First round picks become first-round picks for a reason, usually because they have the highest potential to perform at the highest levels in the NFL, although of course some players fall through the cracks. In simplistic terms, this can be defined as a player with the highest potential, but also the highest likelihood to actually reach that potential. So many players are drafted on their potential but never realize it.
Kyle Long is one of those "highest potential" players - he was credited with four starts at guard in his one year at Oregon to go with one year of playing offensive line at the junior college level. In short terms, we call that "raw." Yet, his resume and workouts were enough that (if reports are to be believed) teams were willing to spend a first round pick on "Wow, if he did that, wait until he develops!"-type potential.
Long is an athletic freak, no doubt about that - he moves well, he'll be where he needs to be, and he's got the physical attributes to play the position. But, we're still talking about a player that until two years ago was a defensive lineman and has one year playing offensive line at the BCS level. The biggest question with the draft pick is, can he play at the NFL level right away?
|Left Tackle||Left Guard||Right Guard||Right Tackle|
|Jermon Bushrod||Matt Slauson||Gabe Carimi||J'Marcus Webb|
|J'Marcus Webb||Edwin Williams||James Brown||Gabe Carimi|
|Eben Britton||Eben Britton||Jonathan Scott|
|James Brown||James Brown|
You're basically looking at the prime competition for a starting spot - I didn't list the center spot because I don't think Long's set to play center at this point, though it might develop into something later in his career.
Either way. Going left to right, Long's not going to start at left tackle over Jermon Bushrod, signed to a four-year deal to do precisely that, though left tackle could eventually be in his future as the Bears move down the line. Matt Slauson only played left guard as a Jet. He might be able to play right guard, but for now, he's the starting left guard. Right guard is an enigma, and the easiest spot for Long to slip in. But that's not a guarantee - James Brown started the last few games of the season at left guard, and Gabe Carimi started the last few games of the year at right guard. If Carimi doesn't pan out at tackle, the Bears could continue to start Carimi at right guard in order to salvage something from their first round pick, although with the new regime that isn't beholden to prior first-round picks, this could get interesting. For now, I think right tackle is out of the question, with J'Marcus Webb moving over, Gabe Carimi possibly getting another crack at the position, and fifth-round draft pick Jordan Mills also in the tackle mix as a dark-horse candidate - Mills, I'll cover later.
1) Long starts immediately.
Long hasn't had much time to play the position, so he needs all the reps he can get. If Long starts immediately, the Bears can expect to have the typical young offensive lineman growing pains, but Long's athletic ability should at least ensure he's in the right spot to make the play; after that, it's largely a matter of technique.
Long starting immediately could spell a couple of things. If he starts at left guard, you're looking at Slauson either at right guard or a spare interior lineman; over at right guard, things get a little more limited, particularly at right tackle. If Long entrenches at right guard, is James Brown a full swing lineman? Can the Bears keep a dedicated right-side backup in Gabe Carimi without hurting any backing up of the left side? One of the glut at right tackle will be a loser in that position battle, including possibly Carimi.
2) Long as developmental backup.
If the Bears choose not to push Long into a starting spot immediately and give him a backup role, he provides enough versatility to back up a variety of spots in his first year and can improve his play. What that probably means is that Slauson and Carimi are the starting guards. The right tackle glut could still ensure that either Scott or Brown are gone (Carimi's safe), probably Scott with Brown's ability to play both guard and tackle. With Mills on the roster as the 8th offensive lineman, the Bears could keep Britton for nine or just go with eight.
Obviously it's too soon to know how a player will develop, and this is something we can look at in a couple years and laugh, but really, Long could be a key player going forward. If Long realizes his ceiling, his athletic ability could shift him over to the left side towards the end of Jermon Bushrod's contract. With Slauson and Webb's contracts expiring after this season, Long and Mills could step into the spots respectively, giving a foundation of Bushrod/Long/Center-To-Be/Guard-To-Be/Mills. Maybe that center's P.J. Lonergan, maybe that guard is Carimi or James Brown, but Bushrod and Long would make for a solid left side in year two. In year three or four, with the addition of another young lineman to play guard or left tackle, Long stays on that left side.
If Long doesn't realize his full potential, I think he still has a decently-high floor, but the Bears showed this offseason that if there's a weakness, they'll do what they can to attack that weakness with the all the fury of a thousand suns, including signing three offensive linemen and drafting two more. But for a first-round pick as raw as Long is, he'll be given every chance to develop into a decade-long anchor on the line.