NFC North: Draft Watch 2010 NFC

Draft Watch: NFC North

April, 21, 2010
4/21/10
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Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: Dream scenario/Plan B.

Chicago Bears

Dream scenario: Without a first- or second-round pick, Chicago's dreams are pretty muted this week. They have significant needs at guard and cornerback, but nothing would make them happier than having a starting-caliber safety fall to them at No. 75 overall. The nature of the position, and the depth of this draft, makes it possible. They might not get South Florida's Nate Allen, who is a likely second-round pick, but there should be other options. Finding a starter without having to sacrifice additional picks in a trade-up would be ideal.

Plan B: Guards are not highly coveted from a draft perspective, and if the Bears don't like any of the safeties available to them at No. 75, they should be able to find someone to compete for their wide-open spot at left guard. As of now, the only veteran in the mix for that role is Josh Beekman.

Detroit Lions

Dream scenario: This might be too dreamy to actually happen, but here goes: The Lions acquire Washington defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth for a third-round pick. They draft Oklahoma State's Russell Okung at No. 2 overall and grab Cal running back Jahvid Best at No. 34. Although they pass over arguably the two best prospects of the draft -- defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy -- the Lions still get an elite defensive tackle, a fixture at left tackle and a playmaker in the backfield who would be ready to contribute immediately while starter Kevin Smith continues his knee rehabilitation. I've shied away from this scenario, believing the cost for Haynesworth would be too high, but a third-round pick is pretty reasonable here.

Plan B: Frankly, getting a dynamic defensive playmaker at No. 2 -- Suh or McCoy -- is an awfully nice fallback position.

Green Bay Packers

Dream scenario: The Packers need a left tackle of the future. As this year's draft class stacks up, there is a significant dropoff between the top four left tackles and whoever you consider to be No. 5. Currently situated at No. 23, the Packers probably aren't going to get a chance at Okung, Oklahoma's Trent Williams, Rutgers' Anthony Davis or Iowa's Bryan Bulaga. But as long as we're in a dream-like state, we can hope that one of those four -- Davis? -- somehow slips to No. 23 or close enough that the Packers can make a reasonable trade up to get him.

Plan B: In our blog network mock draft, I proposed taking a chance on USC left tackle Charles Brown. He would probably get at least a year to develop, based on current starter Chad Clifton's contract, and would benefit from being in a stable offensive environment.

Minnesota Vikings

Dream scenario: Vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman said this week that he is confident at least one of his four targeted players will be available with the No. 30 overall pick. I won't hazard a guess at their identities, but ideally one of them would be a quarterback and fall to their spot. More than anything, this franchise needs a young quarterback to build around. More often than not, those quarterbacks are found at the top of the draft and at least in the first round. There are no assurances about waiting for next year. Getting their quarterback of the future is the Vikings' dream scenario.

Plan B: The Vikings have a relatively strong roster otherwise, and therefore can afford to draft for value at every spot if they choose. If their quarterback of the future isn't available at No. 30, or he can be selected lower in the draft, then they'll benefit from additional depth that the best available player will bring.

Draft Watch: NFC North

April, 14, 2010
4/14/10
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NFC decision-makers: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: decision-makers.

Chicago Bears

General manager Jerry Angelo is preparing for his ninth draft with the Bears, and his approach has changed significantly during that time period. He had a number of hits early in his career, from cornerback Charles Tillman and linebacker Lance Briggs in 2003 to receiver Bernard Berrian in 2004 to kick returner Devin Hester in 2005. But a few stumbles since then -- defensive end Dan Bazuin in 2007 among them -- have coincided with a move away from the draft focus; Angelo has gutted the 2009 and 2010 drafts to acquire veteran players. Angelo takes into account the opinion of coach Lovie Smith but has final say on the entire draft approach.

Detroit Lions

General manager Martin Mayhew emerged from the staff of former president/CEO Matt Millen with a strong understanding of the failures in that regime. Mayhew revamped the draft process, added more people to internal conversations and listens carefully to coach Jim Schwartz. It's hard to find a trend for Mayhew's thinking so early in his career, but his first draft produced nine players who saw action in 2009. At least four -- quarterback Matthew Stafford, tight end Brandon Pettigrew, safety Louis Delmas and linebacker DeAndre Levy -- will be starters at some point in 2010. Private as a player, Mayhew operates in near secrecy with the Lions.

