The Chicago Bears have used the 2013 off season and the 2013 NFL Draft as a changing of the guard. Lovie Smith was let go despite winning 10 games in 2012 and the general manager Phil Emery opted to go in a different direction in a number of areas. First, they opted to go with an offensive head coach and went off the board and signed Marc Trestman, who has an impeccable resume as an assistant with numerous winning teams and helped a number of quarterbacks to their best seasons; the hope is that he would have a similar impact on Jay Cutler. Curiously, Trestman had only recently gotten his first head coaching job and it was in the Canadian Football League where he was also having success. In addition to going with a new head coach, the Bears opted to move on from Bear legend and really the face of the team in Brian Urlacher and had a number of other defensive standouts approaching the ends of their careers. Emery had to decide the best way to move forward and allowing the Bears to be competitive while also putting them in place to be better in the future and the early part of his draft was perplexing but got better as it came together.
At the 20th pick in the first round, the Bears threw a curveball by taking Kyle Long, offensive guard from Oregon. No one saw this one coming. There were some people talking about Long as possibly sneaking into the first round but not this early and not to the Bears. While being a fantastic athlete with good bloodlines (father is Hall of Famer Howie Long and brother is Rams standout defensive end Chris Long), Kyle is still a developmental player that is somewhat raw. He started his college career at Florida State as a pitcher before running into some off field issues and ultimately leaving the school. Long found his way back to football at Saddleback College along with Menelik Watson, who would ultimately end up playing right tackle as a junior college transfer for the Seminoles. Long opted to go play for the Ducks inEugene. He had a solid year but his high stock is based more on his future than his past.
The interior of the Chicago Bears line was filled with question marks as they came into the draft. Former first rounder Gabe Carimi has been a disappointment on the verge of being a bust as he was drafted to play right tackle and after being unable to hold up effectively is now moved to right guard. The Bears brought in Matt Slauson from the Jets in free agency and hope he can be a solid player at left guard. With Long in the fold, obviously they want him to win one of those starting jobs and it is more likely to be right than left.
The other aspect of this pick that makes it slightly more tolerable is the fact that Long represents an insurance policy in case Jermon Bushrod or J’Marcus Webb are hurt or unable to fulfill their jobs at the tackle spots, Long has the athletic ability to kick outside. Depth is good and having a backup plan is good, but obviously the best case scenario for the Bears is that Bushrod and Webb are good enough to keep Long inside and that Long excels at guard.
The frustration from fans of the Bears is not so much the picking of Long, but who they passed up with the selection; namely Tyler Eifert for most but some were hoping for Manti Te’o as well. Arthur Brown would have been a good option as well. As a result, a lot of frustration is being misdirected at Long. In the end, no fan is really against improving the offensive line or helping Jay Cutler and running back Matt Forte play better, but if those players are great in the NFL next year and Long has some struggles early in his career, there will be some annoyed finger pointing at Emery for this selection.
In the second round, the Bears went with another stunning move by selecting Jonathan Bostic, middle linebacker from Florida. At this point, many Bears fans are apoplectic. They definitely wanted the Bears to get a middle linebacker to take over for Brian Urlacher who is still a free agent after having a Hall of Fame caliber career with the Bears, leaving a gaping hole in the middle of their defense. Bostic is a middle linebacker but with a player like Arthur Brown sitting there and Bostic being a reach, this combined with the Long pick had Bears fans ready for this nightmare to end.
Bostic has the size for the middle linebacker position but has been more of a thumping presence than a dynamic player like many were hoping to get for this position as Urlacher was during much of his career. In many ways, Bostic is similar to Te’o, the target of many Bears fans in the first round. Bostic is a guy who should be an effective presence as a downhill run defender attacking the A and B gaps. He can take on and shed blocks with the ability to lay the wood on ball carriers, but he does not have great speed, does not change directions well, and is someone who is going to have trouble contributing on passing downs. Bostic can be an asset if the Bears are basically picking him to control the middle of the field and really lock down on running downs to get them into obvious passing situations, but he will need to sub out for them. This seems like a reach here and they could have gotten better value but the pick makes more sense when paired with their next pick.
