(Editorial note: My apologies for the tardiness of this analysis. I was in Las Vegas for the weekend)
Bears general manager Phil Emery wanted to make a splash in his first draft with the team and he seemed to do just that with some bold — and perhaps risky — picks. Emery recognized a roster full of openings at just about every position and understood he needed to infuse some youthful talent into the organization.
Each of Emery’s picks received some skepticism and criticism from various Bears fans and members of the Chicago media, but it’s hard to fault him for his vision of the direction of not only the team but the league as well. Emery, like most competent general managers in the NFL, understands that the league is a passing league, and to have success a team must be able to pass the ball and defend against it.
What did Emery do to address those needs? He added two players — a wide receiver and a tight end — to upgrade the passing game, one player — a defensive end — to improve the pass rush, and three players — a safety and two cornerbacks — to help defend against the pass.
Whether or not you approve of the players whom Emery selected, you cannot be angry at the positions he addressed. Some feel that Emery should have upgraded the offensive line but Emery felt there was not good value at the positions and his other picks warranted passing over subpar talent on the line. After all, why should he add inferior players to a position of need just to try to fill the hole? His strategy was to get the best playmakers he could and he did so — at least, on paper — while also filling needs.
Who’s to say that Emery won’t address the line if offensive coordinator — and offensive line guru — Mike Tice isn’t able to mold the young talent that is currently on the roster? If Emery was intelligent enough to understand perhaps the two biggest keys to success in this league — passing the ball and rushing the passer — then I think we can give him the benefit of the doubt with knowing when the best time to upgrade the offensive line will be.
Although it’s impossible to compare last year’s full-season stats to those of 2010, because Jay Cutler didn’t play a full season, you still can compare sacks on a per-game average and Cutler’s 2.3 sacks per game last year were much better than his 3.46 in 2011. To put it another way, prorated across a 15-game season (Cutler only played 15 in 2010), he would have been sacked 34.5 times, or 17.5 fewer times than in 2010. In short, the offensive line was improving, and this was without rookie Gabe Carimi. Carimi and the addition of free agent guard Chilo Rachal could upgrade the line even more, at least through competition if nothing else.
Here’s a look at my pick-by-pick analysis:
Shea McClellin, defensive end, Boise St.
The Bears had been rumored to have interest in a pass rusher with their first-round draft pick ever since they acquired wide receiver Brandon Marshall at the start of free agency. There were still mock drafts having them selecting other positions, but I think most felt they’d pick a defensive end, and that’s what they did by selecting Boise State’s Shea McClellin. McClellin is a versatile player who was thought to be a good fit as a 3-4 outside linebacker or as a 4-3 end. He even lined up occasionally on the inside as a tackle. He ran the second-fastest 40 time at the combine among defensive ends. Some critics feel his competition level at Boise State wasn’t very high and others fear this is Dan Bazuin Part II. But McClellan makes plays, finds himself around the ball all the time, and creates constant pressure even when not sacking the quarterback.
Alshon Jeffery, wide receiver, South Carolina
The Bears traded up in the second round to select Jeffery and provide the offense another big weapon on the outside. His 6-4 frame gives Cutler another big target to throw the ball to to pair up with the 6-4 Marshall. Emery said after the draft that Jeffery was a Top 3 receiver on their board and receivers coach Darryl Drake said that Jeffery had the best hands in the draft. The most encouraging thing about Jeffery is his knack for going up and getting the ball, something Cutler has wanted from the moment he came to Chicago. He even made waves after his first preseason game as a Bear by saying Devin Hester was not a “go up and get it guy.” Cutler surely has to be salivating at having Marshall and Jeffery to sling the ball to. The biggest concern with Jeffery, and this evokes memories of former Lion Mike Williams, is his ability to maintain playing weight. He ballooned up to 240 pounds his last year in school.
Brandon Hardin, safety, Oregon St.
Hardin is a curious pick because he comes with a lot of risk. If the risk pans out, it’ll be a great value pick for the Bears. Hardin missed the entire season this past year but still played in the East-West game. He has great size for a safety at 6-3 and 217 pounds, something the league is trending more towards. Hardin was listed as a free safety on NFL.com but NFL Network’s draft expert Mike Mayock said, “This is a big, good-looking kid who will definitely play inside in Chicago,” meaning the Bears might play him at strong safety and move him up in the box.
Evan Rodriguez, tight end, Temple
The Bears continued to shore up the passing game by selecting Temple’s Evan Rodriguez in the fourth round. Rodriguez has limited size at 6-foot-1 so will either be used as a pass-catching tight end or as a fullback/H-back, and he should be a contributor on special teams. NFL.com’s draft analysis said that Rodriguez is “a very reliable pass catcher who is a crafty route runner” and that he was “a go-to look for Temple to pick up first downs.” The Bears already had one of those in Earl Bennett, but now they arguably have four of them with Marshall, Jeffery, and Rodriguez added to the mix.
Isaiah Frey, cornerback, Nevada
With Charles Tillman on the wrong side of 30, the departures of Corey Graham and Zack Bowman, and problems with the other cornerback position last year, the Bears wanted to shore up their defensive backfield to combat the pass-happy league. Frey is a good fit for a zone defense like the Bears play and has great quickness and athleticism. He’ll have the opportunity to compete with the other corners on the roster for a spot on the team.
Greg McCoy, cornerback, TCU
NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks calls McCoy a “competitive corner with a scrappy demeanor.” He doesn’t have great size and if he’s to make the final roster, he’ll have to battle with Frey, Kelvin Hayden, Tim Jennings, D.J. Moore, and Jonathan Wilhite. The Bears now have eight cornerbacks on their roster and not all of them can make the final cut. This will surely create competition at the position and bring out the best in the collective group.