Green Bay Packers

General manger Ted Thompson is entering his sixth draft as the Packers' top football decision-maker. All personnel men value the draft, but you would be hard-pressed to find one who puts such unequivocal faith in it as the sole avenue for stockpiling the roster. Thompson has signed only a handful of notable free agents during his tenure and none in the past three years. On the other hand, the Packers' regular starting lineup in 2009 included 18 players originally drafted by the team. Thompson lost a valued adviser in new Seattle general manager John Schneider, but he also leans on director of college scouting John Dorsey and director of football operations Reggie McKenzie.

Minnesota Vikings

Rick Spielman doesn't have the title of general manager, but as vice president of player personnel, he has run the Vikings' past three drafts. Spielman uses an intricate numbering system that places players in groups by their potential and then assigns a number -- sometimes carried out to decimal points in the ten-thousandths -- to rank each of them within that group. The approach led Spielman to choose receiver Sidney Rice over Dwayne Jarrett in 2007, among other decisions. He has also been willing to take injury and/or character risks in the first round if he's comfortable with his staff's research and evaluation.

Draft Watch: NFC North

April, 7, 2010
4/07/10
1:00
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NFC Approach: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: Draft approach.

Chicago Bears

General manager Jerry Angelo's background is a scouting director, so for most of his Bears tenure he accumulated and guarded draft picks as if they were gold. In his first seven drafts with the Bears, he made 28 picks in the first three rounds (an average of four per year). But Angelo has changed his team-building process in the past two years, releasing that grip when offered the opportunity to acquire more established players. He gutted the top of the 2009 and 2010 drafts in trades for quarterback Jay Cutler and late defensive end Gaines Adams, supplementing those losses by signing veteran free agents to fill individual needs. It's not a bad idea when considering Angelo's current situation. The more immediate approach will either work or, after already missing the playoffs for three consecutive years, it will be a mess someone else has to clean up.

Detroit Lions

The talent gap in Detroit remains wide enough that the Lions will continue following their new mantra under general manager Martin Mayhew and coach Jim Schwartz: Talent must trump need at every pick. That was the case last year, when the Lions considered tight end Brandon Pettigrew the best player on their board at the No. 20 overall pick, and will resume in 2010. It is the Lions' luxury and curse. Although some positions are more dire than others, the team needs help at all of them except quarterback. So while the Lions' ideal scenario would be to grab multiple linemen in the first three rounds, they can't afford to force it by passing up players they consider more talented -- no matter what position they play.

Green Bay Packers

The Packers have largely sat out the free-agent market over the past four years, leaving them to fill all of their needs through the draft. As a result, general manager Ted Thompson hasn't been afraid to trade down to accumulate additional picks and provide maximum depth on his roster. This tack values volume over elite pedigree but has brought players like receiver Greg Jennings and defensive tackle Johnny Jolly to the team. Thompson did trade up last year to grab linebacker Clay Matthews in the first round, but in general that has been an exception to his rule. I'm guessing the Packers wouldn't be opposed to moving below their No. 23 overall pick this year if it means an additional choice in the late second or early third round.

Minnesota Vikings

Minnesota vice president Rick Spielman inherited a relatively talented roster in 2007 and thus has used the draft to target individual players his scouts have identified for specific roles on the team. By my count, Spielman has made seven draft-day trades to position himself to take the players he wanted over the past three years. Those players include receiver Sidney Rice (2007), safety Tyrell Johnson (2008) and linebacker Jasper Brinkley (2009). Expect more of the same this year from Spielman, who has the luxury of drafting purely for value rather than need.

Draft Watch: NFC North

March, 31, 2010
3/31/10
1:00
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NFC History: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each week leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: History in that spot.

