20 Questions for the Bears with the 20th Pick

2012-NFL-Draft-stage-1

When the 2013 NFL Draft begins tonight, the Chicago Bears hold the #20 pick, also known as the “best team not to make the playoffs” pick, as picks 21-32 are held by last season’s playoff teams.  The 2012 Bears finished 10-6, the same as the Washington Redskins & the Minnesota Vikings, but the Redskins won their division and won an automatic bid into the playoffs, while the Vikings held the Division record tie-breaker (4-2, to the Bears 3-3) and secured a wildcard spot over Chicago.

While 10-6 doesn’t seem like a reason to hit the panic button, that was after a 7-1 start, and the 3-5 finish in the second half of the season was enough of a slide that second year GM Phil Emery relieved defensive minded Lovie Smith of his command and installed offensive minded Marc Trestman in his place.  Now, with Emery and Trestman calling the shots, and some bold moves in the off-season, the Bears are in a bit of a wildcard position entering the draft, with a lot of options for improving the team.  To examine what might happen with the Bears 1st round pick, #20 overall, and the rest of the Bears draft, let’s play 20 questions:

1)  Given this is Emery’s 2nd draft with the Bears, what can we observe from last year that might help us guess his motives now?

The first and foremost thing to remember is that Emery eschewed all the popular rankings draft stock muckrakers last year and took Shea McClellin with the #19 pick in the 1st round.  McClellin was rated as a 2nd round talent, and a player projected to be a linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, but Emery drafted him to play defensive end in a 4-3, opposite monster Julius Peppers.  Clearly Emery has his own way of evaluating talent and the team’s needs – most likely stemming from his history as being a scout – and he’s not afraid to pick who he wants, not giving a damn about ‘conventional’ wisdom or the wisdom of crowds.  He’ll live and die by his own gut feeling.

2)  Speaking of last year’s draft, how did Emery perform, as insight into his ability to draft?

One year is usually too early to completely judge a draft, but that never stopped us before.
– Shea McClellin, DE, flashed some of the speed and athleticism last year that prompted Emery to draft him, but was used primarily as a 3rd down pass rusher and needs to prove that he can be an every down player in the NFL.  He played in 14 games, with 0 starts, 7 tackles, 7 assists, and 2.5 sacks. The Bears will need more out of him to justify a 1st round selection.
– 2nd round pick Alshon Jeffery, WR, showed some big catch ability and promise to be the WR2 opposite Brandon Marshall, but suffered through injuries in his rookie year.  Only played in 10 games, with 6 starts, he ended with 24 catches, 367 yards, and 3 TDs.  He opened the year with 3 catches for 80 yards and a TD in game 1 against the Colts, and then never quite matched the performance again.
– 3rd round pick Brandon Hardin, S, was on Injured Reserve all year after an injury in the preseason, but scuttle is that he wasn’t showing the coaches anything in camp that made them excited about him as prospect, and his injury wasn’t truly severe enough to warrant a season-ending IR tag but they felt it best to de facto “red shirt” him to give him time to develop.
– 4th round pick Evan Rodriguez, FB, supposedly going to be the Bears X-factor, lining up in the backfield, as a tight end, and in the slot, but only started 5 games and missed 4 completely due to injury.  Used primarily as a blocker from the fullback position when he did play, he didn’t have a catch until November 25th and ended 2012 with 4 receptions for 21 yards. He was arrested in Miami this offseason, where he spent time training with Marshall and Jeffery, but it still remains to be seen if he can be a meaningful contributor.
– 6th round pick Isaiah Frey, CB, spent last year on the Bears practice squad, so his contribution was minimal and his future is uncertain.
– 7th round pick Greg McCoy, CB, was waived at the end of preseason, spent 2012 on the practice squad of the Arizona Cardinals, and is in camp this year with the Minnesota Vikings.
– Overall, the 2012 draft picks had no immediate impact on the team, with Alshon Jeffery making the most contribution, but even that was soft.  Hardin, Frey, and McCoy look like wasted picks, Rodriguez is on the bubble, and Jeffery and McClellin have expectations to elevate to the next level but that will need to be shown on the field.

