Bears

Emery will not shrink from taking WR's No. 1

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Emery will not shrink from taking WR's No. 1

The Phil Emery Era begins officially on Monday afternoon at Halas Hall as the Bears install the one individual calculated to have the greatest single influence on the Bears on-field future.

For the moment, however, a significant look is to the past, as it was for President Ted Phillips and the organization over the past few weeks. The decision that Emery was the man for the Bears future was based on his past, what hes done or whats happened where hes been besides character traits and what he saw as the directions to be followed if he were the choice for general manager.

Keys to Emerys future (really, anyone's for that matter) lie in his past, whether as a tough, disciplined strength and conditioning coach at the Naval Academy or as a college scouting director in the NFL.

General managers bring definite philosophies to their courses of talent action, beyond the obvious quest for greatness in players.

Jim Finks focused on tackles and quarterback on offense, reasoning that the end game was to secure the triggerman and also elite protection for that individual. Consequently there was a premium on tackles like Ron Yary in Minnesota with a No. 1-overall pick, and Dennis LickTed Albrecht (1976-77) and Keith Van HorneJimbo Covert (1981, 1983) with first-rounders.

Finks built the Vikings defense on the foundation of Carl Eller and Alan Page, both No. 1s.

Jerry Angelo had a propensity toward linemen with first picks of drafts at Tampa Bay and Chicago, albeit with a far sparser success rate than Finks.

Wide receivers as draft targets

While Emery was a top figure in college scouting for Atlanta, the Falcons went principally after impact players on offense. They chose wide receivers with late No. 1s in consecutive drafts: Michael Jenkins No. 29 in 2004 (after cornerback DeAngelo Hall at No. 8) and Roddy White at No. 27 in 2005.

Defensive end Jamaal Anderson was a bust at No. 8 overall in 2007 but the Falcons scored in 2008 with quarterback Matt Ryan at No. 3 overall. The Falcons traded up to get USC tackle Sam Baker in 2009 and got a marginal starter.

Angelo disliked drafting wide receivers with high picks because of the too-freequent bust factor. David Terrell (2001, No. 8 overall) and Mark Bradley (2005, second round) supported his beliefs.

But Emery comes from the Kansas City Chiefs and GM Scott Pioli most recently, where a central figure on offense has been wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, the 23rd overall pick of the pre-Emery 2007 draft.

Bowe is an unrestricted free agent this offseason. The Bears have been willing to invest heavily in free agent receivers (Muhsin Muhammed, 2005) and Bowe is substantially above what Muhammed was at the time of his becoming a Bear.

And Kansas City used their first pick (26th overall) in the 2011 draft on Jonathan Baldwin, a wide receiver from Pittsburgh. Baldwin missed time early with a broken thumb suffered in training camp.

Notably perhaps are the types of wideouts his teams have drafted with Emerys involvement: Jenkins, 6-4; White, 6-0; Baldwin, 6-4. And Bowe is 6-2.
Resolving Forte
Emery also was with the Chiefs in December 2010 when they gave running back Jamaal Charles a multi-year deal that included 13 million guaranteed in various forms. That deal was one standard of measure for the not-accepted offer made to Matt Forte prior to the 2011 season.

The franchise tag remains the likely option in Fortes case. Only speculation here, but Emery also saw the fragility of a running back when Charles was lost for the season after one week. Chances would seem marginal at best that Emery would be inclined to pay Forte more than Angelo was offering and substantially more than the Chiefs paid Charles, a three-time Pro Bowler.

For Bears drafting at No. 8, the 'problem' with Notre Dame G Quenton Nelson is...

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USA TODAY

For Bears drafting at No. 8, the 'problem' with Notre Dame G Quenton Nelson is...

In the aptly-named mock drafts to this point, this reporter has posited the Bears selecting Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson. That’s not the complete story, however. There’s a “problem.”

The landscape: The Bears currently sit at No. 8 overall; Nelson is rated among the best prospects, regardless of position, in the 2018; Nelson is the consensus top offensive lineman in this draft; the Bears have an immediate need on the interior of their offensive line (at guard or center, depending upon where where the new coaching staff slots Cody Whitehair); and among the prime directives for GM Ryan Pace is the protection of franchise quarterback Mitch Trubisky.

And full disclosure: This reporter does see Nelson to the Bears, just not at No. 8, and presumably if the Bears do not address the post-Josh Sitton situation in free agency.

But there’s a problem. A couple, actually, and having nothing to do specifically with Nelson.

The “problem” centers (no pun intended) around his position: Guard.

Guards do not typically come off the board within the first 10 picks of drafts. Worse for guards, when they do, they don’t work out well. In the last five drafts, only two guards were selected within the first 10 picks, both in the 2013 draft, both (Jonathan Cooper, No. 7; Chance Warmack, No. 10) already undistinguished and both already on their second teams.

Great guards are indeed to be found in first rounds. But relevant NFL history says that they do not come early. Selectively, to wit:

Player Drafted Year
David DeCastro 24 2012
Alan Faneca* 26 1998
Steve Hutchinson* 17 2001
Kyle Long 20 2013
Zack Martin 16 2014

* 2017 Hall of Fame semifinalist

Meaning: Assuming the Bears do not spend starter money in free agency on the like of Andrew Norwell, Justin Pugh, Zach Fulton or (insert UFA name here). Parenthetically on the draft-value aspect of good guards, Norwell was undrafted, Pugh was the 2013 pick just ahead Long, as a tackle, and Fulton was a sixth-rounder.

