When a team parts with one of the best middle linebackers in NFL history, every mock that’s mocked in April will give said team the best player available at the position when they’re on the clock in the first round. Of course, projections for who exactly should be selected differ, with draftniks yelling and slobbering. Or maybe it’s just me slobbering, but either way, there’s great anger.
Brian Urlacher was sort of pretty good in Chicago, and now after spending 14 years with the Bears he was released to seek employment elsewhere. That’s why this year, the Bears’ first-round direction seems abundantly obvious, especially since they’re slightly lacking in picks throughout the rest of the draft (their third rounder went to Miami as part of the Brandon Marshall trade, and a seventh rounder went to Tampa Bay for Brian Price).
But maybe the Bears have done enough offseason maneuvering already to decrease the urgency at middle linebacker, and they can address another need in the first round. Since I do intense investigative journalism around here, I asked Mike Burzawa from Bear Goggles On about Urlacher, and he kindly responded.
1. With Brian Urlacher gone, we can safely assume that the Bears will take a middle linebacker in the first round, right?
Not so fast. Before the ink was dry on the Urlacher divorce papers, Bears GM Phil Emery signed former Broncos MLB D.J. Williams. Of course, Williams brings some baggage in the form of a suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy with him, but he’s certainly a capable middle linebacker if he can avoid suspension. The Bears have set themselves up to have some flexibility in the draft, and not to have to draft out of need. I am confident that the Bears will draft a linebacker or two, because regardless of what happens with newcomers Williams, James Anderson, and veteran Lance Briggs, they need to get younger on the defensive side of the ball. Their projected starting linebackers have a combined age of 92. That would be great if they were running a 3-4, but having three linebackers at or above 30 won’t fly in the long term.
2. Of course, when discussing a potential first-round middle linebacker, I’m contractually obligated to ask for your stance on Manti Te’o. Are you a believer? Or would you be more comfortable with Alec Ogletree if he’s still available?
I understand your obligation. I have gone on record stating that I don’t want the Bears anywhere near Manti Te’o in the first round of the draft. It isn’t necessarily the whole fake girlfriend scandal that turned me off him. It was how he was manhandled by Alabama in the National Championship game. The Tide have a near-NFL level offensive line, so if Te’o couldn’t handle them, I don’t think there’s any way he can be successful on Sundays. I think he’s undersized and will have a tough time shedding blockers. With all that being said, if he were around in the second round, it might be worth a gamble on a kid that will have a lot to prove next season.
3. What about an upgrade along the offensive line? Will Phil Emery look to grab a guard if the right name falls in the first round, and then get Roberto Garza’s successor at center a little later in the draft?
The Bears again set themselves up to be flexible in the draft. Give Phil Emery credit; he didn’t think that one of the top tier left tackles (Joeckel, Fisher and Lane Johnson) would be available when the Bears draft at #20, so he went out in free agency and grabbed an immediate upgrade with Jermon Bushrod from the Saints.
I would love to see the Bears grab a guard or center in the draft. If Chance Warmack or Jonathan Cooper are available at No. 20, the Bears should run to the podium to get the pick in. If they’re not, it’s possible they could grab Kentucky’s Larry Warford in the second round. Another name that comes up is Alabama center Barrett Jones. He was a four-year starter for a very successful Alabama team and played tackle, guard, and center in those years. He suffered a late-season foot injury that some believe will have him start the 2013 season on the PUP list. As a mid-round selection, the Bears could draft Roberto Garza’s successor and let him heal up without a ton of pressure.
4. Is a cornerback in the early rounds a possibility? That position doesn’t seem like a strong need initially, but both Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman are entering the final year of their contracts, and age is slowly becoming Tillman’s enemy.
As I said before, the Bears definitely need to get younger on defense. While Tillman and Jennings were starting Pro Bowl corners last season, they are getting up there in age. Peanut Tillman seems to be getting better with age, but he’s got a ton of miles on that body and has had injury concerns in the past. In today’s pass-happy NFL, you can’t have enough talented corners, whether it’s someone you can slide into the nickel or to have valuable depth and competition. I’ve seen some mocks with Desmond Trufant out of Washington being selected by the Bears. Emery has been one to surprise, and he doesn’t always make the seemingly obvious choice, so that’s certainly possible.
5. A backup quarterback is also a need after Jason Campbell left for Cleveland, and there’s little reason to have faith in either Jay Cutler’s health, or Luke McCown. Could a project like Tyler Wilson or Tyler Bray be selected in the late rounds? You also recently wrote that if the right player is available, a quarterback in the first round may seem crazy, but not too crazy, especially with Cutler in the final year of his contract. What name would have to fall to make the Bears jump?
One of my staff writers raised the question about the Bears drafting a quarterback in the first round. I tend to think there are plenty of other needs with a higher priority, but again, you never know what you’ll get from Emery. Consider that the Packers drafted Aaron Rodgers when they had a very accomplished (more so than Jay Cutler) Brett Favre firmly in place, so it’s not that crazy.
I’m personally not a fan of any of the top QB prospects, so I don’t think there’s a name that would make me pull the trigger on a first-round QB. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bears were to take a flyer on a mid-round project that quarterback whisperer Marc Trestman can develop. I’ve heard some people mention Miami (OH) Zac Dysert as a possible late-round project. I think a key for the Bears to draft a QB is to pick up a couple of extra draft picks. They enter the draft with only 5 picks, having traded their third rounder to Miami as a part of the Brandon Marshall deal and their seventh rounder to Tampa for Brian Price.