The Bears traded their third round pick to the Dolphins to reunite Cutler with Brandon Marshall, so with their pick in the fourth round, they went with another linebacker in Khaseem Greene from Rutgers. This is an intriguing pick and a nice value here for Greene who could contribute in the middle but is more of a fit for the weak side linebacker spot which has long been manned by Lance Briggs, who is coming close to the end of his career.
Greene is a former safety who converted to linebacker at Rutgers and played a unique style for the Scarlet Knights. He would read somewhat slowly standing in place to do it, but when he diagnosed what was going on he showed an ability to use his teammates as blockers and find holes to attack the ball carrier. Greene got incredibly good at this and made a ton of plays in the backfield both in tackles for loss against running backs and punishing quarterbacks on the blitz. Greene has the athleticism to have a lot of range but because of how he reads, he tends not to play to his speed at times. If he can improve in how he reads and reading on the move, he could make a big leap in his play. For a former safety, he is an extremely aggressive player that is better going forward than he is going back into coverage. He does show good ball skills and is a threat to intercept passes if he can get to them, which goes back to the question of range. Greene is going to have to make an early impact likely as a nickel linebacker and on special teams. He could be deemed the person to check in for Bostic for obvious passing situations early in his career until he is ready to take over the weak side spot. Bostic is a pure run defender and lacks speed, quickness and range; Greene is superior in all of these areas and rather than pick one player to fill the middle linebacker position, it appears the Bears opted to take two and give them extremely specialized roles for it. As it stands now, Briggs and Greene might be their nickel linebackers and could be a nice group this coming year.
In the fifth round, the Bears moved back a few spots in a deal with the Falcons to grab a seventh round pick, went back to the offensive line and selected Jordan Mills, offensive tackle from Louisiana Tech. With the exception of a few games, Mills exclusively played right tackle in college but there are some that believe he has the potential to play left tackle and perhaps guard. If he can do that, he represents a significant value for the Bears as depth now and potentially a starter down the road. Mills has a nice combination of size, strength, and effort. If Mills can be more consistent with his get off on the snap, he could go a long way in being a viable NFL player.
The Bears have a combination of a bunch of journeyman guys currently as their depth along with few young players that could have a future with the team as developmental prospects such as James Brown. It seems likely that unless he really struggles and proves to only be a right tackle that Mills will make the team but the question is who will get released to keep him; Jonathan Scott, Eben Britton, and Edwin Williams could be fighting for their roster spots this camp if Mills is going to make the team.
In the sixth round, the Bears opted to add a pass rusher in Cornelius Washington, defensive end from Georgia. The Bears have employed an interesting combination of defensive linemen to come in and perform various roles. Players like Corey Wootton and Julius Peppers can both play big end positions on run downs and then kick inside on passing downs as a nice pair of rush tackles. In this scenario, Shea McClellin comes in to rush the passer and conceivably, this is where Washington would find his niche.
Washington is an athletic prospect that shined during the Senior Bowl week but was largely not all that productive during his time at Georgia. Some of this was due to the production of his teammate on the other side Jarvis Jones who had a lot of opportunities created for him to operate. Lastly, Washington was never cut out to play in the 3-4 scheme and is a far better fit as a defensive end, especially if he is moved out to the 9-tech on the edge. This is where he has shined in postseason workouts, but the lack of production and inability to really make an impact is why he ended up in the sixth round. There is a significant upside and potential for the Bears to cash in on this pick. A number of draftniks were extremely high on Washington and it will be interesting to see if they were right or if the NFL was right in why he went as low as he did. Initially, it seems that Washington is going to sink or swim based on his ability to come in and get after the quarterback and work on developing to be more than that down the road.
In the seventh round, with the pick they got from the Falcons, the Bears finished their draft by taking wide receiver Marquess Wilson from Washington State. Wilson had shown a good amount of talent in his career but there are a significant number of questions that surround the situation in which he left the Cougar football team. There is plenty of ‘he said, he said’ here between Wilson and controversial head coach Mike Leach. Leach also had the incident with the son of Craig James which led to him having to leave the Texas Tech head coaching job, so while most would tend to believe the coach in a situation like this, Leach’s hands are not clean and there is plenty of suspicion to go around. All of this has clouded the fact that Wilson was a talented football player.
