NFC North: Russell Okung

Clay Matthews' start in context

September, 17, 2012
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Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews has opened the season with six sacks in his first two games, and for whatever reason the national reaction has fallen somewhere near "ho-hum." Why? As you surely know, this isn't the first time Matthews has accomplished the feat, and perhaps some of us are a bit numb to the achievement.

So for what it's worth, I want to bring you the context of what Matthews has done. As the chart shows, he is one of only six players in NFL history to get six or more sacks in the first two games of a season. Matthews is the only player to do it more than once.

I poked my head briefly into Matthews' session with reporters after Thursday night's 23-10 victory over the Chicago Bears, a game in which he terrorized Bears left tackle J'Marcus Webb and reminded future opponents how foolish it can be to leave him matched up one-on-one with anything other than a Pro Bowl left tackle. Matthews was in deflection mode, saying: "Fortunately, I've got a good young group of talent around me." But whatever the cause, it's clear that Matthews has re-established his presence after a down year (6.0 sacks in 2011) by his standards.

And NFC North fans might be interested to note that the Packers' next opponent, the Seattle Seahawks, played Sunday without left tackle Russell Okung (knee). Former Chicago Bears turnstile Frank Omiyale started at left tackle for the Seahawks. It's unclear if Okung will be ready for the Sept. 24 matchup between the teams.

Related: Matthews said last month that the Packers' pass rush "is back."

Detroit: What if it isn't Suh?

April, 22, 2010
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In these final hours before the NFL draft opens, you would have to look pretty hard to find a media analyst who is convinced the Detroit Lions won't take Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh with the No. 2 overall pick. But what if they don't? What if the Lions, led by one of the more mysterious general managers in the league, pull a surprise and look elsewhere?

(That means you, Martin Mayhew.)

What would that mean for the Lions? Who would they pick? Where would that leave the rest of the draft? (Why am I asking so many questions?) Let's consider some possibilities while we await the opening bell:

  • As we discussed a few weeks ago, many media draft analysts actually favor Oklahoma's Gerald McCoy as a pure prospect. Suh is considered the so-called "safer" choice because of his heavy college production. Still, we've got nothing other than conventional wisdom and peer pressure telling us the Lions rank Suh over McCoy. For all we know, it could be McCoy.
  • We could be wrong in assuming the Lions aren't factoring in the finances of paying No. 2 money to a defensive tackle. As we noted earlier this offseason, it is one of the game's lowest-paid positions. Let's not totally rule out the possibility that the Lions would look at a left tackle for that reason, even though coach Jim Schwartz has said he is happy with current starter Jeff Backus. Two of the draft's top left tackles visited the Lions' complex: Oklahoma State's Russell Okung and Oklahoma's Trent Williams. No one should be stunned if either were the pick.
  • If the Lions went with a left tackle instead of Suh or McCoy, it's very possible the rookie would open the season as a reserve. Backus could well remain at left tackle, with newcomer Rob Sims the likely starter at left guard. The Lions are one year removed from giving right guard Stephen Peterman a five-year contract extension. And it seems that right tackle Gosder Cherilus will get one more year to establish himself.
  • Without Suh or McCoy, the likeliest starting defensive tackle duo would be Corey Williams and Sammie Lee Hill. Unless the Lions trade for Washington defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, another possible impediment to drafting Suh.
  • If the Lions draft McCoy, you would figure Tampa Bay will snatch Suh at No. 3. The rest of the draft would be unaffected.
  • If the choice is Okung or Williams, the draft could get turned on its heels. Either Suh or McCoy could fall as far as Cleveland at No. 7, but probably no further.
  • Finally, we shouldn't assume the Lions will react to popular sentiment, including that of their own fans. Don't forget that last year, Lions fans were urging them to take linebacker Aaron Curry over quarterback Matthew Stafford.
I'm not trying to shake up any Detroit fans who are lighting by cyberspace in hopes that Suh becomes a Lion this evening. But we should all be realistic and accept that anyone who thinks they absolutely, positively know what's going to happen is either lying, delusional or an NFC North blogger for ESPN.com.

