The Bears were quiet players in free agency, not signing up any real big player names. The trade for Brandon Marshall was the biggest move they made and it filled their biggest need with one of the best receivers in the league. This represented a major coup for the Bears but also changed the way the Bears will likely approach the draft. Most importantly it narrows the Bears' draft focus and gives us a look into the direction they might go in April. The main needs on this team are still in order most important need are DE, WR, LB, CB, OL, RB, S, DT, QB,
There is obviously no ideal way to predict which direction the Bears will go, but you can take history and first round value into account when approaching the draft and formulate a strategy into picks the Bears might go.
So for this article we'll get started by gauging where the Bears might go with their first round pick.
Pass rusher has been the biggest priority for the Bears, it's been made clear that they want to book end a pass rushing presence next to Julius Peppers. That's the direction the Bears will likely go for a few different reasons.
First, teams value finding pass rushing talent in the first round, the best pass rushers are a priority within the first 32 picks of the draft. This year is no different especially when you consider that the overall depth and talent of the pass rushers isn't at levels of previous years. Base 4-3 DEs are extremely hard to find in the 2012 class. Quinton Coples, Courtney Upshaw, Whitney Mercilus, Nick Perry and Andre Branch are all in that first round range. Granted not all will be taken in the first round, but that's range they're projected in. Some are more 3-4 LB prospects than base DEs so that narrows things down for the Bears.
Six players with maybe four 4-3 DE prospects. Coples, Mercilus, Perry and Branch have the height weight and athleticism you look for in a base end. Coples figures to be off the board by the time the Bears pick leaving Mercilus, Perry and Branch to choose from. The best prospect of this group is Mercilus, he is the most complete of the other two and falls right into that range where the Bears will select. Probability of Mercilus being the selection is rather high given the need and the value.
DE is not the only position of need however, the Bears by some accounts need a LT, CB, interior OL, SS and a LB. So why wouldn't the Bears go in that direction?
First let's look the LT prospects in this draft Khalil, Reiff, Martin and Adams. Khalil is the only true LT prospect while the others have a weakness or don't fit into anything other than a RT only prospect or in the case of Reiff take on the label of offensive guard. When things get sketchy at the LT position you want to stay away. Teams obviously search out LT prospects in EVERY draft as it seems like an average of five LTs are drafted a year. Problem is you have to stay away from fringe OT lest you wind up with a bust. Carimi is a good example of this as is Brian Bulaga. Two guys that most experts or fans pegged as true LTs have turned into RTs only. Bears have their RT of the future in Carimi no sense in wasting a pick on another one. This is not at all a strong crop of LT prospects so the Bears will avoid drafting one at 19.
Next we move into the interior offensive line prospects the David DeCastro, Peter Konz, Cordy Glenn, Kevin Zeitler group. Here's the rule of thumb, you can find great interior OL prospects in the middle rounds of the NFL draft so there is absolutely no way you can justify drafting one of these prospects in the first round. Drafting one of these prospects is completely unnecessary. Carl Nicks was drafted in the fifth round, Evan Mathis in the third round, Harvey Dahl wasn't drafted at all. The list of these prospects goes on and on so focusing on drafting a player in the first round will not happen for the Bears.
Next we come to the CB position where the Bears have two capable starters in Tillman and Jennings and a nice nickel back in DJ Moore. Here they need to add youth and depth to the position and one prospect stands out in particular. Dre Kirkpatrick a CB from Alabama is big, physical fast enough and is solid in run support. He looks like he could play zone best and man well enough to be an option at 19. Kirkpatrick seems like the next obvious choice to come off the board if Mercilus isn't on the board at 19. Here's the thing though historically speaking Cover-2 zone CBs are also mid round values that are targeted on day two. The Bears have found most of their value in Cover-2 corners in the middle rounds. There is also around five second day prospects that fit perfectly into the type of player on defense the Bears target. Stephon Gilmore, Josh Norman, and Trumaine Johnson fall into that range. Justifying taking Kirkpatrick at 19 may be a stretch but, given the outright need would be the smart thing to do. Kirkpatrick and Mercilus seem like the two prospects I would take at 19 and sleep well at night having done so.
The next most intriguing position for the Bears is the wide receiver position and the prospects at 19. Even with the addition of Brandon Marshall the Bears would be foolish not to consider one perhaps two of the top prospects once they're on the clock. Michael Floyd, Stephen Hill, and Kendall Wright could all be available when the Bears' pick is up. Floyd's stock is up and down, up mostly after a solid combine performance down because talk of his game speed not matching his stop watch speed has kept him in the Bears' range. Floyd to me is a no-brainer selection at 19, possibly even ahead of Mercilus which might be a bigger need. He's the most complete WR prospects in the draft and would make a weakness a strength and give Cutler much needed weapons. After Floyd though things get sketchy, Wright makes a nice slot WR prospect, but he's 5-foot-10 and had a particularly slow combine time. Hill is big and fast but caught just 29 passes and most of those were 9 routes which in off man coverage which limits how he can be projected. He wasn't given many opportunities but this means there is no way to project what he's capable of. This is the type of player you avoid like the plague even with his eye-popping numbers. Hill is a boom or bust prospect and a luxury pick the Bears could not afford.
Further complicating matters is there is a plethora of big fast strong productive kids that should be available on the second day. Up and down the draft board there are much safer picks to be made who also measure out well, and represent a far better value on day two.
Perhaps the position that may surprise us all is the linebacker position. The Bears have two veteran starters over 30, and have a decent starter in Nick Roach on the strong side. After that though the depth and talent falls off a cliff. A mix of special teams players makes up the crux of the depth and if either Urlacher or Briggs were hurt there would be major problems on defense. Courtney Upshaw to be is an outside linebacker, I don't see him as a pass rusher, I don't see the infatuation with his DE ability or 3-4 OLB but it's there with a lot of experts. Upshaw to me would make a great strong side LB he tackles well and runs to the football, and makes plays in the backfield. A 270-pound LB doesn't really make sense so to project him as a replacement for Roach or Briggs is a stretch. Zach Brown Dont'a Hightower and Luke Kuechly however represent a different level of intrigue. Kuechly is overrated, he's a two down linebacker who likely doesn't fit in well in the Bears' coverage responsibility defense. Kuechly also doesn't have eye popping TFL numbers which stands out as a weakness. Most Bears fans would probably jump at the chance to draft him but I have my doubts.
Elsewhere there's Hightower and Zach Brown from North Carolina. Intriguing prospects who fit the bill in the Bears' scheme and could fill out the roster nicely for the next 10 years.
In conclusion of this strategy session for the Chicago Bears there appears to three prospects that rate highly as must have prospects for the Bears in the first round. Michael Floyd, Whitney Mercilus and Dre Kirkpatrick represent three prospects that if drafted by the Bears at 19 should make Bears fans happy. If none of those three are left on the board then it makes better sense for the Bears to trade down and pick up some extra draft picks while targeting a linebacker, receiver or corner. The smart thing for the Bears to do is to ignore the cries of the faithful who think trading down is a bad idea. The most important strategy for the Bears is to get the most value for their draft pick and the best value comes with those three prospects being left on the board.