With this upcoming draft being one of the weakest in the history of my world-class falling-behind memory, it becomes harder to envision your team drafting any of these players, as long as your team is not selecting in the top five, where talent is always found.
Of course, who even knows if these rookies are going to get a chance to showcase their talents this season in the NFL. The players are locked out right now and it does not seem as if a deal will be struck anytime soon, therefore haltering the process rookies normally would go through with getting to know their teams systems, coaching strategies, practice regimen, etc.
But, for sakes of this column and my sanity (God help me if there is no NFL season this year, or any year for that matter), I am going to press on as if the Bears’ 29th selection in the upcoming draft will be able to suit up for the hometown team, practice his butt off from mini camps on to training camp to preseason and hopefully the Super Bowl. Without further ado, my two cents on who the Chicago Bears should draft in the first round of the upcoming draft:
Nate Solder, Tackle, University of Colorado
My first choice at tackle would be Gabe Carimi, out of Wisconsin, but chances are healthy that he will be drafted ahead of the 29 spot the Bears are selecting from. And, he’s definitely not great enough for the Bears to trade up for, so with that said, Nate Solder is the next best option for where we are picking.
He measured in at 6'8" and ¼ inches, weighing a hearty 319 pounds, with incredibly long arms (he has an 81-inch wingspan) and impressive showings in all of the speed drills. He led the pack of offensive linemen in a couple of the speed drills at the combine, and wasn’t far behind in others (such as his 4.96 40-yard dash and 7.44 cone drill time). His strength wasn’t too impressive, but that is something easily worked on in the weight room.
His athleticism (he came to Colorado as a TE) is top-notch compared to the rest of the prestige talent at OT in this draft. He has exceptional feet and is agile, making him the prototypical pass-blocker for the QB’s blindside. His long arms make it impossible for defenders to loop around him, therefore increasing the ability to keep quick defenders from getting to the QB off of a quick jump on the snap.
Along with his pass-blocking, he can be an effective run-blocker, as well. He is quick enough off the snap and into position to latch onto defenders and stand them up, taking them out of the play.
He is nimble and quick enough to seal the edge and can get outside for screens, which the Bears definitely like to run and could become better at with a quick OT like Solder. He has the quickness and ability to get downfield and block on the second and third levels. He locates targets well once he’s downfield and can help sustain running plays, so instead of Forte and Taylor being limited to 10-to-15 yard runs, they can break free for the big gains.
He is incredibly durable and successful. He played 2,540 out of a possible 2,542 offensive plays from his sophomore year through his senior year. Of those plays, exactly 1,400 were called passing plays, and he allowed just five sacks during those three seasons.
He allowed 21 pressures overall (14 of those coming as a “learning” sophomore), so the man he was blocking influenced a passing play only 26 times in those 1,400 plays, just 1.8 percent of the plays. To go along with that, he allowed only one sack and three pressures during his senior campaign, and only was flagged for a penalty once. So, it is evident that this kid knows how to play the position correctly and with success.
He has the correct work ethic to become a Pro Bowl-caliber offensive tackle, but he also is quite raw when it comes to strength, so he could be a yearlong project, becoming much more effective in future seasons. But, that is not to say he won’t be an improvement already from Frank Omiyale, even while he is learning how to adjust to the play in the NFL.
Solder is being compared to Robert Gallery by a lot of NFL scouts. Their size and athleticism is extremely similar. Gallery was moved to guard with the Oakland Raiders (a Pro Bowl-caliber one), but I believe that has a lot to do with the coaching and offensive schemes in place. With Mike Tice coaching the offensive line in Chicago, I believe he can turn Nate Solder into a Orlando Pace-like talent, rather than a Mike Williams-like (the OT, not the WR) bust.
The Bears gave up 56 sacks as a team last year, easily the most in the league. Jay Cutler, alone, was on the receiving end of 52 of those sacks. The next most taken by one QB was 40, by Joe Flacco. And, Flacco dropped back for over 60 more pass plays than Cutler did.
I know all about the troubles at WR and how the Bears need help there, but if Cutler has to worry about how much time he has to get the pass off, it won’t matter if he’s throwing the ball to Jerry Rice, he’s not going to be able to succeed with the type of pressure he’s been seeing. Besides, the WR position is weak in this year’s draft, and at draft position number 29, it wouldn’t make much sense to take a third-rate WR who would probably not be any better than Bennett, Hester, Aromashadu or Knox.
Therefore, it is completely necessary for the Bears to take offensive linemen. I might even say the Bears need to take linemen in both the first and second rounds of this upcoming draft. There are not many elite linemen available in free agency, so it may be of interest for the Bears to handle that issue in the draft. On the flip side of the who-to-draft coin, there are several talented WR’s available in free agency, so I’d rather see the Bears go that route to fix that position than draft one of the WR’s in the draft pool.