Draft Watch: NFC North

April, 21, 2010
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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.
NFC Big Question: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Packers general manager Ted Thompson traded into the bottom of the first round last year to select USC linebacker Clay Matthews, one of the NFL's top defensive rookies in 2009. Will Thompson make a similar attempt this year?

[+] EnlargeClay Matthews
Kirby Lee/US PresswireMoving up in last year's draft paid off for the Packers when they selected Clay Matthews.
According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Packers have investigated the possibility of moving up from their current spot at No. 23 overall to the Nos. 10-12 range. You would assume the intent would be to draft one of the top four left tackles. Each player -- Oklahoma State's Russell Okung, Oklahoma's Trent Williams, Iowa's Bryan Bulaga and Rutgers' Anthony Davis -- is likely to be off the board well before No. 23 overall. That leaves the Packers in a much-discussed no-man's land when it comes to filling arguably their biggest need.

The cost would be considerable, however, and illustrates why such trades are far more discussed than actually executed.

We have acknowledged that the traditional draft value chart has its flaws, but let's use it as a guideline for this discussion. The chart assigns a point total to each pick. The No. 23 pick is worth 760 points. For argument's sake, let's consider the No. 11 pick. It's worth 1,250 points. That means the Packers would have to make up 490 points to make the deal work.

One way to do that: Giving up their second-round pick (No. 56 overall) and third-rounder (No. 86). Those picks add up to 500 points.

Would you give up your second- and third-round picks to move up 12 spots? First, it's possible the Packers could negotiate that price down. Second, remember that a true left tackle is one of the rarest of species. If you think you can get one, you might have to accept a premium price.

I still don't know if I see Thompson pulling the trigger on a deal that carries such a price tag, but it's certainly a big question with two days remaining until the first round begins.

Lions' Mayhew keeps 'em guessing

April, 15, 2010
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Whether it was intentional or otherwise -- and based on how he operates, I would suggest the former - Detroit general manager Martin Mayhew painted a flexible picture Thursday of his intentions with the No. 2 overall pick in next week's draft. Meeting with Detroit-area reporters, Mayhew said the Lions aren't likely to trade down but are still formulating the highest levels of their draft board amid blue-chip grades that are "tight as I've ever seen it."

In other words, the Lions could take any of the draft's top players and won't make a final decision until "probably [next] Thursday," Mayhew said.

Riiight.

It's foolish to think the Lions don't have a pretty solid plan in place, barring unexpected trade offers or some other surprising development. Mayhew is loathe to offer any hints, but I did think he made a notable comparison between this year's draft and the 2003 affair in which the Lions drafted receiver Charles Rogers at No. 2 overall.

The potential pool of players the Lions likely will be choosing this year -- defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy, and left tackle Russell Okung -- have cleaner resumes than any of the players the Lions considered in 2003.

"It's never fool-proof," Mayhew said. "[But] I would say that this year, being at No. 2, is a lot better than being at No. 2 the year we drafted Charles Rogers. Just in terms of the number of concerns you have with different players, the players that are there now, a lot of them -- and I've talked to a lot of people in the last week or so, head coaches and people who have been around these guys -- a lot of these guys are solid off-the-field character guys and are relatively-healthy guys. High-effort guys, very motivated, intrinsically motivated type of guys. There is a good pool to pick from at two this year."

If you thought that sounded partly like praise and partly like an invitation to trade up into the No. 2 position, you're probably right. Mayhew said "at this point, I would anticipate being at [No. 2]" but clearly would like some trade discussion to come his way. Stranger things have happened, but that seems unlikely at this point.

We'll post the ESPN Blog Network mock draft next Monday, and you can probably guess who I chose for the Lions at No. 2. (No, it wasn't Knowshon Moreno.) For all of Mayhew's protestations to the contrary, it's safe to believe he knows who he's taking. If I had to guess, I would say that player's last name starts with an "S", ends with an "h" and has a "u" in the middle. I'll let you puzzle over that riddle for at least a minute or so.
Gary of Cocoa, Fla., is one of many Detroit fans asking about the possibility of defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth re-joining Lions coach Jim Schwartz via trade:
Is this for real or just another rumor? I personally think the Lions should stick with Ndamukong Suh of Nebraska.

