Monday, April 29, 2013

Chicago Bears 2013 Draft Review: Boom or Bust

After a long, built up, free agency filled with highs (the signings of Martellus Bennett and Jermon Bushrod), lows (cutting ties with Brian Urlacher in a cold, disrespectful way) and everything in between, the Bears finally had the opportunity to address any remaining needs through the draft. This was Phil Emery's second opportunity to distance himself from the woeful draft day selections of his predecessor, Jerry Angelo, and prove that his reputation as a top scout could show up on draft day. After mixed reviews and on-field results from his 2012 draft, he had a lot to establish. Now obviously, deciding whether a draft is successful or not could take years to really evaluate, but from where we stand right now the Bears and Emery finished with an average draft, due in large part to a bad first round pick.

I don't doubt that the Bears scouted first round pick Kyle Long. I'm sure they fell in love, like most college and pro scouts, with his borderline freakish athleticism for an offensive lineman. The problem is that Long, who started four games in one year of football at Oregon, is a project. The Bears are a team built to contend right now, with several aging stars scattered across a team that won 10 games last year. Maybe the Bears felt that he could help them down the road, and that getting a raw, talented player that the new coaching staff could really develop was a perfect choice. My issue with this is that Long was a reach in Round 1 and regardless comes in a draft that was chock full of offensive linemen. How could the Bears take the 8th linemen drafted in the first round and still reach? It's ridiculous to think of.

The Bears are betting high on Long
I understand that it seems a bit preposterous to be angry at the Bears for selecting an offensive lineman when it seems like the entire NFL was calling for them to add to the offensive line for the past few years. But Long here is a bad choice for more reasons that his inexperience. He has off the field character issues, which normally I don't care about, but in his case seem magnified by his actual inexperience on the field. He tried his hand at professional baseball after being drafted by the Chicago White Sox and that didn't work out. He failed out of Florida State (is that even possible?). And to top it off, he went out and got himself a DUI.

Normally, NFL teams give a free pass to character issues when the player is so good that his ability and talent exceed his character concerns. Here, that doesn't seem to be the case whatsoever. Moreover, Emery's rationale that he's put that behind him, that "everyone makes mistakes," and that with this veteran locker room can handle it doesn't seem to make sense considering that none of these issues are so far in the past to dampen their impact, that Long's real ability is relatively unknown, and that the most stable veteran presence in the locker room (Urlacher) was jettisoned in the offseason in a fashion belittling his legendary Bears status. The Bears have to hope that Long's pedigree (son of Hall of Famer Howie Long), and age (24) have put him in the position to mature from his issues and really take to the coaching he will need to receive. If that happens, all the concerns regarding his character will go away. I would love to be proven wrong on this one.

I don't like to hate on Long, because its not his fault the Bears drafted him. I would have preferred that the Bears make a move that can help the team right now, and it seemed like a no brainer to take Tyler Eifert at pick 20, who was somehow still on the board. Eifert is a matchup nightmare, called by some draft experts the best pure pass catcher in college football last season. He's an athletic, big tight end that can stay inline and block, occupy the middle of the field in the passing game, or flex outside to the boundary or even inside to the slot. Eifert would have been an outstanding complement to the newly-acquired Bennett and would have given the Bears arguably one of the more dynamic TE corps in the NFL. Keep in mind this is a league that has seen a meteoric rise in TE production. Drafting Eifert would have added another dimension to the Bears offense and made it that much more dangerous this season. Instead, Emery went with a guy who, if he can get past his character issues, "might" be good in a few years, after a lot of the talent on defense is potentially gone, and only if, as Mel Kiper said immediately after he was drafted, he gets a lot of "coaching up."

