Safe or Surprise Draft: NFC North
As the 2013 NFL Draft approaches, we're laying out both the safest and riskiest route that teams might take with their first selection. Read them all.
First pick: Round 1, No. 20 overall
The Safe Route: Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas State or Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia
Theoretically, the Bears could head a number of directions in Round 1 -- receiver, offensive line, secondary. But with Brian Urlacher, Nick Roach and Geno Hayes moving on, Chicago's most in flux at linebacker.
The Bears attempted to stem the tide by signing James Anderson and D.J. Williams in free agency, with the latter expected to plug in for Urlacher up the middle. Both players, though, inked just one-year deals, indicating that the Bears are still figuring out exactly what they have.
Neither Brown nor Ogletree really fits the mold of a prototypical 4-3 middle linebacker, as compared to guys like Kevin Minter or Manti Te'o. Still, their athletic gifts would give the Bears a lot more flexibility at that position, plus help ease the pain of losing (a rapidly aging) Urlacher.
The Surprise: Keenan Allen, WR, Cal
Again, wide receiver is a spot where the Bears could stand to get better. The presence of Brandon Marshall and 2012 second-rounder Alshon Jeffery, plus Earl Bennett and Devin Hester, make it less of a need than other areas, however.
Of course, new coach Marc Trestman has indicated already that Hester will be relegated to the return game, and that Bennett's contract exceeds his production. So, a versatile player like Allen, who can play outside or in the slot, could be a fit.
First pick: Round 1, No. 5 overall
The Safe Route: Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan
This one is almost too easy. The Lions lost LT Jeff Backus (retirement) and RT Gosder Cherulis (free agency), so nabbing Fisher to add to 2012 first-rounder Riley Reiff on the line would make Matthew Stafford's life a lot easier.
Argue, if you will, that the Lions could use CB Dee Milliner more. Given how the team is currently built, Milliner should be further down Detroit's pecking order than Fisher.
The Surprise: Chance Warmack, G, Alabama
Not straying far from the "safe" pick here, but the very notion of taking a guard this high is nearly unheard of -- the last top-10 guard was Chris Naeole, at No. 10 overall, in 1997.
Warmack may break the mold. He's an elite talent at his position, in a draft lacking for obvious top-10 picks. The Lions might have an even bigger need at guard than at tackle, too, with Bill Nagy, who missed all of 2012 with an injury, currently penciled in as one of the starters.
Green Bay Packers
First pick: Round 1, No. 26 overall
The Safe Route: Datone Jones, DE, UCLA
Somewhere along the line in this draft, the Packers need to add some depth up front on D. Last year's second-round pick, DE Jerel Worthy, tore his ACL in late December and may not be ready to go in 2013, leaving the Packers thin behind their three starters (Ryan Pickett, B.J. Raji, C.J. Wilson).
Not only would Jones represent terrific value at No. 26, but also the versatile former UCLA Bruin could plug in just about anywhere the Packers wanted. Solid both as a run-stopper and pass-rusher, Jones would add the pop Green Bay needs.
The Surprise: Giovani Bernard, RB, North Carolina
Green Bay's leading rusher in 2012, Alex Green, finished with 464 yards; No. 2 on the list was QB Aaron Rodgers at 259. Even if the Packers are counting on one of Green, James Starks, DuJuan Harris or Brandon Saine to emerge this offseason, there is room for another playmaker.
Bernard might be the missing piece. Carrying some injury concerns, Bernard has taken a back seat to Alabama's Eddie Lacy throughout most of the draft process, but he may wind up in the more productive role. That's especially true if he finds his way to a place like Green Bay, where a wide-open offense can take advantage of his quickness and ability to catch passes out of the backfield.
This would be a luxury pick more than a need-based one, but the Packers are close enough to Super Bowl contention to be able to roll the dice like that.
First pick: Round 1, No. 23 overall (Minnesota also holds the No. 25 overall selection)
The Safe Route: DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson and Sylvester Williams, DT, Missouri
The Vikings might opt to use one of their two first-round picks on either a linebacker or a cornerback, depending on how the board falls. My money is on them getting the receiver they need to complement Greg Jennings and some help for their veteran D-line.
Hopkins (or Keenan Allen or Justin Hunter) would get a shot to start right away -- Jerome Simpson and Jairus Wright hardly pose as irreplaceable threats. He's a reliable pass-catcher with a penchant for big plays, plus he found the end zone 18 times last season at Clemson.
And Williams ... well ... can the Vikings really pass on a defensive lineman with that last name? Nomenclature aside, Williams could aid the Vikings' depth chart at multiple D-line positions, and they're in set up well enough to allow the somewhat-raw prospect to hone his techniques.
The Surprise: Matt Barkley, QB
We close with the most off-the-wall NFC North draft scenario. It does not make a great deal of sense to use a first-round pick on a quarterback when you still have your 2011 first-rounder under center (Christian Ponder) and just signed a big-name backup (Matt Cassel).
Stay with me, though.
Even though the Vikings made the playoffs last season, this is a critical, make-or-break year for Ponder. Should he not show any signs of taking steps forward, Minnesota will have no choice but to look for a Plan B heading into 2014.
Maybe that's Cassel. But if it's not (and his play in K.C. would indicate such a conclusion), then the Vikings could opt to cut him loose rather than pay out nearly $4 million next season, leaving them again with Ponder and no real competition. Barkley's arrival could change the outlook going forward, especially if he proves a disappointing 2012 was a fluke.