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NFC North team needs

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By PFW staff

Updated April 21, 2010 @ 4:30 p.m. ET

Sixth in a series of analyses of team needs, by division.

Chicago Bears

Quarterbacks: With the Bears apparently content to go with only two QBs on the 53-man roster, it's unlikely they would waste a precious draft pick on a developmental QB. With Jay Cutler clearly the top dog under center, and the team seeing more pluses than minuses from the combination of Caleb Hanie and Brett Basanez, who was elevated to the 53-man roster late in the season, don't look for the Bears to spend much time investigating QBs in late April.

Running backs: With featured back Matt Forté taking a step back in his second season, the Bears signed free agent Chester Taylor to share some carries and compete for a starting job. But with Kevin Jones getting released, Garrett Wolfe coming off a season-ending injury and veteran UFA's Adrian Peterson's likelihood of re-signing not considered all that good, the Bears could still go after a back or two in the draft. The team released longtime starting FB Jason McKie, with two-back sets expected to be few and far between in Mike Martz's new offensive scheme.

Receivers: New offensive coordinator Mike Martz seems genuinely excited about a receiving corps that showed steady progress last season with the emergence of both rookie Johnny Knox and Devin Aromashodu early and late in the season, respectively. But it's a unit that lacks a clear-cut No. 1 WR candidate, with Martz quickly determining that Devin Hester, who filled the role last year, would be better-suited as a slot receiver/high-octane return specialist in the mold of former Ram Az-Zahir Hakim. The pass-happy Martz is always on the prowl for intriguing pass catchers, so don't be shocked if the team drafts at least one. Tight end seems solid with the addition of blocking specialist Brandon Manumaleuna, although veteran Desmond Clark finally started to break down last season and will turn 33 in April.  

Offensive line: The line still needs to add at least one potential starter at either left guard or right tackle. Veteran Orlando Pace was released after being replaced at left tackle late in the season by former first-round draft pick Chris Williams. Kevin Shaffer, a free-agent addition along with Pace, did OK as the starting right tackle late last season, but he might be better-suited in a swing role at this stage of his career. By the time the 2010 season kicks off, Shaffer, starting ORG Roberto Garza and starting C Olin Kreutz will be 30, 31 and 33 years old, respectively.

Defensive line: The Bears made a major statement by signing high-profile DE Julius Peppers on the first full day of free agency. But the team could still use more depth up front following the tragic death of Gaines Adams and considering the uncertain futures of 2009 starters Adewale Ogunleye (UFA) and Alex Brown. The Bears also could consider another inside pass rusher as insurance for veteran Tommie Harris, who struggled for a good part of the '09 campaign and continues to battle knee issues.

Linebackers: Even though the Bears had two restricted free agents (Jamar Williams and Nick Roach) and two unrestricted free agents (Pisa Tinoisamoa and Darrell McClover) entering the offseason at the position, linebacker is considered a low priority, as hopes are high that veteran star MLB Brian Urlacher will come back strong from the season-ending wrist injury he suffered in Week One last season. The Bears re-signed Tinoisamoa April 12. Roach signed his one-year tender one week later, and Williams signed his tender the day after Roach. The team had five experienced starting LBs on the roster (Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Hunter Hillenmeyer, Roach and Tinoisamoa) after those signings.

Defensive backs: The Bears have a surplus of strong safeties but very few DBs capable of getting the job done at free safety, where a few legitimate playmakers who could capably cover wideouts are badly needed. At cornerback, more depth would be a good thing behind holdover starters Charles Tillman, who had his share of injuries last season, and Zackary Bowman. Ex-Colt Tim Jennings, who is very familiar with the cover 2, should help.

Special teams: A few hiccups notwithstanding, the Bears' special teams were once again a strength and aren't considered a high priority in the draft and free agency. That's especially the case with Hester expected to return to a more prominent kick-return role next season, and Tim Shaw emerging as a potential perennial Pro Bowl special-teamer.

Summary: With no picks in the first or second rounds for a second consecutive year, the Bears could have a hard time improving via the draft. It's conceivable the team could pull off a surprising move or two with some creative trading that might produce a few more selections in late April. But don't count on it.

 

Detroit Lions

Quarterbacks: As Jim Schwartz said at the Senior Bowl, "We're probably not drafting a quarterback." That's because the team took Matthew Stafford, whom they are happy with, No. 1 last year. They also have said that Drew Stanton will be back, though he's not the backup. That job belongs to Shaun Hill, the former 49ers starter who knows he only will be playing because of injury and appears willing to work with Stafford.

Running backs: This position was a need before Kevin Smith tore up his knee. The backfield lacked an explosive element, and neither Maurice Morris nor DeDe Dorsey is that guy. Neither, for now, is Aaron Brown; although they haven't given up on Brown, he made far too many mental mistakes as a rookie and is a long strider. This position needs immediate help and is perhaps a far more pressing need than many realize. The coaches may not believe Smith is the long-term answer, the health of his torn ACL notwithstanding.

