Chicago Bears 2014 Mock Draft: Round-by-Round Best-Case Scenario
The Chicago Bears struggled at the end of the season, finishing with an 8-8 record and missing out on the playoffs, despite two chances to lock up the division in the final two weeks.
While the offense took a major step forward in 2013 under Marc Trestman, the defense steadily declined after Week 1. The defense finished dead last against the run, allowing an average of 161.4 yards per game, nearly 30 yards more than the next-closest team.
Emery and his staff still have plenty of decisions left to make in regard to their own free agents, as well as those players who will be interesting them as unrestricted free agents.
Beyond the impending free agents, Emery and his staff will be focused on which players can help them in getting younger and better through the draft.
Here is our latest round-by-round best-case scenario mock draft for the Chicago Bears.
1st Round: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Free Safety, Alabama
Not since the days of Mike Brown have the Bears had a formidable playmaking free safety. During the Lovie Smith/Jerry Angelo tenure, the Chicago Bears tried to find their long-term answer at either safety position but whiffed on guys like Al Afalava, Kevin Payne and Major Wright amongst many others.
In 2013 the Bears defense as a whole was one of the worst in recent memory, and the play by the safety tandem of Wright and Chris Conte was some of the worst in the league.
Wright is a free agent, and it would not come as a surprise if the Bears moved on without him.
With the 14th overall pick, the Bears can go a variety of different directions, but they could help shore up the safety position by drafting Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
In his latest mock draft, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller says of Clinton-Dix, "like Eric Reid and Kenny Vaccaro from the 2013 class, the Alabama safety can step in and make an impact from his first day on the job."
Clinton-Dix has been described as a prototypical ball-hawking safety as he consistently has a great break on the ball and has good enough hands to haul in interceptions.
He can play well up at the line of scrimmage and against the run but has a tendency to take bad angles at times when tackling and will need to improve on his strength when facing bigger and stronger receivers in the NFL.
Drafting Clinton-Dix does not automatically fix all of the team's problems in the secondary, but he could become the playmaking safety this team has desperately needed.
2nd Round: Bradley Roby, Cornerback, Ohio State
For years the Bears have been lucky to have the consistent play of Charles Tillman week in and week out at the cornerback position, but his return to the team in 2014 is still in question.
Tillman told the Chicago Tribune's Dan Wiederer and Fred Mitchell last week, "I've got some decisions that I have to make here in the next couple of weeks, couple of months."
The team locked up cornerback Tim Jennings for the next four years, and if Tillman moves on, the team will need to look to the draft to find his replacement.
Heading into the 2013 season, Bradley Roby stood near the top of many draft boards and was considered to be a sure fire first-round pick after a stellar sophomore season for the Ohio State Buckeyes.
An early-season suspension due to a disorderly conduct charge in the offseason combined with some inconsistent play early in the season has led to Roby dropping down many draft boards.
NFL.com's Bucky Brooks said that Roby is "unquestionably one of the most explosive athletes in college football" and cites his amazing physical traits as something teams covet for their No. 1 cornerback.
Roby has fluid hips and can change direction extremely well, allowing him to keep up with quick and fast wide receivers, and while he has excelled in zone coverage, that athleticism would allow him to grow as a player in man coverage.
If teams can look past his early struggles in 2013, he could be a Day 1 pick, but if questions still remain, he could be an absolute steal for the Bears in the second round.
3rd Round: Jackson Jeffcoat, Defensive End, Texas
During the 2013 season, the Chicago Bears finished the season tied for 31st in sacks with 31, a year after finishing eighth with 41 sacks. Julius Peppers was a shell of his former self, and due to injuries, Corey Wootton spent the majority of his season playing inside at the 3-technique. Shea McClellin finished the season with four sacks and has not lived up to the hype of a first-round pick.
Wootton is set to become a free agent, and Peppers could wind up being a cap-casualty due to what is expected to be a large cap hit in 2014, according to Spotrac. Considering the fact that other than Peppers, the only defensive ends currently on the roster are McClellin, David Bass, Cheta Ozougwu and Cornelius Washington, the Bears will likely look to the draft to add to their depth.
Enter Jackson Jeffcoat.
The son of former first-round pick Jim Jeffcoat, Jackson hopes to replicate the success of his father at the NFL level. The elder Jeffcoat played 15 seasons in the NFL while notching 102.5 sacks and winning two Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys.
Jackson, after being highly recruited out of high school, had three devastating injuries but bounced back and finished the 2013 season with 12 sacks en route to being named AP All-First Team.
Scouting reports and big boards have him ranked all over the place with CBS Sports and NFL Draft Scout listing him as a second-round pick, and Bleacher Report's Matt Miller has him going in the third round.
Jeffcoat's current size may make him a better option as a standup linebacker in a 3-4 defense, a defense the Bears hinted about changing to, per a report by Dan Wiederer of the Chicago Tribune, but with some added weight, he could be a 4-3 defensive end.
One reason he could slip to the third round is his lack of strength, and he will need to address that heading into the draft. He has a good first step, plays with good gap integrity and plays well against the run. He has the ability to get to the quarterback but has been inconsistent at times.
