Oct 26, 2013; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback A.J. McCarron (10) passing against the Tennessee Volunteers during the fourth quarter at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
Few teams have as many avenues open to them in the 2014 NFL draft as the Chicago Bears. Much of that is due to their very fluid free agent situation. So based on that, which players should fans take note of as possible targets for their team?
Brett Hundley – QB – UCLA: By far the biggest question following the Bears heading towards the draft next year is whether they’ll take a quarterback. Current starter Jay Cutler is a free agent in 2014 and under the microscope as far as whether he deserves an extension. If the team were to target a replacement in the first round they would want a player with good mobility, accuracy and decision-making. UCLA sophomore Brett Hundley fits that mold. He is tall, strong and has a concise, quick release with the arm to hit a receiver anywhere on the field. Though accuracy isn’t a problem, he is still learning the value of ball placement and standing tall in the pocket. Still, his skill set and natural instincts make him the ideal future project for Bears head coach Marc Trestman.
Stephon Tuitt – DE – Notre Dame: Defensive line by far is going to be the sticking point for Chicago GM Phil Emery next year. The unit has performed very poorly this season. Injuries have played a part but the need is clearly there for an infusion of young talent with Julius Peppers turning 34 and likely gone in 2014 due to contract issues. An ideal addition would be Stephon Tuitt from Notre Dame. Most scouts will say his natural fit is in a 3-4 defense, but experts have hinted his rare blend of weight-to-athleticism is astounding. At 312 lbs he maintains a degree of speed and quickness that men that size shouldn’t have. He is good enough to play outside in a 4-3 but is ideally built as an interior pass rushing defensive tackle. That kind of versatility is hard to find.
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu – CB – Oregon: It really isn’t hard to put in perspective the situation with the Chicago secondary in 2014. Not only will starting corners Tim Jennings and Charles Tilllman be free agents, but so will strong safety Major Wright. On top of that five other reserve defensive backs have expiring deals as well. In other words they need at least one talented corner or safety in this draft. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu out of Oregon is tops on most boards of late. Some worry about him in press coverage. While he has the speed and athleticism to stick with any receiver, his 5’10” frame could become a problem against bigger ones. However, based on he type of defense Chicago plays he wouldn’t be required to go man-to-man nearly as often. In that way they could full advantage of his other talents.
Cyrus Koandjio – OT – Alabama: Since when is taking quality offensive linemen ever a bad idea? The Bears don’t have a pressing need up front thanks to some heady moves by Emery during the 2013 off-season but that doesn’t mean he should ignore that position on his board. If he can’t land one of his biggest needs, then he will find terrific value in someone like offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio. At the tender age of 20, the junior is a physical marvel for Alabama. Not only is he big and strong enough to dominant in run blocking, he’s quick and agile enough with the long arms to do equally well in pass protection. There are lingering issues with his technique and mental faculties but Chicago would have no reason to complain if he landed on their roster. After all, Jermon Bushrod turns 30 next season and his physical potential is nowhere near what Kouandjio’s could be.
Marqise Lee – WR – USC: Another second tier need the Chicago Bears could use but aren’t desperate for is at the wide receiver position. Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery have formed a very capable and dangerous tandem but when overviewing the group as a whole there is one lingering absence: speed. The Bears have no true deep threat on the roster. Getting one could totally change the complexion of an already good offense. Many people have forgotten about USC receiver Marqise Lee thanks to a knee injury but there is no question he is frightening on the football field. Not only does he have the speed but also the burst and acceleration to stress defenses deep. He also has dynamic agility that allows him to run crisp routes and make plays after the catch. If a team is comfortable with the injury risk, he has huge home run potential.
C.J. Mosley – OLB – Alabama: The 2014 NFL draft is largely about the quarterbacks, making it easier to ignore underappreciated positions like linebacker. Chicago already took two in the 2013 draft in 2nd round pick Jon Bostic and 4th round pick Khaseem Greene. That doesn’t mean the defense is settled for the next ten years. Neither of those players are guarantees. In other words if Emery has a shot at adding a proven difference-maker to their group, he should not hesitate if it’s the right thing to do. One name that will be very hard to pass up is C.J. Mosley. Coming from a long tradition of quality Alabama linebackers, he exhibits the instincts, toughness, speed and athleticism of a future Pro Bowler. His terrific coaching under Nick Saban will also mean he can start right away.
RaShede Hageman – DT – Minnesota: Phil Emery loves picks with high upside. Depending on where Chicago ends up in the draft next year, he is sure to be on the lookout for the best “athletes” at every position, regardless of their experience. That is why RaShede Hageman will end up on his radar. At the center of the Minnesota defense, he is a classic disruptor, strong and quick enough to drive offensive linemen back with the size to eat up double teams and still make an impact. There are questions about his instincts and effort at times. That is why he might end up a late first round pick, but value-wise he is a quality pick for a team who needs defensive line help like the Bears.
Bradley Roby – CB – Ohio State: At one point Bradley Roby was considered the best corner in his draft class. He possessed all the physical tools needed to become a shut down corner in the NFL. Unfortunately teams have found ways to exploit him this season, namely picking on his willingness to concede underneath throws and also his tendency to look for the ball late. The beauty is those problems are far less pronounced in a zone defense. Chicago would not object to a player with Roby’s speed and athleticism. The football part should come around with better coaching and experience.
A.J. McCarron – QB – Alabama: No question this player has created more headaches for 2014 NFL draft experts than anyone else. From a physical standpoint A.J. McCarron looks like a classic third round pick: great mentally, good in most physical areas but average in some key aspects. At the same time he is a winner. Already having two national titles under his belt, the senior is gunning for a third-straight which would cement his legacy as the greatest quarterback in Crimson Tide history. Whether that will translate to the pros is the big question. Here’s something to keep in mind. Great quarterbacks aren’t always the ones with the best arms or legs. They are the ones with the unquenchable thirst to win, a driving competitiveness that bleeds into his teammates. Combine that with physical tools that are more than adequate and it creates a quarterback who can win if asked to play the chess game. Not for nothing, but a lot of people said the same thing about Joe Montana when he was coming out of college.