The Bears finally have their man in Phil Emery. A scout with 31 years of football experience, Emery should feel completely at home in the team's War Room on draft day. That would certainly be a welcome change for an organisation seemingly intent on putting it's worst foot forward each April. From colossal first round busts like Cedric Benson and Michael Haynes, to head-scratching experiments like Dan Bauzin and Jarron Gilbert, to the botched trade with the Baltimore Ravens in 2011, the job orchestrated by Chicago’s front office left a lengthy trail of embarrassment for team and players alike. Emery, by all accounts an extremely hardworking blue-collar type, not unlike the Packers’ Ted Thompson, has been asked to fix that. And, while the team's proviso-laden approach left many doubting the appeal Chicago would hold as a destination for would-be-GM's, the gig could turn out to be one of the better ones in the league.
The Chicago Bears are not a sinking ship inasmuch as one blown off-course, albeit sometimes rather severely. The club is still, after all, only one year removed from the NFC Championship game and were well on their way to securing a second straight playoff berth before a series of disastrous injuries brought their season to a screeching and unceremonious halt. Emery, therefore, inherits a group with an excellent core upon which to build. His new team is being delivered to his doorstep complete with franchise quarterback, elite running back, top special teams unit, Hall of Fame kick returner and a savvy, veteran defense. For better or worse, his coach (and, therefore, his system) are already in place and his coaching staff is largely set. Essentially, all Emery has to do is sift through the boxes, fit the final few pieces into the puzzle, and hope the resulting picture ends up looking stellar.
Where he finds those pieces, however, is yet to be determined. Jerry Angelo, driven in part by necessity, acquired the majority of his impact players through free agency and a single blockbuster trade. Emery will undoubtedly be asked to do a better job of acquiring players through the draft; however, inasmuch as he has the resume to do this, his window of opportunity is severely limited. The Bears don’t need a lot of help, but the help they do need was needed yesterday. To my mind, this situation severely affects the Bears’ draft strategy, as the “best player available” may simply not be one that can provide immediate help. For all the Bears’ positives, Emery will nevertheless need to make some difficult - and successful - decisions on draft day.
Wide Receiver: The Consensus Pick
At this point, the vast majority of mock drafts have Chicago taking a wide receiver with the first over all pick. I have expressed this opinion before, but I am decidedly against this move for two reasons. First, the bust potential of wide receivers taken early is extraordinarily high and the Bears can ill-afford another wasted pick. In the 2012 class, only one receiver, Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon, has established himself as a near “sure thing”. At this point, the only other receivers with likely first round potential are South Carolina’s Ashlon Jeffrey and Notre Dame’s Michael Floyd. Both have the size that the Bears are looking for; however Jeffrey has struggled with weight problems, a potentially disastrous flaw for a receiver who needs to beat lightning-fast NFL cornerbacks. Floyd has obvious character concerns, having been cited for underage drinking his freshman year and a DUI prior to last season, resulting in a suspension from the team. Make no mistake - the Chicago Bears need help at the wide receiver position. Were I Phil Emery, however, I would not be ready to stake the success of my offense on either of those two players.
The second reason that I’m averse to using the 19th pick on a wide receiver is simply that quality wideouts can nearly always be found via free agency; whereas franchise offensive lineman and quality 4-3 ends rarely hit the open market. This year’s free agent class boasts such names as Vincent Jackson, Deshawn Jackson, Reggie Wayne, Wes Welker, Dwayne Bowe, and Marques Colston, all Pro Bowl quality players. Acquiring a wide receiver at the beginning free agency allows the Bears to focus on other, more challenging areas of need via the draft.
Left Tackle: The Elephant in the Room
I don’t make mock drafts because, quite simply, one wrong pick can throw off the entire mock. Instead, I like to project the most reasonable (or most enticing) scenarios that my team could undertake. My approach to the 2012 draft is simple: address the area of greatest need, whose position is most difficult to address by any other means. For the Bears, that would be Left Tackle. Unfortunately for Chicago, they draft 19th and it’s difficult to find a LT caliber player at that spot. If the team is serious enough about upgrading the position - as well they should be - a trade up into the first 10 or 12 picks must be considered. Chicago will likely have to give up more than it would prefer to land a spot there, but solidifying the most important position on offensive line could well be worth it.
After seeing the Twitter-based bromance of Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall, I couldn’t help but notice that Miami owns the 8th pick in the draft. An ideal scenario, at least for Chicago, could involve the Bears offering a bevy of picks in the hopes of prying away both Brandon Marshall and the Dolphins’ pick, which could then be used on Iowa’s Riley Reiff or Stanford’s Jonathan Martin. Generally, it’s a bad idea to give up the farm in a single move; however, such a situation would be unique in that it plugs two enormous holes at once. I don’t see Miami giving up Marshall at this point, but in the NFL, anything can certainly happen.
Another, perhaps more likely option, is for the Bears to select Ohio State’s Mike Adams, which could involve a trade back. Adams was initially pegged as a second round pick, but strong combine showings have some prognosticators moving him into the late first. On paper, he’s got tremendous upside and the size that Mike Tice covets in his lineman. Trading back a few spots may also allow the Bears to address another area of need - Tight End.
Tight End: The Dark Horse
I’ve taken some flack on message boards for suggesting the Bears address the tight end position early in the draft, but I think my logic is sound. A quick glance at the recent playoffs provides empirical evidence at how drastically a tight end can change a team’s fortunes. Given this, I would not be the least bit surprised to see a premium placed on that position in this year’s draft. The Bears have few options here, as the free agent market for dynamic, playmaking tight ends is shallow and the players on their current roster can hardly be described as such. It would undoubtedly require a bit of jockeying, but I think Clemson’s Dwayne Allen could be a very solid move for Chicago. On paper, Allen has the size and speed ratio to create the types of mismatches that Jay Cutler needs to keep the chains moving. Significantly, however, Allen has a good build and is described by many scouts as being an excellent run blocker, meaning he completely fits the system that Mike Tice wants to run. I wouldn’t compare him to Rob Gronkowski, but if the above prove to be true, Allen could have a very successful career in Chicago.
Defensive End: First Runner Up
Among the choices Emery will have to make is whether to invest primarily in the offense or defense, at least initially. We all know what Jerry Angelo’s solution to the problem was and it yielded an unhappy quarterback with a lot of wasted opportunities. The smart move, in my opinion, is to complete the offense while the team is still in a prime position to do so. While the Bears will probably always be a defensive-minded team, the Packers, Patriots, and even the Saints all proved this season that a team can succeed by leaning solely on the points side of the ball. However, no one will deny that the defense is ageing and defensive end is a position that could help the team both now and in the future. If the Bears stick with the 19th pick, there’s a chance they could land Illinois’ Whitney Mercilus or South Carolina’s Melvin Ingram. Those would likely be solid, though perhaps not spectacular picks. Given the ages of Briggs and Urlacher, they could also go with a linebacker here, assuming they found someone who fit their system; however, for him to contribute immediately, he would need to have the ability to play outside and the skills to unseat current starter Nick Roach. The Bears currently get solid play out of their linebacking corps, so if they chose to address that position, they are more likely to draft for depth than need.