Here's what we know with relative certainty. The Redskins tried to trade Haynesworth last month but have since paid him a $21 million roster bonus. He has guaranteed salaries of $3.6 million this season and $5.4 million in 2011, and would be playing out of position as a 3-4 nose tackle in Washington's new defensive scheme.

Suh
Haynesworth
During Tuesday's SportsNation chat, I suggested Haynesworth's contract made him largely untradeable. The Redskins would either have to eat that $21 million or convince the acquiring team to pay part of it in the exchange.

Positioned at No. 2 overall in the draft, the Lions already are on the hook to pay an elite contract. So I have a hard time believing they would be willing to pay part of Haynesworth's roster bonus while also giving the No. 2 pick upwards of $30 million guaranteed. Stranger things have happened, but that doesn't make financial sense even in an uncapped year. I know it could leave them with a Pro Bowl defensive tackle (Haynesworth) AND a top-flight left tackle (Oklahoma State's Russell Okung), but that's just an enormous amount of money to pay for any NFL team.

This debate could all be a moot point. ESPN's Adam Schefter reports the Redskins aren't shopping Haynesworth any longer. But even if they change their minds, I'm not sure I make the deal.

It's true that Haynesworth was a dominant playmaker under Schwartz for part of his time in Tennessee. But would you take a 28-year-old Haynesworth or a 23-year-old Suh? I'm leaning toward the latter. How about you?
NFC Big Question: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Several important clues have appeared to help us discern the top of the NFL draft. As the smoke clears, can there be any way that Detroit won't end up with Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh?

[+] EnlargeSuh
Christopher Hanewinckel/US PresswireRecent developments have improved the chances that Ndamukong Suh will end up in Detroit.
Draft intentions are difficult to interpret, especially those of tight-lipped Lions general manager Martin Mayhew. But as much as these things can be predicted, a Suh-Lions marriage seems awfully likely.

Although this scenario has been the likeliest for some time, several variables no longer exist.

First, St. Louis released starting quarterback Marc Bulger on Monday. The move was the strongest indication yet that the Rams will draft Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford -- and not Suh -- with the No. 1 overall pick.

Second, Washington acquired quarterback Donovan McNabb from Philadelphia for two draft picks, including its second-round pick this year. With their quarterback position filled, and a critical draft position shipped out, it's hard to imagine the Redskins as a major trade-up contender for the Lions' No. 2 overall pick.

Before the McNabb deal, there was some thought the Redskins might have enough interest in Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen to swing a deal. That seems unlikely now, dramatically lessening the possibility of a Clausen-generated bidding war at No. 2.

Third, defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove signed his restricted free-agent tender with New Orleans. The Lions had hosted Hargrove for a visit and might have considered another position at No. 2 had they acquired him through an offer sheet.

Now, the only obstacle to figuring out the Lions is knowing whether their talent evaluators agree that Suh is a better prospect than Oklahoma's Gerald McCoy. That evaluation is far from a certainty. From a media analyst's perspective, at least, opinions are mixed. ESPN's Mel Kiper has Suh ranked ahead of McCoy, while Scouts Inc. lists them in reverse order. McCoy also heads the list over at NFL.com, where Mike Mayock is the primary draft analyst.

Speaking last month at the NFL owners meetings, Lions coach Jim Schwartz said there is not as much difference between the two players "as people think" and that they were asked to play different styles at their respective schools.

"They're very similar in their skill set," Schwartz said. "If you took Suh to Oklahoma and you took McCoy to Nebraska, I think they'd both excel in the other person's defense. When you're drafting at the top of the draft, you're looking for guys who aren't just a creation of the scheme and you're looking for guys who have multidimensional skills that can do a lot of different things. Both guys are big, they're fast, have high character and both are productive at a high level of competition. There's a lot to like with both of them."

We've discussed the possibility of the Lions drafting Oklahoma State left tackle Russell Okung for financial reasons. But if you trust the team's pledge to take the best available player with each pick, regardless of position, you can narrow the choices down to Suh and McCoy. And although it's impossible to know with certainty what the Lions are thinking, Suh at No. 2 seems more likely than ever with the draft 17 days away.

