Bears

Mullin: A change in draft philosophy?

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Mullin: A change in draft philosophy?

Thursday, April 21, 2011
Posted: 10:01 p.m.
By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

Offensive line is one of the four positions being targeted by the Bears in the 2011 draft, and their current offensive line is anything but settled.

But a clear sense of direction is apparent. It has been taking shape over the past couple of seasons. And it will be the driving factor behind the name the Bears choose, presumably in the first or second round, next weekend.

We want to go bigger for that because weve got bigger people in our division that were playing against, Pro Bowl type players, said general manager Jerry Angelo. In fact theres three, referring without naming them to defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh in Detroit, Kevin Williams in Minnesota and B.J. Raji, a Pro Bowl alternate for Green Bay.

So that is something were mindful of. So were not really looking at that guardcenter type of player. Its not that we would pass up a player that we felt was a really good player. Were not going to miss the forest for the trees. Were still going to evaluate the quality of the player. But if everything is even, bigger is the way we would go.

What that means is that there will be no Josh Beekman drafted this years by the Bears. Nor an Olin Kreutz for that matter, were he in the draft pool.

Angelo said as many as seven tackles could come off the board in the first round. But if one comes to Chicago, it may not necessarily be a tackle.

The last couple of years with, obviously a lot of talking with our coaches, weve kind of shifted in that we want bigger people, Angelo said. So were looking for tackles that can play guards rather than guards who can play center.

So theres a little bit of a shift in our thinking that way philosophically. I know coach Mike Tice, coach Mike Martz want bigger people. Staffs weve had before, they werent as committed to that thinking. But theres a little bit more of a shift. So when we look at offensive linemen, wed like to think that the tackleguards can be interchangeable.

That has implications for a number of draft possibles.

Consensus opinions have Tyron Smith, Anthony Castonzo and Gabe Carimi gone before the Bears pick at No. 29. Mike Pouncey was that centerguard player at Florida, is listed in the 305-310-pound range and is not considered a tackle in most evaluations.

Angelo was complimentary of Mississippi States Derek Sherrod, a character player at 6-5, 321, and who has played guard and tackle. Colorado tackle Nate Solder is not expected to be available at No. 29 but is rated a tackle talent who projects as a starter for the Bears and would send Chris Williams and Frank Omiyale inside competing for a guard job.
Thinking wide

One offseason objective for the Bears was to add to a receiver corps that the organization considers solid and has proved to be such but could use someone taller than 6 feet now that Devin Aromashodu is out. That addition could still be made in the form of Braylon Edwards or Roy Williams once a free-agency signing period arrives but it is not a priority in the draft.

Yeah, were looking at the position. Wed like to get the big receiver like everybody, Angelo said. So much has been made about the No. 1 receiver. But its hard to find a No. 1 receiver.

Weve looked at the position hard this year. I dont anticipate that we, collectively as a group, see anybody thats going to fit that definition. But we do like the drafts receiver group given how they complement what we have. We looked at it in depth. Its not a great group, but there are some players there that we like that we feel can come in and help us...

I just dont want to overrate the position. We certainly like our receiver corps. We certainly want to build on it. But thats not the end-all.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

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.