The Chicago Bears appear to be angling to trade down, but if they stay with the 20th pick, the best player they could add is Alabama guard Chance Warmack.
Since Olin Kreutz was in his prime, the Bears' offensive line has lacked an anchor. They haven't had a player they could rely on to open a hole in short yardage or keep the quarterback clean. They may be in position to change that with this draft if they're able to scoop up Warmack.
Warmack is among the highest-graded players on several draft boards, along with fellow guard Jonathan Cooper from North Carolina.
Who the better prospect is depends on who is doing the judging. Cooper is more athletic, but Warmack is more physical and plays with the kind of edge the Bears' offense has been lacking. Warmack also played against better competition in college, coming from the SEC.
ESPN's Todd McShay has Warmack ranked eighth and Cooper ninth overall (subscription required), while his colleague Mel Kiper has Cooper seventh and Warmack 12th (subscription required).
It isn't that the extra athleticism necessarily makes him a better player, but it would be easier for a general manager to sell Cooper to his fan base.
Most mock drafts have both players going inside the top 15, but guards rarely go so high. In the last 10 years, only four interior linemen—Shawn Andrews, Mike Pouncey, Maurkice Pouncey and Mike Iupati—have been drafted in the top 20. Only Mike Pouncey was taken in the top 15, going 15th to the Dolphins in 2011.
There have been other players who moved to guard after being drafted as tackles, but guys who come into the league as guards typically fall in the draft.
The best way to predict the future is by looking at the past, so the Bears should have an excellent shot at Warmack. If he isn't going to last until the 20th pick, it would be worth giving up future picks to make sure they can get him.
As you see in the above clip, Warmack had no trouble getting push in the run game. He should be able to be a dominant run blocker right away in the NFL.
Although he may not be as athletic as some might like, Warmack is considered by most to be an excellent pass protector.
His ESPN Draft Profile (subscription required) stated that he is a "natural knee bender with good short-area quickness and balance."
It also noted that Warmack has "very good awareness and constantly picks up twists, stunts, blitzes and delayed blitzes." Those are the kinds of plays that continually killed the Bears against the Packers.
It was easy—and often justified—to blame their tackles for the pressures and sacks given up, but the guards struggled just as much. Last season, the Bears' tackles had a combined grade of negative-23.2 and their guards a negative-23.1 from Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Former NFL scout and current NFL.com analyst Bucky Brooks compared Warmack to Tampa Bay's Carl Nicks, a former fifth-round pick developed by current Bears' offensive coordinator/line coach Aaron Kromer.
Kromer's work with Nicks and another late-round pick turned Pro Bowl guard—Jahri Evans—has led many to believe the Bears will wait to address that position in a later round. But I'm not so sure that's true.
Last offseason, when Nicks left New Orleans for Tampa Bay, the Saints moved quickly to give Ben Grubbs a big contract to replace him. They did so knowing it meant they would likely lose Jermon Bushrod this offseason. That is a clear indication how important the offensive guard position is to what Kromer wants to do along the offensive line.
Both should be upgrades—although the biggest upgrade should be J'Marcus Webb moving from left tackle to right tackle—but neither are the kind of player a team should build around up front.
The expectation is for Slauson to start at left guard and former first-round pick Gabe Carimi to compete for the job at right guard. While Slauson has proven to be solid—earning an average grade of 3.1 from PFF (subscription required) over the past three seasons, there's legitimate concern whether Carimi can make the switch from tackle. At 6'7", his height may be a huge disadvantage, especially against shorter nose tackles.
Overall, Carimi had a PFF (subscription required) grade of 4.2 at guard last year—compared to negative-14.3 at tackle. However, he got worse each game he played at guard. If Carimi has a future in the league, he should be able to beat either Slauson at guard or Webb at right tackle.
Many—myself included—have projected the Bears would take a linebacker in the first round.
However, the more I've scouted, the more I've realized the difference between the linebackers they could get with the 20th pick and the ones they could likely get with the 50th pick isn't that great. The difference in offensive linemen who will be available, however, will likely be significant.
Like many, I expect the Bears will attempt to trade down. However, if they can get their hands on a player like Warmack, they have to grab him. The Bears have had a poor offensive line for long enough, and it's time for them to get a player to build around.