With the initial free-agency frenzy winding down, organizations are turning their attention to the 2012 NFL Draft. What are the biggest remaining holes for each NFC North team? Let's examine ...
The Bears looked like a playoff team at 7-3 in November last season, but then quarterback Jay Cutler went down with a broken thumb and Chicago dropped five straight games to fall out of contention. Therefore, signing veteran Jason Campbell to back up Cutler was a necessary step. New general manager Phil Emery also made a bold opening move in acquiring receiver Brandon Marshall from the Miami Dolphins for a pair of third-round picks (in 2012 and '13). Cutler was certainly desperate for outside targets to go along with speedsters Devin Hester and Johnny Knox. The Bears also need more bodies at offensive tackle, as they found out when 2011 first-rounder Gabe Carimi went on injured reserve. Some would argue the team's interior line could be improved, as well.
Chicago's dichotomous defense finished fifth defending the rush ... and 28th against the pass. Despite having Julius Peppers' 11 sacks on one side of the line, the team didn't consistently get to the quarterback, so finding another pass-rushing end should be a priority. Bolstering the talent at cornerback is also a must if Chicago hopes to stop the high-flying Packers and Lions. Feisty Tim Jennings returns for 2012, but depth is lacking with the departures of Zackary Bowman and Corey Graham.
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In 2011, coach Jim Schwartz led the Lions to their first playoff appearance since the 1999 season. Quarterback Matthew Stafford and receiver Calvin Johnson headlined a top-five offense in terms of scoring and passing yardage, but Schwartz might be interested in bringing a bit of balance back to that side of the ball -- the team finished 29th in the league in rushing. Finding a mid-round value at running back might be in the cards if the team isn't sure Jahvid Best can stay healthy. Kevin Smith started off hot in his triumphant midseason return, but reverted to a sub-4.0 yards-per-carry average late in the year. So it's hard to believe he's a long-term answer. Johnson, Nate Burleson and Titus Young form a dangerous trio, but the potential of injuries at the receiver position should lead the team toward finding more weapons for Stafford.
Detroit's 22nd-ranked pass defense should get some attention in this year's draft, especially with 2011 starting cornerback Eric Wright now playing for Tampa Bay. Adding a starter-quality prospect as well as at least one potential nickel contributor seems prudent. As does building depth at all of the linebacker spots to make sure the team's formidable front four doesn't have to do all the work.
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One major difference between the Super Bowl-winning Packers of 2010 and the 2011 team that couldn't win a divisional-round game at home against the eventual champion Giants? Pass rush. The Packers ranked second in the league with 47 sacks two years ago, but tied for 27th in that category last season. Finding another rush linebacker to take pressure off Clay Matthews is essential. Acquiring more five-technique defensive ends with pass-rush ability wouldn't hurt, either, even with Daniel Muir returning to Green Bay after playing in Indianapolis the past four seasons. Adding more talent in the secondary is necessary. Charles Woodson can't play forever, Oakland signed away cornerback Patrick Lee and Pro Bowl free safety Nick Collins' career might be in jeopardy due to a September neck injury.
The Packers led the league in points scored last season, but there's still room for improvement to the offensive depth chart. Running back Ryan Grant might not return, venerable receiver Donald Driver can't suit up much longer and the team also lost its backup quarterback (Matt Flynn) to Seattle. Center Scott Wells signed with the Rams, but fortunately former Colts pivot man Jeff Saturday decided to stay in the Midwest to snap the ball to Aaron Rodgers instead of following Peyton Manning to Denver. Look for the team to still add depth in the interior of the offensive line.
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General manager Rick Spielman is trying to build a team around quarterback Christian Ponder, the team's 2011 first-round pick. It starts with finding a franchise left tackle, and USC's Matt Kalil will be available at the third overall pick. Steve Hutchinson was released as a cap casualty, and free agent signee Geoff Schwartz missed all of the 2011 season with a hip injury, so the interior of the line might still be addressed. Adding tight end John Carlson gives Ponder another move-the-chains target, but they are in dire need of help at wide receiver. (The Michael Jenkins-Percy Harvin combination doesn't strike fear into the hearts of opponents.) Adrian Peterson's knee injury in the penultimate game of 2011 puts some pressure on Toby Gerhart and could push the team to find additional talent for the backfield.
The Vikings' defense finished second-to-last in points allowed and 21st in total yards allowed last season, so changes are sure to come on that side of the ball. While Minnesota re-signed Erin Henderson, his brother, E.J., is still a free agent and might not be back. Safety Tyrell Johnson hasn't been re-signed either, and cornerback Cedric Griffin went to Washington. Filling those spots will be crucial if the D is to improve in 2012. Bringing in competition to enhance the middle of the defensive line is another likely move.