2018 NFL Draft Needs by Team: NFC North
We’re now rapidly approaching the long-awaited arrival of the 2018 NFL Draft, and the daily rumor mill is in midseason form. It can be hard to navigate all the news and chatter that drop at a constant rate in the days leading up to the actual draft.
Even if a star player is released at this point, most NFL clubs have a pretty good idea of what they’re going to do in the draft, and we can analyze what those team’s draft approach and needs are likely to be. There are sure to be some surprises, but knowing the apparent needs of each NFL franchise certainly makes predicting the actual draft a much easier process.
Draft Picks: No. 8, No. 39, No. 105, No. 115 (via ARZ), No. 145, No. 181, No. 224
Team Needs: OT, CB, G/C, EDGE
The new regime plans to roll out a fast-paced, aggressive offense designed by Mark Helfrich, who has ties to Chip Kelly. For this offense to even have a chance at working, new head coach Matt Nagy is going to have to keep QB Mitchell Trubisky safe. Chicago’s offensive line ranked 23rd in pass protection last season, so one of the team’s top priorities is to protect their franchise signal-caller, and the club will be in a prime position to add this draft’s top offensive lineman from the No. 8 pick. The Bears are candidates to be the first team in this draft to potentially select an offensive lineman, so they can choose between highly-coveted Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson or select any of the tackles in this class, a position that is not considered all that deep in this class.
Chicago wisely re-signed CB Prince Amukamara and Kyle Fuller but could use an upgrade at nickel corner and depth throughout the secondary. Considering the pass-happy NFC North just got even more firepower with the arrival of Kirk Cousins, there can never be a surplus of talented defensive backs in throughout this division.
An athletic pass rusher who can also help is run support is another need for Chicago’s defense. Though highly unlikely, if N.C. State DE Bradley Chubb was still on the board when Chicago is on the clock with the No. 8 pick, the Bears would undoubtedly be ecstatic.
Players to Target: Quenton Nelson (OG), Bradley Chubb (DE), Denzel Ward (CB), Mike McGlinchey (OT), Kolton Miller (OT), Tremaine Edmunds (ILB)
Draft Picks: No. 20, No. 51, No. 82, No. 117, No. 153, No. 237
Team Needs: DE, TE, LB, DT, RB
Detroit has more needs on the defensive side of the ball and just hired defensive-minded head coach Matt Patricia. Many of the needs for the Lions correspond with names that are expected to be available, or could potentially slide down some team’s draft boards. Ideally, an athletic pass rushing lineman or linebacker would be a strong addition to the front seven. Patricia and GM Bob Quinn are in a good position to be flexible in this draft and let value dictate their direction.
The Lions released TE Eric Ebron and are poised to enter training camp with replacement-level talents Luke Wilson, Michael Roberts, and in-line blocker Levine Toilolo at tight end. The 2018 draft class is loaded with talented pass-catching tight ends, so it would be no surprise to see Detroit address this need on Day Two or Day Three of the draft.
LB Tahir Whitehead signed with the Raiders, leaving the Lions thin at outside linebacker. Second-year player Jarrad Davis is expected to play middle linebacker but had some issues in pass coverage. Patricia could use some reinforcements here, and the team has been linked to various linebackers throughout the offseason.
Just because the Lions keep missing in the draft at running back won’t preclude the club from continuing to try to address that need. Detroit signed LeGarrette Blount to pair with Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick, but they still could use a three-down rusher to open up the offense. The 2018 draft is loaded with talented rushers, so expect the Lions to add at least one running back to the mix.
Green Bay Packers
Draft Picks: No. 14, No. 45, No. 76, No. 101 (via CLE), No. 133, No. 138 (via CLE), No. 172, No. 174, No. 186, No. 207, No. 232, No. 239 (via BUF)
Team Needs: CB, OL, LB, WR
Brian Gutekunst enters his first offseason as the general manager after replacing Ted Thompson with an NFL-high 12 picks. With that change, the Packers might approach this draft a little differently. However, Gutekunst has been with Green Bay for a long time and is quite familiar with Mike McCarthy and the club’s major needs. Green Bay was more active than usual in visiting with veteran free agent defenders, so expect the club to take advantage of a rare early first-round pick by adding an impact defender.
The Packers re-signed Davon House to a one-year deal, but House was the 98th ranked coverage corner in 2017 according to Pro Football Focus. Tramon Williams (9th) was outstanding but was the only reliable corner last season for a secondary that allowed the tenth-most passing yards in the league. 2017 second-rounder Kevin King was limited to nine games with a shoulder injury and should compete for more playing time. With six games against the Lions, Bears, and Vikings, Green Bay needs to add to their cornerback depth early.
Green Bay’s O-line was far better in run blocking (5th) than they were in pass pro, where they were the fifth-worst unit in football last season and allowed 51 sacks. The Packers offense did nothing without Aaron Rodgers under center, so protecting the league’s top signal-caller is of the utmost importance and one that will be addressed in this draft.
Jordy Nelson was released, leaving the Packers thin at receiver. They’re unlikely to take a wideout at 14, but the Packers are likely to add to their receiving corps in the middle rounds. OLB Clay Matthews is still a solid player, but nearing 32, is getting up there in years. Green Bay is thin outside of Matthews and could use a strong pass rusher to help new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine revamp the Packers’ stop unit.
Players to Target: Minkah Fitzpatrick (CB), Mike Hughes (CB), Mike McGlinchey (OT), Harold Landry (EDGE), Leighton Vander Esch (ILB), Derwin James (S), Braden Smith (OG), Chukwuma Okorafor (OT), D.J. Chark (WR), Anthony Miller (WR)
Draft Picks: No. 30, No. 62, No. 94, No. 167, No. 204, No. 213, No. 218, No. 225 (via DEN)
Team Needs: OG, CB, DE, OT
As good as Minnesota’s defense was last year, anyone who witnessed the NFC Championship game can tell there’s still some work to be done. The Vikings need to retool their offensive line and add some youth to their excellent, but aging defense.
This isn’t a strong offensive tackle draft, so if the Vikings are content with the best available tackle at 30, there’s a strong possibility that will be the pick. The same can’t be said at guard, as the depth of interior blockers in this class dictates that not only will lineman-needy teams like the Vikings target the elite prospects, they can also hit on capable players much later. Expect Rick Spielman to spend some major draft capital on protecting new franchise QB Kirk Cousins.
Minnesota has a solid pair of starting cornerbacks in Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes, but the club could use an upgrade in the slot, where 39-year-old Terence Newman was not re-signed, and 2016 second-rounder Mackensie Alexander ranked 106th out of 121 cornerbacks in PFF’s coverage grades. Same situation at safety, where the Vikes have a solid pair of starters in FS Andrew Sendejo and SS Harrison Smith, but could use some depth.
You’ll never hear a defensive-minded coach like Mike Zimmer say he has enough pass rushers. Everson Grifin is 30, and Danielle Hunter will take over as the left defensive end for Brian Robinson, who turns 35 on Day Two of this draft. Zimmer could use some reinforcements to keep Minnesota’s pass rush as strength in the pass-happy NFC North.
Players to Target: Isaiah Wynn (OG), Josh Jackson (CB), Kolton Miller (OT), Jaire Alexander (CB), Will Hernandez (OG), Taven Bryant (DT), Justin Reid (S), Billy Price (C/G), Connor Williams (OT)