With their first draft pick the Bears addressed their greatest need.
They selected Vanderbilt's Chris Williams 14th overall in the hope that he can step into the starting spot at left tackle very soon if not immediately.
"We went into this with our No. 1 need as left tackle after we discussed our team at length," Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said. "We wanted to get a tackle, and obviously if we had our choice, it would be a left tackle."
The 6-foot-6, 315-pound Williams received high marks from scouts for his athleticism, and especially his nimble footwork, which may make him the most natural left tackle in the draft, able to handle the burden of protecting a right-handed quarterback's blind side. Williams was not rated nearly as highly for his run blocking, where his strength and physical play weren't as impressive as his agility.
After starting the past three seasons at Vanderbilt, the last two at left tackle, Williams is confident he can do the same for the Bears, although he doesn't consider himself the left tackle starter yet.
"I don't know if I anticipate that, but I feel like they drafted me to come in and fill that need," Williams said. "I'm definitely coming in and trying to start, and I'm assuming that's why they picked me in the first round. Most teams don't waste first-round picks on guys that don't play, so that's my intention coming in."
It's coach Lovie Smith's intention, too.
"He's played at a high level in the SEC for a long time at the left tackle position, which he'll play for us," Smith said. "Chris is pretty driven to be one of the better players to play the position."
John Tait has been the Bears' starting left tackle for the past three seasons, but he's 33 and might be more effective moving back to right tackle, where he started from 2002-04. The Bears cut last year's right tackle Fred Miller and didn't offer a new contract to left guard Ruben Brown, so they have a major renovation project up front. Tait and journeyman John St. Clair, who ended last season starting at guard after Terrence Metcalf flopped, are the only tackles on the roster who have played in an NFL game.
Second-round pick Matt Forte seems more like a replacement for running back Cedric Benson than a complement.
Not just because the 6-foot-1, 217-pound Tulane product is similar — more of a tough, power runner than a breakaway threat — but because Benson's coming off a fractured ankle. The organization is disappointed in his production and injury history since he was the fourth overall pick in 2005.
"I felt like our running game obviously was one of the weak spots on our football team," Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said after tabbing Forte 44th overall. "He gives us a big back; a three-down back. He's got enough speed to get to the outside, and he has the ability to make people miss at the second level. Those two areas where we could really never find any consistency, which made us an easy team to defend."
Forte bounced back from left knee surgery in 2006 to rush for 2,127 yards last season, second best in the nation. He averaged 5.9 yards on 361 carries, scored 23 touchdowns and also caught 32 passes for 282 yards.
Forte doesn't have top-end speed, and he ran a pedestrian 4.59 40-yard dash at his pro day, but he has been timed as low as 4.46. He has good vision and run instincts with good cutback ability and is also an effective receiver with soft hands, although not great run-after-the-catch ability.
Benson, Adrian Peterson and Garrett Wolfe combined last season for the lowest average gain per carry in the NFL (3.1 yards) and the Bears were 30th of 32 teams in rushing yards. Benson, who averaged 3.4 yards per carry last season, didn't have a run longer than 16 yards until the 10th game of the season, and he suffered the season-ending injury in the next game.
"Maybe he's not the featured back we thought he'd be," Angelo said of Benson. "He's had those injuries. When we thought we were starting to see a little something, then he breaks his ankle. I and the coaches felt we needed to make sure that we protected that position."
Forte will have every opportunity to take the No. 1 job because the Bears see him as a complete, three-down back.
The Bears started the second day of the draft staying with the formula of bolstering a weak offense with a record-setting wide receiver and then took a gamble on a defensive player to provide defensive line depth and do the same for the safety and cornerback positions.
Earl Bennett, the Bears' first third-round pick (70th overall), caught 236 passes in just three seasons at Vanderbilt, more than anyone in Southeast Conference history. Before leaving school a year early, the 5-foot-11 1/2-inch, 209-pound Bennett caught at least 75 passes in each of his three seasons, the only player in SEC history with at least 75 receptions in more than one season. He finished with a total of 2,853 receiving yards and 20 touchdowns.
Bennett has been compared to the Steelers' standout wide receiver Hines Ward because of his strength, toughness and compact build.
"That actually was discussed in our meetings," Bears offensive coordinator Ron Turner said. "It's probably because of the size and the way he competes and the production he has. I just know he's a good player — very productive and very competitive."
His 40-time of 4.51 is not outstanding for a wideout, but Bennett made a career of excelling as an underneath receiver and shows good run-after-the-catch ability by breaking tackles downfield. Bennett also impressed scouts with his ability to adjust to poor throws. As a freshman, he was fortunate to have Jay Cutler as his quarterback, but in the past two seasons he was just as productive without a standout quarterback. Bennett didn't impress anyone with his great speed, but his production was undeniable.
"If you watch the tape, he comes up big every game," said Bears director of college scouting Greg Gabriel. "He was their go-to guy. Everybody knew that was who they were going to throw to, yet he still came up with big catches. He's great in traffic. He's great after he has the ball in his hands. He's got good concentration. He has very good hands. He's a very good route runner."
