As the combine, pro days and draft nears day by day, the question for the Bears, because of the amount of needs they have at key positions, is, "which player should they draft in the first round?" Scouts and draft analysts seem to disagree among which position or player in the draft is worth a top-20 draft selection. When polled, the most common answer among fans is the offensive line, most notably left tackle.
However, I am here to make a case against that idea in reference to historical fact.
Statistically, it is inarguable that an offensive tackle is the most important position on the offensive line. It appears that NFL teams seem to be more judicious when selecting guards and centers, as opposed to tackles, but a skeptic would argue that teams are too eager to grab a player in a position that is overvalued.
Between 1991-2010, 81 tackles were drafted in the first round as compared to 10 guards and eight centers. However, tackles have the highest transition rate at 15.11 percent. There were 430 total tackles drafted, 54 moved to guard and 11 moved to center, compared to three or 2.12 percent of centers and 18 or 6.47 percent of guards being moved to tackle.
So, let's compare guards and centers to that of a tackle's first-round success rate. First-round centers have scored perfectly. All eight became starters (a starter is considered a player who has made eight or more starts for a team in a given year) and have started 40 of their 44 years in the NFL. All but one became a starter their first year, and that player became a starter in his second year.
First-round guards, too, were extremely successful, as all 10 became starters and as a group started 77 of the 81 years in their careers. As with centers, all but one started in their rookie year and he, too, became a starter in his second year.
First-round tackles, while still upholding a respectable success rate, aren't up to par with guard and center success rates.
Out of the 81 first round tackles drafted since 1991, 55 of those went on to start in their first year (68 percent) and three of those tackles never became starters, for example Stan Thomas by the Chicago Bears in 1991.
Only two of those tackles were taken with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft (Orlando Pace, 1997 and Jake Long, 2008). As a group they started 436 out of the 538 years in their careers.
While those stats aren't all that bad, the Bears, on the other hand, haven't had much success drafting tackles in the draft, i.e. Chris Williams (2008) and Gabe Carimi (2011).
Williams was one of the aforementioned tackles that was forced to transition to guard because of his inability to play tackle at a premier level. Carimi struggled in his first full season of play with the Bears in 2012 and was rated at 73 out of 80 tackles in the NFL last year by PFF (Pro Football Focus).
The question I now pose in the midst of admitting tackles are more valuable than any position on the offensive line: Does it make sense to draft a position of such high value with the first-round selection in the Bears current draft spot with the best prospects presumably being selected at the top of the draft class?
Would it not make more sense to grab arguably the best guard or center knowing they have a higher chance of success than late-round tackles?
Over the past couple months I have heard the argument, "Guards haven't historically been taken before the 20th pick," which after further research I find to be true. The earliest drafted guard in recent history is Chris Naeole in 1997 at the 10th pick and Andrew Iupati in 2010, which is in the vicinity of where Chance Warmack of the Crimson Tide is suspected to be drafted.
But if the Bears found it absolutely necessary to secure a very safe selection in Jonathan Cooper by trading above 20, it would statistically be worth going against the grain.
I think as they sit upon that cusp, they should look at one stat, and that one stat is that 100 percent of the guards and centers that start in their rookie year become a base to build upon, which would help ensure themselves a better interior run game and a better pocket for Cutler to stand.
As the Bears push into the future in hopes of becoming a consistent playoff contender, they need to address the amount of money they get from each player per snap.
The Bears ranked third worst in the league in CPPS (Cost Per Snap) as rated by the National Football Post. The 49ers were ranked worst in the NFL, but their team is built in such a way that their players don't need to come in and make an immediate impact.
The Bears have been mediocre for the last few years and their glaring needs have not been addressed as their inability to make the playoffs has been proof of that.
A team in the Bears position, in which they bring players in for immediate impact, should be more than capable of drafting players in which they get the most out of their players for what the rookies are paid.
Cooper would help the Bears efficiency in that department by having assurance that he would be a day-one starter and would be able to make an immediate impact.
Instead of the Bears taking a risk on a tackle that would further the Bears' horrible history of drafting them, they would be better off taking the safe route on a proven commodity and something that history points to as being efficient and lifesaving to Cutler and Matt Forte, who have each missed games due to injury in each of the past two seasons.