As Phil Emery prepares to enter his second draft as the GM of the Chicago Bears, the franchise is in a state of transition unlike anything seen in the last 20 years. Lovie Smith, the coach of the last 9 seasons, has been removed, along with his defense first mentality. Additionally, future Hall of Fame middle linebacker, Brian Urlacher is without a contract and his future with the team may be in doubt. Emery has established himself to be firmly in the driver’s seat of the Bears. His selection of a new coaching staff, as well as his performance in this year’s NFL Draft could move the Bears into a position of being perennial Superbowl contenders. However an early bust or the wrong coach could put the Bears a step behind the Packers for years to come.
There is no denying the Bears have talent on both sides of the ball. Wide receiver Brandon Marshall set franchise records this season for receptions (118), receiving yards (1,508) and 100 yard receiving games (7). Defensively, cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings had career seasons. Defensive tackle Henry Melton had a break out Pro Bowl year and linebacker Lance Briggs and defensive end Julius Peppers continued to play at a high level. Rookie defensive end Shea McClellin had some ups and downs but flashed the potential that drew Phil Emry to select him in the first round of the 2012 draft.
However, despite a strong defense and talent at the offensive skill positions, there are several glaring holes on the Bears roster that prevented the team from taking the next step in becoming an NFL powerhouse. The offensive line was a source of much contention during the 2012 season, with Jay Cutler’s frustration with the lack of protection being displayed on several occasions. Despite numerous reshuffles and personal adjustments, the offensive line’s struggles continued throughout the season and should be one of the first areas Emery looks to address in both the draft and free agency. An additional position the Bears need to upgrade early in the draft is the tight end. Kellen Davis regressed this past season and the lack of a big bodied pass catcher who could create mismatches became increasingly apparent as defenses keyed in on Brandon Marshall. During his press conference following the Lovie Smith firing, Phil Emery spoke to the underutilization of Matt Forte as a receiver and his desire to see Davis improve. When faced with the choice of hoping for Davis to rebound or drafting a replacement tight end, the prospect of a new, high ceiling player, may be too tempting for Emery to pass on.
Based on the Bear’s needs, I have compiled a mock draft comprising the first rounds of the NFL draft. The Bears do not currently have a 3rd round pick as it was sent to Miami in the Brandon Marshall trade. I also will not mock any underclassmen to the Bears who have not declared for the draft.
Mock Draft Round 1: Tyler Eifert TE – Notre Dame
A talented tight end will be too tempting for Phil Emery to resist, especially after seeing what players like Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham and Kyle Rudolph have been able to accomplish in their first few seasons. Eifert’s 6’6″ and 251 lb frame should allow him to create size mismatches with NFL defensive backs and his great hands should make him one of Cutler’s favorite targets. Eifert would give the Bears a sorely needed target in the red zone and short passing game, as well as drawing attention away from Brandon Marshall.
Mock Draft Round 2: Barrett Jones C/G/T – Alabama
What else is there to say about the Bear’s 2011-2012 offensive line problems? 2011 first round tackle Gabe Carimi found himself on the bench after his poor play and a nagging knee injury cost him his starting job. Starting left tackle JaMarcus Webb kept his job all season but struggled, allowing 9 sacks. Lance Louis and Roberto Garza played well at left guard and center respectively, but right guard was a revolving door and ultimately where Carimi ended up after Chilo Rachel left the team. Simply put, there isn’t an area on the Bears offensive line that couldn’t use an upgrade and Barrett Jones’ ability to play any position should make him a top target for the Bears.
Mock Draft Round 3: Pick traded to Miami in Brandon Marshall deal
Mock Draft Round 4: Kyle Long OT – Oregon
Kyle Long is a raw prospect. He was denied an additional year of eligibility so he will be declaring for the NFL draft despite only spending the 2012 season with the Ducks. He looks to have a strong skill set and while he played both guard and tackle in college, he projects to be a tackle at the NFL level. He has a strong NFL pedigree as the son of Howie Long and younger brother of Chris Long. If he can harness his natural ability, he has the potential to give the Bears a young and deep offensive line.