NFC North nice fits, team needs and strategy

While the Chicago Bears don't have a first-round pick, the Packers and Lions will each be selecting before the Vikings. Here are team needs, draft strategies and a few nice fits in the first three rounds for each of the Vikings' divisional rivals.


CHICAGO BEARS

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

    DRAFT STRATEGY

    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.

    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.

    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.


    DETROIT LIONS

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

    DRAFT STRATEGY

    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

    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.


    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

    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.


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