It’s NFL Draft day! Fans such as myself wait and wonder what moves Bears general manager Phil Emery will make in his third draft. In 2012 Phil drafted then-defensive end Shea McClellin. After two years of poor sack totals for a first-round pick, McClellin is moving to linebacker. Phil is hoping this move will pay off and bring out Shea’s true talents. In 2013 Emery picked Bears guard Kyle Long to help shore up a miserable offensive line. Fielding him alongside fellow rookie Jordan Mills at right tackle, they flourished in their first year.
Was it perfect? No… however, the formula paid off, netting the Bears their finest offensive showing in years. Now it’s the third time riding the Phil Emery Draft day train, and if his previous two shots at picking are to be examined, it’s safe to say he will have a surprise in store. As far as fans are concerned, he’s one for two. The question is this: Have the Bears brass done enough in free agency to give them ultimate flexibility in the 2014 NFL Draft?
Free agency proved to be productive for the Bears in certain areas. The defensive line sure looks improved from last season’s group. With Henry Melton gone and Julius Peppers now playing for the Packers, the Bears had a slew of vacancies along the line.
So on day one Lamarr Houston was signed to a five-year, $35-million deal. A versatile lineman who can slide inside, and fit the right end spot. Houston was not signed to be Julius Peppers from a few years ago. He was signed for stout run defense and an underrated ability to to create pressure. However, pressure alone will not take down Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, or Drew Brees — just a few of the quarterbacks the Bears will face this year.
That’s where Jared Allen comes into the fray. Allen, a known pass-rush specialist, should benefit handsomely from being lined up against a young defensive end like Houston. With Lamarr’s great propensity for generating pressure and anchoring the right side of the line, Jared Allen will be free to go hunting for quarterbacks. Not just that, but Allen will have someone to whom he can teach the finer points of the game. Allen wants a Super Bowl; he knows the Bears offense can get the job done, and he is there to make sure the defense does the same.
Allen does not play the run as well as Houston, but the signing of Willie Young rectifies that issue. Another young player in the prime of his career, Young has an ability to generate pressure and plays well against the run. With David Bass and Cornelius Washington still in the mix, the end spots look to have depth and talent, as well as a younger look from 2013.
Where the Bears do lack depth is on the interior line. Even with Jeremiah Ratliff and Nate Collins the talent pool is thin, and the better of the two is on the wrong side of 30. It’s not a bad setup, but the interior still lacks serious depth. Even with Houston’s versatility the Bears need someone else inside. That’s where defensive tackle Aaron Donald comes in. Believed to be the Bears’ first-round choice by a number of experts, Donald looks the part of an NFL defensive tackle. He could prove to be a valuable piece to a revamped Bears defensive line rotation. The Bears did a lot in free agency to fix the line issues, similar to the 2013 line overhaul we saw on offense. The nagging question though is not the line anymore, it’s the defensive backfield.
Charles Tillman is back, and so is Tim Jennings. Both are solid cornerbacks, who are both old enough to cause the organization to look towards the future. After those two the depth is lacking severely, not to mention that the safety position is still occupied by Chris Conte and Ryan Mundy. Neither are very old, but neither foster the same enthusiasm as Jennings and TIllman.
Although the starting cornerbacks are solid, there is no depth in the otherwise depleted backfield; safety especially is a complete mystery. With the additions to the front end of the defense, I think it is time the Bears looked to solidifying the safety position. Ha Ha Clinton Dix, if available, should be the Bears pick. He looks solid and, with little free agent action at the position, should provide some much-needed talent and depth. He is an instinctive safety, knows how to tackle surely, and can cover the field with good range. He has great footwork and is a fluid runner with the ability to adjust his hips to stay on receivers and tight ends. Although lacking an outright burst or top-end speed, Dix uses his instincts to cover up these shortcomings.
The Bears could skip safety in the first round, go with Aaron Donald, and look at Deone Bucannon in the second round. He is a good solo tackler, aggressive in coverage, and plays strong in the box. Cornerback is a position of need, so Chicago should look outside the first round. Signing Tillman gave them the ability to put it off for one more year. However if Justin Gilbert is there he also remains an intriguing prospect.
If both Aaron Donald and Clinton Dix are gone, the Bears could add to the one spot on offense they do lack depth: the tight end position. It’s a long shot, and honestly the defense is too battered, not to work on that side of the ball at 14th overall. However, tight end Eric Ebron would bring a whole new dimension to the Bears offense. He is not polished as a blocker, and may not fit Marc Trestman’s system, but his ability as a receiver is off the charts.
This could be a wonderful pick for the Bears’ second-ranked offense, but if a player that could help the defensive backfield is available, the Bears need to make that move. Although running back has depth issues behind Matt Forte, they should look outside of the third round for help.
The Bears 5 biggest priorities in the 2013 NFL Draft
- Defensive Tackle
- Tight End
- Running Back