Digging in at No. 23

April, 2, 2010
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I had an interesting conversation Thursday with a friend who posed this question: What does Green Bay do with the No. 23 overall draft position if the top four offensive tackles are already off the board?

(Yes, I know. I lead a really fascinating life.)

Seriously, I think it's an interesting and relevant debate with the draft three weeks away. We've discussed the Packers' clear need for a depth infusion at both tackle positions, where starters Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher will be 34 and 33 years old, respectively, when the season begins. But take a look at Mel Kiper's offensive tackle rankings Insider as they stood Thursday:

1. Oklahoma State's Russell Okung
2. Oklahoma's Trent Williams
3. Iowa's Bryan Bulaga
4. Rutgers' Anthony Davis
5. Indiana's Rodger Saffold

It's not out of the question that Okung, Williams, Bulaga and Davis all will be taken before No. 23. But there seems to be a consensus among media analysts, at least, that the drop-off after Davis is significant. Scouts Inc. ranks Safford as a mid-second round pick. The same goes for Maryland offensive tackle Bruce Campbell, whose draft value varies wildly depending on who you listen to.

The Packers could go with Campbell at No. 23. Or, if they like both him and Saffold, they could probably trade down and get one of them in the second round.

Packers general manager Ted Thompson has a well-earned reputation for the trade-down model. But what if he doesn't move? Where do the Packers go at No. 23 under this scenario?

I don't disagree with what Green Bay linebacker Nick Barnett tweeted Friday morning:
Here is what is going to happen in the draft i think.. We will draft one or two things... Olb or o lineman... It depends which is avalible.

Yes, the Packers could also use an outside linebacker to replace the departed Aaron Kampman. Here are Kiper's top five outside linebackers:

1. Texas' Sergio Kindle
2. Missouri's Sean Weatherspoon
3. TCU's Jerry Hughes
4. South Carolina's Eric Norwood
5. Penn State's Sean Lee

Kindle would be quite a coup for the Packers at No. 23, especially considering his apparent aptitude for a 3-4 defense. Will he be available? It would only be a guess, but typically, anyone with elite pass rushing potential usually goes in the top half of the first round. I wouldn't want to speculate on which linebacker the Packers might like after Kindle, but the list above at least gives you an idea of the players who might be available.

Feel free to weigh in below.

Daily mailbag: Sims and Detroit

April, 1, 2010
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Steve of Colorado Springs, Colo., checks in on reports that Detroit is interested in Seattle guard Rob Sims, a restricted free agent who would require fourth-round compensation. (A trade could change those terms, of course.)
Ok smart guy, let me ask you this. If the Lions acquire Rob Sims, what does that mean for Jeff Backus and draft day? ... If we get Sims, does that mean Martin Mayhew is simply keeping options open? Creating more of a mystery as to whom the Lions will take? Does it mean he wants Russell Okung and then move Jeff Backus to the right side?

I definitely like your conspiratorial line of thinking, Steve. This time of year, alternate theories are always fair game. But in this case, I think it's a simpler case of the Lions turning over every rock in their search to upgrade at left guard.

Last year's rotation, which included Manny Ramirez and Daniel Loper, simply didn't work. Both players have signed their RFA tenders and are eligible to participate in the offseason program, but the Lions clearly want and need more. They hosted free agent Chester Pitts on a visit last month, and in Sims they would have a pretty proficient left guard whom the Seahawks deem expendable because he doesn't fit their new zone-blocking scheme.

I could be wrong, but if the Lions acquire Sims, I assume he would slide into the left guard position with Backus remaining at left tackle. If they draft Okung as well, it eliminates the need to force him into a starting role immediately.

Have at it: Okung vs. Suh

March, 19, 2010
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Russell Okung/Ndamukong SuhIcon SMIThe Lions have the No. 2 overall pick and could consider selecting OT Russell Okung or DT Ndamukong Suh in April's draft.
Great discussion this week about the complicating financial factors Detroit will face with its No. 2 overall draft pick. As we noted in the original post, some teams would be reluctant to pay a defensive tackle -- Ndamukong Suh or any other -- the kind of premium contract usually reserved for quarterbacks, defensive ends and left tackles.

