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NFC NORTH: 2019 NFL Draft preview

NFL Draft week is finally here, which means teams are putting the final touches on their draft preparations ahead of the three-day draft in Nashville beginning Thursday night.

“I’ve always said since the day I got here that the draft is a blend of need and best available,” Lions general manager Bob Quinn said.

“I think this year, just looking at our situation right now, with what the board looks like and what our perceived needs are, probably a little bit more pushing toward best available player. I think that’s a good thing.”

That will be Quinn’s approach. The Bears, Vikings and Packers will have their own strategies for finding the most impactful players that can come in and help the team immediately.

This is a fun time for the fan bases of the Lions, Vikings, Packers and Bears, as their teams will no-doubt be better off by the end of the weekend than they were at the beginning of the day Thursday.

Here’s a look at positions of need, prospects that might fit, draft capital and more for each of the four teams in the NFC North:

CHICAGO

2018 finish: Won the NFC North. Only team in division to make the playoffs.

Record: 12-4

Total offense: 343.9 (21st)

Rushing: 121.1 (11th)

Passing: 222.8 (21st)

Total defense: 299.7 (3rd)

Rush defense: 80.0 (1st)

Pass defense: 219.7 (7th)

Most impactful 2018 pick: Linebacker Roquan Smith, Chicago’s first-round pick, was everything they thought he’d be, and probably a little more, after selecting him eighth overall a year ago. He led the Bears with 121 tackles and also chipped in 5.0 sacks and an interception. He’s tough, instinctive, and looks like he'll be a big part of the Bears' defense for years to come.

Top 3 draft needs: Edge rusher, CB, RB

2019 draft picks (5): Rd 3 (87), Rd 4 (126), Rd 5 (162), Rd 7 (222), Rd 7 (238)

Who fits in Round 1 in 2019: The Bears don’t own a pick in either of the first two rounds.

Twentyman’s take: It should be a rather uneventful draft for the Bears not having a pick in the first two rounds. They don't really have the draft capital to move up and secure a first-round pick or an earlier Day 2 pick.

Chicago gave up their first-round pick to trade for Khalil Mack. That helped get them a dominant defense, 12-4 record and a division title. If not for a double doink off the goal post in the playoffs, who knows when the 2018 season would have ended for Chicago. The Bears will take Mack over any player available in the first round of this draft, so it shouldn’t be a big deal they’ll be sitting on the sidelines until the 87th pick.

MINNESOTA

2018 finish: Second in the division

Record: 8-7-1

Total offense: 345.6 (20th)

Rushing: 93.3 (30th)

Passing: 252.2 (13th)

Total defense: 309.7 (4th)

Rush defense: 113.4 (15th)

Pass defense: 196.2 (3rd)

Most impactful 2018 pick: The Vikings used last year’s second-round pick on Pittsburgh tackle Brian O’Neill. The rookie ended up making 11 starts at right tackle and playing in 76.1 percent of Minnesota’s offensive snaps.

O’Neill had some up and down performances, like all rookies do, but he allowed just eight quarterback hits and wasn’t credited with allowing a sack last year by Pro Football Focus.

Top 3 draft needs: OL, DT, TE

2019 draft picks (8): Rd 1 (18), Rd 2 (50), Rd 3 (81), Rd 4 (114), Rd 6 (178), Rd 6 (209), Rd 7 (247), Rd 7 (250)

Who fits in Round 1 in 2019: No. 18 could be a perfect landing spot for a player like Alabama’s versatile offensive lineman Jonah Williams, who played left tackle for the Tide the last two seasons, but is also projected by some draft analysts to play guard in the NFL. What that means for the Vikings is they’d be getting a versatile plug and play football player at potentially multiple spots upfront.

The Vikings’ first pick should probably come down to which offensive lineman they have listed at the top of their board come their time to pick. They need to add talent and depth upfront.

Twentyman’s take: Defensively, the Vikings have a Super Bowl caliber team. They’ve found their quarterback in Kirk Cousins, who had a better first season in Minnesota than he gets credit for. Shoring up the run game, being more balanced on offense, and improving their talent level upfront along the offensive line should be the main goals for Mike Zimmer and Co. this spring.

