Due to an active free agency, the Chicago Bears are in an ideal position heading into the NFL draft. They could go any number of ways, but don't have to target any specific player or position. Just two weeks away, Bears fans have started to pick their favorites.
Without any gaping holes on their roster, many are hoping the Bears just trade down to acquire more picks and improve their depth. The problem with that is it is easier said than done.
The Bears' ability to trade down will depend mostly on how the draft breaks. Every year there are surprises, and this year figures to be no different. The key to the Bears trading down will be if a team wants a player they think the Cincinnati Bengals—who hold the 21st pick— will take. That is, unless the Bears can convince a team that the Bengals are trading their pick. A lot of mind games happen on draft day.
Another option the Bears have is trading up. The Bears don't have a lot of assets, but they do have enough to move up at least a few spots. If they think there is a player who will put them over the edge, don't be surprised to see the Bears move up. The one thing we know about general manager Phil Emery is that when he wants someone, he finds a way to get them.
Should the Bears stay at 20, they should be able to get a player. History suggests, they should have a chance to get at least one of the top two guards—Chance Warmack or Jonathan Cooper. Both are highly rated players, but only four guards have gone in the top 20 picks in the last 10 years.
There could be any number of players who drop to the Bears, thus fulfilling some wish lists. Most Bears are keying in on a replacement for Brian Urlacher. There are several good linebackers who should be available when the Bears pick, but are any going to help the team next year with D.J. Williams on board?
Not that Emery will listen to the advice of the team's fans, but if he did, here are some the guys he would be looking at:
Chance Warmack, G, Alabama
This is my favorite because I think he has the best chance to make the biggest impact, both immediately and long term.
The Bears addressed the position in free agency by signing Matt Slauson, however, he is more of a replacement for Lance Louis. Unless they're planning on going into camp with unproven, converted tackle Gabe Carimi, they're going to have to draft a player.
Warmack is considered a mauler in the running game, but also an excellent pass blocker. Scouts Inc. (subscription required) graded him "above average" as a pas blocker and exceptional in all other areas.
If the draft breaks like it has for the past 10 years, the Bears should have a chance at either Warmack or…
Jonathan Cooper, G, North Carolina
Many Bears fans prefer Cooper because he is more athletic and could possibly play center, but those traits also make him less likely to be available.
However, Scouts Inc. (subscription required) ranked Warmack as better or equal in everything but pass protection. Ultimately, how they are ranked seems to depend solely on the scout. Cooper's athleticism would make him an easier sell to the fan bases of teams picking in the top half of the first round.
His ability to move would make Cooper an excellent fit for a zone-blocking scheme, like the Bears plan on running this year.
The argument against taking a guard so early is that they can get one later. That may be true, but it's true about all positions. Why take a linebacker in the first round, when Lance Briggs was a third-round pick?
According to the tally on Pro-Football-Reference, the seven guards taken in the first round from 2001 to 2011 made a combined 16 Pro Bowls, while guards taken in all other rounds have made 17. The latter total includes converted tackles. Only one of the guards taken in the first round in that time span did not make at least one Pro Bowl. Essentially, it's as sure of a bet as any position.
I believe Warmack is a better fit and more likely to drop, but the Bears would have to be satisfied with either should they drop.
Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
Austin is a hard guy to project in the NFL, but Bears fans love him.
He's exceptionally fast and unbelievably quick. He may not be a natural receiver, but he's proven to be a great playmaker. He would be best used in multiple formations to get him in open space.
With Brandon Marshall established as the Bears' go-to receiver, Alshon Jeffery developing opposite of him and Earl Bennett more than capable of working the slot, the Bears wouldn't need Austin. However, if they have a chance to get a player of his talent, it would be hard to pass up.
It seems like a long shot that Austin will drop out of the top 15, much less to the Bears at 20. However, when is the last time a receiver that short has been taken that high? Since 1990, only four receivers listed under 5'11" on Pro-Football-Reference have gone in the top 20 in the draft. All four of them were listed at 5'10", while Austin is listed at 5'9".
Perhaps the recent changes in NFL schemes will help Austin. The NFL is more wide open than ever, meaning players like Austin, Seattle's Percy Harvin and Green Bay's Randall Cobb can get in the open field easier. Still, nine receivers were taken in the first two rounds last season and only two were listed below six feet.
Brooks compared Austin to Harvin and Miller compared him to Philadelphia's DeSean Jackson. However, both guys are at least two inches taller than Austin and neither was among the top 20 picks the year they came out.
It's hard to predict where Austin will be drafted, but the Bears might have a shot. If so, it's certainly a pick a lot of Bears fans would love.
Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia
Ogletree has proven to be a terrific athlete, but a raw linebacker. A scouting report that is very similar to what many said about Urlacher when he came out, so many Bears fans are hoping he will be the pick to replace the future Hall of Fame linebacker.
ESPN and Scouts Inc. draft guru Todd McShay referred to Ogletree as "one of the best pound-for-pound athletes in the class" in his most recent mock draft (subscription required) as he had Ogletree going to the Vikings 23rd overall.
In his Draft Minute video, McShay said Ogletree should be one of the top 15 picks. However, character concerns could have him drop to the Bears.
In addition to his off-the-field issues, some aren't convinced he is physical enough to be an inside linebacker.
CBS Sports ranks Ogletree as the fifth-best outside linebacker. NFL.com's Josh Norris ranked Ogletree as his best outside linebacker, saying his best fit is on the weak side, where the Bears have Lance Briggs.
Ogletree had a good showing at the combine and his athleticism shows on the field, but are the off-field concerns enough to warrant drafting him high?
It doesn't seem like the Bears would be a team concerned about his off-field issues. They signed D.J. Williams as a free agent even though he was suspended twice last season.
My only issue with Ogletree is that he seems to lack natural instincts and makes a lot of tackles down the field after the ball carrier has already picked up a chunk of yardage. However, if the Bears decide Ogletree is physical enough to man the middle, it could make make a lot of fans happy.
Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas State
Brown is a player who gets mixed reviews from scouts, but whom many Bears fans seem to like.
Like Ogletree, the question is if he can play in the middle. The difference is that Brown has size limitations, but that doesn't prevent him from playing physically.
Dan Shonka, a former NFL scout and current scout and GM of Ourlads NFL Scouting Service, cited a lack of bulk in a Twitter conversation.
ESPN's Mel Kiper has Brown as his fifth-best outside linebacker (subscription required). He is the fourth-highest rated outside linebacker on Scouts Inc. (subscription required).
Although he's only 6'0", Brown weighed 241 pounds at the combine and did 21 repetitions of 225 pounds at his pro day. That mark would've tied him for 14th at the combine and was the same amount Te'o did. If everyone agrees Te'o—who weighed just two pounds more —has the bulk and strength to hold up at middle linebacker, why doesn't Brown?
Despite his supposed size disadvantage, Brown is a physical player who packs a big punch. He is active and always seems to be around the ball, a trademark of the Bears defense over the year.
The criticism of his size seems to be mostly unwarranted, so the Bears could make him the next in a long line of great linebackers. They've already shown interest. If they go one step further and draft him, many Bears fans will be happy.
There are several other players draft gurus are predicting to go the Bears, but these five seem to be the fan favorites. Trading back remains an option, but not one the Bears can rely on. The most important thing is that the Bears get impact players in this draft, especially with their first pick.