Lately, the NFC North is frequently the most competitive division in football. Last year, I predicted the Chicago Bears, the Green Bay Packers, and the Detroit Lions would be competing for the division title. Of course, the Minnesota Vikings turned out to play much better – and the Lions much worse – than I, and many others, expected. Chicago, who went 10-6, lost out on the NFC #6 playoff seed to Minnesota by a tiebreaker, and Coach Lovie Smith was subsequently fired. I think this was the worst firing of the offseason, because Chicago is on the cusp of greatness and has most of the key parts in place. Replacing Smith with Canadian Football League coach Marc Trestman is just as wary a decision, but the Bears know better than I do. The Packers continued to dominate as they have done, until Colin Kaepernick destroyed them in the playoffs, making it look like adults versus eighth graders. The Lions, meanwhile, returned to insignificance thanks to their anemic defense, despite Calvin Johnson setting the receiving yards record with 1,964.
Chicago Bears (Last Season: 10-6; First Pick: 20th Overall; Number of Picks: 5)
Along with the Patriots, Panthers and Saints, the Bears have the fewest picks in the 2013 Draft with a mere five, so they need to spend them as wisely as possible. Though I disagreed with the firing of Lovie Smith, the truth is that this is the beginning of the Marc Trestman era, and he needs to draft a star in the first round. Even if that star is an interior offensive lineman! Some mocks have Alabama G Chance Warmack falling this far, but I’d expect it to be Jonathan Cooper of North Carolina instead. We all know by now that Jay Cutler plays better football when he’s standing up. After this, depth at wide receiver and tight end need to be addressed in the next few rounds. Alshon Jeffrey was good last year, but can’t be considered a definite WR2 to complement Brandon Marshall. Starting tight end Kellen Davis only caught 19 passes in 2012. Don’t be surprised if the Bears draft a quarterback in a middle or late round. Jay Cutler’s 2012 backups, Jason Campbell and Josh McCown, are both off the roster, and though McCown could still be brought back, Trestman will likely prefer to bring in “his own guy” through the draft (Miami of Ohio’s Zac Dysert?) instead.
Detroit Lions (Last Season: 4-12; First Pick: 5th Overall; Number of Picks: 8)
Most of the Lions’ problems in 2012 were on defense. There is obviously nothing wrong with the Matthew Stafford-Calvin Johnson connection, and even the running back-by-committee plan featuring Mikel Leshoure, Joique Bell and eventually Jahvid Best when he returns from injury is solid. Detroit was fourteenth in passing defense last year, but gave up 26 passing touchdowns and made only 11 interceptions, so I believe that if Alabama CB Dee Milliner is the best available player at number five, the Lions would be silly not to draft him. There are also those in the Ziggy camp – BYU DE/LB Ezekiel Ansah is projected by most as a Top Ten pick, and many think he should go to the Lions at number five. To be fair, the Lions lost their two best pass rushers in the offseason: DE Cliff Avril was a free agent and DE Kyle Vanden Bosh was cut. Either way, every defensive position can be improved through the draft. Detroit will also target some early/mid-round offensive linemen such as Syracuse T Justin Pugh because starting right tackle Gosder Cherilus left to play for Indianapolis.
Green Bay Packers (Last Season: 11-5; First Pick: 26th Overall; Number of Picks: 8)
You can chalk it up to lack of preparation for the style of offense, but seeing Colin Kaepernick rip Green Bay’s D to shreds in his eighth career start worried me. The other main problem in Wisconsin is the Packers’ lack of a running game to complement Aaron Rodgers. They had the twentieth-best rushing attack in the league, and leading rusher Alex Green had 464 rushing yards. By comparison, division rival Adrian Peterson ran for 497 yards… in the last three games of the regular season! Still, I don’t think all of that is enough to justify reaching for Alabama’s Eddie Lacy in the late first round. They can get almost any other running back they want in Round Two. The Packers are better off drafting UCLA DE Datone Jones at number 26 to shore up their defensive line, to help stuff guys like Peterson and Kaepernick. They should also draft an O-lineman in the third or fourth round to improve the line, because when you have the best QB under 30 years old in the league, you don’t want to see him scrambling. Even if he’s kind of good at that, too.
Minnesota Vikings (Last Season: 10-6; First Pick: 23rd Overall; Number of Picks: 11)
To say the Minnesota Vikings exceeded expectations in 2012 was an understatement. With Adrian Peterson coming back from his ACL injury stronger than ever and coming nine yards of breaking the single-season rushing record, the Vikings won games despite the mediocre effort of QB Christian Ponder. But how can Ponder and the passing game complement Peterson if he has nobody to throw to? Percy Harvin was a malcontent in his last days in Minnesota before he was traded to Seattle for a first-round pick, among others. The Vikes signed former rival Greg Jennings from Green Bay, but Devin Aromashodu and Jerome Simpson are really #3 and #4 receivers, not #2s. Since the Vikings have the 23rd and 25th picks, one of them should be spent on Clemson WR DeAndre Hopkins, or Tennessee WR Cordarelle Patterson if he somehow falls that far. The other should be a defensive tackle. The only Viking defensive tackle of note is Kevin Williams, and he’s turning 33. North Carolina DT Sylvester Williams not only will be the best on the board at that position, but he can replace former DT Pat Williams alongside Kevin to re-form the “Williams Wall.” UCLA’s DE Datone Jones can also play defensive tackle. Minnesota should stay away from Manti Te’o in Round One; they can draft a good inside linebacker, like Kansas State’s Arthur Brown or Rutgers’s Khaseem Greene, in the second round.