Most entertaining division in football? The NFC North can stake its claim to that title. It is, after all, home to the past two MVPs (Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Vikings running back Adrian Peterson) as well as the NFL’s single-season record holder for receiving yards (Detroit’s Calvin Johnson). ¶ Most competitive division? The North has an argument there, too. It’s the only division that has seen all four teams enjoy a 10-win season in the past two years. Plus, in 2012, the North’s combined 35-victory total topped the NFL. (For that, thank-you notes have been sent to the AFC South.) ¶ The star power and competitive balance have become both a source of pride and pressure across the division. The urgency for all four teams has heightened this offseason with a sobering recognition that any slippage could quickly be magnified. ¶ With that in mind, here’s our look at the Packers, Bears and Lions as they charge into draft weekend.
Welcome: The Packers’ biggest move in free agency might have been the re-signing of linebacker Brad Jones, who made 10 starts last season.
Where’d he go? After seven seasons, receiver Greg Jennings leapt out of Lambeau and headed west to join the Vikings. The Packers offense should hum on without him. Receivers Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Randall Cobb plus tight end Jermichael Finley still give Rodgers plenty of weaponry.
Draft summary: The Packers own eight picks, including No. 26 in the first round plus two selections in Round 5.
Draft needs: Coach Mike McCarthy is looking for much more stability in his backfield after five different tailbacks (Alex Green, James Starks, Cedric Benson, Ryan Grant and DuJuan Harris) started in 2012. If the Packers address that need with their top pick, Alabama’s Eddie Lacy seems to be the logical target. With additional needs at safety, keep an eye on Florida’s Matt Elam, LSU’s Eric Reid or Florida International’s Jonathan Cyprien in Round 1. Also, look for the Packers to upgrade their depth at defensive end and offensive tackle.
Welcome: Quarterback Jay Cutler enters the final year of his contract with plenty of new help. He has a new coach (Marc Trestman) who’s touted as an offensive mastermind; a new proven tight end (Martellus Bennett); and a new left tackle (Jermon Bushrod) with Pro Bowl credentials.
Where’d he go? After 13 seasons, the Bears opted not to re-sign middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, an eight-time Pro Bowler. Fellow linebacker Nick Roach took his talents to Oakland. And defensive end Israel Idonije is also still out on the free-agent market.
Draft summary: The Bears will pick first at No. 20, then have only four remaining picks — one each in Rounds 2, 4, 5 and 6.
Draft needs: With major needs at middle linebacker, Chicago could beat the Vikings to the punch on either Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o or Georgia’s Alec Ogletree on the draft’s first night. But the Bears also need help on the offensive line, at cornerback and at defensive tackle. That brings offensive tackle D.J. Fluker from Alabama and North Carolina guard Jonathan Cooper into play. The Bears could also look to nab cornerbacks Xavier Rhodes of Florida State and Desmond Trufant of Washington. And don’t rule out UNC defensive tackle Sylvester Williams, either.
Welcome: Sometimes electrifying, sometimes injury-prone running back Reggie Bush will bring his burst and versatility to an already explosive offense. Detroit’s marquee free-agent signing on defense brought safety Glover Quin to town.
Where’d he go? After 21 seasons with the Lions, 42-year-old kicker Jason Hanson retired. (David Akers, 38, was signed as his replacement.) Longtime left tackle Jeff Backus also retired and defensive end Cliff Avril signed with Seattle.
Draft summary: The Lions will have a top-five pick for the sixth time in 14 seasons and own eight picks overall, one in each round plus an extra pick in Round 7.
Draft needs: Detroit could go any number of directions at No. 5. Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner might be the obvious choice. But Central Michigan offensive tackle Eric Fisher would fill a need. And defensive ends Ziggy Ansah (BYU) or Dion Jordan (Oregon), if available, could help fill the hole left by Avril’s departure. Those are the three positions with the most need. But the Lions might eventually also target another outside receiver to complement Johnson.