With the moves that Chicago has made to date in free agency, the Bears have opened up their draft board by being able to grab the best available player with each of their five picks.
The signing of key players such as tackle Jermon Bushrod, tight end Martellus Bennett and linebackers D.J. Williams and James Anderson brings playmaking ability and proven veterans to both sides of the ball.
Additionally, the signing of impact role players such as blocking tight end Steve Maneri, safety Tom Zbikowski, guard Matt Slauson, center Taylor Boggs, defensive tackle Andre Fluellen and defensive end Kyle Moore has addressed the need for depth both offensively and defensively.
The Bears have put themselves in the perfect situation. By filling needs via free agency, they will be able to draft the best player available on the board regardless of position. This means Chicago's front office personnel can be more flexible when addressing roster needs in the draft.
Philip Emery’s aggressive philosophy should be front and center on Thursday night when the most anticipated event of the NFL 2013 offseason begins—the NFL draft.
Lock up a premiere tackle? Check.
Lock up a receiving tight end? Check.
Grab a middle and weak side linebacker? Got them.
Add depth on both offense and defense? Done.
After how aggressive Chicago was in free agency, just ask, "Why not?"
What else is there for the Bears to do but find a dynamic playmaker who can take the top off defenses with his speed and has reliable hands to play the slot?
Tavon Austin exploded at the combine with his performance, despite measuring in at 5’8" and 174 pounds. Some might have him dipping on their boards because of his size, but others have him rising because of his elite speed.
Austin ran an official 40 time of 4.34. His time was good enough for second best, only behind Olympic sprinter Marquise Goodwin.
To go along with his prolific speed, Austin is an artist at the wide receiver position. He thoroughly improved his route running while at West Virginia and showed he has the consistent hands necessary to be a No. 1 target within an offense.
After the catch, he shows the same ability as Percy Harvin in the open field. Austin brings elusiveness onto the field. He is a complete receiver or in the Bears' case, the perfect slot receiver.
While some think Austin might be the first wideout taken off the board, No. 20 seems more plausible. If the Bears grab him with their first-round pick, Austin would immediately improve an offense that could be one of the most explosive in the league.
With Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Bennett, the addition of Austin makes September even more anticipated.
If Austin does get drafted higher, look for Chicago to draft one of the other top wideout prospects with this pick.
The addition of Jermon Bushrod locks up the left tackle position. Matt Slauson and Taylor Boggs will help with depth at the offensive line.
These moves will help new Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer execute what he was able to do in New Orleans.
Kromer was able to coach and mold one of the best lines in the NFL by taking players shrugged off by other teams and turning them into perennial Pro Bowlers. Jermon Bushrod is a perfect example, as Kromer coached him previously in New Orleans.
Drafting someone who can be plugged in on Day 1 at any position on the line is key.
That’s where Barrett Jones comes in. The 6’5", 311-pound senior can play just about any position on the line—at least that’s what he showed at Alabama. Jones played guard his freshman and sophomore season and tackle his junior season, and he stepped back inside to lead the line at center in his senior season.
His versatility will allow Kromer to place Jones in the best position to protect Jay Cutler and open running lanes for Matt Forte. Putting him in at center would mean Roberto Garza can return to playing his original position of guard. Putting Jones at guard would mean Gabe Carimi can return to playing to tackle, if Kromer believes Carimi can get the job done.
Jones is an impressive offensive line prospect no matter which way you look at him. Although he did not participate in combine workouts due to having foot surgery to repair ligaments, the surgery is not extreme enough for Chicago to forgo drafting him with its second-round selection. Jones should recover completely and be available to start on Day 1.
Signing D.J. Williams and James Anderson brings much needed help to Chicago’s linebacking corps, but their one-year contracts mean that the Bears are still looking for linebackers.
Drafting a linebacker in the high rounds is unnecessary because of those signings, but Chicago could find a hidden gem in the later rounds.
The 6’1", 246-pound Reddick is a superior athlete on defense who makes plays all over the field. Reddick shows great recognition of offenses and is more than fast enough to pursue the ball-carrier for tackles.
Reddick also showed great ability to get after the quarterback by racking up 6.5 sacks this past season. He has the ability needed to get off or around blockers and rush the passer. He also had 85 tackles, 18.5 of which were for losses.
His added pass rush will prove to be an asset to the defense. Mel Tucker might view Reddick as a hand-on-the-ground pass-rusher to go along with Julius Peppers and Shea McClellin.
Reddick was fantastic at the combine, running a 4.72 40 and benching 225 pounds 23 times. With no off-the-field issues, he should be valued as a top linebacker prospect on any draft board.
Even with the talent of a first-rounder, Reddick is not viewed as one. He should be drafted in the later rounds because he played at a small school that is not known for producing great linebackers. Whether the Bears decide he can be an eventual replacement to Brian Urlacher on the inside or view him as another pass-rusher for the defense, they should grab him with their fourth-round selection.
It has been said many times by coaches and general managers that good defenses can never have too many cornerbacks.
Both Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman made the Pro Bowl last season, but some analysts see that nickel cornerback as a hole to fill for the Bears during the draft.
Brandon McGee out of Miami might just be what Chicago will be looking for in the later rounds.
McGee, who is 5’11", 193 pounds, ran a 40 time of 4.40 at the combine. After a strong Senior Bowl game, he has seen his stock rising from potential late-round unrestricted free agent to second-day draft grade. McGee shows great ball skills and plays sticky at the cornerback position.
Although McGee is a raw prospect, his frame and speed are exactly what coaches and GMs will be looking for.
McGee becomes the latest piece for Mel Tucker to plug into his defensive scheme with the Bears' fifth-round selection.
In the late rounds of the NFL draft, teams are looking for diamonds in the rough. And that is exactly what Missouri Southern defensive tackle Brandon Williams is.
The 6’1", 335-pound Williams was a three-time All-American for the Division II Lions. Known for his strength, Williams was able to bench 225 pounds 38 times at the combine. Those 38 reps were enough to tie him atop the leaderboards with Estonian native Margus Hunt.
To go with his strength, Williams shows agility and the hands necessary to get around offensive linemen consistently. Racking up 27 total sacks, he could prove to be another cog in a Bears defensive line that loves to cause chaos for opposing quarterbacks.
Williams is raw and expected to go between the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds. GM Phil Emery and head coach Marc Trestman finish out their first draft together by grabbing the Missouri Southern defensive tackle, which makes September even more anticipated for the Chicago faithful.