The question: Should the Lions consider Oklahoma State left tackle Russell Okung over Suh (or Oklahoma's Gerald McCoy) because of the financial considerations? Remember, those factors arise from the longstanding NFL sense that left tackles are more important and impact the outcome of games more directly than defensive tackles.

From what I saw, you largely refused to consider the financial aspect and confined the debate simply to whether the Lions would be better off adding a left tackle or a defensive tackle. I didn't tabulate each answer, but in the abstract, a significant percentage of you favored Okung.

In terms of building for the future, wrote rfrelin23, protecting quarterback Matthew Stafford should be the Lions' highest priority:
"Everyone seems to be on the same 'wavelength' here. If the [Lions] feel Okung is an all-pro LT then they must take him. The future of the franchise rests on the shoulders of Stafford (and he can't throw the ball off his backside). Right now the Lions don't need star players, rather they need solid NFL starters. A DT does not make or break a franchise, but QB does!"

While Suh is the consensus top player in the draft, TDbuddah warned against believing any surefire projections:
"If the Lion personnel guys project Okung as a can't-miss, NFL-caliber LT, they should take him. Obviously, there is no proof that any of these ... guys will be a superstar in the NFL. When that's the case, I would lean towards protecting the franchise."

But that's just the point, some of you argued. Passing on Suh for these reasons "would be foolish," wrote seanje. Suh is a "once in a decade, position redefining player," wrote funlovin 24. Vikes4ever70 asked: "Who's worth $10+ million per year? Okung or Suh? Regardless of value of position, I say Suh."

Taking Okung would allow the Lions to move Jeff Backus to left guard, addressing two needs. But solidifying those positions wouldn't be enough to satisfy SuperSloth003:
"We need studs. (best players available at a positional need). Suh is the best prospect and we must take him. Deal with another year of the typical Lions o-line, then address it more effectively next year with another high draft pick. Patience my friends."
My take? I think you can make a quite reasonable argument for the Lions to follow this scenario: Sign defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove, a 26-year-old restricted free agent whose pure athletic ability matches or exceeds Suh and McCoy. Then draft Okung.

Hargrove, who visited Detroit earlier this week, has overcome multiple obstacles in his NFL career, including a one-year suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy. But in that scenario, the Lions would align themselves with a long-term playmaker who had a substantial impact on a Super Bowl-winning team.

I think it's something the Lions are giving thought to. Over the next 3-5 years, what would give them a better chance to win: Having a mainstay at left tackle, a veteran at left guard and an ascending playmaker at defensive tackle? Or the potential of a stud defensive tackle with the other positions unaddressed?

In the original post, I suggested the Lions should only take Okung if their personnel department considered him a better prospect. But what if it's close? If, say, the Lions consider Suh a 10 and Okung an 8.9, it might make more sense to sacrifice that extra "1.1" to solidify a larger percentage of their team. This assumes the Lions sign Hargrove, which we'll know by the April 15 RFA deadline. If Hargrove remains with the Saints, I draft Suh regardless. With Hargrove in the mix, however, I would give strong consideration to Okung if scouts consider him a worthy top-5 pick.
Detroit will continue hosting high-profile draft prospects Thursday with perhaps the highest-profile one of them all. According to longtime NFL writer Mike O'Hara, Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is next on the list to visit their facility.

Oklahoma State left tackle Russell Okung visited earlier this week, and Oklahoma defensive tackle Gerald McCoy was scheduled to begin a visit Wednesday night.

If you haven't already, feel free to join our "Have at It" discussion on the merits of drafting a defensive tackle versus a left tackle with the No. 2 overall pick of the draft.

Continuing around the NFC North:

Quite reasonably, a few of you have grown weary of near-constant discussion of Detroit's looming choice between defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy in next month's draft. So, taking our cue from Nick of Detroit's question in Tuesday's SportsNation chat, it's for us to consider another decision the Lions could face.

Nick asked if the Lions might consider drafting Oklahoma State left tackle Russell Okung at No. 2 overall, in part because they've already addressed several defensive line positions during free agency. I'm sticking to my original answer -- I would only take Okung if my scouts were convinced he was a better prospect than Suh/McCoy -- but I think it's important to note the real-world decision isn't that simple.

