up, but Mayhew might not.

"I'm more of a trade-back type of guy," Mayhew said. "I would never say never, but I would be much more inclined to trade back than I would to trade up. Usually if you assume the draft is about value, usually that would indicate you would try to trade back most of the time, because you're not going to get value giving up picks to get up."

Millen used to receive good reviews immediately after his drafts, only to see his picks fail on the field. Mayhew, who worked under Millen, paid attention to that.

"We've gotten A's before in April, but then three years later, it doesn't look as good as it looked in April," Mayhew said. "So my emphasis should be on how this looks three years from now, not how it looks in April. So we might not get an A. I'll tell you that now. My goal is to get an A three years from now."

Team needs: Quarterback, middle linebacker, guard, defensive tackle, defensive back.

QB — The Lions hope Daunte Culpepper can regain his form. He has lost weight and rejoins offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, under whom he had his best years in Minnesota. But Culpepper is on a one-year, incentive-laden deal for a reason. Drew Stanton, a second-round pick in 2007, has had little practice time in the NFL, let alone playing time. Drew Henson is the only other QB on the roster.

MLB — The Lions have a gaping hole. Jordon Dizon was drafted in the second round last year to play the middle, but that was to play the middle in the Tampa Two defense — and he failed to win the starting job for that staff. Now the new staff wants bigger, stronger players, and Dizon, a smaller, speedier guy, will be a backup on the outside.

OG — The Lions have been searching for stability at left guard for years, and they could solve it by drafting a left tackle. Jeff Backus, who has started every game at left tackle since he was drafted in the first round in 2001, could move to guard. Or the rookie could start out at left guard.

DT — The Lions traded Shaun Rogers to Cleveland last year and Cory Redding to Seattle this year. They signed veteran Grady Jackson to plug the middle, but he's 36. And veteran Chuck Darby and two of last year's picks — Andre Fluellen and Landon Cohen — were acquired by the previous staff to fit the Tampa Two.

DB — The Lions' secondary intercepted only one pass last season, and the Lions released the man who got it: cornerback Leigh Bodden. The Lions need help at corner even though they have numbers there, with Phillip Buchanon, Anthony Henry, Travis Fisher, Eric King and Keith Smith. They need help at safety even though they have two second-round picks there: Daniel Bullocks and Gerald Alexander. Bullocks missed 2007 with a torn ACL. Alexander is coming off a fractured vertebra.

Minnesota Vikings: Off-limits

The Vikings' draft plans are being kept close to the vest, but one thing the public knows: There is a lengthy list of players they won't be taking.

Rick Spielman, the team's vice president of player personnel, said last week that the Vikings had put a "red dot" on 78 players, meaning that for either reasons related to their physical health or something in their background the Vikings will not consider taking them under any circumstance.

Spielman, of course, did not reveal any names on that list. One possibility could be Florida wide receiver Percy Harvin, who has been projected to go to the Vikings with the 22nd overall pick in many mock drafts.

There have been some question marks regarding Harvin's personality and that wasn't helped by the fact he reportedly tested positive for marijuana at the NFL Scouting Combine. That report has yet to be confirmed.

While Harvin would add an explosive presence to the Vikings if they did take him with their first-round pick, it appears more likely Minnesota will use that selection on an offensive tackle.

The Vikings have a real need at right tackle and this draft is deep with quality players at tackle. Many of them, however, will be gone by the time the second round starts and waiting could prove to be a bad idea.

While it seems very unlikely the Vikings would try to move up in the draft, there is a chance they could look to stockpile additional picks by dropping down a few selections.

One name that continues to come up in relation to Minnesota is Arizona's Eben Britton, who is 6-6, 310 pounds. The Vikings would love to see Mississippi tackle Michael Oher fall to them, which is a possibility.

Spielman, however, said there remain multiple draft scenarios that would make the Vikings happy.

"To be honest with you we're going to be looking at five or six names that we're going to sift out over these next two weeks at that No. 22 spot," Spielman said before adding "there are probably two or three guys there that I would say, 'If he's there that he's one of those guys we would take right now.'"

Team needs: Offensive right tackle, cornerback, wide receiver, center.

RT — Ryan Cook was the starter for most of last season but the converted center struggled with mental and physical mistakes and lost his job to veteran Artis Hicks at one point. The Vikings need to find some stability at this position and with a draft deep at the tackle position, this would seem to be a good time to address the need. The Vikings were set to go after Carolina's Jordan Gross and Miami's Vernon Carey but neither reached free agency and Minnesota did not appear to have any real interest in the free agents who did hit the market. 

CB — Starting right corner Cedric Griffin recently signed a five-year contract extension and the Vikings are working on an extension for veteran left corner Antoine Winfield, who is entering the final season of his contract. But the Vikings could use a potential starter behind those two and right now the team mostly has players who would be considered more suited to a role in the nickel (Charles Gordon, Karl Paymah and Benny Sapp). Meanwhile, Marcus McCauley, a third-round pick in 2007, saw his playing time decrease dramatically in 2008 and his roster spot appears to be anything but secure. Winfield will be entering his 11th season in 2009 and even if he gets a contract extension the Vikings need to plan for the future.

WR — The Vikings made a big run at T.J. Houshmandzadeh but the free agent decided to sign with Seattle. The Vikings have a deep threat in Bernard Berrian and a solid possession guy in Bobby Wade but after that there are concerns. Sidney Rice has struggled with injuries and there are questions about whether Aundrae Allison will even make the roster in 2009. This could open the door for a fresh face to enter the picture, especially if that player has the ability to return punts and kicks. Darius Reynaud, who was signed as an undrafted free agent last year, showed some ability on kick returns before getting injured.

C — The departure of veteran Matt Birk makes 2008 sixth-round pick John Sullivan the likely starter entering training camp. But the Vikings wouldn't mind creating competition for Sullivan. Coach Brad Childress has said that Anthony Herrera could play center, but it's likely the team would like to leave him as its starting right guard. There also is a possibility that Ryan Cook could be moved back to that spot but there is some question about how good of fit the 6-6 Cook would be playing center in the NFL. It's unlikely the Vikings would grab a center early but this area could be addressed on the second day.


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