Receivers: Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said the Lions need an "eraser" opposite star Calvin Johnson, and they appear to have found one with Nate Burleson, who can draw double coverage or make opponents pay if they leave Johnson singled up. They need a slot receiver who can provide another outlet for Stafford. For as much as he threw last season, there were few reliable targets to lean on. Tight end shouldn't be a huge need position after the Lions drafted Brandon Pettigrew in Round One last year, but Pettigrew's torn ACL and two free agents at the position leave some uncertainty.

Offensive line: The most immediate was at left guard, but the team hopes trading for Rob Sims can solve that once-gaping hole. A long-term need exists at both tackle positions and center. OLT Jeff Backus quietly had a strong season, lost amid the losing, but he's 32, entering his 10th season. ORT Gosder Cherilus still has promise, but the fact that he was benched at the end of the season is alarming. C Dominic Raiola was one of the Lions' best linemen last season, but he might only have a few years left.

Defensive line: The Lions might have found a penetrating three-technique in Corey Williams, who stood out in Green Bay's 4-3 defense two seasons ago but slumped in the Browns' 3-4. There's still a need up front, which could arrive with the No. 2 pick in the draft, but there has been growing sentiment that the Lions might not be as high on Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy as others are. Another need is a pass-rushing end, though the addition of Kyle Vanden Bosch tides them over. DEs Cliff Avril and Jason Hunter combined for only 10½ sacks, and Avril might not be a three-down player as expected.

Linebackers: Although there was some talent at the position, it remains a position that could be upgraded. Larry Foote left via free agency, and Julian Peterson might not be worth $7.5 million at this stage of his career. DeAndre Levy likely will start inside, and WLB Ernie Sims remains a good player, but another linebacker could be on the menu.

Defensive backs: The need at cornerback is stronger than at safety because the team needs two starters on the outside. Anthony Henry and Phillip Buchanon were each benched and have moved on, and William James might not be in the picture. The team has spoken to free-agent CB Pacman Jones, but drafting another corner appears likely. The team also would like to find a complement to Louis Delmas at safety. The Lions were last in pass defense for the second season in a row and need help at three or four spots.

Special teams: The units took a step back last season. The return games were unproductive, the coverage teams were middling, PK Jason Hanson struggled and P Nic Harris was uneven. Essentially, there is nothing great here. The coverage was slightly better by season's end, but with roster turnover expected, more quality special-teams performers are needed.

Summary: The Lions are headed in the right direction, and they have the most important piece in place at quarterback. But there is a strong need for talent and depth at several positions. A decade of bad drafting has left the cupboard bare, though last year's crop appears to be bountiful. Their taking a best-player-available mentality served them well in Jim Schwartz's and Martin Mayhew's first draft, and it could be the same basic approach in this year's draft.  

 

Green Bay Packers

Quarterbacks: With Aaron Rodgers showing major improvement in his second season as the starter, and Matt Flynn throwing with greater velocity and accuracy in his second season at the pro level, the Packers are quite comfortable with their QB situation. But a developmental No. 3 QB could be in the picture with a late draft pick.

Running backs: With third-year starter Ryan Grant coming off a solid season, the Packers appear to be in good shape at running back. But with escalators and bonuses pushing Grant's salary up to $6 million in 2010 — the fourth-highest salary on the team — and future incentives that could pay him as much as $9 million in 2011, the team might start thinking now about a younger alternative at a more reasonable price a year or two down the road. In addition, more depth wouldn't hurt in the backfield, with UFA Ahman Green on his last legs and the team deciding not to tender RFA DeShawn Wynn, a relatively unproven commodity who has had trouble staying healthy.

Receivers: Rodgers can thank one of the league's deeper and more talented receiving corps for much of his improvement in '09. Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, James Jones and Jordy Nelson effectively man the first four WR spots, and the team never has been deeper at tight end, with Jermichael Finley, Donald Lee and the surprisingly serviceable Spencer Havner making the position a major strength. But even though he has the body of a 29-year-old, Driver is 35 and dropped more passes than usual last season. Lee, who will be 30 by next season, also showed some signs of slippage.

Offensive line: After allowing a league-high 51 sacks — and looking particularly shaky the first half of the season — the offensive line is probably the Packers' top priority in the draft. There are age and injury concerns with starting OTs Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher, eventhough they both just re-signed. Coming off a rough campaign, Daryn Colledge, who was starting at left guard at season's end, is a restricted free agent whom the team might not go out of its way to keep on the roster. Backups Allen Barbre, who failed miserably in a starting role at right tackle, and Breno Giacomini have been slow to develop.

Defensive line: New coordinator Dom Capers has to feel good about his defensive front, a key factor behind the team's improvement from 26th to first in run defense last season. Averaging an imposing 326.8 pounds, the group, which includes NT Ryan Pickett, who received a new long-term contract; DEs Cullen Jenkins and Johnny Jolly; and 2009 first-round reserve B.J. Raji, was often overpowering. But Jolly, an RFA, continues to deal with a possession-of-codeine charge that could result in a four-game suspension for violating the league's personal-conduct policy, which could make the Packers think about drafting another warm body up front.