3)  Continuing with Emery, what off-season moves affected how the Bears might draft?

There were some notable additions and subtractions this year, such as:
– Subtraction – Brian Urlacher, Middle Linebacker.  The face of the franchise and GM Phil Emery couldn’t come to an agreement on his worth, and the team announced in mid-March that Urlacher would not be returning. Age and health concerns were no doubt the reason for this decision, and as of now Urlacher has not found a new home in the NFL.
– Subtraction – Nick Roach, Outside Linebacker.  Roach was a steady contributor on defense along side Urlacher and Lance Briggs, and the Raiders offered him more money than the Bears to anchor their LB corp.  Can’t blame the guy for taking a bigger offer to be the captain of a team’s defense, he’ll be missed.
– Subtraction – Israel Idonije, Defensive End – Idonije was starting to age (32yrs) and slow, but he still had 40 tackles, 7.5 sacks, and a forced fumble last year. Presumably he wanted more money to return than the Bears were willing to pay him and the team is making a clear effort to get younger all around.
– Subtraction – Lance Louis, Guard.  Louis was often regarded as perhaps the best functioning lineman on the Bears o-line this past season.  Consistent in coverage, especially run blocking, the Bears were high in Louis before he tore his ACL in week 12 of last year.  He went to the Dolphins for one year and $1.6 million, with only $100k guaranteed, which makes you think the Bears really didn’t believe he’d recover from his injury in a time frame they deemed acceptable.
– Subtractions – Kellen Davis & Matt Spaeth, Tight End.  Spaeth was mostly a big body to try to aide our offensive line in pushing the pile, and Kellen Davis was rightfully called “butterfingers.” This perhaps may prove to be addition BY subtraction.
– Addition – Jermon Bushrod, Tackle.  Signed from the Saints and reunited with coach Aaron Kromer, who is now the Bears offensive coordinator/line coach, Bushrod is expected to anchor the Bears line at Left Tackle where he started 62 games for the Saints.  He won a Super Bowl with the Saints, and is a two-time Pro Bowler.  Hopefully will keep Cutler upright from the blindside.
– Addition – Martellus Bennett, Tight End. Signed from the Giants, where he started 16 games, with 55 receptions, 626 yards, and 5 TDs.  A big bodied TE who prides himself on being a “complete TE,” being able to catch and block. Presents match-up issues against corners and linebackers with his size, speed, and athleticism. Brings the Bears into the new offensive era of the NFL where the TE is a feared receiver and play-maker.
– Addition – Turk McBride, Defensive End.  Spent the last 2 years in New Orleans, will presumably take the place of departed Israel Idonije and rotate in to spell Peppers and McClellin.
– Addition – D.J. Williams, Linebacker.  Coming from the Broncos, Williams was suspended most of last season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, so he should be well rested and eager to prove himself back on the field. In the previous 8 years with Denver, he registered 810 tackles, with 617 solo and 193 assists, 20.5 sacks, 2 interceptions, and 13 forced fumbles. He’ll presumably take Urlacher’s role in the defense this year, unless we address this position in the draft and Williams can slide outside.
– Addition – Joe Anderson, Linebacker.  Anderson can play the outside linebacker position vacated by Roach, or can add depth should we add a starting LB in the draft.  He spent 7 years in Carolina, with his best seasons being 2010 and 2011, with 199 tackles, 5 sacks, 3 interceptions, and 6 forced fumbles.
– Addition – Matt Slauson, Guard.  Slauson started at Left Guard the past 3 seasons for the New York Jets.  It’s only a one year deal, but Slauson is only 27, so perhaps the Bears want to see what they’ve got in him first and Slauson is doing the “one year audition” contract where he’ll try to earn a long-term deal from someone based on his performance this season.  He’ll be in Chicago to compete for a starting spot.
– Retention – Henry Melton, Defensive Tackle. Melton signed the Franchise Tag this year, but the Bears have until July 15th to still work out a long term deal, which allows them to sign their draft picks and then see what the cap numbers look like the next few years.
– Retentions – Nate Collins, DT. Jonathan Scott, OT. Kelvin Hayden, CB. Josh McCown, QB.

