Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Draft Watch: NFC North
By Kevin Seifert
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.
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.
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.
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.