Pace predilections: “stat” players

Pace is in desperate need of impact players in both the draft and free agency. A guard is simply not in the “impact” vein as Pace’s first three No. 1 draft picks, all top-10’ers and all with something in common that a guard does not bring: stats.

Stats themselves aren’t the point, and an elite offensive lineman contributes to the stats of everyone else on his unit. But 2015 No. 1 Kevin White is a wide receiver; they catch passes and score touchdowns. Pace’s 2016 No. 1 was a rush-linebacker who generates sacks; Leonard Floyd. And 2017 No. 1 was Mitch Trubisky. All players with the potential for producing major-impact, game-changing stat plays.

Conversely, Pace’s New Orleans touchstone was an offensive line that protected Drew Brees with mid-rounders Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks at guard, and no offensive lineman drafted higher than the second round (Jon Stinchcomb).

Best guess, too, is that new head coach Matt Nagy, who’ll obviously be an intimate part of the draft process, will not be pounding the table for a guard, or perhaps for any offensive lineman with that first first-round pick of his tenure. The Kansas City Chiefs got just a so-so starting tackle (Eric Fisher) with the No. 1-overall pick of the 2013 draft while Nagy was there. And the very good Philadelphia Eagles teams took exactly one offensive lineman higher than the fourth round during Nagy’s years there (2008-12) with Andy Reid – and that pick was a guard (Danny Watkins) picked at No. 23, and who was a bust.

Conclusion: If Nelson is far, far and away the highest-graded player on the Bears’ draft board, Pace will make that move – if, and only if, Pace cannot trade down and add the picks that every GM craves as part of franchise-building, which is where the Pace-Nagy administration stands.

2017 Bears position grades: Defensive backs

2017 Bears position grades: Defensive backs

2017 grade: B-

Level of need: High

Decisions to be made on: Kyle Fuller (free agent), Prince Amukamara (free agent), Marcus Cooper (contract), Sherrick McManis (free agent), Bryce Callahan (restricted free agent), Quintin Demps (contract)

Possible free agent targets: Trumaine Johnson, Malcolm Butler, Bashaud Breeland, E.J. Gaines, Rashaad Melvin, Robert McClain, Darrelle Revis

There’s a wide spectrum of scenarios for the Bears at cornerback, ranging from keeping the status quo to blowing the whole thing up, and everything in between. Safety is far more stable, with Adrian Amos and Eddie Jackson proving to be a reliable pairing, so that’s set for 2018.

Let’s start with one end of that cornerback spectrum: The Bears keep the top of this unit intact. That means, No. 1, retaining Kyle Fuller via the franchise tag and/or a long-term contract. No. 2, it means bringing back Prince Amukamara, who didn’t record an interception and committed a few too many penalties, but otherwise was a fine enough cover corner. No. 3, it means keeping restricted free agent Bryce Callahan as the team’s No. 1 slot corner.

On paper, this doesn’t seem like an altogether bad option. The Bears weren’t spectacular at cornerback in 2017, but the position was a little better than average, which isn’t the worst place to be for a single unit. Couple with solid play from the safeties and the Bears’ defensive backs were overall a decent enough group. Outside of Marcus Cooper -- who is a candidate to be cut for cap savings -- the Bears may not need to make wholesale changes to this group.

That, though, is a rosier look at this unit. The Bears can certainly improve the personnel in it with a healthy amount of cap space and a strong crop of free agent cornerbacks about to hit the market. Keeping Fuller and then signing a top-tier player like Trumaine Johnson or Malcolm Butler would upgrade this group, as would bringing back Fuller and Amukamara but then using a high draft pick on a player like Ohio State’s Denzel Ward.

Unless the Bears sign two big-time cornerbacks -- i.e. Fuller and Johnson, or even a guy like Brashaud Breeland or E.J. Gaines -- it would seem reasonable for them to use a first or second-round pick on a cornerback in an effort to find a longer-term solution at the position. That doesn’t mean the Bears would absolutely have to go that route, especially with other needs at wide receiver, guard and outside linebacker.

But here’s another thought: It’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Bears are able to sign a combination of two top cornerbacks in free agency. With plenty of cap space top-end free agents lacking at wide receiver and outside linebacker/edge rusher, could Pace allocate a good chunk of that money to, say, tagging Fuller and making runs at Johnson, Butler and/or Breeland? 2018 looks to be a good year to be aggressive in the free agent cornerback market, and that could play into the Bears’ strategy well.

Before we finish, we should carve out some space for Amos and Jackson. Pro Football Focus isn’t the only outlet that’s given Amos high marks -- Bleacher Report’s NFL1000 ranked him as the No. 1 free safety in the league, too. Jackson came in at No. 19 in B/R’s strong safety rankings, which is pretty solid for a fourth-round rookie.

But the larger point here isn’t exactly where Amos and Jackson are in outside evaluations -- it’s that, tangibly, the pair played well off each other on a consistent basis last year. Seeing as Amos didn’t enter the Bears’ starting lineup until Week 4 -- after Quintin Demps suffered a season-ending broken forearm against Pittsburgh -- how quickly and successfully he and Jackson meshed was one of the more impressive developments for the Bears’ 2017 defense. Amos needs to make more plays on the ball and Jackson has some things to clean up, but the Bears enter the 2018 league year not needing to address their safety position. That’s a good place to be for a team with other significant needs.