Chicago Bears' Top Needs and Fits in the 2014 NFL Draft
A team like the Chicago Bears who finished 8-8, had a franchise-worst defense and missed the playoffs for the third straight season has some glaring needs.
The team will likely turn to the draft to fill most of these needs. They have a lot of money locked up into their own players which likely means it will be more frugal during this free-agent period.
The majority of needs fall on the defensive side of the ball. Here are five players in the draft who would fit the Bears' biggest holes.
The Bears ranked dead last in the league in run defense this past season. They desperately need a big run-stuffing defensive tackle who can take some pressure off the linebackers and allow the defensive ends to better contain.
The wise choice would be for them to address the need in the first round. There are a couple of solid options available including Florida State's Timmy Jernigan. While he's a good player, Louis Nix III out of Notre Dame is a better team fit.
Nix tips the scales at 340 pounds, but he shifts his weight very well. He was the main reason Manti Te'o and Stephon Tuitt were able to be so successful at Notre Dame.
He will allow Jon Bostic, Shea McClellin and Corey Wootton—if he returns—the ability to make plays and be better against the run and in the pass rush.
In addition to struggling against the run, the Bears were susceptible to big plays over the top. This was in large part due to poor safety play from Chris Conte and Major Wright.
There's a good chance neither will be back with the team next season, prompting the Bears to find their replacements. There are quality strong safeties available via free agency which could mean the team could find their center fielder in the draft.
Calvin Pryor out of Louisville is a big playmaker who has an affinity for making the big hit and a nose for the football.
He very well could be on the board in the second round and would be a perfect fit for a secondary that needs size, youth and big-play ability.
Tim Jennings is back in the fold after a four-year extension, but Charles Tillman remains up in the air. Whether Tillman comes back or not, the team still needs to find his replacement.
The Bears have never been a team predicated on having a lock-down corner. Instead, they rely more on a guy who can make the big play.
Darqueze Dennard from Michigan State is the lock-down guy. Justin Gilbert from Oklahoma State is the big-play corner the Bears like and need.
Gilbert led the Big 12 with six interceptions last season. He also returned six kickoffs for touchdowns in his career. That comes in handy just in case the team decides to let Devin Hester walk.
If the Bears want Gilbert, they will have to select him in the first round. It comes down to whether they value a defensive tackle or corner more at that spot. It also depends on who's still on the board.
Roberto Garza is an unrestricted free agent. The Bears would be wise to bring him back one more season but the 13-year veteran is getting old.
The Bears struck gold with Kyle Long and Jordan Mills last season in the draft and they can do the same in this draft with a strong and intelligent player from the MAC.
Zac Kerin from Toledo anchored an offensive line that ranked first in the nation last season in fewest sacks allowed with five. Marc Trestman wants to put the ball in the air, and the Bears need to keep their newly invested quarterback Jay Cutler healthy.
The Bears were only able to muster up 30 sacks last season. Just the year before, they had 44. Julius Peppers may be released, meaning they desperately need some new blood coming off the end.
The wise thing to do is re-sign Corey Wootton and look at a pure pass-rusher like Kony Ealy from Missouri.
Ealy shares a lot of similarities to Peppers. Both players have tremendous size and speed. The biggest difference is a good portion of the game has passed Peppers by. Ealy had 8.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and 16 hurries last season.
The Bears will move Shea McClellin to linebacker and likely show more hybrid and multiple looks. Bringing in a guy like Ealy will inject some new life into a new style of defense. If they want him, they will have to get him in the first round.