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2014 NFL Draft Preview: NFC North
By Matt Horkman

Chicago Bears

Recent Selections: WR Alshon Jeffery, OG Kyle Long, DE Shea McClellin, & DT Stephen Paea

Recap: Two of Chicago’s last three first-round picks have been disappointments. In 2011, Chicago selected Wisconsin offensive tackle Gabe Carimi with the No. 27 overall pick. Carimi spent just two seasons with the Bears before Chicago’s new regime traded him to Tampa Bay for a sixth-round pick last year. In February, the Buccaneers cut him. McClellin is the other disappointment. In an attempt to jumpstart his career, the team is switching him to linebacker this season. The Bears seem to have struck gold with Jeffery and Long, though. The latter started all 16 games as a rookie, emerging as one of the best rookie offensive lineman in football. Jeffery, meanwhile, had an all-pro caliber season, catching 89 passes for 1,421 yards and seven touchdowns.

Best Scenario: DT Aaron Donald, S Deone Bucannon, & S Ed Reynolds

Draft Preview: The Bears enter this draft needing to overhaul the safety position. In addition, they need to add an interior presence along the defensive line. They can accomplish that on day one by drafting Donald or Florida State’s Timmy Jernigan. Donald displays the necessary tools to play the three-technique, which is a defensive tackle that lines up over the guard’s outside shoulder. Pairing him (or Jernigan) with Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston, and Paea would complete the overhaul of one of the least productive defensive lines in team history. The team can turn to the secondary on day two. Starting two rookies at safety might be risky, but the Bears have no other viable options on the roster. Bucannon had an excellent combine. He plays the run well, but can also cover the middle of the field. Reynolds would compliment him well.

Detroit Lions

Recent Selections: DE Ezekiel Ansah, DT Nick Fairley, OT Riley Reiff, CB Darius Slay, & OG Larry Warford

Recap: After a couple of lackluster drafts, Detroit rebounded in 2013. Ansah had a solid rookie season (eight sacks), and should only continue to improve as he learns the position. His presence on the edge and Ndamukong Suh’s presence inside is something the Lions can build their entire defense around over the course of the decade. You also can’t discount Fairley, though his long-term future with the team is a bit murky after Detroit declined to exercise the fifth-year option on his rookie contract. The team needs Slay, a 2013 second-round pick, to play well this season. Reiff and Warford appear to have solidified Detroit’s offensive line, each starting all 16 games in 2013. 

Best Scenario: CB Darqueze Dennard, WR Jarvis Landry, & TE Troy Niklas

Draft Preview: The Lions aren’t going to slow down the offensive attacks of Chicago and Green Bay without adding help to their secondary. Drafting Dennard or Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert would be a step in the right direction. Dennard is physical and thrives in man-coverage. Historically, Green Bay’s receivers sometimes struggle if you knock them around, so he could be the type of player needed to combat them. Ideally, Detroit would move down and target him, but Pittsburgh owns the No. 15 overall pick, and needs a cornerback as well. If you go buy measurables, Dennard isn’t worth the No. 10 pick. His tape, however, suggests he absolutely is. The Lions want to add more weapons for quarterback Matthew Stafford. Landry is a polished route runner suited to play the slot. Niklas may need a year or two to develop, but his upside is high.

Green Bay Packers

Recent Selections: OT David Bakhtiari, WR Randall Cobb, DE Mike Daniels, CB Casey Hayward, CB Micah Hyde, DE Datone Jones, RB Eddie Lacy, & OT Nick Perry

Recap: From 2005-09, Green Bay general manager Ted Thompson was at the top of his game, drafting several elite talents. Most notably, Thompson drafted safety Nick Collins, outside linebacker Clay Matthews, quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and guard Josh Sitton during that span. His last three drafts haven’t quite lived up to that standard, especially in round one, where injuries have prevented Perry and offensive tackle Derek Sherrod from living up to their draft status. Nevertheless, Thompson continues to find high-level contributors through the draft. Cobb is one of the game’s best slot receivers and his role in the offense continues to expand. Lacy earned 2013 Offensive Rookie of the Year honors, rushing for 1,178 yards and 11 touchdowns. Hayward was a top rookie in 2012, but played in just three games because of a hamstring injury last season. He's looking to bounce back this year. Thompson has a lot riding on his 2013 class. The team is hoping Jones follows Daniels’ path and takes a huge leap forward in year two. They also intend to go with Bakhtiari as their franchise left tackle.

Best Scenario: ILB C.J. Mosley, S Jimmie Ward, & WR Allen Robinson

Draft Preview: Green Bay enters the 2014 draft needing to address their secondary and linebacker corps. Many expect Mosley to go in the top 15, but his athleticism and medical issues could drop him on draft day. The Alabama prospect is instinctive and demonstrates the toughness and fundamentals to emerge as a high-end starter. Ohio State’s Ryan Shazier is a potential alternative should Mosley come off the board before No. 21. On day two, Green Bay may need to trade up to secure a starting safety. After Bucannon and Ward, there is a drop off in talent at safety. Neither is likely to fall outside the top 50. By packaging their second and third round picks together, the Packers could reach as high as the mid 30s, giving them an opportunity at Ward. Because of compensatory picks, Green Bay has an extra third-round choice. A deep receiver class could push Robinson into the backend of round three. The position isn’t an immediate need for the Packers, but Cobb, Jordy Nelson, and Jarrett Boykin are all free agents next off-season.

Minnesota Vikings

Recent Selections: DT Sharrif Floyd, OT Matt Kalil, WR Cordarrelle Patterson, QB Christian Ponder, CB Xavier Rhodes, CB Josh Robinson, TE Kyle Rudolph, & S Harrison Smith

Recap: The Vikings swung for the fences with Ponder and they missed badly. Missing on a quarterback in round one can have dire consequences on a franchise’s long-term stability, but general manager Rick Spielman has done a fine job of putting together a better than advertised roster. With five first-round picks in two seasons, Minnesota has a chance to develop a roster that rivals Green Bay in the NFC North. In 2012, they selected Kalil and Smith in round one, and both have emerged as high-level starters. Much of their future depends on last year’s draft, which saw the Vikings take three players on day one. The early returns on Rhodes look good, but Floyd and Patterson remain developmental prospects.

Best Scenario: QB Teddy Bridgewater, CB Jason Verrett, OLB Kyle Van Noy, ILB Shayne Skov, & OG Cyril Richardson

Draft Preview: One of the most active teams on draft day, Minnesota is a quarterback away from possibly challenging for a divisional title. If they’re enamored with Central Florida’s Blake Bortles or Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, then it’s hard to fault them for using the No. 8 overall pick on one of those signal callers. However, they would get better value by trading down, and targeting Bridgewater or Fresno State’s Derek Carr. Hypothetically, Minnesota could acquire an extra second-round pick if they move down to the middle of the draft. On day two of the draft, the Vikings can improve their defense with four picks. Verrett can play the outside, but he would thrive as a slot cornerback. New head coach Mike Zimmer loves versatile linebackers, making Van Noy a solid second-round target. The BYU prospect had a monster 2012 season, but tailored off a bit in 2013. Still, he can play inside, outside, and rush the passer. Skov has the fundamentals and tenacity Zimmer needs in a middle linebacker, while Richardson could play guard and pave the way for Adrian Peterson.

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