Chicago Bears GM Phil Emery was brought in here based on the reputation he had developed throughout the league as a scouting guru.
Among Bears faithful, it's no secret that drafting has been one of the Bears' shortcomings over the last few years and Emery was immediately expected to change that. Since May, fans have paid particularly close attention to the six rookies who are considered a key part of the future of the franchise.
Now with training camp all wrapped up and the four preseason games completed, we have an early gauge on the 2012 Bears rookies.
Starting with the need to bolster the pass rush in the present and for the future, the Bears drafted defensive end Shea McClellin.
McClellin was a high-risk, high-reward type of pick, and in the preseason has shown why the Bears drafted him 19th overall.
The Bears expect the Boise State product to be a situational rusher on third down, to come in and be a part of their nickel rush package. McClellin's arrival has allowed the Bears to tinker with sliding Israel Idonije inside in passing situations because Idonije has had success doing that in the recent past.
What McClellin has proven thus far, is that he's extremely one-dimensional as a player and will need a lot work to become a full-time defensive end.
He has shown speed off the edge, but lacks that decisive first step as a pass rusher. He has shown a relentless motor and won't quit until the echo of the whistle. What you've read about McClellin in scouting reports, is essentially what he has been to this point.
Areas of improvement are simple: He needs to play the run better and work on his discipline. McClellin has yet to show an ability to hold the edge against tight ends in the run game. He has to work on his pad level and show strength at the point of attack, in order to succeed in the NFL.
He has work to do but should contribute far better as a pass rusher this year than any of the backup defensive ends did in 2011.
Alshon Jeffery has been the talk of the franchise since he was drafted in both negative and positive terms. Initially, fears of Jeffery’s weight problems and a lack of speed, as reported coming out of college, put him under the microscope. Now, Jeffery has been better than promised and is showing signs that he could really help to bolster the Bears' passing attack.
At 6'3", 216 pounds Jeffery has the size, speed and strength combination to win in coverage in the NFL. He proved it through the three preseason games he played in. Jeffery has yet to show any real weakness and could be the perfect balance to the passing attack. Like any rookie receiver Jeffery is going to have to learn better routes, and that will come with more experience.
However, what makes him likely to immediately contribute this year, is he catches everything thrown at him and wins against the jam and in press coverage. No defender is going to out-muscle Jeffery for the football, and that will pay big dividends in an area that has been a long-time weakness in Chicago.
Jeffery can be a go-to target in this offense immediately and while he may not start, that shouldn't be of particular concern. Starting is not the most important issue for Jeffery, getting the second most opportunities behind Brandon Marshall is, and that's where Jeffery could push for a spot on the 2012 All-Rookie team.
In the third round the Bears selected a project in safety Brandon Hardin. While in shorts and a t-shirt Hardin looked the role of big, strong and fast, but getting that to translate onto the field didn't happen right away.
Hardin showed quickly he has a long way to go to be a future starter on this roster. He made a couple of nice plays, but more than anything he has shown he has a lot to learn.
His season was cut short due to a neck injury sustained when he led with his head on a tackle in the Redskins game. Hardin was placed on IR, and the key to his future will be how missing a second straight year of football will hurt his development.
The Bears didn't hesitate to give Cutler another weapon in tight end Evan Rodriguez, but like Hardin, Rodriguez has shown he has to prove he can play with the big boys.
I believe there is a lot of excitement surrounding Rodriguez, and right now it's completely overblown until the rookie goes out and produces. He was able to snare three passes for 49 yards against the Redskins, but was shut out in the other three games of the preseason.
At this point the young rookie is running fourth on the depth chart behind two long-time veterans in Kellen Davis and Matt Spaeth and is hoping to overtake second year TE Kyle Adams. Rodriguez has been about what you would expect for a rookie—consistently inconsistent.
I don't expect Rodriguez to make a big impact as a rookie; if he catches any more than 30 passes on the season I'll be thoroughly impressed.
After Rodriguez the Bears grabbed two cornerbacks who failed to make the 53-man roster. Both looked pretty awful during the preseason and only Isaiah Frey was placed on the practice squad. Greg McCoy was cut outright and hasn't been picked up by any other team and likely won’t be back with the Bears next year.
It's unlikely that either McCoy or Frey ever develop into an NFL player, which is about what you would expect for most sixth- and seventh-round draft picks. Frey for now has a chance to develop on the practice squad and could have another chance in 2013.
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