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NFL draft preview: NFC and AFC North

The draft will be held Thursday to Saturday in New York. Times NFL writer Sam Farmer examines the needs for each team by division.

April 24, 2011|By Sam Farmer
  • USC offensive lineman Tyron Smith holds the line against California during a Pac-10 game last season.
USC offensive lineman Tyron Smith holds the line against California during… (University of Southern…)

The draft will be held Thursday to Saturday in New York. Times NFL writer Sam Farmer examines the needs for each team by division. Today, the North divisions:

NFC North

The Green Bay Packers have the ultimate prize, the Lombardi Trophy, but that doesn't mean they've fulfilled their wish list. They would love to have a pass-rushing bookend to Clay Matthews, and a defensive end capable of replacing Cullen Jenkins. The team has some graying standouts too, and it's time to start grooming a left tackle who can eventually step in for Chad Clifton, and a corner who can learn behind Charles Woodson.

There are several good offensive tackles in this draft, and the Chicago Bears should be able to get one with the 29th pick. USC's Tyron Smith will be long gone by then, but Derek Sherrod of Mississippi State or Nate Solder of Colorado might still be on the board. The Bears could also use a defensive tackle to fill the Tommie Harris void. Maybe Baylor's Phil Taylor or North Carolina's Marvin Austin?

In a division with quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler, the Detroit Lions need to further bolster the back end of their defense, and cornerback is an area of pressing need. They can get an elite one with the 13th pick, and that may be even more enticing than their need for an outside linebacker. Don't be surprised if they grab a running back early, someone to help lighten the load on Jahvid Best.

The Minnesota Vikings need a quarterback, and they'd probably have to trade up from No. 12 if they want Auburn's Cam Newton or Missouri's Blaine Gabbert. However, there's a good chance Washington's Jake Locker, TCU's Andy Dalton and Arkansas' Ryan Mallett will still be around. Locker is enticing at that spot. Cornerback and defensive tackle are areas of need too.

AFC North

The Pittsburgh Steelers have done a terrific job overcoming some glaring weaknesses. Their offensive line has been underwhelming for several years and is only now, with center Maurkice Pouncey and guard Chris Kemoeatu, starting to improve from the inside out. Their best cornerback, Ike Taylor, will be a free agent, so the Steelers could use help there too. Nor would it hurt to pick up another defensive linemen, especially in a draft full of good ones.

The Baltimore Ravens need a cornerback, and it would be helpful to get a big one. They don't have an experienced corner taller than 6 feet, and they play in a division with a host of big, talented receivers. The franchise that had left tackle locked down for so long could use another long-term answer there, someone who could allow Michael Oher to move back to his more comfortable right-side spot.

With Carson Palmer all but gone, the Cincinnati Bengals need to solve their quarterback problem. That said, a quarterback needs a No. 1 target, and it doesn't look as if Chad Ochocinco will be back. So the Bengals might just use their No. 4 pick on Georgia receiver A.J. Green.

Defensive coordinator Dick Jauron is switching the Cleveland Browns back to a 4-3, and he needs more quality big men up front to do that effectively. The Browns also want to beef up their offensive line, particularly on the right side. But the need they might address first, with the sixth pick, is a top target for Colt McCoy — the so-called "home run hitter" Mike Holmgren has coveted. That might be Alabama receiver Julio Jones.

NEXT East divisions

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