The Bears' draft board is nearly finalized, and they have identified a handful of players they expect to be available when their first-round pick rolls around late next Thursday night at No. 29 overall.
"There are four, five, six guys that, based on our projections and our grades, would be in the running for the pick," said director of player personnel Tim Ruskell, general manager Jerry Angelo's right-hand man.
Conventional wisdom says the Bears will target an offensive lineman first, but they could also use a three-technique defensive tackle to replace Tommie Harris, and they only have two linebackers under contract.
Since there are so many scenarios that could play out before the Bears are on the clock, they will ideally have players at four positions targeted.
"Four is probably a good number," Angelo said. "If you can do that, that gives you the flexibility; or, you can take the best player available. But you still have to address your needs."
Nowhere is the Bears' need greater than at offensive line, given their yield of an NFL-worst 56 sacks last season. Angelo said at least five offensive linemen will be selected in Round One, and as many as seven. Angelo would not say how many of them the Bears grade as first-rounders. If six or seven are off the board before the 29th pick, the Bears could turn their attention toward the defensive line or elsewhere.
The consensus top five offensive linemen are tackles Tyron Smith, Anthony Castonzo, Gabe Carimi and Nate Solder, plus guard-center Mike Pouncey; not necessarily in that order. After that, the consensus next best are Mississippi State tackle Derek Sherrod and Baylor's Danny Watkins, who was a tackle in college but projects to guard in the NFL. Both players have frequently been projected as the Bears' top pick in mock drafts.
While the line crop is considered very good, the D-line class is excellent, especially at end, where seven could be first-round picks.
"It's really deep with the defensive line," Angelo said. "I thought last year was really good, but this year's even better. But it's a good year for offensive linemen, too. Maybe not the quality (of the defensive linemen), but the quantity is very good."
Draftniks have been debating the relative value of cornerbacks Prince Amukamara or Jimmy Smith for weeks now. The Lions have no doubt been having the same debate internally.
There is an outside chance Amukamara, from Nebraska, will fall to them at No. 13. Smith, from Colorado, is almost certainly to be available for the Lions. Amukamara has graded out higher than Smith on most draft boards mainly because of citizenship. There are no character issues with Amukamara, no failed drug tests or arrests for minors in possession.
Smith can't say the same.
On the field, though, most scouts believe Smith is the greater talent and the riskier pick. Will the Lions, in desperate need of an elite-level corner, take that risk?
"It's really tricky right now," said ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper, Jr. "I pushed (Amukamara) to No. 13 because I kept hearing Dallas was going to take an offensive lineman. St. Louis could trade up to No. 9 (Dallas) to get (receiver) Julio Jones, but that wouldn't impact the cornerback position.
"Jimmy Smith is the hot guy right now. He's moved up because the character issues and the off-the-field stuff isn't as big a deal as people thought it was. He's a top-10 talent and his improvement helps the Lions out a little bit. If they want to move down a little bit and look at Jimmy Smith they probably could because the teams picking after them don't really need a corner."
Kiper went further, saying he thought Smith would be a good choice even at No. 13.
"The teams I've spoken to feel very comfortable about Jimmy Smith," Kiper said. "If you are looking at talent, he's a top-10 guy. If the top teams in the league would take a player, and he's got great talent, it's not a stretch. If Philadelphia is looking at Jimmy Smith and Baltimore is looking at Jimmy Smith, then why shouldn't Detroit?
"Sometimes we look too much into value. Value now is based on team's own preferences. How they value a player. If they feel like they've done all their work on him and they're comfortable, then why not? Talent-wise, it's a no-brainer."
The Lions seem to agree with that. General manager Martin Mayhew spent some time with Smith during a pre-draft visit and he came away impressed.
"I am glad I met with him," Mayhew said during the NFL league meetings last month. "I feel better about him. 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 a better feel for him as a person now than before he came in."
Smith's measurables are eye-popping. He's 6-2 1/4, 211 pounds, and he ran a 4.37 at the Combine. He has a long reach (77 inches) and thrives on playing physical, press coverage.
But, Smith failed four drug tests at Colorado. He was busted for minor in possession. His intensity and work ethic were criticized. He raised more flags when he showed up seemingly out of shape at his Pro Day workout.
Mayhew hasn't taken many draft-day risks in his first two seasons. This might be the time to make one.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Packers general manager Ted Thompson is hopeful the 2011 season will be spared interruption by the league's labor rift, but he didn't paint a rosy outlook.
Thompson addressed the nearly two-month-old lockout before he took questions at his pre-draft news conference at Lambeau Field on Thursday.
"What's important to know is the Packers are getting ready for football," Thompson said. "We've got a season schedule (released by the league Tuesday). (Head coach) Mike (McCarthy) has training camp schedules all done. There is no contact with players. But, our players are very professional, and I'm sure they're getting ready. We're hopeful that a deal gets done, just like everybody else."
Yet, the optimism expressed by Thompson was tempered by what he had to say next.
"For the fans, they should know we're planning for several different contingencies," he said.
Thompson wouldn't elaborate on what those contingencies are.
Since the lockout could extend until at least mid-May, when court-ordered mediation between the owners and players is scheduled to resume in Minneapolis, not having a post-draft minicamp for the rookies and organized team activities for all players this spring is a real possibility for the Packers.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers indicated in a radio interview he did Wednesday on ESPN Cleveland that McCarthy wasn't planning to start offseason workouts for the returning players until after Easter weekend had there been no lockout. That would have been more than a month later than when those workouts started in previous years under McCarthy since the Packers' 2010 season didn't end until they won Super Bowl XLV on Feb. 6.
With the players instead barred from team facilities, Rodgers acknowledged it's getting close to crunch time for him and his teammates to organize football-related workouts on their own.
"I think it's going to be important for some of us to find ways to get together," Rodgers said. "I know I've talked with my receivers, and we're looking at ways to get together and throw the football together this summer, training in San Diego."