NFC North Tour: Draft Previews

We hit the team needs for the Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings. Starting in Green Bay, Ted Thompson goes back to work. In his five drafts, 31 of his 51 picks remain on the roster.

Green Bay Packers

Nice fits: OT Charles Brown, CB Kareem Jackson, P Zoltan Mesko

Ted Thompson's favorite month of the year has to be April. The Packers general manager doesn't hide behind the stark fact that he treats the draft like a food buffet, loading the team's plate with young prospects and invariably going back for more.

More often than not, the bountiful choices have agreed with Thompson. Of the 51 picks made in his first five years of calling the shots, 31 still are with the team.

The Packers have eight draft picks this year, which figure to turn into a few more given Thompson's knack for wheeling and dealing during the proceedings.

Coming off an 11-5 season that ended with a trip to the playoffs, Green Bay had little turnover on its youthful roster -- linebacker Aaron Kampman (to the Jacksonville Jaguars) is the lone defection of note -- and has few holes to plug.

So, Thompson might lean toward using the No. 23 pick in the first round on a starter of the future, either at offensive tackle or cornerback where the Packers have aging players with injury histories.

"I never rank priorities. I love them all," Thompson said. "I think we're always going to try to get better. We're always going to try to keep pushing the throttle down so that we can go faster and do better."

One thing missing on Thompson's extensive draft dossier is landing a first-round stud who is an impact player from the outset of his rookie season. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers (2005) had to wait three years to get his turn, and linebacker A.J. Hawk (2006) has been underwhelming. Linebacker Clay Matthews, for whom Thompson traded up to snag as a second first-round choice last year, didn't burst onto the scene until Week 4 of the season.

Team needs

Chad Clifton
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Offensive tackle: Green Bay re-signed veteran bookends Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher, and both should enter next season as the starters. Yet, this is the year with a deep crop of talented linemen for the Packers to address a succession plan, particularly with Clifton on the left side. The problem is, as many as six prospects could be off the board before Green Bay picks at No. 23.

Cornerback: Green Bay isn't lacking players at the position, it just needs them to be healthy. Starter Al Harris may not be ready for the start of the season after undergoing knee surgery Nov. 30, which would make things cloudy at the nickel and dime spots if Tramon Williams has to take on a full-time role alongside Charles Woodson.

Running back: Having not one, but two capable backs to carry the load is the rage in the league. Green Bay is missing the second piece to complement Ryan Grant. Assuming Clemson's C.J. Spiller doesn't drop to the late first round, the Packers could be tempted to take Cal's Jahvid Best or Fresno State's Ryan Mathews.

Punter: The Packers have a pair of unproven, left-footed street free agents in Tim Masthay and Australian import Chris Bryan. They can do better by perhaps taking Michigan's Zoltan Mesko, another lefty, in the middle rounds. The last time the Packers drafted a punter -- Ohio State's B.J. Sander, a third-round choice in 2004 -- ended in disaster, however.

Chicago Bears

Nice fits: CB-FS Jerome Murphy, OG Jon Asamoah, WR Mardy Gilyard

The Bears need an infusion of talent and youth on an offensive line that has been practically ignored in the draft for the past eight years. They're also desperate for a safety, preferably a free safety-type who can run with wide receivers, cover half the field and make plays on the ball.

But, considering they're without a draft pick until the third round (No. 75 overall) they might be fortunate to find one player who can make an impact. There has been speculation that the Bears might investigate the possibility of trading up high enough to get someone like South Florida safety Nate Allen, but they lack the ammunition to move into the early second round, where they'd have a chance at Allen. And general manager Jerry Angelo seemed to dismiss the idea of parting with future draft picks to improve their position this year.

In addition to their top pick, the Bears have one pick in each of the remaining four rounds, 109th, 141st, 181st and 218th overall.

Team needs

Offensive line: Whether Frank Omiyale stays at left guard or kicks out to right tackle, the Bears still need at least one starting-quality offensive lineman. Omiyale got mixed reviews at left guard last season, getting benched for four games at one points. But the consensus is that he played better after regaining the job. He might have more success at right tackle, but that remains to be seen, and it could depend on whether the Bears are able to add a guard or right tackle in the draft.

Free safety: The Bears got a grand total of one interception from their safeties last season, and they've changed starters at the two safety positions 40 times in six years under Lovie Smith. The Bears' coach has suggested that the team make a bigger investment in the position and, since it hasn't been addressed in free agency, it should be a priority on draft weekend. The majority of the safeties on the roster are better suited to play the traditional strong safety role, which values run support more than pass coverage. Quantity they have; quality, not so much.

Charles Tillman
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Cornerback: The Bears are fine here -- as long as Charles Tillman and Zach Bowman stay healthy. Both are the kind of big, physical cornerbacks that are valued in the Cover-2 scheme, but Bowman had a lengthy injury history in college, and Tillman has been banged up, too, but most of his injuries have occurred late in the season, so he's only missed six games in the past six seasons. Behind those two, Corey Graham and Tim Jennings are seen as backups, not long-term starters.

Wide receiver: The Bears have a lot of young players with talent and potential at the position, and almost all of them showed encouraging signs of improvement. But there is still a gaping void where most teams have a go-to receiver. The Bears don't have anyone who is anywhere close yet to being a legitimate No. 1 receiver. There is also plenty of speed across the board here and also a lot of big-play ability, but there is no king-sized, physical receiver, which seems to be a hot trend for most other NFL teams.

