Monster Bears draft (including HOF’ers) still possible despite shortage of picks

USA Today

Monster Bears draft (including HOF’ers) still possible despite shortage of picks

The Bears are expected to start Draft Weekend with a total of five selections and none before late-third round. Expectations for additions of impact individuals are modest when the first scheduled turn on the clock doesn’t come until sometime late Friday evening, No. 87 overall.

But maybe the expectations shouldn’t be so modest.

After all, 22 members of the NFL’s Hall of Fame were third-round selections. Nine were from fourth rounds, seven from fifths (the Bears netted one of those), and nine from sevenths, not counting dozens from later rounds when the draft went eight, 12 and as many as 30 picks, and undrafted free agents.

The obvious key is “upside,” which teams crave in every pick regardless of round. To land those prospects requires leaps of varying degrees of faith.

Former GM Jerry Angelo commonly made high picks operating from a “floor” philosophy – a player who projected to be “at least” this good or that good. But the grand slams in the mid rounds are the ones who go far, far, far beyond their draft grades: Joe Montana (3), Steve Largent (4), Kevin Greene (5), Shannon Sharpe (7).

Or, putting it in more relevant Bears-position contexts: RB Curtis Martin (3); DE/LB Charles Haley (4); CB Dick LeBeau (5); T Rayfield Wright (7).

The Bears have not acquitted themselves well in truncated drafts. They finished with five picks in three of their last nine drafts, but only 2017’s produced difference-makers (Mitchell Trubisky, Eddie Jackson, Tarik Cohen). The 2010 and 2011 drafts gave them starting safeties (Chris Conte, Major Wright) but virtually nothing of true impact.

Still, it is a poor craftsman who blames his tools, and Bears scouts and personnel chiefs have made franchise-altering picks. Accordingly, NBC Sports Chicago has ID’d the three-example templates for major draft successes for those 3-4-5-7-7 picks, expanding the realm of the possible, as it were:

Third round

Player                                  Comment

Lance Briggs LB, ’03        7 Pro Bowls for Urlacher running mate
Dave Duerson S, ’83        Super Bowl rings with Bears, Giants
Olin Kreutz C, ’98              6 Pro Bowls for franchise’s best C

Honorable mention:         WR Marty Booker, C Jerry Fontenot

Fourth round

Player                                  Comment

Erich Barnes CB, ’58        6x Pro Bowl’er, (but only 1 with Bears)
Doug Buffone LB, ’66       1,200+ tkl, 24 INT 
Jim Nance RB, ’65            2x AFL All-Pro, AFL (chose AFL over Bears)

Honorable mention:   Alex Brown ’02, Kevin Butler K, ’85, Eddie Jackson S, Tarik Cohen RB, ‘17

Fifth round

Player                                  Comment

Allen Ellis CB, ’73             1-2 with Charles Tillman as best-ever Bears CB
Jordan Howard RB, ’16    2x 1,000-yard rusher now an Eagle
Stan Jones G, ’53             HOF, weight-training pioneer

Honorable mention:      Revie Sorey G, ‘75

Seventh round

Player                                  Comment

Charles Leno T, ’14          Starting LT still improving
Joe Fortunato LB, ’52       5 Pro Bowls, 3x All-Pro for ’63’s best LB
Ed O’Bradovich DE, ’62   Anchored side opposite Doug Atkins
Honorable mention:        Jim Osborne DT, 72

And after those…

8th round  1983 Mark Bortz G, Richard Dent DE (HOF)
9th round  1936 Danny Fortman G (HOF)

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Is Marcus Mariota the most logical QB target for the Bears?

Is Marcus Mariota the most logical QB target for the Bears?

Chicago Bears fans are sick and tired of the quarterback conversation surrounding this team as we enter the most important two month stretch of the offseason. My Twitter timeline (and vicious replies) are evidence of that. 

Duly noted.

