Assessing the draft needs for the NFC North

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Do you hear that sound?

That sound you hear is the Draft Industrial Complex shifting into high gear. With the free agency period winding down, the next big event on the NFL calendar is the draft itself. Which means those members of the football world, who cover the draft year-round, are fully hitting their stride.

With that in mind, let’s reset the draft board for each NFL team, looking at what their biggest needs are as free agency winds down and the draft heats up. Here are positions that the teams in the NFC North might be looking at as the off-season continues.

Chicago Bears

(Danielle Parhizkaran/NorthJersey.com-Imagn Content Services, LLC)

So. the Bears decided to move on from Mitchell Trubisky with a new QB1. They appear to be very happy about this. The replies to Andy Dalton as anybody's QB1 are, as you would expect, marvelous. I, of course, had to chime in. https://twitter.com/NFL_DougFarrar/status/1374887259502092290 Also: Chicago put the franchise tag on receiver Allen Robinson, who should be allowed to file a grievance with the NFL over the Blake Bortles/Chad Henne/Trubisky/Dalton group of quarterbacks he's played with. Other than that, not much going on here that didn't include jettisoning cornerback Kyle Fuller, which we'll get to in a minute. General manager Ryan Pace can fill several needs in the draft; the overriding question might be why he's the guy still doing it. Quarterback: Same as it ever was. The Bears have had a quarterback curse that goes back to 1946 (Sid Luckman's last good season), and signing Andy Dalton to a one-year deal isn't going to change that. Pace did his level best to trade for Russell Wilson, but he didn't have the currency. Chicago might be able to wrangle Alabama's Mac Jones with the 29th overall pick, and though he has mobility issues, Jones is better right now than Dalton and Nick Foles... probably combined. Cornerback: The Bears offloaded Kyle Fuller, their best cornerback in 2019, in part to be able to afford Andy Dalton. Whoops. Former Bears defensive coordinator and current Broncos head coach Vic Fangio took about half an hour to sign Fuller in the Mike High City, which leaves Chicago with Jaylon Johnson and the Pips. It's likely that Patrick Surtain II, Caleb Farley, and Jaycee Horn will be gone by 20, but unless Ryan Pace wants to mismanage another quarterback decision, maybe Northwestern's Greg Newsome -- the best deep eraser at his position in this class -- would be the right choice. Receiver: The Bears are paying Allen Robinson $17.88 million to play under the franchise tag in 2021, and unhappily so from Robinson's side. A tag-and-trade option is possible, but even if Robinson is once again expanding his catch radius in tandem with Chicago's motley crew of quarterbacks, there's a crushingly average group around him. Offensive Tackle: The projected right and left tackles for Chicago right now? Charles Leno on the left, and who the heck knows on the right. Leno allowed three sacks and 24 total pressures last season, and Bobby Massie is no longer in the picture. Texas' Samuel Cosmi and Stanford's Walker Little project decently as later-round edge protectors.

Detroit Lions

(Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

The Lions' big deal, of course, was the trade that sent Matthew Stafford to the Rams for a king's ransom in draft capital and Jared Goff. Goff is not the force multiplier here, and anybody watching his tape over the last two years could tell you that. This is all about the extra first-round picks in 2022 and 2023. New general manager Brad Holmes also presided over the losses in free agency of top receivers Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones, and that's where we'll start (also, likely where Holmes will start) when it comes to what this team needs in the 2021 draft. Receiver: Losing both Golladay and Jones in free agency leaves the Lions with Mohamed Sanu as Jared Goff's primary target. Not that Sanu is a bad player, but this offense lost 96 catches for 1,316 yards and 11 touchdowns from 2020 in a season where Golladay played just five games. Most post-free agency mocks are going to have the Lions picking a receiver at 7; my most recent mock had them selecting Alabama's Jaylen Waddle. Whether it's Waddle, Waddle's former teammate DeVonta Smith or (wouldn't Goff be lucky were it) Ja'Marr Chase, someone's going to have to take Goff's short-to-intermediate throws and make something of them. Linebacker: Jamie Collins' contract has been restructured, and former first-round miss Jarrad Davis has moved on to the Jets, so there isn't much to project beyond right now in the linebacker group. I'd love to see Tulsa's Zaven Collins in this defense, as he could use his athletic traits and superior football smarts to set this position right. Quarterback: Yes, the Lions traded for Jared Goff, but that was more about the two first-round picks and the third-round pick they got from the Rams in exchange for Matthew Stafford. One imagines new offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn looking at Goff and wondering, "What do I do with this?" So, it's entirely possible that before Goff's dead cap becomes manageable in 2023, Detroit might already be ready to move along. In that event, and with Tim Boyle as Option B, the Lions could go with a later-round developmental guy in this draft -- someone like Texas' Sam Ehlinger or Notre Dame's Ian Book, whose mobility would factor well with Lynn's historical preferences at the position. Maybe 2022 is the season for Stafford's real replacement. Safety: Last season under Matt Patricia, the Lions were the NFL's worst defense in man coverage -- so, of course, they played nearly as much man as any other team. As a result, it was difficult to discern the talent at the safety position, but a combined 13 touchdowns to two interceptions among the safety rotation in 2020 tells a larger, unfortunate, story. This draft class has one first-round safety in TCU's Trevon Moehrig, but Oregon's Jevon Holland would be a great addition as a free-to-slot coverage asset.