If the Bears can sign a viable option via free agency at defensive end, Jeffcoat could be a solid project in the third round that has the versatility to play in both a 3-4 and 4-3 defense.
4th Round: Travis Swanson, Center, Arkansas
Phil Emery made it his top priority last offseason to upgrade an offensive line that may have been the worst in the league during Jay Cutler's tenure in Chicago.
Emery brought in left tackle Jermon Bushrod and left guard Matt Slauson via free agency and drafted right guard Kyle Long and right tackle Jordan Mills. While the line is vastly improved from last season, it still needs some work moving forward.
Little time was wasted trying to re-sign Slauson, as Emery and his staff inked him to a new deal last week, leaving Roberto Garza as the only starter on the offensive line currently not under contract.
Garza has struggled since moving from right guard to center following Olin Kreutz's departure prior to the 2011 season.
Considering how young the right side of their line is, the Bears may want to look for a center via free agency but could be intrigued by Arkansas' Travis Swanson in the draft.
Many big boards have Swanson as their top-ranked center, although where he will ultimately be picked is up in the air. He is quick and athletic and does a good job of pulling and getting to the second level in the running game. He will need to work on getting stronger at the point of attack, as he has a tendency to lean on his opponent instead of pushing him back.
Considering the fact that most centers are not taken early in the draft, the Bears could find an anchor to the middle of their offensive line as a steal in the fourth round.
5th Round: Anthony Johnson, Defensive Tackle, LSU
Much like the team's need to improve at the defensive end position, it also needs help inside at defensive tackle.
The Bears were riddled with injuries at the defensive tackle position, losing both Henry Melton and Nate Collins for the season, and the team was forced to play guys like Christian Tupou, Landon Cohen, Tracy Robertson and Zach Minter in their place.
The team benefited from defensive end Corey Wootton moving inside and the addition of veteran Jeremiah Ratliff near the end of the season, but they desperately need to bolster the inside this offseason.
Melton, Collins and Ratliff are all set to become free agents, leaving Stephen Paea as the lone defensive tackle on the roster. The team will likely try and bring back one, if not all three, of the impending free agents and will likely look to the draft to get younger at the position.
LSU's Anthony Johnson has quick feet and great athleticism for an interior defensive lineman and could excel as a 3-technique defensive tackle in the NFL if given the time to grow. He is still raw, often playing too high, and he also lacks consistency with his pass rush.
His strength lends well in the run game, and he consistently maintains his gaps but relies too much on pure speed to beat offensive lineman, and that will not always work in the NFL.
His speed and athleticism may cause a team to take a flier on him early, but if the Bears want to continue playing a 4-3 defense, he can be the future at the 3-technique for the team in the years to come.
6th Round (via Tampa Bay): Aaron Murray, Quarterback, Georgia
Aaron Murray was once considered an early-round draft pick until a torn ACL in November ruined his chances of finishing the season and playing in the Senior Bowl.
Some teams may be scared off by the prospect of drafting a quarterback coming off an ACL injury, but with the Bears re-signing Jay Cutler to a long-term deal and entertaining the idea of bringing back veteran Josh McCown, Murray could end up being a steal in the sixth round as a developmental quarterback.
The 2014 draft class is riddled with talented quarterbacks near the top of the draft but thins out after the top five. Last season saw once highly touted quarterbacks drop throughout the draft, and that could happen again in 2014 with guys like Murray.
NFL.com's Gil Brandt compared Murray to guys like Russell Wilson and Drew Brees—and not just because Murray stands around 6'1". Brandt compared Murray's intelligence and work ethic to Wilson and Brees. He was also quick to note it is not a given he will turn out to be the same type of quarterback as either Wilson or Brees.
Murray has been very effective throughout his career in the short-to-intermediate passing game, which lends well to Trestman's West Coast offense, and while he does not have the arm of a Cutler, Murray can still throw a decent deep ball.
Cutler has been locked up to a seven-year deal, but considering his injury history, drafting Murray will help provide the team with a solid backup in the years to come.
6th Round: Jimmie Ward, Strong Safety, Northern Illinois
He finished the season with a team-high 89 tackles—57 solo—and a career-high six interceptions to lead the MAC and tie for 13th in the country. He made his impact known in some of the team's biggest games of the year, notching interceptions against both Iowa and Toledo.
Ward has seen his draft stock rise with his terrific season but will need to show improvement at the Senior Bowl to be considered more than just a mid-round selection.
He has been good at stopping the run, and he plays well in the box, but he too often dives at the legs of ball-carriers instead of trying to square them up. His six interceptions reflected his tremendous ball skills, and he showed an improvement in pass coverage as the season wore on.
The Bears have seemingly searched far and wide for an answer at safety during the last decade and may be better off trying to find a competent starter via free agency. Even if the team signs a veteran and drafts Clinton-Dix in the first round, a guy like Jimmie Ward would help make a guy like Craig Steltz expendable and could immediately contribute on special teams.