How do you draft a fantasy Bears team? Do you try and build a competitive roster for today’s NFL? Do you focus solely on positional scarcity? Awards lists? How about balancing between a full career in Chicago vs. a shining light for a season or two? Going into this draft amongst friends I decided on one overarching theme – I wanted to draft the Bears-iest Bears team that ever Bear-ed.
To me, that meant building an active front 7 with dominant linebacker play, a secondary that knows how to take the ball away, and an offense built around running the football – passing game be damned. When it came to choosing players, I tried to achieve a balance of eras while limiting deep historical picks to guys I’ve read something about previously. I didn’t want anyone to play out of position and I wasn’t going to play anyone 2 ways even if they did that in their career as it just isn’t practical in the modern NFL. When in doubt, I took players I have enjoyed cheering for most over the years. I have named my team “Butkus-ers & Brown-nosers” for reasons that will soon be evident.
What kind of Bear is best? Butkus. Brown. Briggs… Beets. Battlestar Gallactica.
DE – Ed Sprinkle / DT – Jim Osborne / DT – Eddie Goldman / DE – Alex Brown
For those of you uninitiated into the wonderful football theory of Ed Sprinkle, AKA the Claw, please enjoy this NFL Films video. Sprinkle sets the tone for this defense – tough and punishing, known as “the meanest man in football.” At the other defensive end, Alex Brown’s steady, huge hands anchor the other side. A good pass rusher (4th in sacks in team history), Brown was even better at setting the edge and playing tough against the run. His stretch from 2004 to 2006 was particularly noteworthy as he helped Briggs and Urlacher dominate behind him. In the interior, Jim Osborne pairs with Eddie Goldman. Osborne played 13 years for the Bears and was a disruptive force. According to Don Pierson of the Trib, Osborne would have racked up 15 sacks in 1976 and 81.5 over his career had the sack been an official statistic during his entire career. That would put him ahead of Dan Hampton in team ranks for 3rd all-time and shows a destructive interior force to be reckoned. Eddie Goldman, the fresh faced youngster, rounds out the group. Goldman has impressed as a nose tackle in the new Vic Fangio defense and will slide into the same role in this defense. He’s only 24 years old, about to enter his prime.
OLB – Lance Briggs / MLB – Dick Butkus / OLB – Hunter Hillenmeyer
I shouldn’t have to sell anyone on Dick Butkus, but here’s a fun clip here. The best line from that video is that Butkus was “Moby Dick in a fish bowl” – 5-time 1st Team All-Pro and the best middle linebacker to ever play the game. The same number of interceptions as Urlacher in fewer seasons, Butkus was just as good against the pass as he was devastating ball carriers behind the line of scrimmage. Pairing Butkus with Lance Briggs, the perfect Will Linebacker, really epitomizes what I’ve tried to do in this draft. Briggs made 7 straight pro bowls in a dominant stretch where he was never outshined by Urlacher. On the other side, Hunter Hillenmeyer takes his rightful place, doing the dirty work next to two great linebackers who will deservedly get more press. All three linebackers played all of their professional snaps in a Bears uniform.
FS – Mike Brown / SS – Dave Duerson / CB – Bennie McRae / CB – Dave Whitsell
I spent an early pick on one of my favorite players – Mr. Mike Brown. Brown’s career was derailed by injuries, but when he was healthy, he was the difference between a good defense and a great one. The 1st Team All-Pro is most famous for the back to back pick 6 winners in overtime. I think his best comparison in today’s game is Earl Thomas for the Seahawks. Paired with Brown is the 4 time pro bowl safety Dave Duerson, an integral part of the dominant 1985 and ’86 defenses. My corners are the ball hawks from the 1963 championship team. Bennie McRae and Dave “Weasel” Whitsell sit 3rd and 4th in team history in interceptions, including six each during the ’63 season and one each during the championship game. McRae was an elite athlete as a collegiate hurdler and Whitsell went on after his time with the Bears to pick off 10 passes for the Saints in their inaugural season and make their team Hall of Fame.
Overall, what I like most about this squad is that everyone on this team played all or the majority of their career with the Bears and will play in this defense in their natural position. The defensive line can get after the quarterback, the linebackers are the perfect players for their responsibilities with Butkus leading the way, and there is a ton of playmaking ability on the back end. This is a Bears defense!
The specialists are, well, pretty freaking special.
K – Robbie Gould / P – Brad Maynard / LS – Patrick Mannelly
I went up earlier than my compadres in the draft to secure the services of the best kicker and best punter in team history. We all get The Mann to longsnap but there is something particularly great about reuniting this trio. During their time together, these three helped put the Bears at the top of the special team rankings every year. Letting Robbie go without a legitimate replacement was an early black mark on Ryan Pace’s resume as Robbie’s still kicking well and the Bears are still searching for a long term replacement. The 1st team All-Pro will be in the record books for a long time.
Let’s shift to offense.
