The NFC North could look very different in 2022. Not only are two teams introducing first-time head coaches, but the Green Bay Packers could be poised to fall off their pedestal. Star quarterback Aaron Rodgers is still mulling his future and Green Bay also has several important pending free agents to make decisions on.
This could be the year the Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions or Minnesota Vikings steal the division crown from the Packers, but they all have to improve their rosters if they want to take that next step. Below, we will discuss areas of need for all four teams in the NFC North, take a glance at their cap situations and see who our CBS Sports NFL Draft experts have them taking in the first round of the upcoming draft.
Needs: WR, CB, OG
The Bears have their franchise quarterback in place and have made an old rival a friend in offensive coordinator Luke Getsy. Still, there are a couple of obvious needs on the offensive side of the ball. After a couple years of uncertainty, it seems like star wide receiver Allen Robinson will be taking his talents elsewhere. That would leave a big hole that needs to be filled, and it becomes even more important when you're trying to expedite the development of a young signal-caller. Even if Robinson re-signs, Chicago still must add another legitimate weapon, as virtually the entire receiving corps is looking for new deals. Marquise Goodwin, Jakeem Grant and Damiere Byrd are all free agents.
In Justin Fields' first career start against the Cleveland Browns, he was sacked nine times. Having to perform under constant pressure was a theme for the rookie quarterback, and Chicago needs to give him protection. Teven Jenkins may start the season at left tackle and Cody Whitehair and Larry Borom should be starters as well. James Daniels is an important free agent for Chicago this offseason, and retaining him should be a goal for this front office. Figuring out that starting lineup on the offensive front will be key, but the Bears should look to add another starter once they decide the direction they want to go.
The Bears have to take a hard look at all three levels of their defense as well. The 32-year-old Akiem Hicks is set to hit free agency, and while he's been an incredibly impactful player for this defense, it's possible he's played his last game with Chicago. However, my eye immediately goes to the secondary, as the Bears absolutely have to add a cornerback and likely a safety too. Someone I brought up as a potential free-agent target in a recent article is Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Charvarius Ward. He's a young cornerback who has plenty of starting experience and won't cost as much as someone like J.C. Jackson or Stephon Gilmore.
CBS Sports draft projections: (No first round pick)
Projected cap space (via Over The Cap): $25,329,726 (No. 11 in the NFL)
Needs: S, WR, LB
The Lions have plenty of holes to fill on their roster this offseason, but they have a head coach players want to fight for in Dan Campbell. That has to feel good for a rebuilding franchise, but not being sure about your starting quarterback is a problem. Jared Goff completed 67.2 percent of his passes for 3,245 yards, 19 touchdowns and eight interceptions while going 3-10 as the starter in 2021. As of now I don't see him as the franchise quarterback for the Lions, but his contract says he will be the starter in 2022. This may be something we address again next offseason.
Something that would help Goff would be adding another starting wide receiver. Kalif Raymond and Josh Reynolds both impressed at times last season, but both are free agents. Amon-Ra St. Brown looks like a budding star, but Detroit still could improve the wide receiving corps.
The defense is where the most improvement needs to be made. From pass-rusher to linebacker to the secondary, all could use starters. Linebackers Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Alex Anzalone are both free agents, and the Lions could stand to upgrade from them anyway. Retaining safety Tracy Walker is a goal of the Lions this offseason, but they would benefit from making solid additions at both cornerback and safety in free agency or the draft.
CBS Sports draft (No. 2 overall):
Michigan DE Aidan Hutchinson (Ryan Wilson, Josh Edwards and Kyle Stackpole)
Notre Dame S Kyle Hamilton (Chris Trapasso)
No. 32 overall:
Liberty QB Malik Willis (Ryan Wilson and Josh Edwards)
Penn State EDGE Arnold Ebiketie (Chris Trapasso)
Baylor S Jalen Pitre (Kyle Stackpole)
Projected cap space (via Over The Cap): $19,676,647 (No. 13 in the NFL)
Green Bay Packers
Needs: WR, LB, DL
The Packers are likely focused on retaining Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams right now, so let's operate under the assumption they find a way to do so. That could set the stage for a legitimate "last dance" in Green Bay. Even if the Packers keep Adams, they still should add another receiver. The Packers likely won't chase the most notable receivers in this free agency class, but they will want to acquire a starter. Keep an eye on Will Fuller, who is a deep threat the Packers were reportedly interested in in the past.
Another position to watch for the Packers is linebacker. De'Vondre Campbell was an incredible pickup, as he had a career year at 28-years-old, notching 146 combined tackles, two sacks and two interceptions while earning First Team All-Pro honors in 2021. Unfortunately, he's a free agent. It's likely there's another team out there that wants to give him some money. Along those lines, the defensive front needs a look. Za'Darius Smith is an obvious cut candidate, but the Packers could also try to restructure his money. Green Bay could also stand to upgrade the defensive interior. Kenny Clark is a stud and Dean Lowry was solid last year, but the Packers could look to add a young starter to throw into the mix. Maybe this isn't a top priority for the Packers, but it's something to think about in free agency or the draft. You'll see below one of our NFL Draft experts actually addresses this in the first round.
CBS Sports draft projections (No. 28 overall):
Clemson CB Andrew Booth Jr. (Ryan Wilson)
Michigan EDGE David Ojabo (Chris Trapasso)
Central Michigan OL Bernhard Raimann (Josh Edwards)
Georgia DL Jordan Davis (Kyle Stackpole)
Projected cap space (via Over The Cap): -$39,666,970 (No. 31 in the NFL)
Needs: CB, EDGE, OG
The hiring of Kevin O'Connell all but guarantees that Kirk Cousins will be the Vikings quarterback in 2022. The offensive side of the ball for the Vikings is solid save maybe the tight end position, but Minnesota should eye adding a right guard. Is Oli Udoh a starter? Is Wyatt Davis going to get a shot at the position?
The real areas of need for the Vikings reside on the defensive side of the ball. The defensive line is a question mark, as Everson Griffen is not only 34-years-old and a free agent, but also dealing with some personal issues. Additionally, Danielle Hunter has a $26.12 million cap hit while he's played in just seven games over the past two years. With Minnesota planning on utilizing different looks/fronts on defense, adding a pass-rusher would be smart. The Vikings could sign a legitimate starter without having to reset the market. I'm eyeing Emmanuel Ogbah for example.
Adding a pass-rusher would be a welcomed move, but the cornerback position needs a makeover. The veteran Patrick Peterson is now a free agent and so is Mackensie Alexander, who had a poor campaign in 2021. In my opinion, this is a position Minnesota needs to upgrade both through the draft and through free agency.
CBS Sports draft projections (No. 12 overall):
LSU CB Derek Stingley Jr. (Ryan Wilson)
Cincinnati CB Ahmad Gardner (Chris Trapasso and Kyle Stackpole)
FSU EDGE Jermaine Johnson II (Josh Edwards)
Projected cap space (via Over The Cap): -$16,040,779 (No. 28 in the NFL)