NFL Draft Team Needs: NFC North

As the 2022 NFL Draft approaches, it is time to start preparing for one of the most important weekends of the year, with your favourite NFL team drafting their next generation of young talent out of college.

To help you prepare for and enjoy the draft more, I am putting together an in-depth look at the Team Needs of every team in the league. These articles will be coming thick and fast throughout the month of April, so you can read them all to fully understand who needs what and which picks they have to address it, or you can keep an eye out for the division that your team is in.

Today we are moving on to the NFC! Our AFC North, AFC South, AFC East and West articles are all still available, but now we’re leaving that crazy conference behind to talk about the NFC North. This is a division that hosts some teams that are in incredibly unique situations, with a couple of teams rebuilding, a team trying to take the next step and even a team who is trying to cling on to its domination after losing some key players.

There’s plenty to talk about, so let’s get right into it and break this down.

Green Bay Packers

Record: 13-4

Needs: WR, OT, Defensive Line

Draft Picks: 1st (22nd, 28th) 2nd (53rd, 59th), 3rd (92nd), 4th (132nd, 140th) 5th (171st), 7th (228th, 249th, 258th)

The Green Bay Packers got their Hall of Fame quarterback back! Job done, right? Not quite.

While they got Aaron Rodgers back, which is obviously a huge deal, they lost his best weapon, Davante Adams, who was traded to the Las Vegas Raiders to acquire the two extra picks they now have in the first two rounds. This came due to Adams refusing to play under the franchise tag and choosing to reunite with his former college teammate Derek Carr. The Packers now immediately see their number one priority in the draft/offseason become replacing him with a new alpha outside WR. This is similar to what I described in my AFC West article, where the Chiefs traded Tyreek Hill and now their main priority is to replace Tyreek Hill. The difference is that they got five picks, the Packers only got two.

The urgency for Green Bay to fix this problem may have an added weight with teams like the Kansas City Chiefs hunting the same thing.  

As we await the exciting potential of Green Bay actually drafting a wide receiver in the first round, we should also acknowledge that two other important players left Green Bay and need to be replaced in the form of EDGE Za’Darius Smith and OT Billy Turner. That’s a starting RT and a starting edge rusher, two of the more important (and therefore expensive) positions in the NFL. If they can somehow draft a wide receiver, EDGE, and RT that are all ready to start in the NFL in the draft this year, I will be very impressed. If they can’t do that, their team will, unfortunately, be worse in 2022 than it was in 2021. And, even if they can do that against all odds, they almost certainly won’t be better.

It is quite telling that the list of positions that the Packers need to fix/improve are basically just filling in vacancies for players who were there last season – bar Za’Darius Smith’s injury, obviously – but the Packers are an NFC contender year over year. The key is to not allow these key losses to set them back and push them further still from returning to the Super Bowl for the first time in over a decade.

Minnesota Vikings

Record: 8-9

Needs: CB, OG, LB

Draft Picks: 1st (12th), 2nd (46th), 3rd (77th), 5th (156th), 6th (184th, 192nd, 208th, 232nd)

Another team that decided to renew their QB is the Minnesota Vikings, locking down Kirk Cousins for the 2022 season with a one-year extension. They, however, did add some new players too. Including the aforementioned Za’Darius Smith. The ex-Packer was rumoured to be heading to Baltimore, but it broke down and now he’s staying in the division with Minnesota. This solved their biggest weakness and took a very expensive positional need off the table. The EDGE/pass-rushing OLB position (the Vikings play a 3-4 defense) is much more expensive than the positions they will now be able to focus on.

With that being said, their offense is in a pretty good place for the most part. The big three of Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson, and Adam Thielen do enough, especially with Cousins resigning, that they can focus mostly on the D. However, before talking defense, I will note their glaring need on the offensive line. They need to work out who is going to be their starter at right guard, with a positional battle in training camp and likely all the way into the preseason games. Therefore, I think they would be making a mistake to miss the opportunity to add another young guard to their roster before that battle commences.

So, let’s focus on defense now. They need to improve at the cornerback position, without a doubt. Patrick Peterson is a veteran CB who is still there right now, but won’t be around forever, as he’s only re-signing on a one-year deal. Therefore, drafting a cornerback who is worth sticking with for the long term is very important. It may even be worth taking a couple of them in their first four or five picks. The defense needs help and that’s the biggest need, both short and long-term.

The other defensive position I’d like to see them strengthen is at linebacker. They have Eric Kendricks, who is awesome, and they added Jordan Hicks this offseason, but I still want to see more depth behind those two veterans, especially with OLB pass rusher Za’Darius Smith coming off the back of an injury last year that meant he didn’t start a single game. A versatile linebacker in the draft would go a long way.

