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Key NFL Draft Picks To Fill NFC North Offensive, Defensive Holes

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(credit: Al Bello/Getty Images)

(credit: Al Bello/Getty Images)

By Tony Meale

The 2013 NFL Draft will take place this week, so let’s take a look at which holes each team in the NFC North needs to fill to have a successful draft.

Chicago Bears

The Bears are a playoff-caliber team with obvious holes to fill, including that of middle linebacker, as the franchise could not work out a deal with Brian Urlacher. Chicago picks 20th in this year’s draft and should be eying Georgia’s Alec Ogletree, who would provide youth and athleticism for a defense that features veteran stalwarts Lance Briggs, Julius Peppers and Charles Tillman. Manti Te’o – punchline that he is – should get consideration if Ogletree is off the board.

If Ogletree is off the board and Chicago isn’t sold on Te’o, improving the passing game seems like the next best strategy. Brandon Marshall was silly good last year, but he had more than half of the Bears’ receiving touchdowns (11 of 21), almost as many catches as the Bears next four top pass-catchers combined (118 to 120) and more than four times as many receiving yards (1,508) than the Bears’ next leading yards-getter, Earl Bennett, who had 375.

In short, Marshall needs help. Tavon Austin won’t be around at Pick 20, but Cordarrelle Patterson, Robert Woods, Keenan Allen and DeAndre Hopkins should be. Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert is another option, but the Bears need an electric playmaker who can stretch the field.

Improving the offensive line is also a priority; Jay Cutler was sacked 38 times last year – fifth-most in football.

2013 NFL Mock Draft – First Round Picks Here

Detroit Lions

After using back-to-back first-round picks on tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley in 2010-11, you’d think defensive line is the last place that the Lions would invest another first-round pick – at least not again so soon.

Instead, Detroit enters 2013 in serious need of a defensive end. The Lions tied for 20th in the league in sacks last year and saw leading sack-getter Cliff Avril (9.5) sign a two-year, $13-million contract with Seattle. Suh, whose 8.0 sacks were second most on the team, returns, as does Fairley, who ended the season with a five-game stretch in which he had four sacks, 23 tackles and two forced fumbles.

Still, end is a need, and BYU’s Ezekiel Ansah and Florida State’s Bjoern Werner are the top options. If the Lions wait on a defense end, they’ll likely opt for an offensive tackle – Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher and Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson come to mind – or a cornerback, such as Alabama’s Dee Milliner.

Offensively, adding dual-threat tailback Reggie Bush, who averaged 1,330 total yards in two productive seasons in Miami, was pivotal, but Detroit needs help at wide receiver. The Lions were second in the league in passing offense last year but had just 22 passing touchdowns – tied for 18th overall.

In addition, Calvin Johnson’s 1,964 receiving yards were more than Detroit’s next top four pass-catchers combined (1,939). The Lions are a pass-first team – quarterback Matthew Stafford had a league-leading 727 attempts last season; New Orleans’ Drew Brees (670) was the only other QB above 650 – but they, like the Bears, need more diversity in their aerial attack.

2013 NFL Mock Draft – First Round Picks Here

Green Bay Packers

The Packers have gone 26-6 over the last two regular seasons but just 1-2 in the playoffs. Even worse, Green Bay allowed 82 points in those two postseason losses and lost each game by 14+ points.

Most would agree that Aaron Rodgers alone makes the Packers a Super Bowl contender, but Rodgers was sacked a league-leading 51 times last season, and the Green Bay ground game ranked 20th in football.

In other words, improving along the offensive line is a must. Alabama’s Barrett Jones, who can play anywhere along the line, is an attractive option, though he might be a stretch at 26th overall; then again, he might be a steal.

As for the ground game, Rodgers’ 259 rushing yards were the second most on the team. The most? That would be Alex Green’s 464; The Packers’ top three tailbacks

– Green, James Starks and Cedric Benson – all averaged less than 3.6 yards per carry. Green Bay may want to take a flier on in-state tailback Montee Ball – a fan favorite who hits the hole hard.

Defensively, Green Bay released Charles Woodson and has a gaping hole at strong safety, making Florida’s Matt Elam an attractive first-round option.

And, after allowing 323 rushing yards in a 45-31 playoff loss to San Francisco, Green Bay needs more push along the line. North Carolina’s Sylvester Williams is worthy of first-round consideration.

2013 NFL Mock Draft – First Round Picks Here

Minnesota Vikings

One of two teams with two first-round picks (the other is St. Louis), Minnesota selects 23rd and 25th overall – and has several holes to fill.

Despite acquiring former division rival Greg Jennings, the Vikings, who traded Percy Harvin, need serious help at wide receiver. Michael Jenkins signed with New England, making Jarius Wright – who had 22 catches for 310 yards last season – Minnesota’s top returning receiver (tight end Kyle Rudolph, who had 53 catches for 493 yards, is the top returning pass-catcher).

Assuming a half-dozen or so teams don’t draft horribly, Tavon Austin will be long gone by Pick 23. Tennessee’s Cordarrelle Patterson and Cal’s Keenan Allen, however, should be available.

Defensively, Minnesota can never have enough beef along the line; playing in a division with Matthew Stafford/Calvin Johnson, Jay Cutler/Brandon Marshall and Aaron Rodgers will do that to you. Ohio State’s Johnathan Hankins and North Carolina’s Sylvester Williams are legitimate first-round options at tackle, while UCLA’s Datone Jones will likely be the best end available.

Either way, rest assured that the Vikings will use at least one of their first two picks on a wide-out.

More:

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Cincinnati-based sportswriter Tony Meale is the author of The Chosen Ones: The Team That Beat LeBron and contributes to several outlets, including MLB.com and MaxPreps. He has a master’s in journalism from Ohio University and is available for guest-speaking engagements. Follow Tony Meale on Twitter @tonymeale.

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