Linebackers: The Packers appear to be in good shape inside with Nick Barnett, A.J. Hawk and Brandon Chillar manning the fort, as well as at right outside linebacker, where first-round draft pick Clay Matthews turned out to be a gem in his rookie campaign. But aside from Matthews, nobody consistently got to opposing QBs — a particular problem in the Packers' playoff loss to Arizona. Another 'backer who could bring pressure off the edge would be a good addition. UFA Aaron Kampman, who initially struggled to make the conversion from defensive end to left outside linebacker in Capers' new 3-4 defense, signed with the Jaguars.

Defensive backs: Massive breakdowns in the secondary in losses to the Steelers in Week 15 and the Cardinals in the playoffs have to be cause for concern. On the corners, starters Charles Woodson and Al Harris are 33 and 35, respectively, and Harris was lost for the season in late November with a knee injury that required major surgery. No. 3 CB Tramon Williams is a talented player, but he's a restricted free agent who might remain best-suited as a nickel corner. It would not be a shock if the Packers' first pick in the draft turned out to be a strong safety who could conceivably work his way quickly into the starting lineup in place of RFA Atari Bigby, who regressed late last season and has had problems staying healthy.

Special teams: A punter definitely could figure in the drafting mix, with Jeremy Kapinos struggling more often than not in that role last season. It's also quite possible the Packers could draft another placekicker to challenge third-year pro Mason Crosby, who finished the '09 season missing five of his last 14 field-goal attempts.

Summary: Fortifying the offensive line and the secondary figure to be the key target areas in late April for GM Ted Thompson, who is coming off a stellar drafting effort in '09, as only one of his eight picks failed to make some sort of impact.

 

Minnesota Vikings

Quarterbacks: The longer Brett Favre drags out his decision, the more many people — including, perhaps, the Vikings — believe he'll come back for another season. Favre elevated his game and the offense to a different level, and losing him would be a big blow. Restricted free agent Tarvaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels suddenly would be back in a similar position, battling for the starting job, unless the Vikings could unearth a franchise-level QB by trade.

Running backs: Adrian Peterson remains the starter for years to come, but his fumbling issues and heavy workload ensure that this position must have great depth. With valuable backup Chester Taylor gone, there is a serious need for help. No. 3 RB Albert Young might be ready to take an increased role, but he is very much an unknown quantity.

Receivers: This is about as solid and talented a position as there is on the roster. Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin are explosive, young playmakers who have the chance to be special. The only real issue is getting the most out of Bernard Berrian, who should have benefited from Favre's presence but failed to have a great season. Tight end remains solid with Visanthe Shiancoe, although his run blocking is not great.

Offensive line: The biggest immediate need would be at left tackle or at guard, perhaps someone to challenge Anthony Herrera or be a long-term replacement for Steve Hutchinson. C John Sullivan isn't irreplaceable, but he's fine for now. OLT Bryant McKinnie hasn't lived up to the money he's paid, but it would be difficult for the team to find a left tackle to replace him where they are drafting. Losing Artis Hicks hurts the depth.

Defensive line: Despite the strength of this group, it stands as a strong need. Pat Williams turns 38 in October and likely will be with the team only one more year. Jimmy Kennedy has revived his career but can be challenged by someone younger and more talented. At end, Ray Edwards is a restricted free agent who has big upside and might want to test the market in a year if he's not re-signed to a long-term deal this offseason.

Linebackers: With E.J. Henderson's second consecutive season-ending injury and Ben Leber entering the final season of his contract, there are some questions here. Henderson was replaced ably as a run defender by Jasper Brinkley, but he has a way to go in pass coverage. And there is no natural replacement for Leber currently on the roster.

Defensive backs: Safeties Madieu Williams and Tyrell Johnson haven't lived up to the expectations of a major free-agent signing and a second-round pick, respectively, especially when you consider the team allowed Darren Sharper to walk away to open a spot for Johnson. Neither he nor Williams is an especially good tackler, and though Jamarca Sanford can hit, he might not have the range to be a full-time safety. Corner also remains a major concern with Cedric Griffin coming off an ACL injury and Antoine Winfield reaching the twilight of his career. They could draft insurance at that position with a future starter in Round One

Special teams: The Vikings were much improved in this area, and a strong draft class last year was a big reason why. The kicking game is solid, although P Chris Kluwe can be inconsistent at times. Another kickoff and punt returner could help, too, to help ease the load on Harvin.

Summary: The biggest excitement of the offseason will come when Favre makes a decision. Everything else, including the draft, might be a bit anticlimactic. As a "final four" team, the Vikings have been schakled by heavy restrictions in free agency and thus might not be terribly active.

 

AFC South team needs | NFC South team needs | AFC North team needs | NFC West team needs | AFC East team needs

 

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