The vast majority of mock drafts that have been penned this offseason have theorized that the Chicago Bears would draft a wide receiver such as Michael Floyd of Notre Dame with their first pick. However, with Tuesday's acquisition of wide receiver Brandon Marshall in a trade with the Miami Dolphins, the entire complexion of Chicago's draft may have changed.
Marshall's $10 million cap hit for 2012 may have taken the Bears out of the running for free-agent defensive end Mario Williams of the Houston Texans. Although, just because "Super Mario" won't be coming to the Windy City, doesn't mean that the Bears can't have an upgraded pass rush on opening day of the 2012 NFL season.
With the 19th pick in the first round of the 2012 NFL draft, there could be a couple of defensive ends available that would be upgrades over free-agent Israel Idonije opposite Julius Peppers. The first being Illinois defensive end Whitney Mercilus.
The 6'4", 261-pound junior led the NCAA with 16 sacks a year ago. While there are some concerns that Mercilus may have been a "one-year wonder" and the first team All-American may be a bit undersized, Mercilus displayed outstanding athleticism at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Mercilus posted a solid time in the 40-yard dash and 10-yard split while displaying impressive leaping ability. As Mercilus himself told the Chicago Tribune, he feels he solidified his draft stock with a good showing at Illinois' pro day last week.
I did everything at the combine a little more than a week ago and was happy with most of the results, so I didn't need to do the 40-yard dash, vertical jump or bench press again.
I decided to try the short shuttle and three-cone drill again because I thought I could do better, and I did. I also did the positional drills for defensive end and linebacker. I got some feedback that I looked pretty smooth in the linebacker drills. I feel I wowed a few people with how well I moved for a D-end who has put my hand on the ground my whole life.
It's a distinct possibility that Mercilus will already be off the board by the time the Bears pick at 19, but there's another defensive end that should be available who could help the Chicago pass rush right away.
Andre Branch of Clemson was a force in the ACC in his senior season for the Tigers, racking up 77 tackles, 9.5 sacks and forcing a fumble while helping to lead Clemson to its first ever BCS bowl game and earning third-team All-American honors.
Much like Mercilus, Branch is bit undersized at 6'4" and 259 pounds, but size isn't necessarily a huge issue with Branch. His high tackle numbers indicate an ability to get to the ball carrier and it's not like Branch would be seeing a whole lot of double teams opposite Peppers in Chicago.
Also, like Mercilus, Andre Branch displayed outstanding athletic ability at the combine, ripping off an impressive 1.56-second 10-yard split time and excelling in positional drills. At Clemson's recent pro day, Russ Lande of the Sporting News came away impressed with what he saw.
Branch, based upon his workout Thursday as both a defensive end and outside linebacker, has proven that he should be at least a second round pick. Throughout his workout Branch’s outstanding lower body flexibility, agility and long speed showed up.
I'd take Lande's assessment one step further and say that Branch has worked his way into first-round consideration. Although some may feel that he'd be a reach at 19, I don't think it would be a considerable one by any stretch, especially if the Bears are serious about upgrading the pass rush in the first round.
The Chicago Bears may well not even go in this direction, as their fleecing of Miami in the Marshall trade has opened up a number of possibilities that the Bears didn't have before Tuesday. However, should Chicago choose to select a defensive end in the first round, neither of these collegiate standouts should disappoint.