The Chicago Bears and the NFL Draft have had a love-hate relationship throughout the team’s history. For every slam-dunk pick the Bears have had, there have seemingly been numerous flops. Make no mistake about it, though: the team has had a lot of very good draft picks over the years.
Chicago’s history is flooded with Hall of Famers - 34 of them, in fact, with 27 having spent most of their career with the Bears - who were all selected at various parts of the draft. There have also been several Pro Bowlers, All-Pros, and consistent contributors who have been discovered in later portions of the draft. Various standouts have emerged from each round throughout the years.
In a fun exercise during the low point of the offseason, we decided to take a look at the Bears’ best draft pick by round. There are only seven rounds in today’s NFL Draft, but drafts of yesteryear included as many as 32 rounds. For the sake of my sanity, we’re going to look at the first 12 rounds, simply because there aren’t many real contributors beyond that point.
So, without further ado, these are the best Bears draft picks in each round. These are the players whom this year’s rookies should look to emulate.
Round 1: Walter Payton (1975)
Simply put, Walter Payton is the greatest player in Bears history.
Payton was a nine-time Pro Bowler, an eight-time All-Pro, a two-time Offensive Player of the Year, and a one-time MVP. He leads the franchise in the following categories:
- Total touchdowns
- Net total yards
- Most games started in a Bears uniform
- Rushing yards
- Rushing attempts
- Rushing touchdowns
- Rushing yards per game
- 100-yard rushing games
Payton played the game with a combination of elusiveness, speed, power and determination that put him on a pedestal above all with whom he took the field. For that, and his numerous achievements, he’s a no-brainer for the Bears’ best first-round pick of all time.
Honorable mentions: Dick Butkus (1965), Gale Sayers (1965), Dan Hampton (1979), Brian Urlacher (2000)
Round 2: Mike Singletary (1981)
On a 1985 Bears defense filled to the brim with Hall of Famers, Pro Bowlers and All-Pros, Mike Singletary may have been the best player of the bunch.
Samurai Mike was a 10-time Pro Bowler and a nine-time All-Pro, and was named Defensive Player of the Year twice. He was an intelligent and intimidating force at middle linebacker whose stare alone caused opponents to tremble in fear. With 1,488 total tackles to his name, there are few linebackers in NFL history who can compare with the legendary Singletary.
Honorable mentions: Bill George (1951), Charles Tillman (2003), Devin Hester (2006), Matt Forte (2008)
Round 3: Lance Briggs (2003)
Brian Urlacher attracted a lot of the attention during the 2000’s, but teammate Lance Briggs was also one of the best linebackers in the NFL for a good portion of his 12-year career.
A seven-time Pro Bowler and a three-time All-Pro, Briggs was a top-tier WILL linebacker throughout much of his career. He retired in 2015 with 1,173 tackles, 86 pass deflections, 15 sacks, 16 interceptions and 19 forced fumbles. Briggs’ name is up there with the greatest linebackers in Chicago’s history, and rightfully so.
Honorable mentions: Ken Kavanaugh (1940), Dave Duerson (1983), Olin Kreutz (1998)
Round 4: Doug Buffone (1966)
Chicago’s fourth-round pick history isn’t all that great. Very few of them ended up staying with the team for that long, and even those who did usually didn’t do all that much. Doug Buffone, though, managed to avoid both of those.
Buffone played with the Bears for all 15 seasons of his professional football career. He finished his career with over 1,200 tackles and surpassed 100 tackles in seven seasons. One of the franchise’s best linebackers in a history deep with talent at the position, he makes sense as the best fourth-round selection in Bears history.
Honorable mentions: Tom Thayer (1983), Kevin Butler (1985), Nathan Vasher (2004)
Round 5: Stan Jones (1953)
Stan Jones is one of the greatest offensive linemen in Bears history, so it only makes sense that he is the best fifth-round pick in the team’s existence. A seven-time Pro Bowler and a three-time first-team All-Pro, he was the anchor of Chicago’s offense during his 12 seasons with the team. He was also the first football player to use weight training to improve his conditioning during the offseason.