Detroit Lions

Nice fits: DT Ndamukong Suh, RB Jahvid Best, TE Ed Dickson

The Lions' No. 1 need is talent. Jim Schwartz has said that repeatedly since he became coach last year. The Lions are looking for a second straight strong draft under general manager Martin Mayhew, after years of poor drafts under former president Matt Millen.

The first dilemma is the No. 2 overall pick. The Lions seem poised to take one of the highly touted defensive tackles -- likely Ndamukong Suh over Gerald McCoy -- but could opt for a left tackle like Russell Okung or Trent Williams largely because of the positional value.

The Lions say they cannot allow need to trump talent at any point in the draft, but they have so many needs, it might be a moot point. About the only positions where they are set are quarterback with Matthew Stafford and No. 1 wide receiver with Calvin Johnson.

Team needs

Jahvid Best
Ben Margot/AP Images
Running back: Kevin Smith is recovering from a torn ACL, and the Lions were looking for more explosiveness even before he went down. They haven't added a running back outside of UFL star DeDe Dorsey, thinking the free agents generally had too many miles on them. If Jahvid Best is available at No. 34, he could give them the speed they need.

Defensive back: The Lions had the NFL's worst pass defense last year and have parted with three corners: Phillip Buchanon, Anthony Henry and Will James. They have added three corners: Chris Houston, Jonathan Wade and Dante Wesley. But they badly need more talent and depth at corner, and they need another safety to put alongside Louis Delmas, a second-round pick last year. CB Patrick Robinson could be a candidate at No. 34.

Tight end: The Lions are looking for a receiving tight end to fill the role vacated by Casey Fitzsimmons, who retired because of concussions. They brought back Will Heller, but he is known more for blocking, and Brandon Pettigrew, a first-round pick last year, is recovering from a torn ACL. At least three tight end prospects have visited: Oregon's Ed Dickson, Florida's Aaron Hernandez and Miami's Jimmy Graham. Dickson could be the pick in the third round.

Defensive line: Despite the additions of end Kyle Vanden Bosch and tackle Corey Williams, the Lions still need a dynamic playmaker or two up front. That's a reason they might draft Suh or McCoy second overall. They need more push and penetration up the middle. They also need a premier pass rusher on the end, especially if Vanden Bosch can't return to form or fades in the future. Cliff Avril has shown potential but has been inconsistent.

Offensive line: When the Lions signed Rob Sims, that filled a huge hole at left guard. But for how long? Sims is on only a one-year contract. Then there is the tackle situation. The Lions were pleased with left tackle Jeff Backus last year, but he's 32, and right tackle Gosder Cherilus, a first-round pick in 2008, struggled so badly he was benched toward the end of the season. That's why you can't rule out Okung or Williams at No. 2. Someone like Charles Brown could be intriguing at No. 34.

Minnesota Vikings

Nice fits: C Maurkice Pouncey, RB Jonathan Dwyer, CB Chris Cook

The Vikings find themselves in an interesting position entering this draft.

Coming off an appearance in the NFC title game, Minnesota isn't a team that has many glaring holes but there are plenty of positions at which it can add for the future and get stronger in the short-term by doing so.

The Vikings have eight picks, including a compensatory pick in the fifth round, and hold the 30th overall selection in the first round.

Vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman stressed last year that he wanted to keep all of his picks this year. Spielman has run the Vikings draft since 2007 and the past two years he has had five selections in each.

One name that has come up regarding the Vikings is former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow. Spielman went to Tebow's Pro Day in Gainesville last month and Spielman and Vikings coach Brad Childress worked out Tebow and several of his teammates recently in Florida.

The Vikings seem to like Tebow and his new throwing motion and might feel he could learn behind Brett Favre, assuming the future Hall of Famer decides to return.

The big question is would the Vikings be willing to spend their first-round pick on Tebow? Speculation on when he might be selected has been all over the board.

One of the players Childress and Spielman watched in Gainesville was Pouncey. If the center is around late in the first round the Vikings could grab him and allow the Florida product to compete with John Sullivan for the starting job. Pouncey has Pro Bowl potential.

Team needs

Antoine Winfield
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Cornerback: The Vikings have issues with their two starters at this spot. Veteran Antoine Winfield was slowed by a broken foot for much of last season and Cedric Griffin tore his ACL in the NFC title game at New Orleans and likely will start training camp on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. Veteran Benny Sapp and Asher Allen, a third-round pick last year, provide depth but the Vikings likely will be on the lookout for a future starter at corner and someone who can add immediate depth. They held a private work out for Cook at Virginia. Other possibilities include Rutgers' Devin McCourty and Florida State's Patrick Robinson.

Offensive line: The Vikings lost the versatile Artis Hicks to Washington in free agency, meaning their top backup at both guard and tackle spots is gone. Ryan Cook, for now, is the primary backup but this likely doesn't thrill the team. There is a chance the Vikings could look to bring in competition for the starting jobs at center (Sullivan) and right guard (Anthony Herrera) although it's not a given a change would be made. Bottom line is the Vikings would like to add some quality depth in the line.

Linebacker: Chad Greenway and Ben Leber are both entering contract years and E.J. Henderson is returning from a broken leg. There isn't much depth here and it appears a good bet that Leber could leave as a free agent after next season. All of this means the Vikings likely will be looking to the draft to add a player who could take over a starting role in 2011.

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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