Bostic (pictured) and Greene help solidify the LB's
I felt much better with the next two Bears' draft choices. Both were made to add depth to the linebacker position and at the same time bring some youth to the position that has been held in place by Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher for the better part of a decade. The Bears first selected in the second round Jonathan Bostic of Florida, a highly rated recruit that had a productive college career in the SEC. Bostic was never a superstar for Florida, but he performed consistently well throughout his career and brings versatility to the position for the Bears. He can play all three linebacker positions and has the lateral speed and intelligence to excel as a drop linebacker in space through the middle or closer to the line of scrimmage on either side of the middle linebacker. I think the Bears valued his experience against top competition and his versatility the most. He figures to compete for time with the newly-acquired James Anderson as a strong side linebacker but generally work at all three LB positions as he played mostly inside linebacker in college.

The Bears took Rutgers OLB Khaseem Greene in the fourth round in what many experts are labeling a steal. Its not uncommon to see good linebackers come out of the middle rounds, with the best example right in the heart of the Bears defense in Lance Briggs. Greene is the two-time reigning Big East player of the year and brings some serious talent to the LB corps. He's is a converted safety who brings speed, and like Bostic, versatility to the position. His size and athleticism naturally project him to the weakside 4-3 linebacker position, currently occupied by Briggs. As a result, the Bears could move Greene around the LB position, and he also figures to have a major role on special teams. But don't think for a second that the Bears didn't draft Greene to see if he could potentially be the heir apparent to Lance Briggs. This pick, fresh off yet another linebacker choice in the second with Bostic, shows both the importance of the LB position in the modern NFL as well as the willingness of the new Bears regime to look towards the future.

Washington has the talent, but does it translate to the field?
The Bears finished off their draft offensive tackle Jordan Mills from Louisiana Tech in the fifth round, Georgia DE Cornelius Washington in the sixth round, and Washington State WR Marquess Wilson in the seventh round. I like the choice of Mills in the 5th as many had him projected to go higher and that, not the first round, is the best spot to select a project offensive lineman. He'll also provide valuable depth and/or competition for RT Gabe Carimi and Jonathan Scott. Washington is a huge potential steal who brings undeniable freakish athleticism to the table that somehow didn't always translate to the field. The Bears have to be happy to even get his potential value in the 6th round. The 6'4, 265 pound Washington ran a 4.53 40 at the combine with a 39 inch vertical jump and 36 reps on the bench. What the Bears need to do is get him to translate that first round athleticism to the field. Here though, the questions, like they did last year with the selection of Shea McClellin, as to whether Washington is a better fit as an OLB in a 3-4 scheme. With McClellin and now Washington, plus the additional depth at LB, the rumors of a future Bears' shift to a 3-4 will only grow louder.

Finally, the Bears again eschewed character concerns by drafting another talented but troubled kid with Marquess Wilson. You'll remember him as the top WSU wideout who left the team in the middle of last season because he claimed that Mike Leach was abusing him and other players emotionally, physically, and mentally. Nothing ever came from that story but Emery tried to assure the media that he looked deep into the accusation and determined that nothing was afoot. If this is the case, the Bears will get yet another Day 2 talent at a Day 3 price. The 6'3, 194 pound Wilson ran a 4.51 40 yard dash at the combine and has the size and speed to give Jay Cutler another target in the passing game, with the college production to back up the solid physical attributes.

All told, the Bears have a draft that is at worst average and has the potential to grade out exceptionally if certain pieces fall into place. I'd imagine that Emery's thinking was that his veteran club can absorb some players with troubled pasts and allow them to maximize their potential. Emery swung for the fences on Long, a player who has a lot of physical ability but hardly any experience. He landed two solid linebackers with the potential to be defensive mainstays for years. In the later rounds, he took some players that were much higher on other teams' draft boards and have the potential to succeed in Chicago. I was disappointed that there were less "help now" picks in this draft, but I suppose that is both an indictment of Emery and this year's draft. In the first and later rounds, the Bears have seemingly gone boom or bust. If even a few of those players pan out like Emery thinks they will, the Bears will have finally, for what feels like the first time in years, have had themselves a successful draft.