Honorable mentions: Ed Kolman (1940), Willie Galimore (1956), Jordan Howard (2016)
Round 6: Patrick Mannelly (1998)
There has never been a Bears sixth-round pick to be voted as an All-Pro, and there have only been three Bears sixth-round picks in the Pro Bowl. Patrick Mannelly is not one of those three picks, but he was an elite long snapper who played for the Bears for 18 seasons. A fan favorite throughout the 2000’s, Mannelly is the all-time leader in games played in a Bears uniform. Positional value aside, that’s a fantastic grab in the sixth round.
Honorable mentions: Del Bjork (1937), Ed Brown (1952), Kline Gilbert (1953)
Round 7: Joe Fortunato (1952)
With so many great linebackers in the Bears’ history, it can be easy to overlook some of the elite talent that has donned the navy blue and orange at the position. However, Joe Fortunato is undisputedly one of the better linebackers to ever suit up for the team.
A five-time Pro Bowler and a four-time All-Pro, Fortunato played all of his 12 seasons in professional football with the Bears. He was voted to the NFL 1950’s All-Decade Team alongside fellow Chicago linebacker Bill George, cementing his legacy as one of the best linebackers of his time. He was a steal in the seventh round who ended up outplaying his draft slot.
Honorable mentions: Ed O’Bradovich (1962), Jim Osborne (1972), Charles Leno Jr. (2014)
Round 8: Richard Dent (1983)
Come on. Was it really going to be anybody else?
One of the greatest late-round picks of all time - as well as arguably the best Bears pass rusher of all time - Richard Dent was a sack master during his tenure with the Monsters of the Midway. Tallying a franchise-leading 124.5 sacks during his 12 seasons in Chicago, he was an elite defensive end who topped 10 sacks in a season eight times. He didn’t slow down at any point of his first run with the Bears, either: he had 12.5 sacks in 1993 at 33 years old. Dent truly is one of the greatest defenders in the franchise’s history.
Honorable mentions: Bill Wightkin (1949), Mark Bortz (1983)
Round 9: Dan Fortmann (1936)
One of the best offensive linemen of the 1930’s and 1940’s, Dan Fortmann was the clear pick for the best ninth-round selection in Bears history. He was a three-time Pro Bowler and a seven-time first-team All-Pro who was one of the cornerstones of the franchise during their 1940, 1941 and 1943 championship victories. The United Press named Fortmann as the best offensive lineman in the NFL in 1940, which shows just how dominant he was during his tenure with the Bears.
Honorable mention: Ray Bray (1939)
Round 10: Shaun Gayle (1984)
Shaun Gayle was the only tenth-round pick in Chicago’s history to make it to a Pro Bowl in a Bears uniform, and he played for the team for 11 seasons, so this decision was an easy one to make. He had 16 interceptions, 11 forced fumbles and 671 tackles during his tenure with the team: not too shabby of a stat line for that late of a pick.
Honorable mentions: None
Round 11: Lee Artoe (1940)
Lee Artoe was an offensive tackle for the Bears for four seasons and was voted as an All-Pro in three of them. He was a key part of the team’s championship victories in 1940 and 1941. He also dabbled a little bit at the kicker position.
Honorable mention: Jim Morrissey (1985)
Round 12: Johnny Morris (1958)
Johnny Morris is Chicago’s all-time leader in receiving yards, which naturally makes him an incredible get in the twelfth round of the draft. He played for the Bears from 1958 to 1967, and during that time he won an NFL championship, made one Pro Bowl and was named to an All-Pro team. In 1964, Morris had 93 receptions, 1,200 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns, all totals that led the league.
Honorable mentions: George Blanda (1949), Doug Plank (1975)