4)  So, what are the team’s current needs?

The biggest needs for the Bears are commonly identified to be OL, LB, WR, and CB.  The offensive line isn’t a surprise to any fan of the team, as right tackle is still a position in flux with J’Marcus Webb, Gabe Carimi, and Jonathan Scott presumed to be the competitors for that starting spot but none of them really enthuse fans.  Linebacker is clear with the departure of Urlacher and Roach, and while Anderson and Williams can fill in this year, they each only signed one year deals and they’ve both been in the league for 7+ years, so there is a need for younger talent at the position, not to mention Lance Briggs is on the wrong side of 30 as well.  Wide receiver is a need due to the questions that remain about Alshon Jeffrey being able to be the #2 option behind Brandon Marshall, and Earl Bennett, while seemingly capable, hasn’t been the go-to slant & seam option you like to see from the #3-slot position.  Cornerback isn’t a pressing need this year, as Tim Jennings, Charles ‘Peanut’ Tillman, and Kelvin Hayden are all still on the roster, but they’re each aging with soon expiring contracts.

5)  Is Emery going to draft by these needs?

Emery came out recently and talked about taking the best player available, regardless of the team’s immediate needs.  With the #20 pick, however, there will be several players around the same skill & value level to choose from where Emery can take a player he believes is the best on the board and also fills an obvious need on the team.

6)  Who are the “experts” saying we’ll draft in the first round?

Alec Ogletree, Linebacker out of Georgia is a popular mock draft selection with the #20 pick, to take the reigns of the MLB and become the eventual leader of the defense.  Others think it’ll be a different linebacker, Manti Te’o, from Notre Dame, or possibly Arthur Brown from Kansas State.  Tavon Austin, WR from West Virginia, if he’s still around, could provide another legitimate receiving threat for the Bears new look offense.  D.J. Fluker, OT from Alabama, is another popular choice to upgrade the line and take over the RT spot.  There are a few who believe the Bears will target another Tight End to pair with Martellus Bennett and run a dangerous two-TE offense ala New England, and they look for Stanford’s Zack Ertz or Notre Dame’s Tyler Eifert.

7)  How many picks do the Chicago Bears have this year?

The Bears only hold five selections this year:
Round 1, Pick 20 (20th overall)
Round 2, Pick 18 (50th overall)
Round 4, Pick 20 (117 overall)
Round 5, Pick 20 (153 overall)
Round 6, Pick 20 (188 overall)

8)  With only five picks, will the Bears try to acquire more?

Emery has said that he’s open to talking about trading down from the #20 slot, and word is right now several teams with picks in the second round are looking to move up into the lower half of the first to try to snag a second impact player.  #20 might be too high for teams looking to trade up, however, as it seems the most activity is being discussed between #25 and #30 picks.  I think if a trade does happen it won’t come before the Bears are on the clock or close to it because they need to see how the picks before them fall first.

9)  What other positions might the Bears target outside of the first round?

As we wrote in March, we firmly believe the Bears will draft a QB in this draft, and Emery recently said he’d like to draft a QB every year.  With Marc Trestman a noted QB guru, and Jay Cutler entering the last year of his contract, it makes sense to bring in a prospective QB and the Bears recently working out North Carolina’s Mike Glennon seems to back up that school of thought.  We’re still bullish on Arizona’s Matt Scott or Oklahoma’s Landry Jones as developmental picks.
The Bears could also look for some help on the defensive line, as Julius Peppers continues to age and questions remain about Shea McClellin, and inside Nate Collins and Stephen Paea play well with Melton but some younger competition could help.

10)  Would the Bears trade anyone on the current roster for more picks?

Devin Hester, entering the last year of his contract and being regulated to returner only status, could intrigue a special teams needy team into giving up a pick, though granted it would be a low round selection.  The Bears are very slim on trade bait this year.

11)  How might the new coach, Marc Trestman, and new offensive philosophy impact this year’s draft?