With the Bears' wideout situation unsettled, Bennett will have a legitimate chance to compete for a starting job as a rookie.
"We see him as having starter talent," Gabriel said. "Whether he becomes a starter as a rookie, that remains to be seen."
BEST PICK: The Bears picked LSU safety Craig Steltz in the fourth round (120th overall), but according to general manager Jerry Angelo, there was complete agreement in the war room that he had the ability to become a starter. Steltz was only a full-time starter for one season at LSU, but he had 101 tackles and six interceptions last season. He's big enough to play effectively in the box, but also has the instincts to play free safety, so he could be a factor very soon in an area that has been unsettled for the past four seasons because of frequent injuries to Mike Brown, a standout player when healthy.
COULD SURPRISE: Nebraska CB Zackary Bowman's two seasons in Lincoln were hindered by a pair of knee surgeries that limited him to nine starts. But Bowman, who lasted until the fifth round (No. 142 overall) because of the injuries, is very close to 100 percent and on the verge of regaining the elite talent he flashed before he was hurt. He's 6 feet tall and 197 pounds and ran a 4.44 40 at the Combine.
We've all seen the old recruiting poster, the one with Uncle Sam pointing and the famous slogan: "We want you."
It could be a symbol for the Lions' draft, and not just because the Lions drafted Army's Caleb Campbell in the seventh round.
The Lions didn't get everybody they wanted. The two defensive players they were thought to covet most — Florida defensive end Derrick Harvey and Tennessee linebacker Jerod Mayo — came off the board before they had a chance to pick.
But the Lions did get what they were looking for: players with the football character coach Rod Marinelli wants who fit their systems and needs. The Lions have made mistakes in the past by collecting talent. They didn't want to do repeat them.
"The guys that we draft, we've got to make sure they make this team," Marinelli said. "So let's not draft somebody where all of a sudden we have four guys in that spot and he doesn't make this team for whatever reason.
"I want to make sure the guys were getting, we have spots, we have a plan for these guys and we know how to use them and they're going to come in and make our team."
The Lions started with a pick in each round, plus an extra third-round pick. After a lot of maneuvering by president Matt Millen, they ended up with five picks in the first three rounds, two fifth-rounders and two seventh-rounders.
They sought to bolster their running attack with Boston College right tackle Gosder Cherilus (first round, 17th overall), Central Florida running back Kevin Smith (third, 64th) and Furman fullback Jerome Felton (fifth, 146th). A tough, confident back, Smith has the skill set to fit the Lions' new zone running game.
"I believe I'll do exactly what I'm supposed to do in the pros, and that's play football to the best of my ability," Smith said. "Whatever that outcome is, that's what will be shown. But I can guarantee it's going to be a good one."
The Lions found some players who they think can improve a defense that ranked last in the NFL last year: Colorado linebacker Jordon Dizon (second, 45th), Florida State defensive tackle Andre Fluellen (third, 87th) and Purdue defensive end Cliff Avril (third, 92nd).
"They're gym-rat-type football players," defensive coordinator Joe Barry said. "Maybe they weren't the biggest guy or the fastest guy at the combine. Maybe they didn't have the most reps on the bench. But they're the guys that we'll put on the tape and at the end of the game you put out the stat sheet, they're the ones that were productive."
The Lions also drafted Wake Forest wide receiver Kenneth Moore (fifth, 136) as a returner and Ohio defensive tackle Landon Cohen (seventh, 216th). The pick that got the most attention, though, was Campbell, who was at Radio City Music Hall in New York and interviewed by ESPN and NFL Network.
Marinelli served in the Army. Millen's son Marcus played at West Point with Campbell, who says they are good friends. But Millen said that wasn't why he drafted Campbell.
"If you took West Point off his chest and put another school on, he's still getting drafted there," Millen said. "You draft him for the right reasons, and the reasons are: First and foremost, he's a good football player, second of all, he's what you're looking for in terms of football character."
BEST PICK: When the Lions passed on Arkansas' Felix Jones and Illinois' Rashard Mendenhall in the first round, they did it because they thought they could get a running back they wanted later in the draft. Then they moved up two spots to the top of the third round to make sure they got one: Central Florida's Kevin Smith. He's a tough, confident running back with the skill set to fit their new zone running game. He represents good value. By taking a running back in the third round, the Lions were able to address two other pressing needs earlier: right tackle and middle linebacker.
COULD SURPRISE: Defensive tackle Andre Fluellen's stock dropped because he was dogged by injuries at Florida State and weighs only 296 pounds. But the Lions might have gotten a bargain in the third round (87th overall). Coach Rod Marinelli, a defensive line guru, raved about how quickly Fluellen got off the ball. Fluellen fits the Lions' defense well, can play under tackle or nose, and has opportunity to make an impact with Shaun Rogers traded to Cleveland.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
No first-round pick for the first time in 22 years. Taking two quarterbacks. Trading up for the first time.
The 2008 draft was anything but conventional for the Packers under fourth-year general manager Ted Thompson. With no glaring needs to address on a team that returns 20 of 22 starters after going 13-3 and nearly advancing to the Super Bowl last season, Thompson stepped out of his oft-predictable comfort zone.
