Draft Fever Hits Chicago
His name was already buzzing in fan circles across Chicago.
And then he ran a 4.3 40-yard dash at the NFL combine. The buzz grew.
Without question, Maryland's Darrius Heyward-Bey has been at the top of NFL Draft wishlists for a vast majority of Bears fans across Chicagoland.
After a year of Brandon Lloyd, Marty Booker, and Rashied Davis, the casual Bears fan does not even want to consider any position other than wide receiver in round one. They just don't. And many feel that simply drafting Chris Williams at pick 14 last year is reason enough to completely ignore the team's other glaring need: an offensive tackle.
Granted, a receiver is a much more flashy pick than a lineman. What do you think the jersey sales for Eugene Monroe will look like when compared to that of Michael Crabtree? But forget the glitz and glamour. The Chicago Bears are in a much worse situation on their exterior offensive line than they are wide receiver.
Weighing the Needs
Consider depth. If the season were to start today, Earl Bennett would line up opposite Devin Hester at receiver, with Rashied Davis working the slot. That's not very encouraging, but it is already provides a better foundation right out of the gates than last season.
A second or third-round pick and a free-agent signing would adequately round out the unit and provide competition for the starting jobs.
Remember, the Bears don't utilize a lot of spread offense. Even when they do use three and four-wide sets, the tight ends usually brought in as receivers to create mismatches. Combine two solid wideouts and a capable slot receiver with the likes of Greg Olsen and Desmond Clark, and you pretty much have the recipe for Chicago's passing game.
That may not make for a superstar receiving corps, but the Bears are not that kind of team.
Matt Forte is the unquestionable top offensive weapon on a team that loves to run the ball, but that struggled to dominate opposing defenses on the line of scrimmage. After showcasing his talent throughout the 2008 campaign, why wouldn't the team want to do everything in their power to give Forte the blocking he needs to take his game to the next level?
At tackle, on the other hand, the Bears are tremendously thin. Chris Williams did not start during his rookie season, nor did undrafted free agent Cody Balogh. Frank Omiyale has one career start under his belt—but the Bears would like to use him at left guard.
If the team can't get their running game and run blocking down path, they will be extremely inhibited in their ability to move the ball. They did plenty to prove that true in 2007.
Making the Choice
So, what choice should the Bears make in the first round come April 25th?
In Britton, the Bears would be using their first-round pick on a player that easily could be an NFL starter very early as rookie. The 6-foot-6, 309-pound tackle played at right tackle during his first two seasons at Arizona before switching to left, but projects as a right in the NFL.
Britton brings a lot of the football intangibles to the table: positive character qualities, a strong work ethic, and good football intelligence. On top of that, he has a minuscule injury history.
There is no question that Darrius Heyward-Bey is a great athlete with tremendous speed and run-after-the-catch potential. But most scouting reports make no secret of his need to improve his route-running, and he's not a guy who is going to dig out a safety to help the running game. More importantly, he lacks the same intangibles that Britton possesses.
The Bears already have a player who is a great athlete but needs to improve his wide receiver fundamentals. His name is Devin Hester.
Backlash of Epic Proportions
Jerry Angelo has already come under fire from hordes of fans who have impatiently demanded for the GM to fill the team's needs through signing aged veterans. Choosing an offensive lineman over a wide receiver would make him even less popular in Chicago than he already is.
Following a NFL season that showcased Larry Fitzgerald as one if its biggest stars, somebody like Darrius Heyward-Bey may seem a little more enticing than usual. But the Bears desperately need that push in the trenches. In the end, Britton is not only a safer pick, but one that can take the running game up a notch as well.