The NFL draft is drawing ever nearer and the Chicago Bears haven’t revealed their plans, which is no surprise. So what is the best guess than can be made?
Bringing back Charles Tillman was a major success for Chicago. Even though he just played eight games he still showed he has the ability to do what he does best, which is force turnovers. Together with veterans Tim Jennings, Kelvin Hayden, Isaiah Frey and Sherrick McManis the corner position should be fine for the moment. D.J. Williams played well during the early part of the season at middle linebacker before a pectoral injury knocked him out. He should still be a solid short-term option provided Jon Bostic or another youngster can’t unseat him. Jeremiah Ratliff played better and better towards the end of the season at defensive tackle while Nate Collins played some of his best football before tearing his ACL. Their retentions should at least cover up for the loss of Henry Melton. Jordan Palmer might not be what Josh McCown was but he showed in the preseason last year that he can run the offense quite efficiently as a backup. As for Craig Steltz, his veteran experience and special teams value will help at safety.
FREE AGENCY ADDITIONS
The NFL draft typically bounces off what a team adds in free agency. The Chicago Bears didn’t do a ton of wild spending, instead choosing to go after bargain buys and betting on upside. Lamarr Houston and Willie Young sit as the centerpieces of that thinking. Both are 28 or younger and grade as among the more disruptive defensive ends on the market despite their combined nine sacks in 2013. They are also two of the best run stoppers at their position as well, something Chicago really needs. Throw in Israel Idonije, a hard worker and terrific locker room presence and the end position should be good as far as front immediate need. The departures of Earl Bennett and Eric Weems leave holes at receiver but the presence of Marquess Wilson and arrival of veteran Domenik Hixon should cover for those losses as well. The position that really saw a lot of action was safety. Major Wright is gone and in his place the Bears added Ryan Mundy. Though he’s never started a full season, he is a known “thumper” who has good range and takes good angles to the ball carrier. Add in M.D. Jennings and Danny McCray as depth and special teams stalwarts and the position has, at the very least, added more athleticism. Throw in Jordan Senn at linebacker and the same truth holds.
– Houston and Young will be the starters and deserve to be so. They are disruptive and good against the run. Still, the Bears should consider adding more speed to the position at some point, somebody who adds more pass rush value.
– Defensive tackle is steadied but not solved. Ratliff is a good veteran presence and Collins is a terrific rotational guy but Chicago still lacks a true difference-maker in the middle.
– At least two of the projected starters at cornerback will be at least 30-years old for the Chicago Bears on opening day. Despite the position being stable, it still needs a dose of young blood in the pipeline. A deep 2014 corner class should really help.
– Are Mundy, Jennings, McCray and Steltz enough to qualify as an overhaul at safety? Absolutely not. None of them are playmakers or have proven they are any better than current starter Chris Conte. The whole purpose of this off-season was to improve in that area and there is no reason to think they have. Yet.
– Key side notes is the departure of running back Michael Bush and the status of the still un-signed tackle Eben Britton. Their losses could create some depth concerns on offense that bear serious watching come draft time.
TOP FIVE LIKELY DRAFT TARGETS
1. Aaron Donald
2. Calvin Pryor
3. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
4. Justin Gilbert
5. C.J. Mosley
The loss of Melton and the lack of upgrades at safety are the key issues facing the Chicago Bears front office right now. Henry Melton, despite his struggles in 2013 was still the best defensive tackle they had. He was a presence as an interior pass rusher, which is key given the scheme Chicago plays. That is why Aaron Donald is a top target. The Pitt star is a headache for guards everywhere. His awesome quickness and explosion allow him to fight off blocks and shoot gaps before anybody can get a hand on him. He’s a pure disruptor and a perfect fit for the Bears front. Calvin Pryor and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, meanwhile are frontline talents at safety. They have instinct and talent Chicago hasn’t seen at safety since the days of Mike Brown or even Mike Carrier. Adding either of them would put add so much playmaking potential to the secondary. So would Justin Gilbert. While corner isn’t the most pressing need, the upside and ability the Oklahoma State standout has would make the transition from Tillman and Jennings appear seamless. As for C.J. Mosley, it’s safe to say the first attempt at replacing Brian Urlacher isn’t looking good with Jon Bostic. Mosley on the other hand is a smart, athletic and rangy linebacker out of Alabama who has the instinct and leadership qualities of a true middle man.