With the Super Bowl in the rearview mirror, the NFL world has set its sights on the draft. Drawing up plays and watching endless hours of game tape have been replaced by questions to college kids about their hand size and how fast they can run in a straight line for 40 yards.
Beyond the absurdities and nonsense that the draft provides, it is also the foundation on which great teams are built. In the NFC North, the power of the draft is on full display. Both the Bears and the Lions have been dysfunctional for the better part of a decade, and it’s because they have had massive whiffs in the draft. Detroit held the draft mistake belt for a while, boasting picks like Charles Rogers, Joey Harrington, and Mike Williams all in the top ten during the early 2000’s. They rebounded toward the end of the decade with Calvin Johnson and Matthew Stafford, but undoing the mishaps of former GM Matt Millen has taken well over ten years.
The Bears, on the other hand, have saved their mistakes for more recently. Notable first round busts include Chris Williams, Gabe Carimi, and Shea McClellin. The jury is still out on Kyle Fuller and Kevin White, both of whom have struggled mightily with injury.
The Vikings have had a mixed bag of drafting, hitting some unequivocal homeruns, but striking out several times as well. They have drafted Pro Bowlers like Adrian Peterson, Harrison Smith, Xavier Rhodes, and Anthony Barr in the first round. On the flip side, they also drafted Christian Ponder and Matt Kahlil, both of whom can be considered nothing short of complete duds.
The Packers have been the class of the NFC North for the last 20 years and the reason is very clear: they absolutely nail the draft process. Almost the entirety of Green Bay’s roster was drafted by the team, and they have hit on later round picks like Randall Cobb and Ty Montgomery, both of whom were not drafted in the first round. As the draft approaches here are the areas of need for every team and potential players they should target.
First Pick: 3rd overall
Positions of Need: QB, DB, DT
After suffering through a year of a combination of Matt Barkley, Brian Hoyer, and hapless wonder-boy Jay Cutler, it is easy to understand why fans are pining for a QB at the top of the 2017 draft. The Bears unfortunately picked the wrong year to be picking high and in need of help under center. The draft is flush with defensive talent, but lacks a top flight passer. To make matters worse, San Francisco is picking one spot ahead of them and is in even more desperate need of a quarterback. In a draft that features some of the best defensive prospects of the last decade, taking the second-best quarterback in a class this weak would be nothing short of insanity. Look for GM Ryan Pace to scoop up a player like Alabama defensive tackle Jonathon Allen. Allen was a human wrecking ball who might be part human part heat-seeking missile. If not Allen, LSU safety Jamal Adams could help provide relief for a secondary that needs it badly. Either one of these players would be a more sound choice than reaching for a QB.
First Pick: 46th overall
Positions of Need: Anywhere on the offensive line
After sending a first round pick to Philadelphia for Sam Bradford, the Vikings are without a selection until No. 46. There is not much to discuss about where they need to look for the draft. The offensive line was a complete dumpster fire, allowing teams to tee off on Bradford and took a team that had Super Bowl aspirations and left them scraping to finish .500. It is difficult to project players that will be available at that stage in the draft, but whomever the best offensive line left on the board regardless of position is whom they should target. One player that has been rumored that they would be interested in Western Michigan tackle Taylor Moton.
First Pick: 21st overall
Positions of Need: DE, FS, OT
The Lions played some of the most thrilling games of the NFL season, often needing Matthew Stafford heroics to pull out wins. After Stafford injured his finger, Detroit saw their luck dry up very quickly. While it would never be a bad idea to help bolster the offensive line to help protect Stafford, providing some pass rushing punch would help improve a defense that lacked playmaking. Detroit finished 30th in the league in sacks with 26, per NFL.com, and in a division with Aaron Rodgers that will not be enough to push them to the top of the standings. They finished dead last in defensive DVOA per Football Outsiders, and that was due in large part to a lack of dynamic players defensively. A player like Jabrill Peppers could be available at the 21st pick, and while his position at the next level is unclear, he is certainly explosive. Another player that would a fit a more direct need is Peppers’ college teammate Taco Charlton, whose pass rushing prowess helped anchor a very stout Michigan defense.
Green Bay Packers:
First Pick: 29th overall
Positions of Need: DB, OLB, RB
Aaron Rodgers was an absolute magician down the stretch this season, leading the Packers to an improbable NFC championship game appearance. Upon arriving in Atlanta, the Pack were very rudely introduced to what Julio Jones does to backup defensive backs. After cutting Sam Shields, there is a glaring hole in Green Bay’s secondary that they will undoubtedly address this offseason. After Eddie Lacy’s injury, the Packers used Ty Montgomery as their de facto running back, so that is another position they could look to address. In the first round, it is difficult to imagine that they would go anywhere but defense. GM Ted Thompson is notorious for drafting based on value rather than need, but given how badly they were decimated in the secondary that feels like the logical play. Look for USC defensive back Adoree’ Jackson or the aforementioned Peppers to be targeted by Green Bay at 29. If both are off the board, T.J. Watt of Wisconsin could be another name that comes up. All three provide versatility and playmaking in a secondary in desperate need of both.