LT – Andy Heck / LG – Dan Fortmann / C – Bulldog Turner / RG – Chris Villarial / RT – Keith Van Horne
I’m very proud of this offensive line. I spent my second pick on Hall of Fame Center Bulldog Turner as, by all accounts I’ve encountered, he’s the best offensive lineman in team history. I love starting a line focused on running the ball with a great pivot man. On the right side of the line, Chris Villarial and Keith Van Horne pair up to be two of the scariest run blockers in team history. With over 300 games in a Bears uniform between them, they bring plenty of experience and serious intimidation to the run game. At left guard is one of my favorite historical figures in team history, Hall of Famer and 7 time 1st team All-Pro (!) Dan Fortmann. The WWII vet became a doctor after his playing days and was known as the best pulling guard ever. That’s perfect for me as I plan on running the ball behind the right side of that offensive line all day and Fortmann allows me to run powers and traps to perfection. Andy Heck, a former first round draft pick of the Seahawks, rounds out the o-line. Heck did a, ahem, heckuva job during his 5 year stint with the Bears and has become one of the best offensive line coaches in the game today. This line has a legitimate claim to the best of all teams in this tourney.
RB – Thomas Jones / Flex – Tarik Cohen
Running behind this offensive line is the man with the best biceps in the business, Thomas Jones. The story of the Bears not realizing what they had in Jones is a real sore spot for me. Jones averaged over 1,400 yards from scrimmage during his 3 years for the Bears and he has more career rushing yards than anyone who played for the Bears not named Payton. Those 1,400 scrimmage yards are even more impressive when you remember than the Bears used a top 5 pick on Cedric Benson in 2005, Jones’ second year with the team. Jones couldn’t be stopped in the Super Bowl and I am convinced the game was lost when they decided to go away from him. The opportunity cost of drafting Benson combined with shipping out Jones after the Super Bowl year to protect that pick is an absolute travesty. Jones has a place in my backfield any day of the week.
Tarik Cohen only has one year under his belt for the Bears but he’s easily the most exciting player on offense that I’ve seen in a Bears uniform (note: Devin Hester was exciting on ST, not offense). Cohen can handle some carries to give Jones a rest and line up in the slot, out wide, or even in the wildcat. He’ll also handle kick and punt return duties for this squad.
TE – Zach Miller / WR – Wendell Davis / WR – Tom Waddle
As far as I’m concerned, if Zach Miller doesn’t come back from his latest injury, he ended his career with a TD catch. I loved Miller’s game and guys that have the work ethic to stick with it will always earn a place in my heart. Wendell Davis was a former first round draft pick that was putting together a solid career in the doldrums of the 90’s until a terrible knee injury cut his career short. I can still see that play in my head. The other wide receiver will be manned by the legend of Tom Waddle. The only person who loved Waddle more than me might have been John Madden, who gushed about him every chance he got. Full disclosure – when I was a kid, I saved up money from shoveling driveways to buy the #87 jersey that was hanging from the rafters of a local sports store. I went to a screen printer and had them put WADDLE on the back in white letters. I bought the jersey 3 sizes too big so that I could grow into it and I went to Platteville, WI the next summer training camp where Tom signed the jersey, seeing his number out of his peripheral vision in the crowd. I wore the jersey so much the ink of the sharpie faded and I retraced it to sharpen it back up. I then met Tom years later when he was speaking at my high school. I wore the jersey (obviously) and after I told him he was my idol growing up he quipped “you need a better eye for talent.” His game winner against the Lions on opening day 1992 stands as a favorite childhood memory.
QB – Jim Miller / QB – Josh McCown
Finally, let’s get to the signal caller. It seems to me that the Bears have, for the most part, quarterbacks that can be put into 3 buckets: guys with talent that can’t live up to expectations, guys that can’t stay healthy, and guys that we knew had no talent and didn’t surprise us. In my lifetime, there are two quarterbacks that have played for the Chicago Bears with zero expectations and have caught lightning in a bottle. In 2001, Jim Miller was behind Shane Matthews on the depth chart as the Bears were preparing to go through the motions of another disappointing season. Well, there must have been some magic in that old navy helmet they found for him because Jim Miller led the Bears to the most unexpected and exciting 13-3 season ever. A Hugh Douglas cheap shot in the playoff game knocked Miller out and immediately evaporated all hope in that game but somehow, some way, Miller was magic for that one season. Now, when you’re comparing these drafted teams in the hypothetical tournament and Jim Miller gets injured by someone’s defense – and folks, he will get injured – I drafted the perfect backup quarterback in team history. Josh McCown was brilliant in relief of Jay Cutler in 2013. It may have been the greatest stretch of QB play in Bears history. In fact, McCown is the only QB in team history with a QB rating over 100 and a winning record as a starter. He’s the ultimate team player and understands his role as a backup. It would not surprise me if McCown becomes a successful Head Coach in this league. What Miller and McCown have in common is that they were afterthoughts in building a roster but the navy and orange gave them a certain magic that endeared them to fans and allowed them to have the best run of their careers. They were guys that players wanted to play for – leaders of men. That is my defining factor of a Bears QB.
Overall, I’m confident that this team can get off the bus running the football effectively. When they need to pass, my hope is for magic to happen – whether that’s from the arm of Miller or McCown, the electricity of Cohen, or the gritty, gutsiness of my pass catchers. They’ll benefit from having the best specialists in team history to play field position and convert on scoring opportunities.
There are many good teams that were drafted by my colleagues, full of amazing legends and forgotten stars from yesteryear. However, I don’t think anyone else put as much care into building a unit that complements each other with a coherent plan of attack as much as my team. Thank you for your consideration for voting for the “Butkus-ers & Brown-nosers” and Bear Down!