It's March, and everybody who has ever written two words about the NFL is doing a mock draft.
I'm part of that "everybody," but rather than take on the whole league, I'm going to focus on the good old NFC North.
What follows is a team-by-team breakdown of each team's projected 2010 needs, and how they will choose to fill them in rounds one and two (sorry, Bears fans).
It's no secret that the old Black and Blue Division has been looking decidedly purple in recent years.
For the last two years, the Minnesota Vikings have not only owned the NFC North on the field, but on draft day as well. The Vikings' 2009 draft resulted in Percy Harvin, who made the Pro Bowl in his rookie year, and Phil Loadholt, who will be an anchor in the Vikings' offensive line for years (and like kicker Ryan Longwell, has a perfect name for his position).
The Vikings had only five picks in the 2008 draft, but that didn't matter as they sent their first rounder and both third-rounders to Kansas City for defensive wrecking ball Jared Allen. Those picks ultimately resulted in Kansas City drafting OT Branden Albert, RB Jamaal Charles, and S DaJuan Morgan, so I'll let you decide who won that trade.
Still, the Vikings owe much of their success (and ultimately, their demise) in 2009 to the right arm of Brett Favre, which is problematic. What will Favre do this year?
Until he joins a team, or the first week of the regular season actually begins, nobody in their right mind is going to believe a single word he says about his retirement, or lack thereof.
So do the Vikings key on a quarterback in this year's draft?
And if they do, do they still pursue Favre, giving their new rookie a year to learn the offense from the bench and Favre a chance to replicate last year's success?
Or do they address one of their other needs?
The Vikings have no other glaring holes, so any non-quarterback pick would be to add youth, depth, and perhaps a little more skill to an already decent position.
Projected Draft Picks
Round 1 (Pick No. 30 overall): Maurkice Pouncey, C, Florida
By all accounts, the Vikings have one of the league's better offensive lines, but Adrian Peterson was stuffed at the line of scrimmage a little more often than Brad Childress would like. Pouncey is the consensus top interior lineman in the draft, and will help the run game at either center or guard.
Steve Hutchinson has been one of the league's top guards for years, but he's going to be 33 this year, and won't be top-tier for long. Pouncey provides insurance for that impending reality.
Round 2 (Pick No. 62 overall): Brandon Ghee, CB, Wake Forest
Ghee is a physical corner with good size who is at his best mixing it up with larger wideouts. He boasts good straight-line speed, but tends to be more interested in the big hit than the big interception/deflection.
There is speculation that his tackling production and aggressive run support skills make him a better hard-hitting safety prospect than a corner, but the Vikings have the luxury of playing him wherever he's comfortable, since neither position is an urgent need.
Ultimately, the Vikings will neglect the quarterback position once again, banking on either getting Favre for another year or getting acceptable production out of either Tavaris Jackson or Sage Rosenfels.
Speaking of Favre issues, the Green Bay Packers have been creeping up on the Vikings in recent years, seemingly completing the transformation from their own Favre years. The Packers would have been the best team in the division, if not for losing that pair of grudge matches against their arch-rivals and fallen angel (the Vikings and Brett Favre).
Aaron Rodgers is the only quarterback in the NFC North who regularly started for his team in both 2008 and 2009, and put up stellar, if underrated, performances in both years. The only knocks on Rodgers were the ones doled out by the opposing defense, as Rodgers hit the turf an NFL-high 51 times.
Clearly, the Packers are not done yet. Their transformation to Dom Capers' 3-4 defensive scheme was mostly successful (as much as a transformed defense can be in its first year), and even produced a rookie Pro Bowler in linebacker Clay Matthews.
But even though reigning Defensive Player of the Year Charles Woodson and fellow star cornerback Al Harris will be returning to the defense, both are aging, and one or both will soon make the inevitable move to safety, opening a spot on the wing.
The Packers will also need to find a replacement for pass-rush specialist Aaron Kampman, who left for Jacksonville in free agency, and figure out if Ryan Grant is a sufficient long-term answer for the team at running back.
In addition, the Pack's offensive line, once a team hallmark, is now porous, allowing multiple sacks a game even to teams with poor pass rushes.
Projected Draft Picks
Round 1 (Pick No. 22 overall): Anthony Davis, OT, Rutgers
A weak combine performance is the only reason the monstrous Scarlet Knights left tackle falls this far.