Chicago Bears

The Bears’ top pick is No. 75 overall. Here are the last five players taken in that spot, with their NFL team in parentheses:

2009: Ball State tackle Robert Brewster (Dallas)
2008: Oklahoma defensive back Reggie Smith (San Francisco)
2007: Illinois State receiver Laurent Robinson (Atlanta)
2006: Louisville guard Jason Spitz (Green Bay)
2005: Virginia Tech defensive back Eric Green (Arizona)

Robinson had 37 receptions as a rookie but has since moved to St. Louis. Spitz was the Packers’ opening-day center last season before a back injury sidelined him. He is a candidate to start in 2010. Smith has played in 13 games over the past two seasons for the 49ers, with seven tackles and no interceptions.

Detroit Lions

The Lions’ top pick is No. 2 overall. Here are the last five players taken in that spot, with their NFL team in parentheses:

2009: Baylor offensive tackle Jason Smith (St. Louis)
2008: Virginia defensive end Chris Long (St. Louis)
2007: Georgia Tech receiver Calvin Johnson (Detroit)
2006: USC running back Reggie Bush (New Orleans)
2005: Auburn running back Ronnie Brown (Miami)

Brown, Bush and Johnson have all been dynamic playmakers for parts of their careers. Coincidentally, all three have been slowed by knee injuries of varying severity. The Rams are still waiting for elite payoff from Long and endured an inconsistent rookie season from Smith.

Green Bay Packers

The Packers’ top pick is No. 23 overall. Here are the last five players taken in that spot, with their NFL team in parentheses:

2009: Mississippi offensive tackle Michael Oher (Baltimore)
2008: Illinois running back Rashard Mendenhall (Pittsburgh)
2007: LSU receiver Dwayne Bowe (Kansas City)
2006: Oklahoma guard Davin Joseph (Tampa Bay)
2005: Nebraska cornerback Fabian Washington (Oakland)

Oher, Mendenhall, Bowe and Joseph have been full-time starters. Washington moved from Oakland to Baltimore.

Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings’ top pick is No. 30 overall. Here are the last five players taken in that spot, with their NFL team in parentheses:

2009: Rutgers receiver Kenny Britt (Tennessee)
2008: Purdue tight end Dustin Keller (New York Jets)
2007: LSU receiver Craig Davis (San Diego)
2006: LSU running back Joseph Addai (Indianapolis)
2005: Virginia tight end Heath Miller (Pittsburgh)

All five are skill players, for what it’s worth. Davis has been a bust, but Miller, Addai and Keller are highly productive players. Britt is on pace to be as well.

Draft Watch: NFC North

March, 26, 2010
3/26/10
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NFC Under-The-Radar: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each week leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Under the radar needs.

Chicago Bears

Chicago has addressed its defensive line, offensive backfield and tight end position this offseason. The urgency is not quite as severe at two other positions, but they nevertheless could both use an influx of talent. One is cornerback. The Bears figure to return Charles Tillman and Zack Bowman as starters, and they signed free agent Tim Jennings as a potential nickel back last week after releasing Nathan Vasher. But Jennings shouldn't be considered a lock to play in the nickel, and the Bears seemed to stop trusting Corey Graham as a cover man last season. They could use more cornerbacks. The same goes for left guard, where the Bears seem likely to vacate 2009 starter Frank Omiyale and move him to right tackle. The Bears could use some additional options at left guard so Omiyale has the green light to focus on tackle.

Detroit Lions

With DeAndre Levy set to start at middle linebacker, the Lions don't have much depth behind outside linebackers Julian Peterson and Ernie Sims. Peterson will be 32 when training camp begins, and the Lions will need to identify a successor soon. Like the Bears, the Lions would help themselves by adding some extra bodies to the mix at left guard. Last year's rotation didn't work. And as long as we're talking about under-the-radar needs, we might as well include a placekicker. Jason Hanson is coming off a relatively down year, having missed seven of his 28 field goals, and will turn 40 in June. This is hardly a top need for the Lions, but perhaps they could identify Hanson's eventual successor late in the draft.

Green Bay Packers

Although some might consider the situation more urgent, I believe safety is an under-the-radar need for the Packers. Earlier this month, Nick Collins signed a three-year extension. Fellow starter Atari Bigby is a restricted free agent who hasn't signed his tender, but the bottom line is the Packers can retain his services for 2010 if they want. If you have two young starters under contract, the need can't be too severe. I can't see the Packers taking a safety high in the draft. Meanwhile, given all of their recent struggles in finding a long-term answer at punter, it might not be a bad idea to look in that direction as well.

Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings added two new starters to their offensive line last season, center John Sullivan and right tackle Phil Loadholt. But coach Brad Childress noted at the owners meeting that some of his other starters, including left tackle Bryant McKinnie and left guard Steve Hutchinson, were approaching a decade in the league. This might not be the year, but eventually they will need to identify both players' successors. In 2010, at the very least, the Vikings need someone to take over the reserve role played so well by Artis Hicks, who signed with Washington in free agency. Hicks has been the top backup at all non-center positions for most of the past four years.

Draft Watch: NFC North

March, 17, 2010
3/17/10
12:00
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NFC Needs Revisited: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: Biggest needs revisited.

Chicago Bears

Last month: The Bears started five different safety combinations last season and have a pressing need for a ball-hawking free safety. Al Afalava could fit as a strong safety, but the Bears don't seem to trust any of their incumbent safeties in deep coverage. The Tampa 2 scheme doesn't always put safeties in position to make big plays, but the Bears' free safety has too often been a liability. Chicago could also use depth at defensive end after the death of Gaines Adams and the expected departure of Adewale Ogunleye.

Now: The Bears have addressed some of the needs we first identified last month via the free-agent market, signing defensive end Julius Peppers to replace Ogunleye and Chester Taylor to provide premium depth in the backfield. But both safety positions remain noticeably untouched. There have been some suggestions that the Bears pursue St. Louis safety O.J. Atogwe, a restricted free agent who would require no compensation to pry from the Rams. Barring a run at him, safety ranks with offensive line as the Bears' top needs with the draft looming in five weeks.

Detroit Lions

Last month: Depth is an issue at most positions, but none moreso than in the Lions' interior offensive and defensive lines. They are in position to draft an elite defensive tackle with their No. 2 overall pick, be it Oklahoma's Gerald McCoy or Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh. They also will be scouring the nation for candidates to play both guard positions alongside center Dominic Raiola. A receiver to steal some coverage from Calvin Johnson should be a priority after the middling performance of free-agent acquisition Bryant Johnson last season. There could also be a need at tight end, where starter Brandon Pettigrew is recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament and his two backups -- Casey Fitzsimmons and Will Heller -- are eligible for unrestricted free agency.

Now: The Lions have addressed the interior of their defensive line, acquiring defensive tackle Corey Williams from Cleveland and hosting defensive tackle/end Anthony Hargrove, a restricted free agent, on a visit. Veteran guard Chester Pitts is scheduled for a visit, but the left guard position might ultimately be filled through the draft. It's also not out of the question that the Lions target Oklahoma State left tackle Russell Okung with the No. 2 overall pick. The Lions have addressed their No. 2 receiver position with free agent Nate Burleson and re-signed Heller, two other areas of need we discussed.

Green Bay Packers

Last month: Both of the Packers' starting offensive tackles, Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher, are pending unrestricted free agents. At 34 and 33, respectively, neither player has a long career ahead of him. The Packers might have addressed one of the positions by drafting T.J. Lang last year, but they could use additional depth and options considering both positions must soon be turned over. Injuries last season revealed a need for depth in the defensive backfield, especially at cornerback, and the Packers also need to determine whether they will replace outside linebacker Aaron Kampman.

Now: Clifton and Tauscher have both re-signed, but finding a left tackle of the future remains one of the Packers' top priorities as the draft approaches. Clifton signed a three-year deal, but it's not clear how long he will play. As per their philosophy, the Packers haven't addressed any needs by signing free agents from other teams. They'll target their remaining need positions in the draft. In addition to left tackle, that positional list should also include outside linebacker and cornerback.

Minnesota Vikings

Last month: Whether or not quarterback Brett Favre returns in 2010, the Vikings must establish a succession plan at the position. They've drafted three quarterbacks in the past four years, but among that list -- Tarvaris Jackson, Tyler Thigpen and John David Booty -- none are signed for 2010. There's no reason to believe the Vikings consider Sage Rosenfels a long-term solution, so drafting a quarterback would seem to be among their highest priorities. Another area of need is at cornerback, where starter Cedric Griffin is recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament and nickelback Benny Sapp is a pending unrestricted free agent.

