Now that it's been nearly two weeks since the 2012 NFL draft went in the history books, it's time to move beyond draft grades and woulda-coulda-shoulda.
No more debate about Nick Perry, Whitney Mercilus, offensive linemen, defensive tackles, trading fifth-round picks and whether guys were reaches.
That was fun for the first few days following the draft. But now it's time to move on.
It's time to look at what the team has and move forward.
Obviously, this is the time of year when every team is excited about their draft picks and every fan thinks their team is going to the Super Bowl.
The homer-meter is off the charts in every NFL city.
My job is to keep homerism realistic and to look at things objectively for the Chicago Bears.
An Updated Look at the Super Bowl Blueprint
Not just a playoffs blueprint, but a Super Bowl blueprint.
In that article, I said the two biggest needs for the Bears were (in order):
- multiple top-passing options for Jay Cutler
- standout pass rushers
Almost as if Emery wholeheartedly agreed with that plan, he traded for receiver Brandon Marshall, spent his second-round pick on receiver Alshon Jeffery, added another passing option in Evan Rodriguez and used his first-round draft pick on pass-rusher Shea McClellin.
Adding a top receiver opposite Marshall was crucial and Emery did that with Jeffery, who is talented enough to come in and contribute significantly and immediately despite being a rookie wide receiver.
In my original article, I also mentioned tight end as one of the team's big weaknesses. Emery apparently agreed, judging by the Rodriguez selection.
Rodriguez should also help out in the passing game in his first year, but expectations probably should be tempered. Rookie tight ends never light up the league, Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham included.
But even so, it's not out of the question to say that the trio of Marshall, Jeffery and Earl Bennett could be similarly productive to the New York Giants' former Super Bowl trio of Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and Mario Manningham, or the Patriots' Super Bowl trio of Wes Welker, Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
In addition, considering that Marshall is 6' 4", Jeffery 6' 3" and Kellen Davis 6' 7"—not to mention Rodriguez is 6' 2"—the Bears are suddenly red zone monsters that pose matchup nightmares for defenses.
The Bears finally have a big-boy offense. Literally and figuratively.
And the addition of McClellin opposite Julius Peppers should make the Bears' secondary look better than it is. Having two strong pass-rushers in a pass-happy league (and a pass-happy division) is critical.
One of the other significant team weaknesses I previously mentioned was the secondary. Sure enough, Emery tried to address the secondary with three of his final four draft picks.
Isaiah Frey, the sixth-rounder, did show good ball skills at Nevada last year, so there may be some potential for him to contribute beyond special teams.
Third-round pick Brandon Hardin will be counted on in the back end to take advantage of the pressure applied on the front end by McClellin and Peppers.
All in all, with the draft and the Marshall trade, Emery has actually matched my Super Bowl blueprint almost exactly.
Did the Bears improve enough to make themselves legitimate Super Bowl contenders?
The team certainly has quite a bit of offensive firepower now, perhaps unmatched at any other time in Bears history. The Bears have the quarterback and trio of receivers to match up with perennial Super Bowl powers like the Patriots, Giants, Packers and Saints. But the Bears also have an advantage that none of those other teams do: an elite running back in Matt Forte.
The only drawback to the Bears offense is J'Marcus Webb at left offensive tackle. But, I strongly feel that the Bears' offensive talents can overcome the left-tackle issues—false starts not included—since Cutler will now have many options to throw the ball when the offensive line is collapsing around him.
I've read how some believe the Bears are not going to do seven-step drops anymore. I wouldn't believe that for a New York minute. When you have offensive playmakers like Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, why wouldn't you go deep and try for big plays?
That's even more true since new quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates knows how to put Cutler and Marshall in position to succeed—and that wasn't with short passes on three and five-step drops. Jeffery could be a more talented version of Eddie Royal in this offense.
Seven-step drops didn't make sense the past two years, not because of Mike Martz, but because Devin Hester and Johnny Knox could not get open consistently. Not only would Cutler do a seven-step drop, but on top of that, he would hold on to the ball as he kept waiting for someone—anyone—to get open.
Waiting to get open should be a rare occurrence with Marshall, Jeffery and Bennett in place of Hester, Knox and Dane Sanzenbacher.
And who knows? Maybe Chris Williams will replace Webb and improve from Williams' first stint at left tackle due to his now-veteran experience in the league.
On defense, the only drawbacks are the rookies' inexperience and defensive tackle. But with a defense that was pretty solid to begin with (albeit aging), the rookies can be eased in to help with their transition to the pro game. As for defensive tackle, perhaps the Bears will find one on the scrap heap after camp cuts in the next three months.
It remains to be seen if the Bears can overcome a Packers team that loaded up on defense in the draft and added another potential offensive weapon for Aaron Rodgers in little-known receiver Dale Moss, but one thing's for sure: unlike past years, the Bears really do have a fighting chance against them—and other Super Bowl contenders—this year.
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