1. OT. The hiring of Marc Trestman at head coach indicates that the Bears will finally focus on becoming an offensive team and maximizing the potential they have with supreme talents at QB, RB, and WR. To achieve that, internal improvements and personnel changes will be necessary along the offensive line. At right tackle, J'Marcus Webb or a healthy Gabe Carimi might be enough to man one position. Expecting both to develop into starters on a strong offensive line seems a little farfetched at this point meaning outside help, likely in the form of a free agent, will be necessary to elevate the unit's play. A pair of new starters at tackle isn't outside the realm of possibilities in the long term.
2. TE. A tight end could be a crucial chess piece for the offense for a number of reasons. A balanced player here could stay in to help protect, but a more athletic pass-catching tight end could split out forcing the opposition to declare their defense earlier, thereby lifting some of the mental strain on the line. Adding another big pass-catching weapon to complement Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey may just be more size than most defenses can handle.
3. LB. In the excitement of building an elite offense, Chicago's already elite defense is aging and the unit that has kept them competitive for the large part of a decade will require more frequent maintenance going forward. Getting younger and faster at linebacker should be a goal in the coming years. At 35 and 33 years of age, Urlacher and Briggs, respectively, have lost a slight step and are no longer as nimble retreating out of the double A-gap fakes into their hook zones. Of course that brings into question whether the Bears will remain schematically consistent with Coach Smith's Tampa 2 defense. The answer to that will help dictate the characteristics and abilities they need out of their next generation of backers.
4. Interior OL. A new coaching staff may be capable of salvaging a solid starter in the interior from their current roster. Most have live-auditioned for a minimum of one position in a carousel of injury and shame that has become notorious in Chicago. Over the next couple years, expect the Bears to bring in many more draft picks and free agents to shore up a unit that has cost the team more than any other since the quarterback position prior to the Jay Cutler era. The majority of bodies will be agile with higher marks in pass protection.
5. CB Depth. In recent years, the defense has been increasingly using more man concepts than in years past, which requires a deeper defensive backfield. Depending upon the flexibility of the new coaching staff and their implementation of new schemes and concepts, the mold of corner may vary. The first hints of the direction they'll head will show with their interest in re-signing their three free agents, who are all stronger in zone coverage.
Green Bay Packers:
1. RB. The running game, not necessarily a running back, is the Packers biggest need heading into the offseason. After a record-setting 2011 season, defenses refused to break out of the Cover 2 shell at all costs in 2012—and without a run game there was no reason to. The offensive line should improve as they get 1st round picks Derek Sherrod and Bryan Bulaga back from the IR, but the running back position may still see a big upgrade in the offseason. The late season emergence of DuJuan Harris gave the offense a spark, but the Packers should know better than to take that to the bank. They'll be more prone to venture in free agency to fill the need giving them flexibility in the draft, which they love.
2. S. The Packers collected only 23 takeaways in the 2012 season after averaging nearly 37 a year over the previous three. Morgan Burnett has the ability to help improve upon that number as he's flashed in years past, but with the injury to Charles Woodson, he was used in a role closer to the line of scrimmage this year. The career-threatening neck injury to Nick Collins thrust a rookie and a second year undrafted free agent into significant playing time. Green Bay uses their safeties interchangeably, so the multiple skillsets of Burnett will allow them to pounce on a safety they feel can contribute in either role. Safety is more of a draft day/long-term need to shore up the secondary as Woodson approaches retirement.
3. DE. Defensive line coach Mike Trgovac has expressed the defense's need for long-levered ends that can hold and control the edge at the point of attack. Playing more nickel and dime defense than they do base, their recent draft selections have been reflective of such design with a preference in shorter pass rushers over longer base ends. Having seen teams line up with multiple tight end formations and beat the defense running the football, the line has to get bigger with ends that can stack and shed.
4. WR/TE Depth. The Packers are expected to lose a pair of pro's pros at wide receiver with the expiring contracts of Greg Jennings and Donald Driver. Driver's veteran savvy has lost out to age and Jennings' market value is expected to be too rich for Green Bay, who still holds a trio of starting-caliber wideouts. Jarrett Boykin and Jeremy Ross have shown promise in different regards and are likely to remain, filling out spread sets and special teams, but Ted Thompson has an eye for receivers and a soft spot for grabbing them in the second and third rounds. At tight end, Finley enters a contract year and if he brings his inconsistencies to the crossroads next offseason, it would make the decision to let him walk all the easier.
5. C. By replacing Jeff Saturday with Evan Dietrich-Smith, the Packers may have found themselves a center of the future. Under Mike McCarthy, the coaching staff has long tried to get bigger and tougher inside, but it seems the scrappy, tough guys in Wells and now Dietrich-Smith have won out. Though it's possible the Packers go for an upgrade here this offseason, it's more likely they're content going into next season with their current group, while looking for depth to back up all three interior positions. If the right opportunity arises in the draft, they'll seize it to get a more ideal mold in the middle.
