With The 2011 NFL season in limbo, the Chicago Bears will be looking to improve on a somewhat surprising 2010 campaign in which they fell to the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game.
Most people would say that the Bears were fortunate to get there, others say that good coaching and the addition of Julius Peppers and having Brian Urlacher back in the middle of the defense were the reasons why the Bears made it as far as they did.
That said, the Bears have a number of issues to resolve with their roster in this draft, and with several key players becoming free agents it becomes all the more important that GM Jerry Angelo and Coach Lovie Smith hit on this year's draft in order to keep up with the defending Super Bowl Champion Packers.
The Bears enter the 2011 draft with one truly glaring need: the offensive line. Jay Cutler was beaten down, battered and bruised all season with the last straw being an ACL injury in the NFC Championship game against the Packers.
With a core of young O-linemen like J'Marcus Webb, Chris William and Herman Johnson already on the roster mixed with experienced veterans Roberto Garza and Olin Kreutz (who will be entering free agency when/if that happens), the Bears will need to add someone with grade A credentials that can protect Jay Cutler and create running lanes for Matt Forte for years to come.
Other needs of the Bears include the defensive tackle position. With Tommie Harris released earlier this offseason, the Bears will be looking for a new three-technique tackle for the future. Although the coaches are high on Henry Melton, a fourth-round pick from 2009 to become a player at the position, don't be surprised if the Bears go that route in the draft to add depth.
It's hard to argue that Jay Cutler didn't have a good season considering the receivers he had on his team, and the fact that he was being constantly abused throughout the season. The Bears' coaches still rave about Devin Hester's No. 1 receiver potential, but it is definitely a position that needs depth. Despite bringing in CFL star Andy Fantuz, a big-time No. 1 go-to guy for Jay Cutler remains a priority.
Zack Bowman had his issues getting playing time last season, and Tim Jennings, although he had a solid season, doesn't seem like a long-term answer at the cornerback position. Defensive backs coach Jon Hoke is high on Bowman regaining his form from two seasons ago, and also sees 2010 draft pick Joshua Moore stepping into a larger role as DJ Moore did in his second season in the NFL. Standout special teams player Corey Graham hit free agency, and has hinted that he will not return to the Bears.
You could argue that last year this was the strongest position of depth on the Bears roster, but with Nick Roach, Pisa Tinoisamoa and Brian Iwuh all hitting free agency, the only linebackers left under contract are Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs.
Carimi is just what the Bears need, and they'd be chomping at the bit to see him still on the board at 29th overall. His size (6'7" 315 lbs) is just what O-line coach Mike Tice looks for in his linemen. Add in his toughness, intelligence and durability and you have a player that can protect Cutler's blindside for the next ten-plus years. Coming out of Wisconsin, he's pro-ready and can start on the left side straight away.
The Bears have missed on early-round draft picks in the past few years, and the jury is still out on Chris Williams, but Carimi seems like a player that fits the mold for the prototypical left tackle.
Derek Sherrod OT, Mississippi St.
Corey Liuget DT, Illinois
Austin is a player that can step into the Bears roster and start right away at the defensive tackle position. Austin is a player that could have come out last for last year's draft with a low first to high second-round grade, but his stock took a hit after he and two other Tar Heels were dismissed from the team last season due to NCAA rules violations related to improper benefits. Austin as a result missed the entire 2010 campaign.
Austin (6'1" 309 lbs) has been praised for his quickness off the snap, and with Julius Peppers alongside him on the defensive line, he could be the beneficiary of single coverage. He also seems like a player that D-line coach and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli will enjoy coaching.
Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon
Jurrell Casey, DT, USC
Jon Baldwin, WR, Pittsburgh
Dowling projects as one of the bigger sleepers of this NFL Draft, and with cornerback a suspect position on the Bears, Dowling could come in and start for the Bears alongside Charles Tilman, while adding depth to the roster.
Dowling stands at 6-2, 200 lbs which is very good size for a cornerback, especially considering the NFC North division is home to some of the best receivers in the NFL. With good size, speed and no real injury issues or character concerns of note; Dowling would be a smart choice here for the Bears.
Terrance Toliver WR, LSU
Steve Schilling, OG, Michigan
Chris Conte, FS, Cal
The Bears recently worked out Pettis and according to numerous reports, the coaches seemed to have taken a liking to him. With good size (6'3," 210 lbs) he would be the biggest receiver on the Bears and most people that have seen Jay Cutler know that he likes bigger wide receivers such as Brandon Marshall (6'4") and Devin Aromashodu (6'2"), who enjoyed a short stint of success with the Bears late in the 2010 season.
The main criticism of Pettis is that he doesn't have high-end breakaway speed to separate from elite cornerbacks, but possesses great hands and route-running ability.
Jalil Brown CB, Colorado
Leonard Hankerson, WR, Miami
Zach Hurd, OG, UConn
With only two linebackers of note under contract (Urlacher and Briggs), the Bears will need to add a player at the position. Wilson is a player that can step in and contribute occasionally on defense as Major Wright did last season, and could also be an important factor on Dave Toub's special teams unit.
The Bears could also go with BC standout Mark Herzlich who overcame bone cancer and possesses great size and strength; teams however may be concerned with a reoccurence of the disease and also a lack of speed.
Mark Herzlich, OLB, Boston College
Kieth Williams, OG, Nebraska
Dane Sanzenbacher, WR, Ohio State
Sands is a highly intriguing prospect: a hard-hitting safety with wide receiver size at 6'4" 215 pounds who is probably better suited to playing strong safety (though he does have experience playing free safety).
With Daniel Manning and Josh Bullocks hitting free agency and not expected to be back in Chicago in 2011, the Bears will need to add depth behind projected starters Major Wright and Chris Harris.
Sands' length and reach could help against the likes of Calvin Johnson of the Lions and Sidney Rice of the Vikings. The main issues with Sands are his durability and ability to change direction quickly, but that shouldn't put off the Bears from using their final pick on him.
Richard Sherman, CB, Stanford
Willie Smith, OT, East Carolina
Quentin Davie, OLB, Northwestern