Green Bay Packers

(Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

In the 2020 draft, Aaron Rodgers was begging for weapons to enhance Green Bay's passing game. The Packers responded by selecting three defensive players, three offensive linemen, running back AJ Dillon... and, oh yeah, moving up to select Utah State's Jordan Love with the 26th overall pick. Rodgers responded in true Pissed-Off Aaron Rodgers fashion, winning his third AP MVP Award and getting the Pack all the way to the NFC Championship game. There was little of note in this regard in free agency outside of tight end Marcedes Lewis, which leaves GM Brian Gutekunst with the draft, yet again, to perhaps give Rodgers the targets he desires. It would behoove Mr. Gutekunst to do so in one of the best drafts for receivers... well, ever. Receiver: Rodgers has been screaming for someone to take the heat off Davante Adams for a while now, and the most telling stat is this: Per Sports Info Solutions, Adams led the NFL in 2020 with 13 touchdowns against single-high coverage. He had just one touchdown against two-high safety looks. Bracket Adams, and you can win. If Brian Gutekunst wants to get back some of the Rodgers goodwill he lost last year, he'll take the best receiver on the board and work him in. Linebacker: Last season, Green Bay's linebackers pressured opposing quarterbacks... well, guess how many times. Okay, guess again. Okay, let's get it from Ed Rooney: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3F0rPFASUXY That'd be acceptable if any of Green Bay's linebackers were stout run-stoppers or excellent in pass coverage in 2020, but that didn't happen, either. One reason the Packers played so much dime last season (a league-leading 50% of their defensive snaps) was the obvious ineffectiveness of that linebacker corps. If the Packers don't take a linebacker at 29 (and for the sake of Aaron Rodgers' mental health, let's hope they don't), there are appealing options down the road. Kentucky's Jamin Davis would be a fascinating addition in the middle rounds. Cornerback: Jaire Alexander is one of the best at his position, and the Packers just re-signed Kevin King to a one-year, $6 million deal. If you can overcome the memories of King getting toasted by the Buccaneers in the NFC Championship game, he's a decent enough press cornerback who gets lost in his own neighborhood doing anything else. At 6-foot-3 and 212 pounds, Syracuse's Ifeatu Melifonwu has the size and technique to add to a defense outside or in the slot. If he can be more aggressive, that'd be even better. Interior defensive line: As Mark Schofield and I often say on the Touchdown Wire Matchup Podcasts, the key to dealing with Green Bay's interior defensive line is to double Kenny Clark, and then deal with everybody else. Kingsley Keke and Dean Lowry made some plays at times last season, but more is needed. I would love to see a fireplug like NC State's Alim McNeill or BYU's Khyris Tonga in there. Tonga's tape really took me by surprise. https://twitter.com/NFL_DougFarrar/status/1368614522517397504

Minnesota Vikings

(Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

The Vikings had to part ways with tight end Kyle Rudolph and offensive tackle Riley Reiff just to get in salary cap compliance, and they lost top safety Anthony Harris to the Eagles in free agency. The addition of defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson made for a sneaky-good signing, and the signing of former Cardinals all-time cornerback Patrick Peterson was... well interesting in that it's not 2016 anymore. The idea is apparently to keep Peterson at cornerback; I think he's at a point in his career where a Charles Woodson--esque switch to safety would be a Very Good Idea. In any event, here's where head coach Mike Zimmer and GM Rick Spielman might want to position their draft board to try and elevate from last season's 7-9 record -- the first losing season under Zimmer since his first with the franchise in 2014. Edge-rusher: Losing Danielle Hunter for the entire 2020 season to a herniated disc was a big problem, and an absentee pass rush was the primary reason Minnesota's defense fell from fourth in 2019 to 18th in 2020, Ifeadi Odenigbo led the team with 42 total pressures; D.J. Wonnum ranked second with 21. So, even if Hunter comes back at full strength and speed, he'll need a bookend. It's a great year to need an edge defender in the draft, as there's talent all over the place from raw to refined. Miami's Jaelan Phillips is my EDGE1 in this class, and if he's still there at 14, the Vikings should aggressively make that happen. Offensive tackle: With Riley Reiff off to the Bengals, there's very little on the left side of the depth chart. Brian O'Neill is just fine as a right tackle option -- he allowed just two sacks and 18 total pressures in 2020. So, Reiff's replacement might be a middle of the first-round guy like Virginia Tech's Christian Darrisaw, or perhaps a later-round prospect such as Notre Dame's Liam Eichenberg (though Eichenberg's tape leaves me cold). Someone is going to get a relative steal in North Dakota State's Dillon Radunz, as well. Offensive guard: We're not done on the offensive line -- not when the Vikings' four guards in 2020 (Dru Samia, Ezra Cleveland, Dakota Dozier, and Brett Jones) allowed 11 sacks and 55 total pressures. It's an interesting class for ex-offensive tackles whose iffy athleticism and technique have analysts kicking them inside to guard automatically. Given the urgency of the upgrade need here, better to go with someone who has experience at the position -- USC's Alijah Vera-Tucker and Ohio State's Wyatt Davis come to mind. Safety: Anthony Harris signed a one-year deal with the Eagles, leaving Minnesota's safety depth chart with Harrison Phillips, and this famous scene: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=33NlssWUbBU The aforementioned Jevon Holland would fit nicely as a free safety who can bounce down to the slot; TCU's Ar'Darius Washington isn't optimal from a size perspective, but he can cover at any level. Syracuse's Andre Cisco would be a great developmental guy under Mike Zimmer -- Cisco has all the athleticism in the world; he just needs to curb his enthusiasm.

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