In the 2012 NFL offseason, the Chicago Bears have undoubtedly been among the most active in signing and trading players. The arrival of GM Phil Emery has brought new hopes to the face of Chicago, and ended the tenure of Jerry Angelo for the Bears.
The wideout, cornerback and offensive line position has been seemingly patched up with multiple overall signings. Depth has been added, along with the superstar receiver and former Jay Cutler teammate: Brandon Marshall.
Holes in the Bears’ depth chart still remain, however, within the defensive line and safety spots.
With only three days until the eve of draft day, let’s take a look at the way Chicago may address their needs through acquiring young, promising players.
Round One, Pick 19: Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois:
Lovie Smith has employed the Cover 2 defense in Chicago during his time as head coach. A 4-3 based defense, the Tampa 2 relies heavily on the front four generating pressure.
Of course, Julius Peppers is a well-rounded, aging end that can still make plays and assist in developing a young prospect. Henry Melton and Stephen Paea have solidified the starting two defensive tackles as young players with great potential.
Aside from the aforementioned three players, the remaining somewhat-vital defensive lineman are Israel Idonije and Matt Toeaina.
Idonije, 31, is a good run-stopper but not a great pass-rusher. The Nigerian-Canadian born end was formally a tackle, converted to an end. Toeaina is serviceable, but nothing more than a blanket for depth.
Enter Whitney Mercilus. A one-year-wonder at the University of Illinois, Mercilus looks to take the reins as a starter at LDE for the Chicago Bears.
The 6’3″, 261-pound lineman is known for using his 4.68 speed to gain leverage on the offensive tackle. Mercilus has adequate strength, benching 27 reps of 225 lbs.
Last year, Mercilus recorded 16 sacks, 22.5 tackles for loss, and nine forced fumbles. Mercilus’ knack for knocking the ball out when engaging contact, combined with his maximum effort on every play, will ultimately bode well for the Bears.
When compared, experts match the All-American to retired end Simeon Rice. If the redshirt junior can live up to any spec of Rice’s success, the Bears would’ve found themselves a good draftee.
Round Two, Pick 50: Zebrie Sanders, OT, Florida State:
In the second, Emery and company must focus on patching up the much-scruntinized offensive line unit. Coach Smith feels comfortable with J’Marcus Webb at left tackle, but insists on bringing help to the left side to assist Webb.
Well, that’s not going to work well. Former OC Mike Martz attempted the same thing on each side of the line by using two-tight end sets in order to block, but we all know how that worked out.
By drafting Zebrie Sanders from FSU, the Bears have at least made a move that’ll add depth if Webb fails at LT.
The 6’6″ Sanders was originally slated to be a tackle on the right side, but was swapped to the blind side after Andrew Datko was injured. Sanders performed admirably as a solid, yet unspectacular lineman.
Weighing 320 pounds, the former Seminole benched 28 reps of 225 at the combined and looked pretty good. Despite struggling against top rushers in college, Sanders has a decently high ceiling.
Sanders already has a fantastic foundation in place that can be tweaked with the correct coaching. Maintaining good footwork in his dropbacks and great hand placement, the 23-year-old needs to improve in staying on his blocks and finishing.
That being said, Sanders thrives in run-blocking situation in which he can run through his blocks.
Zebrie Sanders would be a solid addition to the shaky offensive line of the Bears in Round 2.
Round Three, Pick 79: Juron Criner, WR, Arizona:
Typically in the third round, teams find more potential compared to production. In this case, it’s the complete opposite.
Juron Criner has been the number one option for Arizona since 2010, adding 157 receptions and 2189 yards to his resumé.
Quarterback constantly relied upon Criner as not only a number one option, but a “throw it up and see what happens,” type of target, and also looked to him in the red zone.
Criner is extremely polished as a possession receiver, getting in and out of his routes quickly and showing good awareness. As a four-year player in college, you have to expect this type of skill set.
The only knock against Criner is some lingering off-field issues. However, the 6’3, 224 pound wideout addressed those concerns by returning for his senior year and maintaining productiveness.
Reward definitely outweighs risk in this case, as Juron Criner could turn into a solid receiver down the road for Chicago.
Round Four, Pick 111: Jaye Howard, DT, Florida:
Upon the departure of Anthony Adams and Amobi Okoye, the Bears sit on thin ice at the defensive tackle spot. With Melton, Paea, and Toeaina left, Chicago needs to add some depth.