Wilson caught 83 passes for 1,388 yards and 12 touchdowns as a junior and was timed at a 4.5 while having a big frame at 6’3”. The question of whether the issue with Leach and how he left the Washington State program was a one-time problem or a lingering issue will be something that might get talked about a little bit during training camp if there is an issue, but if Wilson just focuses on football and works on his game, the Bears have a chance for a significant steal and a good fit for the type of receivers Cutler likes to throw the ball. It seems like an eternity ago when people were so excited about the possibility of what Leach would be able to do with quarterback Jeff Tuel and Wilson, but that unfortunately went up in smoke before it had the chance. Wilson was a highly ranked prospect by some early in the process and if he can play like many expected, he will not only make the roster but will have a chance to steal reps.
The biggest question mark with Wilson is how thin he is despite his size. If he can get in the Bears strength program and get to 200-205lbs, he will be significantly better. As it is, Wilson is a long strider who can stretch the field deep and could take over the role that Johnnie Knox had before injuries sadly forced him into retirement.
My Thoughts: The strategy the Bears went with in this draft makes sense looking back, but there are still a number of questions that will need to be answered with good play, particularly by Long and Bostic. Both players will be under a significant amount of scrutiny and compared to prospects that they could have picked at those spots for the next few years. The latter part of the draft resulted in some nice values and some good opportunities for the Bears to add talent for the short and long term.
The Bears would have loved to have had any of the top five linemen fall to them in this draft but it was never realistic. Kyle Long represents a significant reach but if he can be a great guard for them, it will be easy to forget that as Jay Cutler is able to stay on his feet and make throws while Matt Forte is making big runs. Long and Bushrod represent a significant investment in the offensive line and one the Bears needed. Now, those players have to prove it.
The strategy of having two players fill one larger role is an intriguing one. Bostic is a pure, hard-nosed two down run stopper. If he does that, he will be doing what the Bears were hoping to get in him. If he can also contribute in coverage, it is a bonus, but they appear to have brought in Khaseem Greene to take up the coverage component as a nickel linebacker and heir to the weak side linebacker position behind Briggs. Had the Bears taken Greene in round two and Bostic in round four, this would have been a great situation for the Bears. The question is going to be if Arthur Brown, who the Bears passed on twice, will be a better player than the Bostic/Greene combo. It is definitely a different approach but it could be a beneficial one for the Bears if they end up as the starting middle and weak side linebackers in a year or two with Greene the primary nickel linebacker.
Bringing an offensive lineman like Jordan Mills will be a good one as long as he is not only a right tackle. If he can play multiple spots and become a swing tackle, it will be a nice pickup. It is not impossible that Mills could take the right tackle spot from Webb but he does have some technical issues to work out and that could be his main focus as a rookie. The Bears went from a team that went from having a desperate need at the offensive line to having depth there; not a bad set up.
The picks of Wilson and Washington are great because both guys have significant upside at minimal risk. If neither are able to make the team, it is a missed opportunity but worth the gamble. If even one of them can be the player that they were believed to be during their college careers, it is a really nice bonus for this draft and could make it stand out in the future. Wilson especially because the question with him was never talent or ability; it has been this mess and while he could bear responsibility in this mess that does not look good for anyone involved, I cannot help but wonder if some of his fall was simply due to being out of sight and out of mind for a lot of teams.
Overall, the way Emery went about this draft was not ideal, but he did address the biggest area of concern this offseason; the offensive line and putting youth into an aging linebacker core. They added a left tackle, two potential starting guards, and a potential swing tackle. They got a linebacker by committee approach that could work out really well as one is a specialized run defender and one excels more as a pass defender rather than taking one player to do both. I would have gone with Brown, but I really like Greene and I like the idea of Greene and Bostic. It was an interesting road Emery took to get here, but if it worked out, the Bears addressed two of their biggest areas of concern and put them in position to attack other areas in the future. They did not add a bunch of talented skill players but the stability of protection up front for Forte and Cutler could do more than any tight end ever could.
Tags: 2013 Nfl Draft Chicago Bears Cornelius Washington Florida Gators Football Georgia Bulldogs Football Jonathan Bostic Jordan Mills Khaseem Greene Kyle Long Louisiana Tech Bulldogs Football Marquess Wilson Oregon Ducks Football Rutgers Scarlet Knights Football Washington State Cougars Football