1. S. Allowing 26 touchdowns with only 11 interceptions is a strong indication that the Lions secondary needs an infusion of talent. The defense is built on an interior pass rush which should force a quarterback into bad decisions, but the secondary lacks the players to capitalize on those opportunities. When healthy, Delmas is arguably the best player in the unit, but injuries have forced him to miss starts for a quarter of his career and even so, he's a better player in the box. Finding an athletic safety with ball skills should be a high priority this year.
2. OLB. Detroit boasts an athletic, but unimposing group of linebackers. Stephen Tulloch is the leader of the bunch and a sure tackler in the middle. Of their starting outside linebackers, both of whom are free agents, DeAndre Levy is a better bet to return than Justin Durant on the strong side. As is the case in the secondary, the defense could use a playmaker at linebacker who offenses would have to key in on. If they can find a pass rusher or blitz-proficient backer here, it would open up a number of playcalls current unavailable to the defense.
3. DE. With Kyle Vanden Bosch turning 35 in the middle of next season and Cliff Avril's uncertain contract situation, the Lions will need to bring in help on the defensive line to get after the passer. It's an area in which they excelled two years ago, but fell short during their letdown 2012 season. It'll be interesting to see if the Lions utilize their first round draft pick on the position, which would tie up a significant sum on the defensive line with Suh, Fairley, and this draft pick on their second contract.
4. WR Depth. With 727 pass attempts, Matt Stafford shattered the NFL record leaving no question how the Lions intend to establish their offense; but with Nate Burleson starting opposite Calvin Johnson, the their philosophy could be brought into question. Though they'll self-scout and realize they need to establish the run game better, they'll also realize that a receiver coming off a 2nd ACL tear and another one (Titus Young) who blatantly mailed it in a year ago should play a minimal factor into their expectations.
With depth in question yet again, they may turn to the middle rounds to find another receiver to ease the burden on the current group. Though the team wants more deep speed, Stafford has shown more comfort throwing to bigger guys.
5. CB. In recent history, the Lions haven't made many large investments at the corner position, instead relying on free agent scraps, low risk trades, and low round draft picks to hold down the fort. Though they again lack playmakers at this position, Chris Houston has developed into a mediocre #1 corner and should be re-signed as such. On the other side, they'll have their collection of unproven and disproven corners to compete for the remaining jobs. Outside competition figures to be heavily involved.
1. WR. After Percy Harvin was lost for the season to injury, wide receivers failed to get any separation. The Vikings first priority this offseason should be to iron out any tensions that may remain between the team and their playmaker. The alternative is a combination of Jenkins, Simpson, and Aromashodu which allowed teams to drop 8 into the box regularly. A true #1 receiver will alleviate some of the congestion in the box and finally allow the Vikings to honestly evaluate their quarterback situation. Though a high draft pick is also a possibility, expect Minnesota to be big players in the free agent market at the position with several established names expected to be available. This year's search may not be limited to just one starting receiver.
2. S. 1st round pick Harrison Smith was drafted to make an immediate contribution, but even the Vikings may be surprised with how established, comfortable, and impactful he was as a rookie. Given the barren landscape of the safety position around the league, Minnesota shouldn't expect to catch lightning in a bottle twice through the draft, but the strong safety position does need an upgrade. Improvements in Jamarca Sanford's play can be primarily attributed to the increased surrounding talent.
3. LB. MLB Jasper Brinkley and WLB Erin Henderson combined with multi-Pro Bowler Chad Greenway to form a solid unit in base defense. However, when the Vikings bring on nickel personnel, the unit suffers particularly from the inability of Brinkley (and later Henderson) to drop into coverage. To compensate late in the season, the Vikings were linking backers nearly a full 10 yards off the ball allowing Rodgers to take the quick checkdown for big, easy gains in the playoffs. Both Brinkley and Henderson are below average in pass defense creating a vulnerable area for quarterbacks to attack.
4. QB. Though the Vikings are stuck in a less than ideal quarterback situation, there's potential to be salvaged with Ponder, whereby he may developing into a decent starting quarterback. After appearing much improved early in the year, Ponder regressed immensely midway through the season and only to have Joe Webb's ghastly passing performance against Green Bay put the situation into perspective. Ponder's performance in the last 4 games of the regular season marked a return to his early season self, giving hope that with the right receiving corps, Ponder can succeed in Minnesota's run first offense. A veteran back-up makes the most sense to push Ponder, but if the Vikings scouting staff feels confident in making a gutsy draft move, it only improves the odds in finding a franchise quarterback.
5. CB. Between corner and offensive guard, there are two positions where Minnesota can improve their starting lineup and better position themselves for the future. With Antoine Winfield turning 36 prior to the start of next year, corner is probably a more pressing need. Though ageless wonder still played like one of the top corners in the league, his career is winding down. Their younger corners improved slightly from a year ago where they were torched through the air, but there are still plenty of questions surrounding the unit. Perhaps they can push this need to next year as they see how this season unfolds.
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