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Bears’ NFL North rivals load up in draft

Published: Tuesday, May 1, 2012 12:10 p.m. CST

CHICAGO (MCT) — Perhaps it’s coincidence, but it seems each of the Bears’ NFC North rivals did one of two things in the draft.

Either they acquired players who could help them offset the Bears’ strengths, or they chose athletes who could help them attack the Bears’ vulnerabilities.

The Vikings and Lions, for instance, each used first-round picks on offensive tackles who can help slow down defensive end Julius Peppers, arguably the best player on the Bears. The Vikings also invested a first-round pick on a free safety who can play football chess with the gifted Jay Cutler.

And the Packers took three players for their defensive front in the first four rounds. Those players will help the Packers take advantage of what has been a Bears’ weakness: pass protection.

Here’s a closer look at how each of the Bears’ NFC North rivals fared in the draft.

Lions

They chose an offensive tackle with the 23rd pick of the draft who some thought the Bears should have taken — Iowa’s Riley Reiff. Which side Reiff will line up on is uncertain, but it makes sense he will compete with right tackle Gosder Cherlius immediately and eventually move over to the left side to replace 34-year old Jeff Backus.

The Lions apparently believe Reiff can play the left side. Not every team was of that mindset. If the Bears thought he could have been a left tackle, Reiff might have merited consideration with the 19th pick.

The Lions under general manager Martin Mayhew have been good about not reaching to fill needs and sticking to the board. But the Lions really needed a starting cornerback. Whether or not they got one is debatable.

They selected Dwight Bentley in the third round. Three NFL front office men said Bentley was rated as a fourth- or fifth-round pick. Two thought the 5-10 Bentley was a nickel corner only who can be exposed outside.

In the second round, Mayhew passed on cornerbacks Casey Hayward, who went to the Packers, Trumaine Johnson, who went to the Rams, and Josh Robinson, who went to the Vikings 11 picks after the Lions chose wide receiver Ryan Broyles.

This was a head scratcher. Broyles is coming off an ACL injury and the perception among many teams is his stock was down. He likely would have been available one round later, maybe two rounds later according to NFL front office men I spoke with.

The Lions didn’t need a wide receiver with Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson and Titus Young already on the roster.

Packers

What is most interesting about the Packers’ draft is they chose four defensive players who some perceive as better fits for a four-man front than a three-man front. Could the Packers be considering a defensive conversion? Or at least a shift to more 4-3?

Defensive coordinator Dom Capers is known as a 3-4 guru, but he did preside over a four-man front with the Jaguars.

Some NFL evaluators question if first-round pick Nick Perry can be as effective as an outside linebacker as he could be with his hand in the dirt. He’s athletic enough to drop, but one front office man said the lack of urgency he sometimes plays with is more likely to be exposed at linebacker than it would be at defensive end.

Second round pick Jerel Worthy’s best fit, according to four front office men, would be as a three technique tackle in a four-man front. In the Packers three-man front, he would have to play the five technique end.

“The best thing he does is penetrate a gap,” one personnel evaluator said.

Mike Daniels, whom the Packers selected with their first of two picks in the fourth round, has 4-3 tackle written all over him. It’s difficult to envision the 6-0, 291 Daniels playing any position in a three-man front.

Fifth-round pick Terrell Manning also has been characterized as a better fit in a 4-3. One front office man said he’s a good player but would have trouble taking on blocks the way 3-4 linebackers have to.

Vikings

The Vikings added more talent than any team in the division, and arguably as much as any team in the draft by virtue of making 10 picks, including the fourth and 29th overall.

Matt Kalil and Harrison Smith should be starters right away at left tackle and free safety, respectively. Kalil was almost universally rated the best tackle in the draft, and Smith was almost universally rated the best free safety.

Among their other picks were Josh Robinson, a cornerback who had the best 40-yard dash time at the combine (4.29), a fullback who can assume retiring Jim Kleinsasser’s blocking role in Rhett Ellison, and a kicker in Blair Walsh who’s expected to challenge Ryan Longwell.

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