Davis' work ethic and athleticism have come into question since he entered the draft class, but at pick 22, Davis is by far the most gifted left tackle still on the board (widely considered a top 15 talent), and the Packers will rely on a top-notch coaching staff to light a fire under the kid and improve his already rather refined technique.
If he resists the temptation to be lazy with his footwork, Davis will dominate, and the Pack will come away with a steal here.
Round 2 (Pick No. 54 overall): Montario Hardesty, RB, Tennessee
Hardesty is a major injury concern heading into the draft, as a downhill runner who has already undergone three knee surgeries. Regardless, the man is a first-round talent, relegated to late-second round status by his injury history.
Remember, the Vikings took a similar gamble on a running back with injury problems, and ended up with Adrian Peterson. Hardesty isn't even on the same planet as Peterson, but should provide the Packers with one of the league's better one-two punch ground attacks, if Ryan Grant can return to his early-career form.
Running back and protection issues are not unique to the Packers. The Chicago Bears have recently been faced with questions about one-time phenom Matt Forte and the amount of pocket time given to Jay Cutler.
Unfortunately, the Bears don't fit into the first two rounds of this draft. The Denver Broncos' price for disgruntled quarterback Jay Cutler was the top part of both the Bears' 2009 and 2010 drafts, so the Bears won't appear in the draft until the third round.
In response to this, the Bears have tried shoring up their biggest needs through free agency, nabbing former Viking running back Chester Taylor and defensive end extraordinaire Julius Peppers before 24 hours of free agency passed.
Bears general manager Jerry Angelo and head coach Lovie Smith have been walking around Chicago with targets on their backs since Super Bowl XLI, and a string of disappointing seasons since have only raised the heat in their respective hot seats.
The signings of Taylor and Peppers smell of desperation by a coach and GM who know that if they don't win now, they may not get a next season.
Projected Draft Picks
None. Trading back into the top two rounds is possible, but not worth the potential cost, especially to management looking to win now.
The Bears will likely try to steal more assistance for Jay Cutler (read: offensive line and wide receiver help) in the later rounds, and next year, begin the long and arduous process of replacing the rapidly aging and slowing veterans on the defense.
As an example of the polar opposite in fan expectations, the Detroit Lions might be the only team capable of going 2-14 in a season and maintaining mostly positive sentiments about the coaching staff and management team.
Despite a solid 2009 draft and busy 2010 free agency period, the Lions still have no lack of needs to fill in the draft. The Lions are poised to make the most conspicuous pick in the division, with the No. 2 overall pick, which could result in, among others, Nebraska standout Ndamukong Suh.
Detroit's pick is hard to project because there is so much talent at the top of the draft, and every player projected in the top 10 (aside from the quarterbacks) would fill a demonstrable need.
Of course, head coach Jim Schwartz and GM Martin Mayhew will tell you a hundred times that they're drafting on talent, not need. If that's the case, then only the St. Louis Rams and their top overall draft pick will stand between the Lions and Suh.
Projected Draft Picks
Round 1 (Pick No. 2 Overall): Ndamukong Suh, DT, Nebraska
He'll never admit it, but Jim Schwartz is salivating over the prospect of getting Suh into his defense.
Today's primary argument against this pick is the Lions' acquisition of Corey Williams in a trade with the Cleveland Browns. What is overlooked in this argument is that Schwartz's defensive philosophy, historically, has been to cycle in fresh defensive linemen to wear down the opposing offensive line, and thus only having two decent linemen isn't enough.
Suh provides him the ability to do that (with improving second-year man Sammie Hill coming in a close third on the depth chart), as well as the opportunity to develop his very own, brand-new Albert Haynesworth in Detroit.
All signs point to the Rams taking Sam Bradford with the top pick, so Suh should remain on the board, and the Lions will be unable to resist.
Round 2 (Pick No. 34 overall): Patrick Robinson, CB, Florida State
A potential home-run pick for the Lions, Robinson has the size, ability, and all the physical skills to be a Pro Bowl cornerback for years.
However, he also has the intangibles and inconsistent play of a major bust candidate.
A cover corner at heart with ideal size and speed, draft boards carry him anywhere from best cornerback in the draft to outside the top 10 corners as a result of his lack of starting experience and involvement (and resulting four-game suspension) with the Florida State academic scandal.
His early development will be key in seeing which direction he takes, but the Lions are absolutely desperate for help in the secondary, and after last year's draft success will be willing and confident enough to take a gamble on a potential shutdown corner in the second round.