Draft Needs: NFC North
Teams have now had a month of free agency to chase down veteran upgrades, replacements, and hole-fillers but their roster-twisting work is not done. Next on the horizon is the 2013 NFL draft and with it comes the yearly opportunity to land youthful talent that, ideally, will provide a long-term positive impact.
In our division-by-division look at current draft needs, the most pressing roster concerns are addressed for each team and Steve Palazzolo tacks on early- and late-round draft day options as we go.
For the past decade the Bears have been set at linebacker with Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, with Nick Roach taking the third spot in the base defense over the past few years. Now Urlacher and Roach are gone, leaving Briggs as the only incumbent starting linebacker. Chicago turned to free agency to fill their linebacker needs, adding middle linebacker D.J. Williams from the Denver Broncos and James Anderson from the Carolina Panthers.
The problem is that Anderson has not been great in run defense, and has in fact only been getting worse with a -6.7 PFF run defense rating in 2012, which was fifth-worst among 4-3 outside linebackers. Chances are Williams and Briggs will play in the nickel defense, so Anderson’s main role will be stopping the run. Outside of Anderson, Briggs will be turning 33 during the 2013 season, and he is the second-oldest linebacker currently on an NFL roster, behind Calvin Pace. While Briggs is still a quality cover linebacker, with six passes defended leading all 4-3 outside linebackers, his days in the NFL are limited.
Even D.J. Williams will be 31 prior to the start of the season. While he didn’t play much in 2012, in previous years he was consistently among the lowest rated run defenders in the league. While the Bears might not draft a linebacker to start Day 1, it looks like it is only a matter of time before they will need one or more new starters at the position.
Early Round Option: Alec Ogletree, Georgia
The Bears got more than their money’s worth when they drafted Urlacher in the first round of the 2000 draft and Ogletree’s impressive athleticism could make him the next mainstay at the linebacker position in Chicago.
Mid/Late Round Option: Kevin Reddick, North Carolina
Despite the need at linebacker, waiting until the middle rounds might be Chicago’s best bet and the productive Reddick looks like a potential starter on the inside.
While a case can certainly be made for offensive tackle, the Lions are in need of multiple defensive ends. The Lions in recent years have preferred to heavily rotate four defensive ends, allowing each player to play between 30% and 65% of snaps. Last year those four players were Cliff Avril, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Lawrence Jackson and Willie Young. This offseason Avril signed with the Seahawks, Vanden Bosch has been released, and Jackson remains unsigned.
This leaves Young as the only end on the roster who played significant time with Detroit in 2012. On his 211 pass rushes he managed just 16 pressures and no sacks. They drafted Ronnell Lewis last year in the fourth round, and he received just one snap all year. The Lions signed Jason Jones from the Seahawks, but he is better suited as an interior pass rusher than an outside defender. He tried to play defensive end on a more full-time basis with the Titans in 2011, but managed just three sacks, four hits and 15 hurries on 397 pass rushes.
At the very least, they need one more defensive end to fill the full man rotation. If they want to upgrade the position even more, they may need more than one defensive end added to the roster. I’m sure Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley would benefit from having more outside pass rush then what the Lions could come up with last year.
Early Round Option: Barkevious Mingo, LSU
Mingo fits a lot of the teams picking in the Top 10, but Detroit may be the best fit of the bunch. His explosive first step looks perfect for Detroit’s four-man front that allows the defensive ends free rein to attack the quarterback.
Mid/Late Round Option: Stansly Maponga, TCU
Maponga’s 6-foot-2 frame may scare teams away but the Lions are the kind of team that may ignore his stocky build in order to unleash him off the edge. Even if they draft a pass rusher early, Maponga could be a nice target in the fourth round range.
Green Bay Packers
Last offseason, one of the Packers’ biggest issues was the defensive line, where they felt the loss of Cullen Jenkins to the Eagles in the 2011 season. They drafted Jerel Worthy and Mike Daniels, and added a few cheap free agents that didn’t end up staying on the roster. This left the two rookies with B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett, C.J. Wilson and Mike Neal as the team’s defensive lineman.
Early on Worthy tried to take the roll of the interior pass rusher, but over the season he managed just nine pressures on 314 pass rushes. He tore his ACL at the very end of the 2012 regular season, and after reconstructive surgery his 2013 season is in question. In his limited time, Daniels didn’t make much of an impact, and in three years C.J. Wilson has been a serviceable run defender, but hasn’t added a pass rushing presence. Ryan Pickett will be turning 34 during the season, and with the amount of money going to Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews, it might be difficult to get a long-term deal for Raji.
When it comes to the line, there are plenty of question marks, and not enough production. It wouldn’t be all that surprising of the Packers continue to use a draft pick or two on the line to help ensure quality play for this year and in the future.
Early Round Option: Margus Hunt, SMU
There are a lot of mixed opinions about Hunt, but his size and potential have him in the first round conversation. The Packers will have a shot at him at the back end of the first, but they’ll have to be patient as he continues to grow as a football player.
Mid/Late Round Option: William Gholston, Michigan State
Another high-potential player, Gholston was one of Michigan State’s biggest recruits in recent years, but his on-field performance has been inconsistent. He looks the part at 6-foot-7, 280 pounds with his best pass rush work coming when he attacks through the middle of the offensive line. The size and skill set should work well as a 3-4 defensive end.
For years, E.J. Henderson was the man in the middle of the Vikings defense. While he was a Pro Bowl player only once, he was certainly a force in stopping the run game in the ‘black and blue division’. Last year the Vikings allowed Henderson to leave the team and expected 2009 fifth-round pick Jasper Brinkley to step up.
The problem was that Brinkley didn’t match Henderson’s play in the middle. Brinkley ended up with a Tackling Efficiency of 5.7, which was the lowest for an inside/middle linebacker to have played 25% of his teams snaps over the past five years. The Vikings allowed him to sign with the Cardinals and did not find a replacement in free agency. In-house candidates include Tyrone McKenzie, who has been trusted with just 15 defensive snaps since being drafted in the third round of 2009. There is also Marvin Mitchell who received a bit of playing time in 2010 with the Saints, but couldn’t repeat the good play in 2011 with the Dolphins and played just 46 defensive snaps in 2012 with Minnesota.
If a rookie isn’t picked, there are a few short-term fixes available in free agency. However, at this point the question is less of if they will pick a linebacker, but more so when they will pick one and who will they pick.
Early Round Option: Arthur Brown, Kansas State
The Vikings ask a lot of their linebackers in coverage and Brown moves as well as any linebacker in this draft. He’ll complement his coverage ability with a fierce, downhill attacking mentality that should make him a coveted three-down linebacker in this draft.
Mid/Late Round Option: A.J. Klein, Iowa State
Klein looks like a nice fit for the Vikings’ scheme as he does his best work in zone coverage. He should be available when they pick at the top of the fourth round.
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