It's that time of year Bears fans, a time where many fans attempt to predict and ultimately "mock" the draft for everyone's favorite Monsters of the Midway come this May (feels very weird not saying April this time around). Following a season that featured the absolute worst performance defensively in franchise history, and numerous statements made by both Phil Emery as well as Head Coach Marc Trestman, it is safe to say this will be a defense-oriented draft. The question becomes: where do they start? That, is to be decided following on what and how the Bears attack the free agent market, as a team all but certain to make at least one big signing once free agency begins.
Fast-forward to the 2014 NFL draft, the Bears sit in a relatively nice position to select a highly talented play-maker on defense early during the first round of drafting. To set the tone, I predict the Bears make a serious splash in signing a headliner type of player at the DE and Safety positions, in addition to signing a few of their own free agents like Henry Melton, Jeremiah Ratliff, Charles Tillman (surprise), a veteran or two at Linebacker, and finally but certainly not least a solid as well as talented veteran at DT. Staying true to form, Phil Emery uses a two-pronged approach in attacking the biggest weakness of this team, with DL being the obvious area of need this year. After all, it all starts up front, and, (in everybody's "favorite" NFL commissioner's voice) "with the 14th overall pick of the 2014 NFL Draft, the Chicago Bears select:"
1st Round: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh: We've all witnessed how underwhelming the DT position performed once Henry Melton went to the IR. Quite frankly, even though I predict he will be brought back on a small contract, the Bears can not afford to not have an insurance plan in place, in addition to bringing in a talented prospect to add into the rotation. In comes Aaron Donald, who amazed scouts and fans with his astonishing combine results, which follows a dominant performance at the Senior Bowl. Long before the Senior Bowl, he posted monstrous stats in his senior season, which includes 11 sacks, and a nation leading 28.5 tackles for loss (TFL). He will be knocked for being undersized at just 6'1" and 285 pounds. I am, however, not concerned about his size at all, at least not any more; because Henry Melton came into the NFL at 260 and originally as a DE, and Geno Atkins came in just barely over 290 pounds as well. He compares reasonably close to both of those Pro Bowl players respectively, with his combination of motor and strength second to none at this position in the NFL draft. And lastly, he could easily add a few more pounds to his frame in an NFL nutrition and weight management program, which are designed to either bulk up or slim down prospects. The scariest part of him, is his freakish speed as he posted a 4.65 in the 40 yard dash. That's almost an identical time to that of Henry Melton, and Melton weighed more than 20 pounds less than Donald when he underwent the combine. Best of all, the Bears are remaining committed to utilizing a predominately 1-gap style of 4-3 front, which would allow for Donald's strengths to be highlighted extremely well as a perfect fit at 3-tech.
2nd Round: Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville - Although he measured in quite a bit shorter than expected (5'11 vs. 6'2"), and his 40 time isn't going to set the world on fire (4.58), his hard-hitting play and ability to make quick reads is amazing to say the least. Pryor, to me, reminds me of a very young Mike Brown, the last dependable and damned good safety to play in Chicago. Many see him as a more "in the box" type of player, yet he posted almost identical combine numbers to that of "Haha" Clinton-Dix, the consensus top pick at safety. His game speed is perhaps the best out of this class of safeties, as he takes great angles in getting to the ball carrier, in addition to all-out effort. His hips aren't the most fluid, though, and he wasn't assigned a lot of man coverage while playing for the Cards. I don't have a remote idea of what kind of coverage we should expect to see the most, but he's not someone who I'd want to see line manned up too often. Still, he's the real deal at safety, and he would provide instant competition with Chris Conte at FS, a competition I think Pryor could win hands-down.
3rd Round: Marcus Smith, DE/OLB, Louisville - Back-to-back Cards, you say? Why not, as both Pryor and his teammate Smith could help the Bears immensely in two serious positions of need. Where he's certainly not the biggest option on the table, he's very stout against the run, and was 2nd in the nation in sacks with a respectable 14.5 sacks posted last season. If that wasn't enough of an incentive for you, then his ties with new Bears assistant DL coach "Big" Hurtt is something else to consider. He's not a pure fit at DE, and he's not a pure fit at OLB. What this player brings to the table, is someone who can line-up at either position, and achieve success. Much like Aaron Donald above, he too is in position to gain some weight if needed at the NFL level.
4th Round: Jaylen Watkins, CB, Florida - Brother to stand out receiver Sammy Watkins, he is a player who's surprising speed with a 4.41 40 time, in addition to his solid coverage skills, can make him into a decent player in the NFL. No, he doesn't have the size teams covet now as the hunt to find the next Richard Sherman begins, but he instead is someone who plays much larger than his listed size at 5-11, 194 pounds. Normally overshadowed by his fellow DBs in Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Robinson, I can tell you first hand he is slightly more NFL ready than either of his counterparts. He still needs to refine his techniques and rather sloppy footwork, but this is an SEC player I'm sure Phil Emery would love to add into the depth charts at DB.
5th Round: C.J. Fiedorowicz, TE, Iowa - He wasn't nearly impressive at the combine as he was playing for the Hawkeyes this season, but where people have been focused almost entirely on defense, there will be a couple of offensive players added from free agency and the draft as well. The TE position, as it currently stands, is Martellus Bennett. That's it, virtually nobody is listed on the depth chart behind the Black Unicorn besides Fendi Onobun, who I don't have a lot of confidence in at this point in time. Adding another solid prospect at TE is a must at some point in the draft, and Fiedorowicz offers exceptional value at this point in the draft. His 40 time was disappointing, where a recorded 4.72 is a far cry from the predicted 4.65 many people thought he could run, but nonetheless he's a sound blocker, and possesses great size at 6'5" 265 pounds.
6th Round: Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia - This pick is sure to surprise quite a few people on these boards, but he makes a lot of sense here when one thinks about it. Prior to his season ending injury, he was widely regarded as one of the top QB prospects in this next draft class, as he broke most if not all of Peyton Manning's SEC passing records. However, he's no longer in consideration for a top pick, as his availability will come into question once the season starts. This, along with his rather short height of 6'0", will bring his stock considerably low. It is unknown how he will look at the NFL level post-injury, but before tearing his ACL he was comparable to Jay Cutler in terms of arm strength and mobility. I definitely think the Bears will draft a developmental QB late this year, regardless of the situation with Josh McCown. And, if you're looking for a player who can be groomed down the road, then this is a good option to weigh in on.
6th Round: Shamar Stephan, DT, Connecticut - With their final pick of the 2014 NFL draft, which happens to be in the 6th round, they go with a player new DL coach Paul Pasqualoni is very familiar with. He is big, physical, and has decent strength. What he doesn't possess, is speed, which makes him an ideal run-stuffing specialist to add into the rotation as a true NT. I am unsure if he can ever develop into a 3-down starter at the next level, but a logical pick to consider.
There it is Bears fans, my first of several mocks I am sure to produce between now and the draft. How would you grade this draft, if it were to happen for real? Who, specifically, do you or don't you like? Sound off!