The Chicago Bears' 2013 season was nothing if not a mixed bag. For the first time in recent memory, the offense thrived while the defense faltered miserably. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), the Bears had the seventh best offense in the NFL this season, falling only narrowly behind such offensive powerhouses as Green Bay and Dallas.
The Bears defense, on the other hand, was abysmal, a painfully obvious conclusion for any casual NFL follower. To put into perspective just how bad the Bears defense was this year, last year's historically bad New Orleans defense received a composite defensive score from Pro Football Focus of -93.4. The much-maligned Washington and Dallas defenses this year received similar scores of -94.4 and -98.5 respectively.
Chicago's defensive score this year: -186.4.
GM Phil Emery was quick to make some key re-signings this offseason, locking up Jay Cutler, Tim Jennings and Matt Slauson to front-loaded deals that will provide the kind of flexibility GMs love to have on the back-end of contracts. However, what that means for this offseason is that there is little wiggle room to remake the defense through free agent signings.
A large percentage of the Bears core defense is still up in the air, with Henry Melton, Corey Wootton, Jeremiah Ratliff, Charles Tillman, James Anderson, D.J. Williams, Zack Bowman and Major Wright all free agents, along with a number of reserves and situational players.
William Caulton of Bleacher Report does a nice job of breaking down the Bears' cap situation, so I won't rehash the nitty-gritty of it here. Suffice it to say that the draft is going to be more important to the Bears this year than in most.
If the Bears are going to be able to take advantage of the outstanding offense their brass has recruited and molded, the defense is going to have to improve quickly. With limited funds to spend on free agents, the Bears will have to hope to land some day-one starters and instant playmakers early in the draft.
Any thought to drafting for the offense in the first round should be discarded—there are too many needs on defense to justify an offensive selection. So, without further preamble, here are 10 prospects the Bears must consider in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft, plus five second-round selections who could provide first-round impact.