The NFC North was a much tighter division than a lot of people would have predicted going into the 2015 campaign. Each team certainly has lots of room for improvement as we look ahead to 2016.
Minnesota and Green Bay both made the playoffs, while Detroit and Chicago struggled mightily to win games. What are the biggest needs for each of these teams that they may look to fill in the 2016 NFL Draft in late April?
2015 Snapshot: General manager Ryan Pace will look to repeat his strong 2015 draft when he landed several key players, including defensive tackle Eddie Goldman (second round), center Hroniss Grasu (third), and free safety Adrian Amos (fifth). The Bears (6-10) were a team that improved as the season went on, but their defense was very vulnerable, particularly against the run.
Biggest Needs: More playmakers to bolster their defense. The target in the first round should be a linebacker or a defensive end.
First-round pick: No. 11 overall
Potential Picks: There are three players that appear to have the talent necessary to start up front from day one: Clemson’s Shaq Lawson, Ole Miss’ Robert Nkemdiche, Oregon’s DeForest Buckner. If all of the elite defensive linemen come off the board early, the Bears should target one of the three stud linebackers in this year’s draft: Alabama’s Reggie Ragland, UCLA’s Myles Jack, or Notre Dame’s Jaylon Smith.
2015 Snapshot: Following the report that wide receiver Calvin Johnson is likely to retire, the Lions added yet another position to their already long list of draft needs. The Lions (7-9) were somewhat able to replace their best defensive player, Ndamukong Suh, during the 2015 offseason by bringing in Haloti Ngata from the Baltimore Ravens. However, Ngata is now a free agent, so a defensive tackle could be a smart target with the 16th pick. Additionally, Detroit finished in the top 10 in the NFL in sacks allowed in 2015. That trend cannot continue if Stafford is expected to improve his numbers.
Biggest Needs: A defensive tackle who excels at stuffing the run, an area that Detroit desperately needs to improve after falling from first in 2014 all the way down to 19th this past season. Most importantly, the Lions need help protecting quarterback Matthew Stafford.
First-round pick: No. 16 overall
Potential Picks: Alabama’s Jarran Reed is less well-known than A’Shawn Robinson, but had a very impressive year alongside him. Louisville’s Sheldon Rankins is someone else to keep an eye on; he has been steadily climbing big boards and is another proficient run-stuffer. Covering Stafford’s blind side is key, so look for the Lions to possibly go after Ohio State’s Taylor Decker or Michigan State’s Jack Conklin. If Laquon Treadwell falls to No. 16 the Lions may have no choice but to snatch up the most talented wide receiver in the class as the eventual replacement for Megatron.
Green Bay Packers
2015 Snapshot: Green Bay (10-6) allowed the fifth-most sacks in the NFL this year. The four teams ahead of them (Tennessee, Cleveland, San Francisco and Jacksonville) finished with a combined record of 16-48. Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback in the NFL, but when he has two seconds to find a target every play there is nothing even he can do.
Biggest Needs: OFFENSIVE LINE. A little help on defense could be beneficial as well.
First-round pick: No. 27 overall
Potential Picks: Look for the Packers to go after the aforementioned Jack Conklin with their first pick. The Michigan State offensive tackle is a beast (6-6, 326). Auburn offensive lineman Shon Coleman is another great candidate. The Packers may go after a defensive lineman in the first round to improve their pedestrian run defense, I wouldn’t be surprised if they jump on Penn State’s Carl Nassib if he’s still available. If that doesn’t work out they could still go after Florida’s Jonathan Bullard or Clemson’s Kevin Dodd.
2015 Snapshot: Minnesota surprised a lot of teams this season. With the return of the incredible Adrian Peterson and a scary defense, the Vikings (11-5) won the NFC North for the first time since 2009. Minnesota also finished in the top 10 in the NFL in sacks allowed, and with a young quarterback whose success is contingent on his mobility, the line must do a better job taking care of Teddy Bridgewater.
Biggest Needs: The Vikings are in the same boat as the Packers when it comes to their most glaring need; help along the offensive line. Another way to make life easier on your quarterback is to give him some big targets. Bridgewater throws a lot of short passes, so he needs a sure-handed guy who can get yards after the catch. Additionally, a big red-zone target is missing from this roster.
First-round pick: No. 23 overall
Potential Picks: Minnesota needs to add a guy like Josh Doctson from TCU to become that reliable, No. 1 receiving option. He has the physical tools to succeed right away. With a rangy (6-foot-3) frame and an impressive vertical leap, Doctson will be a consistent target in the end zone. Jack Conklin and Shon Coleman will likely be the best offensive lineman available at 23rd overall, the Vikings don’t need to settle this early in the draft to address that need, especially if there is a significant drop off in talent after the blue-chip guys are all gone.