For the first time in recent Bears history, maybe ever, the Bears may place more emphasis on acquiring offensive playmakers than defensive stalwarts.  While no team, obviously, can ignore one side of the football and a GM’s role is to build a complete team that can compete in all three phases of the game, it might be too tempting this year not to give Trestman as many weapons as possible to let him really launch the Bears into a new offensive era.  Trestman, I’m sure, has his eye on plenty of players he thinks can execute his playbook and seems to have the ear of Emery, so while needs like Linebacker can’t go completely overlooked, it wouldn’t surprise to see more offensive picks than defensive in this draft.

12)  What about special teams being addressed in the draft?

Robbie Gould is recovering from an injury sustained last year, but everyone expects him to return to be the Bears place kicker this year and for years to come if he maintains his great accuracy and his range has improved over the past couple of seasons.  Punter Adam Podlesh didn’t have a great season last year, and during the season the Bears brought some punters in for workouts, so it wouldn’t surprise me if they brought in some punters to compete with Podlesh in camp but with so few picks I cannot realistically see the Bears using a pick on punter.  With Hester being deemed full time returner, we don’t look to have a need at that position, and WR Eric Weems was a Pro Bowl returner as well so if something happens to Hester we have a capable back-up already on the roster.

13)  Will the Bears salary cap affect their draft in any way?

The Bears currently have 50 contracts on the books and $5.3 million in salary cap space for 2013, so they might have to get a little creative but it shouldn’t be a problem to sign all their picks and maybe have a little room left to look out for some additional depth at positions of need for veteran minimums or undrafted talent.

14)  How long will the Bears take to make their first pick?

Each team gets 10 minutes in the first round to select their pick, and with the Bears having a desire to talk about trading down, so we’re sure discussions will continue into when they’re on the clock.  Best guess – the Bears take almost all of their time, but don’t cut it so close to chance losing their time.

15)  How will the first round being on Thursday Night and the second and third rounds being on Friday affect the Bears draft strategy?

The current format of the draft lets teams reassess the madness of the first round, see who is off their boards, and then form their new strategies for the next rounds.  The Bears, if they make a selection with #20 and don’t trade down, only have a second round pick, so they may be keen on trying to turn that into a lower second and a third, or possibly two thirds depending on how they’re guessing other teams might pick.  Half of your draft strategy is accurately predicting how other teams will draft and gambling on who will still be available the next time you’re on the clock.  We don’t think the Thursday/Friday split will affect the Bears any more or less than any other team.

16)  Is it worth comparing this draft to Bears drafts of the past?

Outside of last year, when Emery was in charge, it makes very little sense for fans or media to examine past draft selections because of the change in decision makers and the change in team needs.  It can always be fun to look back and examine when the Bears picked well and when they didn’t, but you’re really grading guys like Jerry Angelo and Lovie Smith and they have no bearing on this year’s draft.

17)  Will the Bears, with a solid draft, compete in 2013?

We certainly hope so.  Again, the Bears finished 10-6, and while they should have finished better and in the playoffs, the new offense under Trestman should allow the Bears traditionally smothering defense to do their thing without having to worry about carrying the team every Sunday.  Sure, the team has some needs, but Emery was aggressive in the off-season filling holes and not being sentimental with veterans.  If the Bears can get one or two starting, impact players out just their five picks it will be a big win for the team going into 2013.

18)  Who does Sweet Home Sports want with the #20 pick?

Tough question, truly tough.  We’d like the offensive line to be taken care of for the foreseeable future, so an o-lineman, presumably, DJ Fluker, would be our choice.  Keep the QB upright and throwing.

19)  Who does Sweet Home Sports not want with the #20 pick?

Manti Te’o.  For the drama alone, but we’re just not convinced the kid has the true mettle to lead the charge in the middle of the defense for the Monsters of the Midway.

20)  What’s the best/worst thing that can possibly happen for the Bears in the 2013 draft?

Best case scenario:  Some team decides that with the #20 pick that the Bears are going to take their golden boy, so they give Chicago a plethora of picks in trade that allows the Bears to adequately address all of their needs and they go on to dominate the NFC.
Worst case scenario:  The Bears make five or less picks (possibly trading up), miss on all of them, and without adequate depth and promising young players they stumble in 2013 and again miss the playoffs.

Any questions that we missed?  Respond in the comments!

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