Look, it's a post that isn't about Bob Sanders!
In his February 18 entry into the ESPN NFC North blog, Kevin Seifert's major question for the Bears focused in on the age of the Bears defensive stars. With Brian Urlacher turning 33, Julius Peppers recently turning 31 and Lance Briggs about to reach that number, and Charles Tillman turning 30 next week, it's clear the days of the defense's current run are numbered - how soon is anyone's guess. But let's take a look at how the state of the defense got this way.
We know that Brian was drafted with the ninth pick overall in 2000. Peanut was the second rounder and Lance was the third rounder in 2003. And of course, Peppers wasn't drafted by the Bears; he was the 2nd overall pick by the Panthers in 2002. Nothing groundbreaking here; in order to get good players, sometimes you need to spend high draft picks. But let's look at how these positions have been drafted lately.
Linebackers drafted since Urlacher (and excluding Briggs, cause we know that one) include James Cotton (7th round, 2000), Karon Riley (4th, 2001), Joe Odom (6th, 2003), Leon Joe (4th, 2004), Jamar Williams (4th, 2006, now with Carolina), Michael Okwo (3rd, 2007), Joey Laroque (7th, 2008), and Marcus Freeman (5th, 2009). Only one linebacker above the fourth round (Okwo) and he isn't even with the team anymore. The only significant entry on this list is Williams, and he was shipped off to Carolina to bring back Hitman.
Defensive ends drafted since 2002 include Alex Brown, Michael Haynes (1st, 2003), Mark Anderson (5th, 2006), Dan Bazuin (2nd, 2007), Ervin Baldwin (7th, 2008), Henry Melton (4th, 2009) and Corey Wootton (4th, 2010).
And cornerbacks (and defensive backs) drafted since Peanut in 2003 include Todd Johnson (4th, 2003), Nathan Vasher (4th, 2004), Hitman in the 6th of 2005, Rod Wilson (7th, 2005, and yes, that Rod Wilson), Danieal Manning (2nd, 2006), Corey Graham (5th, 2007), Trumaine McBride (7th, 2007), Zackary Bowman (5th, 2008), DJ Moore in the 4th in 2009, and Joshua Moore in the 5th of 2010.
Of course, the lists go on and on, but there's a trend to notice here. Of all the picks listed, only four were picked higher than the fourth round; Okwo in the 3rd of 2007, Haynes in the 1st of 2003, Dan Bazuin (we all know that story) and Danieal Manning, and only one of those players is still on the team (Manning, playing safety after some time at nickel).
It's easy to point out that Jerry Angelo hasn't had a full complement of picks for the last two years, which certainly could have alleviated some of this, but when he has had higher round picks, they haven't been in the direction of these positions. Since 2004, Angelo has had eight first and second round picks. Of those, six have been on the offensive side of the ball (Ced Benson, Mark Bradley, Devin Hester, Greg Olsen, Chris Williams and Matt Forte). The other two are Manning and Bazuin. Extend that to include third rounders and that includes Dusty Dvoracek, Garrett Wolfe, Earl Bennett, Marcus Harrison, Jarron Gilbert, Juaquin Iglesias, and Major Wright. That's nine offensive and five defensive total. That's zero linebackers and zero cornerbacks.
The Bears have been spending their higher picks on offense, offense, and more offense, and hoping to find something in the lower reaches of the draft... But as often as a GM finds a great player down there (or rather, a player that turns out to be great), there are many, many more that end up as jobless football players or bench riders.
Consider this year where many of us are asking the team to be spending draft picks - offensive line, wide receiver, and cornerback and defensive tackle. These positions that have seen a first round pick spent three years ago, two third rounders in back to back years (for both WR and DT), and a third, fourth and fifth in the last three years.
We all know Jerry isn't the best at drafting talent, but the Bears could be heading into a cycle where they have to pay each year in free agency to field serviceable talent, and that prospect scares me to no end.
I'm not looking to make the case their first rounder should go away from offensive line, but before we know it, the strengths of our defense could be weaknesses in a short period of time.