10 Prospects the Bears Must Consider in the First Round of the 2013 NFL Draft
With GM Phil Emery entering his second year and fully exercising his control over the franchise, this is an exciting time for Bears fans. As beloved as Lovie Smith was, the new coaching staff, led by head coach Marc Trestman, promises offensive rejuvenation. Meanwhile, new defensive coordinator Mel Tucker thankfully won't be doing much tweaking of a good thing with his version of the Tampa 2 defense.
That said, personnel changes are being made. Brian Urlacher is no longer with the club. Devin Hester will be used only as a return man. Martellus Bennett has replaced the worst hands in the NFL, which coincidentally happened to be attached to Kellen Davis' arms. These changes demonstrate a new perspective and the cutthroat tactics that are needed to succeed as an NFL franchise.
The next step in team-building for the Bears will come near the end of April at the NFL Draft. The signings of Bennett, Jermon Bushrod and D.J. Williams have addressed some of the most pressing concerns the Bears faced this offseason, though employing varying degrees of logic. (This Bushrod nonsense is a joke, right?) This makes for a hazier but more exciting draft lead-up for Bears fans.
For now, here's a look at 10 prospects Chicago has to consider in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft.
10. Damontre Moore, DE (Texas A&M)
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After a miserable combine, whereat he demonstrated a lack of strength (12 bench reps) and speed (4.95 official 40-yard dash), Damontre Moore's stock has plummeted. This may only be temporary, as the draft process is a notoriously fickle business, but he certainly won't regain his top-5 status.
If he manages to fall all the way to 20, the Bears have to consider acquiring his services. Despite his poor combine showing, the tape proves Moore a relentless and instinctive pass-rusher. Considering Julius Peppers' age and contract, Israel Idonije's lack of a re-signing, and Shea McClellin's mixed rookie outing, adding another young edge-rusher might be wise.
Corey Wootton will likely find himself the starter across from Peppers in 2013, and though hopes are high for him, neither he nor McClellin should inspire an overabundance of confidence with Bears' brass. There's also the long-shot possibility that new coach Marc Trestman and GM Phil Emery may see potential for McClellin at Sam linebacker, thus strengthening the case for another defensive end. Don't count on this scenario, but don't rule it out either.
9. Barkevious Mingo, OLB (LSU)
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With worries over Jarvis Jones' health slowly going by the wayside (Dan Pompei over at National Football post reports he may never have even had spinal stenosis), Barkevious Mingo finds himself the most likely linebacker to slip due simply to team needs. The odds of this happening are admittedly slim, but don't doubt that the Bears would love to see a freak athlete like Mingo slide into their vacancy at strongside linebacker.
At the earliest, Mingo could probably go at number eight to the Bills. Between that pick and the Bears' turn at 20, there are several teams that could be looking for a pass-rushing linebacker (the Jets, Saints, Steelers, and Giants stand out as strong possibilities), but all of those teams also have other positions of dire need. If, by what Bears' fans would surely call divine serendipity, Mingo is on the board at 20, he likely won't be by pick 21.
8. Justin Hunter, WR (Tennessee)
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With Tavon Austin's stock soaring after an outstanding combine, the odds of him being on the board at 20 are slim. If indeed he is, the offensive-minded Trestman would likely fight tooth-and-nail to grab him. He is an ideal slot receiver that could provide a much-desired dimension to the Bears' new-look offense. He isn't the only receiver that would be a good fit, however.
With Alshon Jeffrey and Brandon Marshall manning the outside lanes, a speedy slot guy looks like the kind of player Chicago needs. Justin Hunter could be the exception to this. Hunter clocked in with an official 4.44 40-yard dash at the combine, while his 6'4" frame and 39.5-inch vertical round him out as an ideal deep-threat option. He could stretch the field in a way Marshall and Jeffrey can't necessarily do.
7. Margus Hunt, DE (SMU)
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Hunt makes sense for most of the same reasons that Damontre Moore does. He finds himself higher on this list because he is more likely to be on the board and has more upsides than almost any player in this draft. That doesn't mean that the odds of him succeeding in the NFL are as high as Moore's, but that his physical abilities are unmatched.
Hunt's build and athletic prowess immediately recall a young Julius Peppers, so the Bears may look for the native Estonian to learn from and eventually replace the future Hall-of-Famer. They have the time to invest in Hunt, and they may choose to roll the dice if other players (to be featured in the following slides) are off the board.
6. Sylvester Williams, DT (North Carolina)
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With the announcement of Matt Toeania's release, the need for depth at defensive tackle becomes more pressing for Chicago. Superstar Henry Melton was wisely franchised this offseason, while Stephen Paea looks likely to live up to his second-round draft status in the nose tackle role. He effectively plugs holes and stands up offensive linemen, while Melton handles pass-rushing duties from the interior. The pair are solid starters for the long-term.
Of course, that's assuming the Bears can get a contract worked out with Melton beyond the 2013 season. It seems unlikely that the Bears won't do what they need to in order to keep Melton around, but as a fail-safe they should target a player who can disrupt the backfield when searching for defensive tackle depth.
