Julius Peppers is a scary man, but the rest of the linemen in Chicago’s front four are only moderately scary. Peppers is the Tower of Terror, and with the exception of Henry Melton the defensive front flanking him are the tea cups, a ride that’s nauseating, but hardly traumatizing, or at least it’s not supposed to be. I’ll never ride that blasted contraption again after a nightmarish experience as a six-year-old that involved a corn dog. But I digress.
A lack of support for Peppers is problematic for a defense that’s historically based its success on pressure, and sheer fright. The Bears had a very middle of the pack-ish 33 sacks in 2011 (19th), which leads to an equally average two sacks per game. With his 11 sacks, Peppers accounted for 33 percent of Chicago’s sack total. Melton quickly emerged as an effective interior lineman and had seven sacks in just his second year. But Isreal Idonijie, Peppers’ partner on the outside, is beginning to age, and he had just four sacks.
Another elite pass rusher to complement Peppers is a priority, with Courtney Upshaw possibly available at No. 19 if he falls a few spots, along with Nick Perry. We discussed the Bears’ draft priorities with Mike Burzawa of Bear Goggles On, and he thinks new GM Phil Emery will indeed take an early dip in what should be a deep defensive end pool.
1. There are a few directions the Bears could go in the first round, but let’s start with defensive end. The pursuit of Mario Williams was unsuccessful, so with Israel Idonije aging will Emery be targeting a running mate for Julius Peppers?
Once the Bears pulled off the trade for Brandon Marshall, their chances to sign Super Mario went from slim to none. They even had a backup plan to try to nab up-and-comer Jeremy Mincey, but he chose to re-sign with the Jaguars. Lovie Smith’s Cover-2 defense is predicated on pressuring the quarterback without blitzing, so a strong pass rush is crucial. Expect the Bears to invest a high round pick in a defensive end.
2. What about a cornerback? Charles Tillman is coming off of a Pro Bowl year, but he’s on the wrong side of 30 and there could be some tempting talents at the position when the Bears are on the clock.
Before free agency (yes, and that includes before the Brandon Marshall trade), I was advocating for the Bears to take a corner in the first round of the draft. Just look at the wide receivers in their own division – Calvin Johnson, Greg Jennings and Percy Harvin. Charles Tillman had a great season, but it’s time to find someone who can play alongside him, and eventually succeed him. The Bears re-signed Tim Jennings and brought in Kelvin Hayden and Jonathan Wilhite, but those guys won’t shut down Megatron any time soon, and neither will nickel back DJ Moore.
3. Then there’s wide receiver, a position that should also have good value at No. 19, with Kendall Wright likely still around. Is he a possibility, especially given the uncertainly of Johnny Knox’s injury? Or is Emery content after the Brandon Marshall trade, and supporting him with Earl Bennett and Devin Hester.
The Bears’ top offseason priority was re-building the wide receiver corps. It was nearly a sure thing that they’d draft a wide receiver in the first round until they pulled off that Marshall trade. Now, that move seems far less certain.
Besides adding Marshall, the Bears also bolstered their special teams with a couple of wide receivers in Eric Weems and Devin Thomas. With the three offseason acquisitions plus Hester and Bennett, the Bears likely have one spot left. It’s been reported that Knox could start the season on the PUP list and his 2012 season might be in jeopardy, so it’s entirely possible they could go after a wide receiver in the draft. I think unless Blackmon or Michael Floyd are still available when the Bears step to the podium at #19, they’ll opt to go in another direction with their top pick.
4. Lastly, even with Kellen Davis re-signed, Coby Fleener is an intriguing talent who’s been scattered all over the back half of the first round in mock drafts, and the two could be an effective tandem. Could the Bears go after the draft’s best tight end? Or are there more pressing needs elsewhere?
The Bears definitely could use an upgrade at the tight end position, especially after “the year of the tight end” that we witnessed last season. They let Mike Martz bring in blockers and chase Greg Olsen, the only real threat in the passing game, out of town. I really like Fleener, but with so many other pressing needs, I highly doubt the Bears go that route.