Is replacing center Roberto Garza more important than replacing departed linebacker Brian Urlacher?
Although they are a playoff-caliber team, the Bears still have some obvious holes to fill. Phil Emery has been very effective at addressing glaring needs during his tenure as Chicago’s general manager, so Bears fans can expect an efficient and strategic draft.
There are really no picks to waste.
Each of the following positions is vital to the Bears’ success next season, and Emery can fill each need through the draft.
Kelvin Hayden simply did not play well as the nickelback or back-up cornerback in 2012.
The Bears could still use more depth along the defensive line, but the need at cornerback is more pressing.
Moore’s mid-season benching for Hayden would suggest that Hayden is an upgrade at nickelback, but Hayden did not play any better than Moore.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Hayden finished the season with seven missed tackles to Moore’s three. Surprisingly, The Chicago Tribune even cited missed tackles as the catalyst for Moore’s demotion. While the ball-hawking Moore struggled at times last season, Hayden was even worse.
In addition to having less missed tackles, Moore allowed less yards per reception than Hayden (12.2 vs. 12.5) and allowed the same number of touchdowns (three) while adding one more interception (two to one).
Moore is gone and Hayden is not a great option. In order to get high-quality play at nickelback, the Bears need to draft a cornerback that would be an upgrade over both Moore and Hayden.
The Chicago Tribune’s Brad Biggs suggested that “it would not be surprising for the team to address the position high in the draft.”
Best draft option: Terry Hawthorne, Illinois
Chicago’s other needs mean that the Bears can’t take a cornerback as high as they’d like. Fortunately, Terry Hawthorne has huge potential for a lower pick.
His draft stock took a hit because of Illinois’ abysmal 2012 season, but he has size (6’0”), speed (4.44 40-time) and the physical ability to hang with bigger receivers (according to NFL.com). He could develop into a solid contributor out of the fifth round.
Ryan Swope could be an excellent choice for the Bears later in the draft.
Brandon Marshall had an incredible season last year.
Marshall caught 45.7 percent of the Bears’ yardage through the air in 2012. He also caught 41.1 percent of the Chicago quarterbacks’ completions.
Can he get a little help, please?
While Marshall’s season was impressive, it showed how weak the Bears receiving corps is. Emery pursued Alshon Jeffery aggressively in the 2012 draft, and he should have been a good complement to Marshall. Unfortunately, the former South Carolina receiver struggled with injuries and penalties.
Earl Bennett also struggled to stay healthy last year, which led to inconsistent production out of the slot.
The Bears are going into 2013 expecting Jeffery to be an effective No. 2, but a late-round receiver would definitely be a wise pick.
Best Draft Option: Ryan Swope, Texas A&M
Swope played with Ryan Tannehill and Johnny Manziel in college, so he was a visible pro prospect in college. His 4.34 40-time only added to his notoriety. Swope’s speed could make him a dangerous receiver out of the slot or on the outside.
Swope will probably be about a fourth-round pick. Chicago can’t afford to spend a higher pick on a receiver.
The Bears didn't get much production out of their tight ends in 2012.
Tight ends in Chicago have been simply atrocious since Greg Olsen’s departure.
Kellen Davis’ drops finally earned him a ticket out of Chicago. Martellus Bennett was subsequently signed to a four-year deal, according to NFL.com.
Even with Bennett coming to town, who The Chicago Tribune described as providing “matchup advantages,” having a second tight end that can contribute as a pass-catcher would be ideal. It obviously works for the New England Patriots.
Prior to Bennett’s signing, Tyler Eifert was a viable option for the Bears in the first round. It’s likely that the Bears will address another need with that pick and select a backup tight end later in the draft.
Best draft option: Chris Gragg, Arkansas
NFL.com’s profile of Gragg points out that he started his career as a wide receiver, and he could contribute immediately in the passing game for Chicago.
A serious leg injury during his senior year makes Gragg a gamble, but he could pay dividends in the sixth round. He likely would have been drafted higher if his final season had panned out differently, so the Bears could steal a quality player at a position of need.
Urlacher's departure creates a void in the middle of the Chicago defense.
Bears fans are split over if Brian Urlacher would have been an asset or a liability in 2013.
Regardless, it’s obvious that the Bears need to draft the next monster of the midway.
D.J. Williams and James Anderson were solid free-agent signings, but Chicago is searching for a player who will be a long-term solution. Both Williams and Anderson will be in their 30s next season.
Fortunately, elite middle linebacker prospects can still be found at the end of the first round. ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. doesn’t have any inside linebackers coming off the board before Chicago’s pick at No. 20 (subscription required).
The Bears will need someone to lead the defense in Urlacher’s stead within the next few years. Veterans Lance Briggs, Julius Peppers and Charles Tillman may be gone soon as well.
Chicago would be wise to draft Urlacher’s successor in the first round.
Best draft option: Alec Ogletree, Georgia
Manti Te’o, Arthur Brown and Kevin Minter would all be solid choices with the Bears’ first-round pick. However, this Bleacher Report article from about a month ago explains why Ogletree should be the Bears’ selection.
The Bears have not had consistent high-quality play at center since Olin Kreutz left the team.
Since Olin Kreutz’s 2011 departure from the Chicago Bears, Roberto Garza has manned the center position on the offensive line.
Garza was a talented right guard, but he has not been nearly as good as a center.
Pro Football Focus (subscription required) gave Garza a -18.7 grade in 2011 and a -5.6 grade in 2012. Even with the drastic improvement, Garza’s grade ranked as 30th best in the NFL in 2012.
Chicago needs to upgrade the center position more than any other position on the team.
Middle linebacker needs a long-term fix, but D.J. Williams is a better positional value than Roberto Garza is currently. With recent personnel additions across the line, Garza is now the weak link.
Olin Kreutz was considered the best center in his draft by Sports Illustrated, but he still went in the third round. Centers are simply not drafted that high, so the Bears can select the best prospect in 2013 with their second-round pick.
Best Draft Option: Travis Frederick, Wisconsin
Wisconsin’s center is projected by NFL.com as a top-75 pick. Frederick is a huge and powerful lineman, measuring in at 6’4” and 312 pounds.
While interior linemen don’t have to be as fast as tackles, his 5.58 40-time belies how slow he really is. Speed and quickness are areas that need improvement, but Frederick is certainly big and strong enough to handle NFL linemen immediately. The Bears should select him with their second pick and plug him in at center for the next decade.