The Chicago Bears and general manager Phil Emery have put themselves in a good position as the NFL draft approaches.
The 2013 NFL draft is less than two months away and, with the second day of free agency nearly in the books, several franchises have addressed glaring needs by adding high-priced veteran talent.
The Chicago Bears are one of those teams.
The additions of tight end Martellus Bennett and left tackle Jermon Bushrod have addressed the Bears two biggest needs. Chicago was without a well-rounded pass-catching tight end for the last few seasons and the left tackle position has been a liability for just as long.
The Bears were expected to address at least one of those glaring weaknesses in the first two rounds of the 2013 NFL draft. While the offensive line is still a unit that they could look to strengthen in the early rounds, it's likely that the tight end position is all but off their draft board.
It's still uncertain as to what will happen with linebackers Brian Urlacher and Nick Roach. If neither player returns to the Bears, then linebacker becomes a priority.
In addition to the remaining offensive line concerns and potential holes in the linebacking corps, the Bears could also look to add some speed and explosion at the wide receiver position.
Now that the Bears have taken care of business early in free agency, let's take a look at how their draft board could be shaping up.
The following are five players (and an honorable mention) that the Bears should consider drafting at the No. 20 pick in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft.
While Menelik Watson is still a possibility for the Bears, the signing of Bushrod makes picking the Seminole less-likely.
It was only 11 days ago that I published the first in a series of Chicago Bears mock drafts. In that mock, I had the Bears selecting Florida State offensive tackle Menelik Watson.
It's amazing how quickly free agency can change things.
The signing of Jermon Bushrod makes it less likely that the Bears will draft a tackle in the first round. While Watson is a first-round talent and a prospect with as high of a ceiling as any other player at his position, the reality is that the Bears aren't searching for a left tackle anymore, a fact that should make Bears fans smile.
Watson projects as a player likely to be selected somewhere in the mid-to-late first round, and if there is a run on tackles before the No. 20 pick, general manager Phil Emery could be fielding calls from teams looking to trade up for the Florida State Seminole.
Trading back would be the ideal. While Watson isn't likely to become a Bear, he still could help the team move around the draft and acquire some additional picks.
With Brian Urlacher and Nick Roach's futures unclear, the Bears could look to Alec Ogletree in round one.
Alec Ogletree is one of the most exciting linebacker prospects in the 2013 NFL Draft. While likely an outside linebacker in the NFL, Ogletree would be an intriguing option for the Bears if they fail to bring back Brian Urlacher and Nick Roach.
But would Phil Emery roll the dice on Ogletree's checkered past?
Not exactly the definition of a safe pick.
That said, Ogletree's athletic ability is undeniable. He has top-flight closing speed and will fit the current model of Bears linebackers that can run from sideline to sideline and make a play. There are very few defenders in the 2013 NFL draft who can cover as much ground as Ogletree.
While Ogletree doesn't project as Urlacher's successor in the middle of the Bears defense, he would allow the team some flexibility at the linebacker spot.
If Urlacher isn't resigned, Kevin Minter would fill his void nicely.
Kevin Minter might not be a consensus first-round prospect, but he certainly has the talent to justify being considered by the Bears at the No. 20 pick overall.
Minter is a true middle linebacker, and with Brian Urlacher yet to be re-signed, the void created by his potential departure could cause the Bears to take Minter higher than many would project.
Chicago would be getting a really good player if they did.
Minter isn't the fastest linebacker (4.81 40-yard dash) in the 2013 NFL draft, but he's a tough player who does a good job filling running lanes and shedding blocks to make a play. His instincts and vision at the linebacker position are first-round worthy and can make up for some of his athletic limitations.
Minter struggles when he's asked to drop back into coverage. He's not the athlete that Ogletree is and, as a result, he can be a liability versus the pass.
But, if the Chicago Bears decide that the Urlacher-era is over, Minter is a player that they have to consider selecting in the first round.
No, he's not a Brian Urlacher-type talent. But will anybody ever be?
The signing of Jermon Bushrod to play left tackle could mean the selection of DJ Fluker to play on the right side.
Gabe Carimi, Chicago's 2011 first-round selection, was unimpressive at right tackle last year. He may ultimately find a home at the guard position.
If that's the case, the Bears will be in trouble.
That's where DJ Fluker comes in.
Fluker is not a left tackle prospect. He's simply not quick or athletic enough to hold up against the speed he would face on the left side. That said, he's a mauling run-blocker who has superior length and nastiness to project as a very good right tackle in the NFL.
If the Chicago Bears are able to solidify both of their offensive tackle spots in one offseason, they would position themselves to have the best chance to contend since the Jay Cutler-era began. With Fluker being the best right tackle prospect in the 2013 NFL draft, selecting him at No. 20 would finally give Cutler some peace of mind.
Jonathan Cooper is a rare talent at offensive guard that the Bears would be fortunate to draft in the first round.
The 2013 NFL draft has a few players that I would classify as a can't miss, including Jonathan Cooper.
Cooper is a rare athlete playing the offensive guard position. He is able to move in space like a fullback and he has enough strength (35 bench press reps) to dominate a defender in close quarters.
Simply put, Cooper is one of the 10-best players in the entire draft.
The Chicago Bears could potentially land Cooper because of the value placed on his position. Guards aren't traditionally selected in the top 10 and, as a result, the Bears might be looking at great value at the No. 20 pick overall.
The one team that was considered a possible destination for Cooper was the Tennessee Titans, the No. 10 pick in the first round. But, with their big free-agent signing of former Bills guard Andy Levitre yesterday, it's likely that Cooper will slide into the teens and possibly into the 20's.
If Cooper is still on the board when the Bears are on the clock, there's no doubt that he will be in the mix. He is a plug-and-play starter from day one and, with the interior of the Bears offensive line in flux, Cooper will provide an elite level of talent and stability for the team to build around.
With the Bears addressing offensive tackle and tight end in free agency, an explosive play-maker like Tavon Austin should be their focus.
It's abundantly clear that Phil Emery's focus as general manager of the Chicago Bears has been to do whatever it takes to maximize Jay Cutler's talent at the quarterback position.
He traded for Brandon Marshall, drafted Alshon Jeffery and, more recently, signed Jermon Bushrod and Martellus Bennett.
Next up? Tavon Austin.
It doesn't take much film study to realize how special of a player Austin is. He's going to be an elite slot-receiver in the NFL. He possesses rare speed (4.34 40-yard dash), quickness (4.01 shuttle) and lateral agility and will be virtually impossible to cover for extended periods of time.
Adding Austin to the physical mismatches that are Marshall, Jeffery and Bennett will create a passing attack that could border on potent.
And that would be quite an accomplishment for the Chicago Bears.
Austin would not only be an electrifying slot-receiver, but he'd also provide fresh legs in the return game. With Devin Hester approaching the wrong side of 30 years old, a player like Austin would be able to come in and maintain the special teams advantage that the Bears have enjoyed throughout Hester's career.
I have a hunch that Austin is going to get drafted much higher than many are projecting right now. In fact, I could very easily see him going in the top 10.
If, however, he's not off the board by No. 20, Chicago Bears should absolutely make him their first-round selection.