The facts are clear: In the realm of NFL economics, left tackles are far more valuable than defensive tackles. Take a look at the chart listing the 2010 franchise tag numbers for each position. Although this isn't a perfect way to measure positional value, it gives you a good idea of where NFL teams collectively rank the economic value of a defensive tackle relative to left tackle.

The league's rookie slotting system will dictate the Lions pay a premium salary to whomever they take at No. 2. (Last year's second pick, St. Louis left tackle Jason Smith, received a six-year, $61.8 million deal that included $33 million in guarantees.) The question the Lions might have to answer: Should they pay left tackle money to a defensive tackle?

I have no idea if the Lions would take this factor into account. While Okung is generally rated as the best left tackle available, I haven't heard anything to suggest he challenges Suh (or McCoy) as a pure prospect. But you're fooling yourself if you think it's not an issue that at least some teams would consider.

Left tackles are paid more because they're more difficult to find and, in the view of many NFL people, impact the outcome of games more than defensive tackles.

So let's take this topic on in "Have at It" format. If you're the Lions, would you give any thought to taking Okung over Suh (or McCoy) at No. 2? Remember, Okung visited the Lions' practice facility earlier this week. Or do you believe it would be foolish to pass on an admittedly better overall prospect for these reasons?

Let me know what you think in the comments section below. I'll cull a representative sample of your responses, and offer my own, by Friday morning. Have at it.

Draft Watch: NFC North

March, 17, 2010
3/17/10
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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.
Green Bay tight end/linebacker/special-teams ace Spencer Havner fractured his scapula during a weekend motorcycle accident, his agent confirmed to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Green Bay Press-Gazette. But agent Mark Humenik denied a report that Havner was also charged with driving under the influence in connection with the accident.

Here's Humenik's full statement: "Spencer Havner suffered only minor injuries this weekend in an accident, including a broken scapula, but he should be fully recovered in short order. Despite unfounded media reports to the contrary, he has not been charged criminally with driving under the influence of alcohol or any other substance."

A broken scapula is a minor injury only in the sense that Havner has plenty of time to recover before training camp starts. It often takes up to two months to recover from.

We'll keep you updated.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • Greg A. Bedard of the Journal Sentinel objects to the Packers' re-signing of right tackle Mark Tauscher. I have also maintained the Packers need to create a succession plan for both tackle positions, but I think they learned a lesson last season about putting too much faith in an untested starter with no safety net.
  • Monday in Detroit included hosting Oklahoma State left tackle Russell Okung and restricted free agent Anthony Hargrove. The Lions also will be hosting free-agent guard Chester Pitts, who is recovering from microfracture surgery. Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com wraps it all up.
  • New Detroit backup Shaun Hill speaks to Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat.
  • Tim Twentyman of the Detroit News on Lions quarterback Drew Stanton: "Some say Stanton never has been given a fair shot with the Lions -- that he never was fully given the reins of the offense to learn and make mistakes without having to look over his shoulder. I say rubbish. Stanton was given every opportunity to earn his playing time in practice and in the preseason. He was simply never impressive enough to secure the starting job. When he did get his chance, because of injury or futility of those in front of him, Stanton never looked completely comfortable on the field and never took advantage of the opportunity."
  • Minnesota hired Matt Sheldon as its assistant defensive backs coach. Sheldon was on Brad Childress' original Vikings staff in 2006 for a few months before leaving to take a better job with Buffalo.
  • Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com wonders if the Bears will be interested in free-agent quarterback Chris Simms, who Denver released after acquiring Brady Quinn.
I don't generally put much stock in pre-draft visits, but their importance tends to increase the closer the host team is to the top of the draft. So it makes sense to follow the Lions' visits, which kicked off Monday with Oklahoma State left tackle Russell Okung. Here is coverage from the Detroit News and Mlive.com.

Oklahoma defensive tackle Gerald McCoy is scheduled to visit Wednesday. Both Okung and McCoy are candidates to be drafted No. 2 overall if St. Louis takes Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh with the draft's first pick.

NFL teams are allowed a total of 30 pre-draft visits at their home facility. Last year, the Lions hosted both players they ultimately selected in the first round: Quarterback Matthew Stafford (No. 1) and tight end Brandon Pettigrew (No. 20).

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