By: Tony Meale
The 2012 NFL Draft is just one week away so we've pulled together a mock draft featuring the first and second rounds for the NFC East. Do you agree with the picks? Comment below.
Bears fans should be optimistic. Chicago was a playoff team before Jay Cutler broke his thumb, and now he will be reunited with former Broncos teammate Brandon Marshall, who gives the Windy City an elite receiver for the first time in, well, a long time.
For the Bears to be a serious Super Bowl threat, they have to shore up the offensive line. There were times last season when Jay Cutler looked like a tackling dummy in practice drills. Chicago has seven picks – one in each round – and should strongly consider using Pick 19 to address this issue. Georgia's Cordy Glenn, Stanford's Jonathan Martin, and even Ohio State's Mike Adams would be solid investments.
There might be some temptation to draft Kendall Wright, an explosive playmaker out of Baylor, but signing Marshall diminishes Wright's value somewhat – for the Bears, at least. And hey, Devin Hester is still pretty solid in the return game.
If the Bears don't draft an offensive lineman with their first pick, expect them to look for help in the defensive trenches. The Bears are still an elite defense, but a handful of stalwarts are getting up there in age. Julius Peppers is still a beast, but another pass-rusher off the edge would do wonders for this team. Illinois' Whitney Mercilus would fill this need admirably.
The Lions made the playoffs last year for the first time this century, so that's encouraging. What wasn't encouraging, however, was that they started 5-0 before going 5-7 the rest of the way; included in that stretch was a 17-point, opening-round playoff loss to New Orleans.
The temptation for the Lions, which have one pick in each of the first five rounds (including 23rd overall), might be to draft another stud defensive lineman. But with Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, among others, defensive line isn't the biggest need in Detroit; no, that would be cornerback. The Lions, at times, looked lost in the secondary last season. If the Bengals don't take South Carolina cornerback Stephon Gilmore, the Lions should pounce.
Offensively, there are two obvious needs: wide receiver and, to a lesser extent, running back. Calvin Johnson is, at worst, a top-five receiver. But he didn't get much help last year from Nate Burleson and Co. Detroit has solid tight ends, but imagine if Calvin had a legit No. 2 on the other side of the field to loosen up coverages.
Running back, meanwhile, is a bit of a mess. The Lions' leading rusher last year was Jahvid Best, who finished with a whopping 390 yards. A big part of this, of course, was Best's inability – and the inability of Kevin Smith and Maurice Morris – to stay healthy, but using a pick on a durable tailback wouldn't be the worst thing in the world.
The Lions took a major step forward last year in reaching the playoffs. The next step is winning a playoff game. With the right draft moves, they could do just that.
I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say the offense is fine, but the defense probably needs work. Specifically, the pass rush.
The Packers finished their Super Bowl season second in the league with 47 sacks. Last year, they tied for 27th. And as the New York Giants showed once again, an elite pass rush can put a team over the top in the playoffs, particularly when you can drop guys into coverage against some of the game's best signal-callers. Green Bay selects 28th overall and should use that pick on someone like Whitney Mercilus or Nick Perry.
As for the secondary, Charles Woodson isn't getting any younger, so injecting some life in the back four would be good, as would drafting a linebacker to alleviate some pressure on Clay Matthews.
Offensively, the Packers have no weaknesses. The running game isn't all that imposing – as evidenced by fullback John Kuhn's team-leading four rushing touchdowns – but Green Bay has bigger fish to fry. The Packers have a dozen picks – including three fourth-rounders and four seventh-rounders – so they'll have some options and flexibility on draft day. But expect them to go defense early and often.
For all the talk about Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, Matt Kalil is one of the most no-doubter third picks in draft history. Part of that is because of his ability, and part of that is because the Vikings desperately need an offensive lineman, particularly after releasing Steve Hutchinson to cut cap space. Minnesota needs to protect Christian Ponder and get some push for Adrian Peterson, who – as perhaps the best tailback in football – sees way too many runs result in zero or negative yards.
The other most pressing offensive need is wide receiver. Migraine issues notwithstanding, Percy Harvin is a good wideout, but he's not a No. 1. He's a decent No. 2 and ideally a No. 3 working out of the slot.
Defensively, the Vikings finished 26th against the pass and 21st overall. Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith is worthy of being selected 35th, as is Nebraska cornerback Alfonzo Dennard.
Improving the pass defense and adding a couple of weapons for Christian Ponder would go a long way in bolstering the playoff chances for a team that played in the NFC Championship not too long ago.
Tony Meale is a freelance writer for MLB.com, cincinnati.com and ffjungle.com, among others. His fantasy football work has led to guest appearances on several radio outlets, including ESPN Radio and Sirius Radio. He has a Master's in Journalism from Ohio University and has been recognized by the Society of Professional Journalists for outstanding work. A Cincinnati native, he is currently writing a book on one of the great sports stories never told. Follow Tony Meale on Twitter @tonymeale.
for more features.