Each week leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Under the radar needs.
Chicago has addressed its defensive line, offensive backfield and tight end position this offseason. The urgency is not quite as severe at two other positions, but they nevertheless could both use an influx of talent. One is cornerback. The Bears figure to return Charles Tillman and Zack Bowman as starters, and they signed free agent Tim Jennings as a potential nickel back last week after releasing Nathan Vasher. But Jennings shouldn't be considered a lock to play in the nickel, and the Bears seemed to stop trusting Corey Graham as a cover man last season. They could use more cornerbacks. The same goes for left guard, where the Bears seem likely to vacate 2009 starter Frank Omiyale and move him to right tackle. The Bears could use some additional options at left guard so Omiyale has the green light to focus on tackle.
With DeAndre Levy set to start at middle linebacker, the Lions don't have much depth behind outside linebackers Julian Peterson and Ernie Sims. Peterson will be 32 when training camp begins, and the Lions will need to identify a successor soon. Like the Bears, the Lions would help themselves by adding some extra bodies to the mix at left guard. Last year's rotation didn't work. And as long as we're talking about under-the-radar needs, we might as well include a placekicker. Jason Hanson is coming off a relatively down year, having missed seven of his 28 field goals, and will turn 40 in June. This is hardly a top need for the Lions, but perhaps they could identify Hanson's eventual successor late in the draft.
Although some might consider the situation more urgent, I believe safety is an under-the-radar need for the Packers. Earlier this month, Nick Collins signed a three-year extension. Fellow starter Atari Bigby is a restricted free agent who hasn't signed his tender, but the bottom line is the Packers can retain his services for 2010 if they want. If you have two young starters under contract, the need can't be too severe. I can't see the Packers taking a safety high in the draft. Meanwhile, given all of their recent struggles in finding a long-term answer at punter, it might not be a bad idea to look in that direction as well.
The Vikings added two new starters to their offensive line last season, center John Sullivan and right tackle Phil Loadholt. But coach Brad Childress noted at the owners meeting that some of his other starters, including left tackle Bryant McKinnie and left guard Steve Hutchinson, were approaching a decade in the league. This might not be the year, but eventually they will need to identify both players' successors. In 2010, at the very least, the Vikings need someone to take over the reserve role played so well by Artis Hicks, who signed with Washington in free agency. Hicks has been the top backup at all non-center positions for most of the past four years.