Now: The Vikings re-signed Sapp to give them an alternative if Griffin isn't ready to start the season, but cornerback could still be a high priority in the draft. The loss of Taylor makes depth at running back an issue, but that is one position where it makes sense to go young. As draft boards begin to shape up, it will be interesting to see if the Vikings get an opportunity to fill their need for a long-term quarterback answer. Will there be anyone of that description available with the No. 30 overall pick? That debate remains unsettled.

Draft Watch: NFC North

March, 10, 2010
3/10/10
12:00
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NFC Recent History: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: Recent history.

Chicago Bears

The Bears have been unable to add fresh blood to their pass rush, striking out on defensive end Dan Bazuin in 2007 and getting nothing so far from defensive end/tackle Jarron Gilbert (2009). That void, along with a lack of first- or second-round picks this year, left the Bears no choice but to pursue free agent Julius Peppers. The Bears have also drafted seven defensive backs over the past three years, and only one of them -- cornerback Zack Bowman -- figures as a lock to contribute in 2010. Those failures have left the Bears still looking to fill perhaps both safety positions this offseason. That's one position where you can find a starter in the later rounds, and it almost assuredly will be a focus for the Bears next month.

Detroit Lions

About the only position the Lions have placed on the backburner is quarterback, thanks to their decision to draft Matthew Stafford last year. Although Stafford hasn't yet proved he is the Lions' long-term answer, the money he received as the No. 1 pick all but guarantees he will be their starter for the next few years at least. Otherwise, well-known recent failures have left the Lions scrambling to fortify nearly every other position. Given the frequency with which they have drafted first-round receivers, they never should have needed to sign free agents Bryant Johnson and Nate Burleson in successive years. The failure of defensive linemen Cliff Avril, Andre Fluellen and Ikaika Alama-Francis to provide impact has necessitated a 2010 overhaul that should continue with a defensive tackle coming with the No. 2 overall pick of the draft.

Green Bay Packers

The Packers' biggest problem is that several years of above-average drafting has left them with a lineup of restricted free agents who have established themselves as starters and are ready for their second contracts. In this draft, the Packers shouldn't need to focus on safety, thanks to incumbents Nick Collins and Atari Bigby. They are in pretty good shape at receiver with former draft choices Jordy Nelson and James Jones backing up Greg Jennings and Donald Driver. Tight end Jermichael Finley's emergence makes his position a secondary priority. Injuries to former second-round pick Pat Lee has made cornerback a priority, and the inability to draft a successor at left tackle forced the Packers to re-sign Chad Clifton last week.

Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings head into the 2010 draft with quarterback at the top of their need list in part because they haven't been able to develop former second-round pick Tarvaris Jackson into a long-term starter. They also parted ways with second-day draft picks Tyler Thigpen and John David Booty. But beyond that position, however, focused drafting has left the Vikings able to draft the best available player with most of their picks this year. Although he is still developing, former second-round pick Tyrell Johnson is a starter. The same goes for former sixth-round pick John Sullivan at center and former second-round pick Phil Loadholt at right tackle.

Draft Watch: NFC North

March, 3, 2010
3/03/10
12:00
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NFC Schemes/Themes: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: schemes and themes.

Chicago Bears

No matter what scheme they run, the Bears will have limited opportunity to find impact players in this draft without a first- or second-round pick. The Bears, however, have specific schemes on both sides of the ball that require special personnel attention. They don't run their "Tampa 2" defensive front on every play, but they still place emphasis on athletic interior linemen who can mount their own pass rush. And while they value coverage ability, they also need cornerbacks who are big enough to redirect receivers on the line of scrimmage before passing them on to the secondary cover man. Offensively, new coordinator Mike Martz needs quick receivers who run precise routes more than bigger deep threats. Running backs must also have above-average receiving skills to play in his system.

Detroit Lions

After three years in a defense that emphasized speed, the Lions now focus on size when it comes to linemen and linebackers. Defensive tackle Sammie Lee Hill, who weighs 330 pounds, never would have been a Lions draft pick under the previous regime. They aren't likely to select many 285-pound defensive tackles or 240-pound defensive ends. Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham wants his line to push back against pressure, not run around it. Offensively, the Lions are lucky to have a flexible scheme that emphasizes the strengths of their players. They don't need a prescribed height, weight or skill set for that side of the ball.

