What’s Next for the Lions? Free Agency and the NFL Draft

Over the course of the next few days, I will highlight each NFL team’s three greatest weaknesses that they need to address during free agency and through the draft.  As the Lions were eliminated this weekend, I feel that as a devout Lions fan, the best coping mechanism is to start with them and the rest of the NFC North.  From there I will make my way through the rest of the NFL, division by division.  So without further adieu, here are the NFC North team’s greatest needs for the offseason.

Detroit Lions:

That loss was a killer for me, particularly after the season that they had.  But it became evident throughout the year that the absolute lack of depth of defense was a killer.  The team needs a true #1 corner in order to allow themselves to make a deep run into the playoffs.  Eric Wright, Chris Houston and Alphonso Smith are all good corners, but none of them are a true #1.  It would be ideal for them to take a guy like Morris Claiborne out of LSU in the draft, but there is a 0% chance that Claiborne falls to the Lions at pick #23.  I’d look more towards Janoris Jenkins, a corner that started his career at Florida but was dismissed from the team and is now playing for North Alabama in the FCS.  The second biggest need for the Lions after corner is a left tackle.  Jeff Backus is getting older and while he had a pretty solid year in 2011, the team needs to start thinking of the future.  The offensive line gave up 36 sacks and 78 quarterback knockdowns good for 17th and 21st respectively in the NFL (nfl.com stats).  The organization must protect Matt Stafford and find a way to open up holes for Jahvid Best and keep him healthy, not to mention Mikel Leshoure, who spent the whole year on the IR.  The third and final need that must be addressed is a toss-up between strong-side linebacker and strong safety.  I thought that Justin Durant and Amari Spievey did decently throughout the year, but if the Lions want to become an elite team and stop the elite teams, they need to gain depth and get better at these positions.  The defense was absolutely shredded by New Orleans, and the team won’t be able to go anywhere until they can compete with the Big Boys of the NFC.

Chicago Bears:

The Bears took a massive step in the right direction getting rid of General Manager Jerry Angelo after the season.  Angelo failed to create a usable offensive line, and it has been the Bears’ achilles heel for years.  On top of that, this is the same man that gave Head Coach Lovie Smith nothing but Caleb Hanie and Josh McCown to backup Jay Cutler.  If you don’t know who Hanie and McCown are, don’t worry, you’re not alone.  As a Lions fan I can tell you that a backup quarterback is more important than you think.  If you don’t have one, you end up with guys like Dan Orlovsky running out of the back of the endzone and safetying himself (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vGs1VuT6FEw).  Bottom line, it ain’t pretty.  The Bears promoting Mike Tice to offensive coordinator is an interesting move to say the least, and his success will depend on how well he handles prima-donna quarterback Jay Cutler.  But, more on that another time; now onto the needs.  First and foremost, this team needs an offensive tackle, an offensive guard and a center.  At pick #19 it will be hard to get an elite player, but they must try.  This offensive line gave up the 5th most sacks in the NFL and has failed to protect Jay Cutler (nfl.com stats).  The team will also want to look at getting some younger linebackers and defensive ends into the system with Julius Peppers, Brian Urlacher, and Lance Briggs getting older, but for the moment, their needs are offensive line, offensive line, and offensive line….and maybe a new head coach.

Minnesota Vikings:

The Vikings were a very banged up team for most of the year, but luckily for them, they will have the #3 pick in the draft.  Since the organization drafted Christian Ponder in the first round last year, you can write off drafting a quarterback with that first pick, unless Andrew Luck magically falls into their laps (and there is NO chance that this happens, so don’t worry about fairy tale scenarios).  They need a big left tackle to place next to Steve Hutchinson to protect Ponder and open holes for Adrian Peterson for the next ten years, and the guy to do that will be Matt Kalil out of USC.  His brother is a center for the Carolina Panthers and they are both great.  Kalil was a five-star recruit coming out of high school and he has done nothing but get better since attending USC.  At 6’7″ he is everything that scouts drool over when it comes to left tackle prospects (sorry Bears fans).  If they don’t go for a left tackle, this team is also in dire need of a #1 receiver after losing Sidney Rice to Seattle in free agency this past summer.  A true #1 receiver will take pressure off Percy Harvin and open up the run game.  And their third and final need is a safety.  Strong or free, it doesn’t really matter, because their pass defense was ranked 26th (nfl.com stats).  With Benny Sapp, Cedric Griffin, Asher Allen and Brandon Burton at cornerback, you can count them taking a corner out.  Then again, with Aaron Rodgers and Matt Stafford in the division, they could go with a “best available player strategy” in regards to the secondary during the draft.

Green Bay Packers:

Seeing as this offense is borderline perfect, I’m going to go ahead and say that their needs are on defense.  While their offensive line isn’t the greatest, they do enough to keep Rodgers protected and open up holes for James Starks and Ryan Grant.  If they wanted to make things worse for everyone in the NFL, they could hope that Oregon running back LaMichael James falls to them at the end of the first round, then they could take a running back with elite pass catching ability, giving Rodgers yet another toy.  This would only improve one of the NFL’s most potent offenses and make me sick to my stomach as a Lions fan.  In regards to need, well, what does a 15-1 team truly “need”?  I think that this team (which runs a 3-4 defense) needs a pass rushing defensive end and another outside linebacker to pair with Clay Matthews.  After that, I think they need to take a look at grabbing another cornerback, to replace Charles Woodson in the future.  Then again, Woodson had a 7 interception season at the age of 35, which it should be noted, was tied for the most in the NFL (nfl.com stats).  In short, the Packers don’t have a great deal of needs, but look for them to go after a defensive end, outside linebacker and either a corner or an offensive lineman, to keep this elite squad running like a well-oiled machine.

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