CHICAGO IL - DECEMBER 26: Henry Melton #69 of the Chicago Bears celebrates after teammate Chris Harris intercepted a pass in the final minutes as Nick Mangold #74 and Mark Sanchez #6 of the New York Jets walk off of the field at Soldier Field on December 26 2010 in Chicago Illinois. The Bears defeated the Jets 38-34. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
... that opens up some interesting possibilities on Draft Day. With the current labor situation in the NFL, teams aren't allowed to have contact with their players and the players aren't allowed to workout at team facilities. So even though Henry Melton has reportedly bulked up to 294 (Helmet tip to MidWayMonster54 for fanshotting this), it's hard for the Bears to know exactly what they'll have with the new and improved Melton.
If the Bears were satisfied with Melton's play at DT in 2010, and if they think they can project the level of his play with the added muscle, and if they are planning on going into the draft under the assumption that he can win the starting 3-tech DT job, then they have some options. But will Melton's play take that jump the Bears need?
I thought he played well when I saw him play, as have many other fans based on the comments dropped around here, but our friends at Pro Football Focus graded out his play and they saw something different. In all 18 games the Bears played in 2011, Melton graded out with a -8.7. His play against the run garnered a -6.5, and his pass rush grade (his perceived strength) was a -2.9.
To be fair, and to provide some perspective, Melton mostly played on passing downs. He was usually in the game to rush the passer, so if the offense ran the ball it possibly caught the Bears off guard. Melton played 400 total plays on D and he was on the field for 33.1% of all the defensive snaps. To break it down even further, he played the run 87 times, rushed the passer 311 times, and dropped into coverage twice. In 2010 he had 3 sacks, 4 QB hits, 13 QB pressures, and 1 pass batted down at the line. Solid stats for a situational pass rusher, but good enough to transition to starting DT...
If the Bears feel confident that Melton can be The Man, then suddenly DT isn't as high a priority in the draft. Jerry Angelo could go with best player available. Obviously offensive line is the most pressing need, but if the top 5 or 6 o-linemen are gone, then which direction could he go? Would he be more prone to trade down than reach for a fit at #29? Every year there's a couple prospects that fall on Draft Day for whatever reason, do they take a flier on a high rated DE, CB, LB, or WR if they are sitting there?