After weeks — and even months — of speculation, rumors and mock drafts, the 2013 NFL Draft will finally commence tonight at 7 p.m. Central from Radio City Music Hall in New York.
For me, the kickoff of the draft couldn’t have come any sooner. I’m a draftaholic from the perspective of planting myself in front of the television for each day of the draft and catching every possible pick I can — unless more pressing matters come up in my life.
I am not, however, so engaged in the rumors and speculation to the point that it consumes my life in the month or two prior to the actual draft. For those of you who are regulars to my work, you’ve noticed I haven’t written a single article outlining the draft, nor have I taken part in a single mock draft. I’ve left that up to the other analysts out there who want to put on a blindfold and fire random shots in the dark.
This year’s draft is even more difficult to predict than ever, and draft gurus like Mike Mayock have even had difficulty projecting how the first round will unfold. There’s not a lot of strength in the offensive backfield and most of the attention will be paid to the guys in the trenches on the offensive and defensive lines. Defensive backs — specifically cornerbacks — have good value in the first round as well.
Fortunately for the Bears, these are positions at which they could use upgrades. Truth be told, outside of quarterback and running back, I wouldn’t be surprised or disappointed no matter what offensive or defensive position they selected with the 20th overall pick.
Of course, there exists the possibility that the Bears trade down out of the first round and accumulate more picks later. The team has just five picks right now (with no third- or seventh-round selections) and this stacks up as a fairly deep draft. Not to mention, the Bears — while not a weak team by any means — have depth to add as well as a need for an infusion of youth.
If I was a betting man, this is the order in which I’d wager my money on the course of action the Bears take in the first round:
1. Trade Down
If this was Jerry Angelo’s draft, I’d be more confident that this would be what the Bears do in the first round. Angelo was notorious for accumulating picks later in the draft. But two things are different now: new GM Phil Emery — a draft guy based on his history as a scout — has taken the reigns of the organization, and the price of first-round rookies dropped significantly under the new collective bargaining agreement. What the latter means is that there is less risk in using a first-round pick on an unknown given that the financial obligations are much less. Still, I feel there is a good chance the Bears look to acquire more picks.
The Bears have a strong need for linebackers — plural. They signed veterans D.J. Williams and James Anderson this offseason to fill the urgency of the vacancies left by starters Brian Urlacher and Nick Roach. But each of those players were signed to one-year deals, and Williams’ contract is not guaranteed. The Bears need to get younger on defense and they could use a cornerstone piece, not a stopgap solution. Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o has been most linked to the Bears throughout mock drafts. Kansas State’s Arthur Brown came in for a visit and Georgia’s Alec Ogletree is intriguing for his athleticism and sideline-to-sideline mobility a la Urlacher.
Both Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings were voted Pro Bowlers last year after incredible seasons. But neither is a lockdown cornerback and both are getting up there in age. Like at linebacker, the team needs an infusion of youth at cornerback to go with their young, developing safeties. This might be the draft to do it because there are a few good ones at the top of the draftboard. Dee Milliner from Alabama, D.J. Hayden from Houston, Xavier Rhodes from Florida State, Desmond Trufant from Washington, Jamar Taylor from Boise State, and David Amerson from North Carolina State have all been mentioned in first-round consideration.
4. Offensive Line
The Bears worked quickly to help fix an ailing offensive line in free agency by signing former Saint Jermon Bushrod. Bushrod will lock down quarterback Jay Cutler’s blind side on the left side of the line, moving J’Marcus Webb over to the right side. The team also retained veteran Jonathan Scott and still has third-year pro Gabe Carimi in the mix at both tackle and guard. It’s the inside of the line that could use some help after Lance Louis and Chris Spencer departed in free agency. Plus, Roberto Garza is getting up there in age and doesn’t have much left in the tank.
Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert is the consensus top tight end in the draft and he’s got great skills as a pass catcher. He would be a great addition to the Bears’ retooled offense, joining Brandon Marshall, Martellus Bennett, and Alshon Jeffery. But there are suspicions that he might go ahead of the Bears’ pick at 20. If he somehow slips down to them, they should seriously consider him to continue to help the retooled offense.
The Bears added two wide receivers last offseason in Marshall (via free agency) and Jeffery (through the draft). Taking another receiver in the first round seems gluttonous, doesn’t it? Well, maybe not. You can never have enough weapons to help an offense that hasn’t ranked in the Top 15 in more years than I can remember. West Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin likely will be gone well before the Bears pick, but if the right cards fall, the Bears should consider the best available player, even if he’s a receiver.
Further continuing the line of thinking that the Bears need an infusion of youth on defense, the team could use another pass rusher along the defensive line. As it stands, the team has enough to win with, with Julius Peppers, Henry Melton, Corey Wootton, and Shea McClellin to go with nose tackle Stephen Paea. But Peppers is getting older and McClellin remains unproven. And Melton was only franchised by the club. If the best available player happens to be on the defensive line, I’m okay with the Bears going in that direction so long as the player can contribute both right away and for the long haul.