The NFC North has a couple of struggling teams in it – plus, we probably shouldn’t assume that the Packers’ offense will just casually dominate as it did with Davante Adams – and the NFC promises easier passage into the playoffs than the AFC after the wild offseason we’ve just seen. What I’m trying to say is, if the Vikings come into the 2022 season stronger than they were when they finished last year, which I think they will, their objective of postseason football will be more than attainable.

Detroit Lions

Record: 3-13

Needs: LB, CB, Offensive Line, Defensive line, S, WR, QB (if they want to try and speed up the process)

Draft Picks: 1st (2nd, 32nd) 2nd (34th), 3rd (66th, 97th), 5th (177th), 6th (181st, 217th), 7th (242nd)

One of the teams who have some real work to do, Detroit has some solid draft capital, but plenty to address with those picks. Two first-round picks, a nice early second-rounder, and then two thirds, a fifth, two sixth-round picks, and one final selection in the 7th. Nine picks are plenty and having five of them by the end of day two never hurts, but they can’t afford to waste them.

They need to improve on both offense and defense, and it’s going to take some time to do so. It’s a bit of a shame that their extra first-round pick this year happens to be the 32nd selection, as their ex-QB immediately won the Super Bowl in his first season after leaving Detroit. I’m sure they’re happy for him, though.

On offense, I would like for them to improve the offensive line and the wide receiver depth. They already have a pretty reasonable stable of running backs spear-headed by D’Andre Swift, as well as a fantastic young tight end in T.J Hockenson. The wide receiver position isn’t without any talent, as rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown broke out last year, and they have now also acquired DJ Chark. Essentially, I think that they should try and make the players who aren’t the QB as good as possible this year, then try to get a new quarterback starting in next year’s draft. When addressing the O-Line, a guard would be the biggest help. At WR, a big-bodied possession receiver would be my recommendation.

The defensive side of the ball won’t benefit from that type of patience. As important as defense is, the Lions won’t leapfrog out of the earlier picks of the draft next year by solely adding a couple of solid defenders. While they prepare their offense for a hopefully stronger QB class in 2023, it’s just full speed ahead for a struggling defense. They need to improve at all three levels, but linebacker and cornerback would be my two first targets, with the defensive line and safety also needing upgrades.

I will say, the value of each upgrade could definitely play into the order of picking up players, for example, I wouldn’t say no to going for an EDGE rusher at the second pick overall if they love one of the top-level talents at such an expensive and important position and then address other needs later.

They could take a QB prospect this year, but to do so in any meaningful way would require them to use their first pick on it, whether that’s after a short trade back or they choose to use the 2nd overall on a quarterback in a generally pretty weak QB-class.

I realise I’ve listed a lot of needs, but a team with a 3-13 record tends to need to improve, and the fact that they have the second pick of the draft means that they will surely hit the ground running with these improvements.

Chicago Bears

Record: 6-11

Needs: Offensive Line, WR, EDGE

Draft Picks: 2nd (39th, 48th) 3rd (71st), 5th (148th, 150th) 6th (186th)

From three wins all the way up to an astronomical 6-11 record, now. The Chicago Bears have taken the opposite approach to what I recommended above for the Lions. They drafted a very exciting high-upside quarterback last year and seem to be high on him, now they need to build around him. Justin Fields is a dual-threat, athletic quarterback with real arm talent. However, he doesn’t have a very good offensive line and his best wide receiver just left to go and play in Los Angeles, with the Rams. On the defensive side of the ball, Chicago also lost their star edge rusher Khalil Mack, a central piece of their defense. He left to go and play in… Los Angeles! Wow, playing in Green Bay every year really leaves a mark.

Alright, we know who they lost and who they’re building around. What now? As I briefly mentioned, as well as much-needed wide receiver upgrades, the offensive line needs some serious work. Fields is very good at improvising, but that isn’t a skill you should be forcing him to use every play. Get him some blocking and a nice new wide receiver or two and see how good he will really be. The price of both of these positions is fairly open-ended, but I would probably be willing to spend more on offensive linemen, just because the sheer scale of the rebuild they need to complete at that position means that every single pick is all the more important.

Now, the defensive side of the ball. This could be more of a vague objective, with just one standout key fix. One position requires an immediate starter to walk in, others benefit from depth and futureproofing. The defensive line is notably weaker in the wake of a Khalil Mack trade – and they only got a second-rounder this year and a sixth-rounder in 2023 for him – which means that EDGE is the big priority on defense. I think that it’s important to address that as early as possible because the Bears don’t own a first-round pick, which makes the top-tier edge talent unattainable, but the second round will surely have some options. I would love to see them take two linemen with their first two picks, one offensive and one defensive.

Once the defensive line is somewhat healed from the loss of Mack, the offense will likely take priority, and any additions on the D will be a bonus, to strengthen what is already their better half of the roster.