Kawann Short is one player who could be an option, but that may be a bit too much of a stretch. Sylvester Williams, on the other hand, is climbing draft boards after a solid combine. Tape shows Williams to be a strong, surprisingly quick tackle with supreme athleticism. He would be a more-than-capable rotational lineman as a rookie and could be someone truly impressive in the long-term.
5. D.J. Fluker, OT, (Alabama)
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Despite the Bears' overwhelming need for offensive linemen, this pick still isn't the most likely. Chicago just made a terrible signing with Jermon Bushrod, but the sheer amount of money they handed him means he will likely step in as the starting left tackle. This means J'Marcus Webb will probably move back to right tackle. This would be a lateral move if Bushrod cost $1 million per year; at $7 million, it's just bizarre.
Still, the Bears think they know something about Bushrod, and this contract means that he is their left tackle for the foreseeable future. If Chicago doesn't plan on keeping Webb around beyond his current contract, Fluker might be their pick. He is a mauler in the run game and has the flexibility to play guard if need be. While Fluker may not end up being a superstar, his sheer size and strength should prevent him from being a total bust, something Bears fans want to hear after Gabe Carimi's struggles.
4. Alec Ogletree, ILB (Georgia)
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As one of the best athletes in the draft, Alec Ogletree is going to make some team very happy come draft day. The major risk with Ogletree are his off-the-field struggles, which he can't seem to knock.
For the Bears, another consideration must be made—namely, Ogletree's fit in their defensive scheme. The middle linebacker in a Tampa 2 defense has to be instinctive above all else. Whether against the run or when dropping into coverage, he must make quick, accurate reads and react in kind. According to Eric Stoner's scouting report of Ogletree for Bleacher Report, Ogleetree is a "Freelancer who needs an inordinate amount of work in key reading and block deconstruction." That's not a promising notion.
Still, his pure athleticism, speed and coverage abilities can't be overlooked. No linebackers in the draft present the upsides Ogletree does, and many of his deficiencies can be coached away. His instincts aren't necessarily lacking—rather, they are mostly untested because of his physical superiority. Bears' management will have to carefully assess the risk.
3. Desmond Trufant, CB (Washington)
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With D.J. Moore now on the Carolina Panthers' roster and Kelvin Hayden still unsigned, the four cornerbacks currently scheduled to back up starters Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings are Zack Bowman, Sherrick McManis, Isaiah Frey, and LeQuan Lewis. This can't have many people in the organization very excited. Chicago has to be looking to re-sign Hayden, who played well in the nickel role last year, but should also look to add some top-tier young talent.
Despite having arguably the best season of his Hall-of-Fame-worthy career, Charles Tillman isn't getting any younger and will have to have a replacement sooner rather than later. The way the draft looks to be shaping up, the odds of finding good value in a cornerback at 20 are pretty good. At this point, Desmond Trufant looks like the most likely secondary player to end up a Bear in the first round. He demonstrated blazing speed (4.38 official 40-yard dash) and solid strength (16 bench reps) at the combine, numbers that look especially good when paired with his coverage skills. In many ways, his game resembles Tillman's. In the meantime, he could easily handle nickel duties or even provide safety depth.
2. Jonathan Cooper, OG/C (North Carolina)
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Bushrod's signing doesn't have a major effect on the interior of the Bears' offensive line. It might ensure that Carimi's future is on the inside, but that seemed likely anyway. With Lance Louis still recovering from an ACL injury and James Brown in need of development, guard depth is needed. Meanwhile, Roberto Garza is barely hanging on in the middle.
Jonathan Cooper is the type of interior lineman that is worth the first-round consideration. He can play center or guard for the Bears right away and could go a long way in shoring up the inside of the line for the future. Most importantly, he provides the flexibility the always-changing Chicago line needs. He has to be considered if he's available.
1. Arthur Brown, LB (Kansas St.)
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With Brian Urlacher's exit and Nick Roach's Oakland signing, the Bears' projected linebacking corps for 2013 looked dismal. Then the Bears signed D.J. Williams, a move that may prove to be one of the bigger steals of the 2013 free agency. While Williams isn't a long-term solution, he's a more-than-capable stop-gap starting in the middle for a year. That leaves the strongside, where J.T. Thomas is the current penciled-in starter, as the most imperative need to address.
Arthur Brown is almost too perfect for the Bears here. Brown starred at Kansas State as an outside linebacker thanks to his speed, coverage skills, and solid tackling. Since his season ended, Brown has added 14 pounds, bulking up from 227 to 241 pounds and alleviating concerns that he is too small to play in the middle. This development, compounded with his low-risk status (compared to players like Manti Te'o and Alec Ogletree) and projected fit in a Tampa 2 defense, situates Brown as the the most logical option for the Bears in the first round. He could play on the strongside for a year or two before sliding over to the middle as an eventual replacement for Williams.
With moves yet to be made this offseason, things could change in a big way. Until then, consider Brown the favorite for the 20th selection in the 2013 NFL draft.