Green Bay Packers

Because they play the 3-4 defensive scheme, the Packers will keep an eye out for college defensive ends who are athletic enough to make the transition to outside linebacker in the NFL. They'll also look for college defensive tackles who could move to the end position in their scheme. And with Dom Capers as the defensive coordinator, you shouldn't rule out a wild-card draftee: A player with 'tweener skills who could be used in a creative way. USC safety Taylor Mays comes to mind. Offensively, the Packers look for linemen who can play multiple positions and can operate in a zone blocking scheme. And every offensive skill player, including tight ends and running backs, must have a high comfort zone in the pass game.

Minnesota Vikings

Under vice president Rick Spielman, the Vikings take a nuanced approach to the draft -- identifying specific players they want and then trading up or down in a round to make sure they get them. Second-round pick Tyrell Johnson (2008), a big and athletic safety the Vikings considered a perfect fit for a Cover 2 defense, is an example. They also prefer offensive players with experience running a version of the West Coast offense. That, for example, is why they traded up to get quarterback John David Booty in 2008. The offense Booty ran at USC has the same passing tree as the Vikings'.

Draft Watch: NFC North

February, 24, 2010
2/24/10
2:00
PM ET
NFC Busts/Gems: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: Busts and late-round gems.

Chicago Bears

Gems: The Bears took a chance on an unknown with elite speed in the fifth round last year and came up with receiver Johnny Knox, a Division II college player. Knox caught 45 passes, including five touchdowns, as a rookie and made the Pro Bowl as a kickoff returner. Cornerback Zack Bowman, a fifth-round pick in 2008, has seven interceptions in 17 career games. He appears to have the makeup to be a long-term starter. Busts: Running back Cedric Benson, the No. 4 overall pick in 2005, was released after three years. Defensive end Dan Bazuin, a second-round pick in 2007, never played for the Bears.

Detroit Lions

Gems: Running back Aaron Brown, a sixth-round pick last year, proved to be an explosive and exciting playmaker. He'll get more playing time as he limits mental errors, but his speed and open-field running ability give him the capacity to be a difference-maker. Linebacker Zack Follett, a seventh-round pick in 2009, is a strong special teams player. Busts: The Lions' mid-decade mistakes, from quarterback Joey Harrington to receivers Charles Rogers and Mike Williams, have been well-chronicled. The Lions have only one player remaining from the 2006 draft, linebacker Ernie Sims, and receiver Calvin Johnson is the only 2007 draftee expected to make a significant impact in 2010.

Green Bay Packers

Gems: Defensive lineman Johnny Jolly, a sixth-round pick in 2006, has proved to be a solid starter at both tackle and now end in the Packers' 3-4 scheme. His immediate future is threatened by a looming trial for felony drug possession in Houston, but from a football perspective, he has been a hit. Guard Josh Sitton, a fourth-round pick in 2008, might have been the Packers' most consistent offensive lineman last season. Busts: Quarterback Brian Brohm, the No. 56 overall pick of the 2008 draft, stumbled from the start and didn't make it through his second year with the team. Among other things, Brohm struggled with his downfield accuracy. He is now on Buffalo's roster. Defensive lineman Justin Harrell, the No. 16 overall pick in 2007, has been plagued by what could ultimately be a career-ending back injury and has made minimal impact.

Minnesota Vikings

Gems: Center John Sullivan started 16 games in 2009, a year after Minnesota made him the No. 187 overall pick of the 2008 draft. Although he wasn't perfect, Sullivan has already given the Vikings more starts than many sixth-round picks provide. A fourth-rounder in 2006, defensive end Ray Edwards has been a full-time starter for the past three years. Over that span, he has 18.5 regular-season sacks plus another four in the playoffs. Some have expected even more from him, but that's pretty good production for a second-day pick. Edwards was part of a draft that has helped make up for a disastrous 2005 affair. Busts: In that 2005 draft, the Vikings had three picks in the top 49, but none made an impact. Receiver Troy Williamson couldn't catch the ball, defensive end Erasmus James tore the same anterior cruciate ligament twice and offensive lineman Marcus Johnson couldn't hold a starting job.

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