The Packers came away from the weekend with nine players — one more than what they were slated to have — and none of them could have a prominent role next season. The manner by which the picks were made spoke to Thompson's desire to fortify the quality of depth at a number of key positions.
"I think they're good investments in the team, both in the short haul and the long term," Thompson said. "It was a little bit more fun (Sunday with rounds 3 to 7). Sometimes on the second day, you're really scrambling. But, (Sunday) we felt like we had guys rated that weren't going, and we were surprised. Sometimes, we're (saying), ‘What does everybody else know that we don't know?'"
As much as Green Bay's body of work this year lacks pizzazz, with the exception of what could prove to be a tremendous value pick with quarterback Brian Brohm late in the second round, Thompson might have cornered the market on an all-name class. Packers fans will get a spelling lesson with second-round receiver Jordy Nelson, third-round tight end Jermichael Finley and fifth-round offensive lineman Breno Giacomini. Thompson was guilty of flubbing the latter, referring to him as "Geno."
While it wasn't surprising the Packers traded out of the first round — little value remained at No. 30 — their top selection of Nelson early in Round 2 was a head-scratcher. Nelson made his mark racking up yards after the catch at Kansas State last season, but the Packers were the league's best for "YAC" with a "Fab Five" of Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, James Jones, Koren Robinson and Ruvell Martin. The group hasn't been broken up, so where does that leave Nelson?
Finley, a young but talented prospect, has an opportunity to get on the field right away if he can shore up his blocking inadequacies and make Packers backers forget about Bubba Franks, who was cut.
Fiery, rugged Josh Sitton, a fourth-round pick from Central Florida, stands the best chance among this year's draftees to break through to a starting job at the unsettled guard spots.
The attention grabber on an offensive-oriented weekend — seven picks were made on that side — was how the Packers have begun rebuilding the quarterback position following the retirement of 16-year starter Brett Favre in March.
Aaron Rodgers, a first-round choice in 2005, is the anointed successor. Nevertheless, Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy sought ample protection by latching on to starting-caliber Brohm and LSU's Matt Flynn in the seventh round.
"It's an important position to shore up in terms of depth, and we feel like having these three guys helps our team in that regard," Thompson said.
Green Bay made five trades in the course of the draft — most notably the unprecedented move up made by Ted Thompson to get Wake Forest defensive end Jeremy Thompson higher in the fourth round — and netted a sixth-round draft pick in 2009.
BEST PICK: Brian Brohm, QB, Louisville. Three years after Aaron Rodgers tumbled from a possible No. 1 overall pick to the Packers at No. 24, Brohm fell in Green Bay's lap late in the second round (56th overall) as Rodgers' likely top backup. GM Ted Thompson breathed a sigh of relief after attempts to trade up in the round to get the standout from Louisville fizzled. Rodgers has been handed the reins as the successor to Brett Favre, who retired in March, but Brohm could make things interesting by the end of training camp if he performs like the top-10 prospect he was pegged as had he entered the draft last year after his junior season. A new head coach, a drop-off by the team and an injury (sprained ankle) to add to Brohm's long list of medical setbacks factored into his draft stock plummeting this year.
COULD SURPRISE: Josh Sitton, OG, UCF. The versatile fourth-round draft pick from Central Florida could be labeled a starter of the present or a starter of the future. The imposing Sitton (6-3, 324) will get a shot to outmuscle a crowded cast of young competitors for a starting job to be had at both right guard and left guard. If that fails for the here and now, Sitton could be sitting pretty as a prospect to be groomed in the next few years to replace veteran Mark Tauscher at right tackle, Sitton's preferred position in college. Packers offensive line coach James Campen said of Sitton's tenacity: "Once he gets his hands on you, he's Velcro; you're not getting off this kid."
NFC North Draft Review
Viking Update Top Stories
Pass protection fails Bradford, VikingsThe Minnesota Vikings still haven’t been able to solve their offensive line issues, a theme going back to last year, but Mike Zimmer and the players aren’t denying it. They have to…
Viking UpdateYesterday at 5:23 PM
Notebook: Bradford-Wentz duel fizzlesSunday's game between the Minnesota Vikings and Philadelphia Eagles was supposed to be a marquee battle of quarterbacks Sam Bradford and Carson Wentz. Instead, it was a long day…
Viking UpdateYesterday at 3:39 PM
Vikings record-seekers vs. EaglesThe Minnesota Vikings’ loss was littered with mistakes, but a few players worked their way up in the franchise record book.
Viking UpdateYesterday at 3:14 PM
WATCH: Vikings vs. Eagles highlightsHighlights, or really lowlights for Minnesota Vikings fans, as they drop their first game of the season, 21-10, to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Viking UpdateYesterday at 2:57 PM
Zimmer on Vikings loss: ‘Embarrassing’The Minnesota Vikings’ undefeated season came to an abrupt end in a overwhelming 21-10 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday.
Viking UpdateYesterday at 2:33 PM