GREEN BAY

2018 finish: Third in the division

Record: 6-9-1

Total offense: 369.1 (12th)

Rushing: 104.2 (22nd)

Passing: 264.9 (9th)

Total defense: 354.4 (18th)

Rush defense: 119.9 (22nd)

Pass defense: 234.5 (12th)

Most impactful 2018 pick: A case can certainly be made for first-round pick Jaire Alexander or second-round pick Josh Jackson, but the Packers probably got more out of fifth-round pick Marquez Valdes-Scantling than they were expecting in 2018.

Valdes-Scantling finished third on the team with 38 catches for 581 yards and led the team with a 15.3 yards per catch average. At 6-foot-4, Valdes-Scantling has terrific size and speed, and the more comfortable he gets playing receiver at the NFL level, the better and better he’ll get.

Top 3 draft needs: S, TE, OT

2019 draft picks (10): Rd 1 (12), Rd 1 (30), Rd 2 (44), Rd 3 (75), Rd 4 (114), Rd 4 (118), Rd 5 (150), Rd 6 (185), Rd 6 (194), Rd 7 (226)

Who fits in Round 1 in 2019: If tight ends T.J. Hockenson or Noah Fant are still on the board, both would make a lot of sense as weapons for quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Hockenson is a do-it-all player at the position, and Fant is explosive in the passing game. Either player fits.

When we start to talk about the late first-round pick, it’s really about best available player at that point. The top offensive tackle remaining on their board would certainly fit. So would one of the top safeties, like Mississippi State’s Johnathan Abram.

Twentyman’s take: This is a new offense in Green Bay being installed by Matt LaFleur. He’s inheriting two veteran tight ends in Jimmy Graham and Marcedes Lewis. Adding another tight end to the mix is a must. Defensively, the Packers have some good young players, but they need to add another safety to pair with free-agent acquisition Adrian Amos. Adding some depth inside upfront on defense is always a good idea. In the end, the Packers’ success in 2019 will depend on the health of Rodgers and how much LaFleur’s offense fits the personnel he inherited.

DETROIT

2018 finish: Fourth in the division

Record: 6-10

Total offense: 327.2 (24th)

Rushing: 103.8 (23rd)

Passing: 223.5 (20th)

Total defense: 335.0 (10th)

Rush defense: 110.1 (10th)

Pass defense: 224.9 (8th)

Most impactful 2018 pick: There are a lot of choices, and I really debated putting running back Kerryon Johnson here, but left guard Frank Ragnow played all but one snap as a rookie (Johnson missed six games), and played his part up front in helping the Lions become a respectable running football team in 2018. Ragnow is smart, tough and dependable. He should come back in 2019 even better with a year under his belt.

Top 3 draft needs: G, TE, CB

2019 draft picks (9): Rd 1 (8), Rd 2 (43), Rd 3 (88), Rd 4 (111), Rd 5 (146), Rd 6 (184), Rd 6 (204), Rd 7 (224), Rd 7 (229)

Who fits in Round 1 in 2019: Snagging up the top tight end on their board at No. 8 would fill a need and could also fit best player available in the case of Hockenson. Selecting the top pass rusher also makes sense. Pass rusher is a need. This is a terrific pass-rushing class, and a player like Montez Sweat could be a nice addition on the edge alongside Trey Flowers and Romeo Okwara. One other scenario that’s a potential fit is taking a linebacker like Devin White out of LSU and pairing him with Jarrad Davis in the middle of the defense.

Twentyman’s take: I’m starting to really like the the idea of adding a player like White to plug into the linebacking corps alongside Davis. White is explosive and can cover. He’d have a great mentor in Davis. That move would kind of solidify the defensive side of the ball, assuming they still get another pass rusher and cornerback at some point in the draft. Taking the best pass rusher on their board and really solidifying the defensive front is an option as well. I’ll also never rule out the possibility of taking a top offensive lineman at No. 8. There’s a need at guard, and the Lions have to make some decisions in the near future at the tackle spots. GM Bob Quinn has taken an offensive lineman in the first round in two of his three drafts in Detroit.

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