The 2012 NFL Draft is quickly approaching. On Thursday night, teams across the league will place their futures in the hands of unproven commodities fresh out of college. The Chicago Bears will be among them as they try to rebound from last year’s disappointing stretch run. After picking up solid pieces in free agency, GM Phil Emery will be looking to the draft to fill holes and strengthen core units. Let’s look at some the key positions and likeliest targets for the Bears as they select 19th overall in Thursday night’s opening round of the draft.
As is the typical stance of a Lovie Smith coached Bears squad, the defensive line is clearly Emery’s top priority. After their rumored interest in Mario Williams and confirmed chasing of Jeremy Mincey, it’s evident that Chicago envisions an outside pass rusher as a significant need. If the dominoes fall in line, there are more than a few defensive ends that could be available when they get on the clock. South Carolina’s Melvin Ingram won’t be there for them and he’s not a great scheme fit anyway. Quinton Coples out of North Carolina has moved around the mock drafts as the scouting season rolls along, with some projections giving him a top ten status and others having him falling right into Chicago’s lap. His motor has been put into question but his talent has not. A likelier name to see is Illinois’ Whitney Mercilus, whose speed and ability led him to lead the nation in sacks during his final (and only significant) collegiate season. He doesn’t have a lot of game tape, so Chicago would be relying on Rod Marinelli’s master motivating skills and line technique to craft him into an elite pass rusher (much like JPP with the Giants.) Shea McClellin and Nick Perry have also been mentioned as possibilities.
However, the end spot isn’t the only area of need on the defensive front. After losing Amobi Okoye and Anthony Adams in free agency, the Bears are going to need depth and skill at defensive tackle. If LSU’s Michael Brockers falls to Emery, he’d at least have to consider the run-stuffer at nineteen. However, if push comes to shove Emery will take an end over a tackle. I’d tend to agree with him, especially for this draft class. With this many potential first-round pass rushers, there’s going to be plenty of choices for the Bears when nineteen rolls around.
Despite Chicago’s moves in the offseason addressing the wide receiver spot, many pundits are putting a wide-out down for the Bears when it comes to their first overall pick. I’ve seen names from Baylor’s Kendall Wright to Notre Dame’s Malcolm Floyd to Georgia Tech’s Stephen Hill. Wright has been knocked for having a slower 40 time than predicted, but he’s got plenty of on-field speed. Malcolm Floyd got four solid years at ND and at 6’2” he’s got the size to match his ball skills. One of the more intriguing prospects in this draft is Stephen Hill, a GT receiver who didn’t get a lot of catches in a run-oriented offense, but ran a freakish 4.28 40-yard dash and showed good hands at the combine. At 6’4”, he’d be a fantastic jump-ball catcher, but he’s got major bust potential. If Chicago does take a wide-out here, it’s going to create a log-jam at the position after they traded for Brandon Marshall and signed Eric Weems and Devin Thomas. A first rounder receiver has to get on the field somehow. That being the case, Devin Hester or Earl Bennett would be the odd man out in three-receiver sets. And it would almost certainly spell the end of Johnny Knox’s tenure. Still, another large target for Cutler would turn a former position of weakness into one of the strongest units on the team.
As we all well know, offensive line should be addressed sometime this offseason. Signing a former second rounder in Chilo Rachel, the Bears garnered a bit of depth at guard, but should be far from done on the o-line. They had plenty of issues protecting Jay Cutler last season (and the season before) and I’m not keen on seeing a repeat performance. Unfortunately at 19 they won’t get a shot at any of the top lineman prospects and it’s too early to start the second run. Prospects like Riley Reiff (tackle) and David DeCastro (guard) will likely be off the board for Emery and it’d be too early for Mike Adams, Cordy Glenn, or Jonathan Martin. If they’re really focused on cementing the line with a first round selection, then trading back would be worth a look if there’s a willing partner. Otherwise expect them to take a shot at addressing the offensive trenches in the later rounds.
Not to be ignored, Lovie Smith’s defense also has a pressing need at corner. Charles Tillman isn’t getting any younger and signing Kelvin Hayden might have been news… if it were 2009. At their selection, Chicago could be looking at a number of different defensive backs. Morris Claiborne is clearly going in the top six picks, but South Carolina’s Stephon Gilmore, Alabama’s Dre Kirkpatrick and North Alabama’s Janoris Jenkins all have a chance (some better than others) at being on the board. It just depends on how the first eighteen picks play out. Gilmore is touted as being a safe pick because he has three years experience, solid all-around skills and has kept himself clean and out of trouble. The same cannot be said for Kirkpatrick and Jenkins, who have both had run-ins with the law thanks to the old marijuana. Kirkpatrick’s charges were dropped, so his stock hasn’t fallen too sharply. He’s still a good press corner and has production to back it up. Jenkins on the other hand is dubbed the best cover corner in the draft after Claiborne, but three arrests have taken him completely off some teams’ draft boards. I wouldn’t be surprised if that list included the Bears. If Gilmore’s available, he fits Lovie’s zone coverage scheme and has no issues tackling the ball-carrier. Kirkpatrick would be worth a look, but I doubt he’ll fall that far. Corner is too much of a premium position for at least two of the top options to be still around.
While that wraps up the glaring needs for Chicago’s squad, there are certainly a few other players to keep your eye on come Thursday night. Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly seems to fit everywhere, which has led to him bouncing around mock drafts as a near top-ten pick to someone who could fall into the twenties. Clearly the Bears are settled at middle linebacker at the current moment, but Kuechly could be a luxury pick for the future. As productive as he was at BC, he’d come in a give Chicago an immediate replacement for Brian Urlacher as well as depth at a position that has been lacking.
That’s it for the Bears first round preview! Tune into the 2012 NFL Draft Thursday night to find out what happens! If you can’t, don’t worry. I’ll be online that night tweeting my thoughts and posting my reaction to Chicago’s selection as well as the other teams of the night.