They’ll find that depth in the fourth round.
Florida is known as a talent powerhouse, and hopefully won’t disappoint here in the fourth with Jaye Howard.
The Bears have Melton, who was a former running back. That gives him an insane advantage over the offensive guards in pure athleticism, which led to an exceptional year from the Texas product last year.
Well, Howard just had an insanely good combine with a 4.75 40 and looked outstanding in the other drills, displaying his footwork and athleticism.
Beyond the combine, Howard had an up-and-down year at Florida in 2011.
The 6’3. 301 pound tackle improved over this 2010 numbers, posting 65 tackles (10 for a loss) 5.5 sacks and two passes batted down at the line.
Given his athletic and instinctive ability, Jaye Howard should be posting better numbers than the aforementioned stats. But the upside is just too much for the young DT, and can add some athleticism to a talented, yet small interior defensive lineman core.
Round Five, Pick 150: Vontaze Burfict, ILB, Arizona State:
The Chicago Bears have always been known for being a no-nonsense team, and shy away from the “bad kids” on draft day.
Well, here’s an exception.
Vontaze Burfict was once a surefire first rounder in 2012. Now, he’s on a mock draft going in the fifth.
Why, you may ask? Simply an over-aggressive young player who can’t keep his temper under control, and constantly butts heads with any member of the media.
Burfict is probably the polarizing player in the upcoming draft. He talks intrusive and plays even moreso.
Why would the Bears pick such a risky player?
The answer is simple, really. Everyone knows that Chicago can’t deny the rapid aging of linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs. Although they both can still play at a very high level, it’s time to search for young replacements to be groomed while the duo is still playing.
Think about it. Burfict is constantly on the look to pound a member of the opposing offense into the dirt. The Corona, CA native simply plays off instincts at a speed that not many can match coming out of college.
If the coaches, players, and tough mentality of Chicago’s defense can’t nurture Burfict into a machine up the middle on the defense, then this 248 pound monster isn’t made to play at the professional level.
Phil Emery may not be the only one gunning for Burfict in the later rounds, though.
Despite not being invited to a single team for individual workouts, the Baltimore Ravens have done plenty of homework on this prospect. Burfict has the same amount of intensity and competitiveness that Ray Lewis has, and is (or was) undoubtedly a perfect predecessor for the future Hall of Famer.
Round Six, Pick 184: Chase Ford, TE, Miami:
Thanks to Mike Martz, Cutler’s main target upon his arrival in 2009, Greg Olsen, is in Carolina making plays for Cam Newton. The Bears are left with the 6’7 Kellen Davis, and equally as tall Matt Spaeth.
Davis has shown potential as a solid red zone target, yet hasn’t lived up to Lovie’s expectations. Spaeth is strictly used as a blocker, but can definitely catch some passes.
Chase Ford from Miami has basically no production whatsoever. But his potential is sky high.
During the East-West Shrine, Ford made amazing leaping and diving catches that displayed his athletic ability. Despite defenders draped across him, Ford still makes some pretty good catches.
That said, one practice/game can’t define a player.
But, with the tight end position always thin as it is, in the sixth you have to pull the trigger and hope for the best.
The Miami product is strictly a developmental player with great size (6’6, 258) and exceptional athletic ability for a tight end. Maybe he could turn out as a vital piece in the red zone for 2012, and make his way into the starting mold by 2013.
Round Seven, Pick 220: Scott Wedige, C, Northern Illinois:
With limited information, it’s always harder to choose a pick in the later rounds of the draft compared to the top end. Most prospects here are from a smaller school and aren’t heard of.
Therefore, some value a seventh rounder as a throw away pick. But that isn’t the case.
Roberto Garza was moved to center following the departure of longtime Bear; Olin Kreutz. Garza performed well, but at age 33, it’s time to start adding depth in case of injury.
Chris Spencer was brought in to replace Kreutz, but ultimately ended up starting at right guard. If that’s the case in 2012, the Bears don’t really have someone to replace Garza unless Spencer moves to center and Lance Louis takes his spot.
So, it’s necessary to add even more depth along the line.
Scott Wedige was the starting center for Northern Illinois last year, and doesn’t seem to have many knocks on his game.
Wedige keeps a low center of gravity throughout his blocks, and possesses a pretty good stature for a center.
Of course, being from a small school means facing lesser competition. But Wedige can come in with value and end up being a backup center for Garza.