That said, it's an unavoidable truth that GM Ryan Pace has no choice but to do something at quarterback in free agency or the NFL Draft. The most diehard Mitch Trubisky fan has to admit that. The former second overall pick hasn't developed into a franchise player through three seasons under center, and while the optimist would argue there's still time for him to become that guy, the realist is who must prevail when it comes to roster construction.

Marcus Mariota may be the perfect compromise. He doesn't have a resume that will immediately threaten Trubisky in 2020, but his sneaky upside combined with his youth and overall skill set is an ideal combination that could make him a long-term answer if Trubisky fails in the short-term.

According to Sports Illustrated, Chicago -- and coach Matt Nagy -- would be an ideal destination for Mariota, even if there's an inherent conflict of interest because both Mariota and Trubisky are represented by the same agent.

There are coaches out there—cough, Chicago, cough—who could slide him in easily under the guise that Mariota is a high-quality backup and develop him into a weapon under center who could take over when the starter falters.

Mariota, like Trubisky, hasn't lived up to the hype that he entered the NFL with back in 2015 when he was the second overall pick of the Titans. He's logged 61 starts and a career record of 29-32. He's completed just under 63% of his 1,110 career pass attempts and has 76 touchdown passes to 44 interceptions.

His stat sheet isn't impressive. His on-field play, at times, hasn't been, either. But he'd be an ideal reclamation project that the Bears can sell as the perfect backup even if the hope is for him to emerge as a starter.

There’s an advantage for QB-needy teams here who don’t want to deal with the public courting of Tom Brady, who don’t want to sacrifice mobility by signing Philip Rivers, who don’t want to roll the dice on every snap by signing Jameis Winston, and who don’t have the trade capital or cap space to go after someone like Nick Foles or Derek Carr.

Chicago won't be able to get into a bidding war for the bigger names like Tom Brady or even Teddy Bridgewater because of their limited cap space. Mariota won't command nearly as much to sign, and he's likely to get nothing more than a one-year commitment from a team hoping he can be like the guy who replaced him, Ryan Tannehill.

Of all the quarterbacks who've been pegged as a possible option for the Bears, Mariota feels like the most logical and, more importantly, cheaper targets who realistically could be lining up as the Chicago's starter by Week 4 of the 2020 season.

Bears should pay close attention to TE Cole Kmet at NFL Combine

Bears should pay close attention to TE Cole Kmet at NFL Combine

The 2020 NFL Combine kicks off on February 23, and the Bears will be one of 32 teams in attendance poking and prodding the 337 prospects who will try to run, jump and lift their way to a higher NFL draft grade.

General manager Ryan Pace will do his due diligence on all the players participating, but the Bears are without a first-round pick (again) and as a result, Pace's focus will be tailored to the cluster of prospects who are most likely to slide into Day 2. Chicago has two second-rounders and can upgrade the roster with two potential starters.

One player who should be at or near the top of the Bears' wish list is Notre Dame tight end Cole Kmet. According to former NFL general manager Charley Casserly, Kmet would be a perfect fit for Chicago in the second round and the prospect they should pay the closest attention to at the combine.

The Bears' biggest need on offense is tight end. There are several guys who would fit well in Matt Nagy's scheme, including Purdue's Brycen Hopkins, but why not aim for the best TE in his class in Kmet?

Kmet certainly checks most of the boxes for an NFL starting tight end. He ended 2019 with 43 receptions for 515 yards and six touchdowns, numbers that aren't a true reflection of his upside as a receiver in the pros. He'll be a classic case of a player who has a more productive NFL career than he had in college.  He's a good athlete who has upside as an inline blocker, too, even though he needs to get stronger to be a truly reliable player in the run game.

Even with some of the deficiencies in Kmet's game, he'd be a massive upgrade over the tight ends currently on the Bears roster like Trey Burton, Adam Shaheen and Jesper Horsted. He's a virtual lock to come off the board in the second round, so if Pace wants him in Chicago next season, he won't be able to wait long to draft him. In fact, it could require using the Bears' first pick -- No. 43 overall -- to lock him up.