Phil Emery engineered quite the turnaround in his first year as the Chicago Bears’ General Manager. The team went from having a sincerely suspect offense to one of the best units in football, scoring at a clip nearly unheard of for a Chicago football team. In his second year as the top front office man, Emery has a different task in front of him: rebuild a defense that was once elite. He made significant strides in free agency, bringing in the likes of Lamarr Houston and Jared Allen to shore up the defensive pass rush. This Thursday when the NFL Draft begins, he’ll need to continue that rebuilding project. It’s time to take a quick look at where Emery will need to set his sights using the seven picks available to him.
The Bears have a pick in each of the first five rounds, followed by two picks in round six. They have no seventh round selection. Aside from their extra pick in the sixth (number seven in that round), all of their picks are in the teens when it comes to round-specific position. Now, let’s get into some draft talk!
What should Chicago do at pick fourteen?
The Bears are sitting in the middle of the round, hoping any number of players fall to their first overall pick. Clearly the needs are on the defensive side of the ball, so my personal opinion is that the Bears take the best rated defensive player available, no matter the position. But, that doesn’t mean they should settle or reach either. Let’s say that nine of the first thirteen picks are defensive players (not a super-crazy stretch I guess). Well, then the Bears wouldn’t be getting great value at fourteen. Maybe the next best defensive player on the board is rated 21st overall. In a situation like that, Emery should absolutely think about trading down from fourteen and acquiring more picks. That’s easy for me to say though, because you still need a second team to make that trade. But if the Bears stay at fourteen, there are a number of routes they could take.
Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh
Bringing Jeremiah Ratliff back doesn’t completely alleviate the Bears’ need for a disruptive presence in the middle of their defensive line. At 6’1″ and 285 lbs and with 59 tackles, 28.5 TFL, and 11 sacks in his final year at Pittsburgh, Donald easily fits that bill. Unfortunately, he’s a rising prospect in this draft and may not be around by the time the Bears are on the clock in the first round. I would be more of a proponent of trading to get Donald if the Bears weren’t working with only seven picks.
This need is pretty glaring, especially considering the way the Bears lost to the Packers in the final game of the season. Major Wright and Chris Conte were exposed frequently in 2013, which meant Wright was allowed to walk in free agency and Conte’s job security is being questioned. This year’s safety class is regarded as weaker than previous drafts, with a lack of a top-level safety being the reason why. But there are still sold players to be had at fourteen if the Bears wanted to shore up the back-end of their secondary.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama
Haha. Dicks. (See what I did there.) Coming out of the grindhouse that is Nick Saban’s Alabama program, you know Clinton-Dix is ready for the rigors of an NFL team. He’s got size for a safety at 6’1″ and has a lengthy wingspan as well. Some scouts say he has a narrow build which needs to be improved on at the next level. He had seven interceptions in 38 games at ‘Bama, so he hasn’t shown the ability to be a game-breaking ballhawk.
Calvin Pryor, Lousiville
Pryor has been touted as one of the hardest-hitting safeties in this draft class. He’s got great instincts and can be a force in any team’s run defense. He’s a little on the small side at 5″11″, but he doesn’t play like it. He’ll lay the McWood on somebody coming over the middle. Or anywhere else for that matter.
He notched 100 tackles in his sophomore season, an impressive feat for a safety. He also recorded one of the best bench press number at the scouting combine for a safety, so you know the strength is there. Several mock drafts have the Bears taking Pryor, even if Clinton-Dix is available.
Even with the extension of Tim Jennings and the re-signing of Charles Tillman, the Bears have to come out of this draft with at least one corner that has the potential to come in and start meaningful minutes. Snagging a DB at fourteen would mean the team has the expectation that player would play if not start sooner than later.
Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State
The 6’0″ Gilbert has a rep for being an immensely talented but immature player. He’s got great hip flexion (that’s right, I said hip flexion) and has great recovery speed, running a 4.37 in the 40-yard dash at the combine. He also scored 20 reps of 225 pounds in the bench press, which suggests he’d be stronger in man coverage than his tape might suggest. (He didn’t shed blocks overly well and isn’t dominatingly physical.) He’s a burner in the return game as well, with six career kickoff-return TD’s to his credit.
Darqueeze Dennard, Michigan State
At 5’11”, Dennard is shorter than I like my NFL cornerbacks. That being said, he has a ton of experience playing man coverage, almost the opposite of the above Gilbert. That includes his personality, which show the traits of a strong locker room presence. He’s had some injury issues during his collegiate career and he isn’t as fluid as I’d prefer. But he has the potential to become a strong number two corner in Chicago during the coming years.
Eric Ebron, North Carolina
This is a bit of a pipe-dream for me, but the Bears should seriously consider Ebron should he fall to them. The former Tar Heel set an ACC record in 2013 with the most receiving yards by a tight end. Chicago lacks depth behind Martellus Bennett at the position, but Ebron could come in and immediately supply Cutler with another field-stretching target. Marc Trestman would have the ability and personnel to run whatever offensive set he chooses. He’s not a great blocker yet, but that’s not necessarily going to be his primary purpose on the field. An offseason or two of bulking up could help offset his protection troubles. But then again, the needs are so significant on the defensive side of the ball that a lot of players would have to be off the board in order for Emery to pick Ebron.
Those positions would still be in play for the Bears are the draft rolls on, but there are certainly other areas that could use addressing over the seven rounds of the draft. It’s time to talk about other areas Emery might improve.
With “Captain Fourth Down Fail” Michael Bush gone, the Bears need a decent back-up behind Matt Forte. These days, running backs are easily discovered in the later rounds of the draft, so there’s no need to start looking until perhaps round three or four. A change-of-pace back with blazing speed or perhaps that short yardage prowess we were promised with Bush would fill the gaps in the running game.
No, this isn’t a dire need for the Chicago offense. Clearly with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery the Bears have their top targets on the roster already. But Marquess Wilson can’t just be handed the third receiver role. He’ll need to earn it. Bringing in an athletic big body in the later rounds would help challenge Wilson while also giving special teams coach Joe DiCamillis another key contributor.
The Bears signed Brian De La Puente away from the New Orleans Saints, which means they have a legitimate NFL-ready center behind Roberto Garza. I can’t remember the last time we had a quality center in reserve. But Garza and De la Puente are both on one year contracts, meaning Chicago better have a contingency plan come next offseason. A swing guard/center in the later rounds could be developed into a starter with the right amount of coaching. Emery can’t let his offensive line crumble so soon.
Chicago needs DEPTH at linebacker. Jonathan Bostic and Khaseem Greene were welcome additions last season and figure to continue developing in their second seasons. Shea McClellin has turned flab into muscle in his trimming down to linebacker size, where he’ll figure to get an extensive look this offseason and preseason. Even so, adding another athletic body to this group seems to be necessary.
That’s it for this Bears Draft Preview! Here’s hoping we draft eight immediate starters and trade for 11 first round picks in 2015! The NFL Draft coverage will continue through the weekend, so keep stopping by and checking us out on Twitter @MostlyAvgJoe. I’ll be snarking up a storm during the draft proceedings.