CSNChicago.com Bears Insider John "Moon" Mullin will be going position by position as the Bears approach the 2016 NFL Draft, taking a look at what the Bears have, what they might need and what draft days and after could have in store.
Bears pre-draft situation
The 2015 season began in the same nightmare mode that marked 2014, with rampant poor kick coverage that allowed touchdown kickoff returns to Arizona and Seattle after two 40-yard returns in Week 1 vs. Green Bay, plus a 65-yard trick play on a punt return by the Seahawks.
Significantly, the Bears allowed just three kickoff returns longer than 30 yards over the final 13 games and two punt returns longer than 20 yards over that 13-game stretch. The goal may be zero big plays defending returns but the Bears did recover to stand No. 12 in the special-teams ranking created by Dallas Morning News NFL writer Rick Gosselin, which incorporates 22 different special-teams categories. That was a jump up from No. 26 the previous year.
In something of a devastating twist, the Bears saw kicker Robbie Gould tie for second in the NFL with 33 field goals made, but miss critical late kicks in the losses to San Francisco and Washington. Gould’s 33-for-39 field goals still left him as the ninth-most-accurate kicker in NFL history but spawned questions about Gould, heading into his 12th year as Bears kicker.
Punter Pat O’Donnell improved his net by two full yards, to 39.7, and average to 44.2, but both still in the bottom third of the NFL. Coverage units contribute to that overall and coordinator Jeff Rodgers was able to cob together increasingly better coverage as ’15 played out.
The Bears re-signed returner Deonte Thompson, who came off the practice squad to average 29.2 yards per kickoff return, had only one game in his seven in which he didn’t have at least one KOR longer than 25 yards and even managed a 45-yard pass reception.
Omar Bolden was signed away from Denver, giving another elite-level asset for both kick returns and coverage.
Bears draft priority: Low
Besides Bolden and Thompson, The organization made special teams a priority, getting new deals done with all four of its top special-teams tacklers: Sherrick McManis, Chris Prosinski and Sam Acho in addition to making a tender offer to Josh Bellamy.
Questions may have been raised about Gould at age 34 but more likely is a free agent kicker coming to camp to share the load and possibility get a job elsewhere.
Keep an eye on ...
Late-round picks. They can be overlooked as non-starters but none of the Bears’ top five special-teams tacklers was drafted sooner than fourth rounds.