The NFL draft is just under three weeks away and the talk around Chicago is to improve the offense. While virtually every mock draft says the Bears need to draft an offense lineman in the first or second round, I disagree. I am not oblivious to the fact the Chicago statically had the worst offensive line last season, allowing a league-high 56 sacks, but I am aware that the Bears don’t have an eye for drafting offensive linemen. Olin Kreutz is the last offensive lineman that Chicago has drafted that has made a Pro Bowl, and he was drafted in 1998!
It would be foolish to waste a high-round draft pick on a position that you obviously have a hard time drafting. Chicago realized two years ago that it hasn’t been able to draft a quality quarterback in forever, and that was a main reason why the Bears went out and traded for Jay Cutler. The jury is still out on that one to see if it paid off.
Who the Bears will draft and who the Bears should draft are two completely different stories. Chicago does need to shore up the O-line, but also getting a true wide receiver and a big man on the defensive line are other needs the Bears need to fill. Based on the Bears draft position, and where players in this year’s draft are ranked; here is who Chicago should take for each of its picks.
Paea is a perfect fit for the Bears' 4-3 defense. He is a huge body (302 pounds) with a never-ending motor that will take up a lot of space in the middle of the defensive line. He will occupy blockers to free up the likes of Julius Peppers.
No one got more attention on the defensive side of the ball than Peppers. If he wasn’t doubled-team, Peppers was either in on a tackle or a yellow flag was flying in the air for an offensive holding penalty. Having someone else on the line that will demand a second blocker will make Peppers even more effective.
Paea’s presence would also impact the play of Chicago’s linebackers. Brian Urlacher’s best years were when Keith Traylor and Ted Washington were clogging up blockers and getting doubled-teamed, leaving Urlacher to roam around in the middle and use his speed to make tackles. A weakness in Urlacher’s game is that he does not shed blockers that well. Having Paea in the middle will negate guards coming to the second level and getting a body on Urlacher.
Paea is an animal and he was arguably the best defensive lineman in the college ranks last year. He received the Morris Trophy for the second straight year as the league's top defensive lineman. He shows excellent lower-body strength and has the leg drive to bull rush and collapse the pocket. He can penetrate and wreak havoc in the backfield, and when he gets there he rarely misses a tackle.
Another plus that makes Paea very attractive for Chicago is the he causes a lot of fumbles for a defensive lineman. Lovie Smith and the Bears preach getting takeaways, and Paea caused four fumble last season. If he is available at 29, pull the trigger.
Baldwin in the second round would be a steal for Chicago. He is a first-round talent that catches the ball with his hands instead of letting the ball come into his chest. Baldwin goes and gets the ball at the highest point.
The Bears receiving core lacks a go-to receiver in the red zone, and a tall receiver that can bail out Jay Cutler when the ball sails on him. Being 6'4", Baldwin knows how to use frame and shield corners. He would provide the Bears a much-need possession receiver, instead of basically pure deep threats, which Hester and Knox are.
Cutler hasn’t had a receiver in Chicago that attacks the ball and works the middle of the field well. The last time he did have a guy like that it was Brandon Marshall in Denver. We all know how he performs with a top talent like Marshall.
I actually see a lot of comparisons between Marshall and Baldwin. Both offer the quarterback a nice target, have soft hands and play with excellent body control. Like Marshall, the Pitt product is physical, out-muscles opponents and comes away with the reception. Marshall has slightly better speed than Baldwin, but both are fearless, consistent possession receivers.
Here we go, some help on the offensive line. Wisniewski is a good fit in Round 3 for the Bears. I see him as the long-term solution at center (Olin Kreutz can’t play forever) and in his rookie year getting a lot of snaps at guard.
Wisniewski is a versatile interior offensive lineman who had a very productive college career. He possesses quick feet, good burst out of his stance, and has great upper-body strength. What really impresses me about Wisniewski is that he anchored a Penn St. offensive line that gave up only 12 sacks on the season, good for second-best in the Big Ten.
Mike Tice did a great job midseason of switching around the line and teaching guys new positions. The line really improved down the stretch for the Bears, and with a full offseason to work at their new positions, I see the offensive line being even better. Wisniewski is a real smart player, and he will develop and learn a ton under the tutelage of Tice. Adding Wisniewski to this mix will solidify the line.
I see Frank Omiyale keeping the left tackle position, Chris Williams and Wisniewski battling it out to start at left guard, Olin Kruetz manning down center for one more year and Roberto Garza at right guard. I don’t see J’Marcus Webb as the long-term solution at right tackle, and could see Chris Williams switching back over to the tackle position. Time will tell and in training camp and more things will get sorted out, but drafting Wisniewski will add some depth and talent up front.
Love at right tackle can step right in as a rookie and start. J’Marcus Webb was a matador at times on the right side—he couldn’t stop a bull rush. The right side was the vulnerable point of the line last year in the second half of the season. I don’t think it would be smart for Chicago to draft a left tackle in this draft.
Once Frank Omiyale took over at left tackle, the Bears limited the number of sacks given up, and the running game started to be even more effective. Omiyale really impressed me and caught my attention in the second game against Dallas when he stepped in and slowed down DeMarcus Ware enough for the Bears offense to be effective.
Love possesses excellent size, strength and athleticism. In the NFL, I can see Love playing multiple positions. He has the athleticism to play guard. Versatility is still a coveted in the NFL and for the Bears. As we saw last year, Tice switched around the line a lot, putting people in different positions. At Arkansas, he bounced back and forth between the left and right side and also played guard.
Mike Martz’s offense uses a lot of screens for running backs. Love proved at Arkansas that he has good body control and can get to the second level on running plays and screens. He's a good fit for Chicago.
Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher are studs at linebacker, but the strong side linebacker position has been a question mark for the Bears the last couple seasons. When Pisa Tinoisamoa plays he is effective, but that is only when he plays. Tinoisamoa has had a hard time getting on the field being plagued by injuries since he joined the Bears. Adding another outside linebacker would be huge for Chicago.
Hogue is a flat-out athlete. He was a running back for the Orange before switching over to outside linebacker in his junior year. With only two years at linebacker under his belt, his potential is sky-high, as he is just learning the position.
Hogue's instincts are off the charts. He always seems to be around the ball and has a great feel for where the play is going to end up. Hogue also has great speed for a linebacker and closes very fast on the ball carrier. If he had spent all four years at OLB, we might be talking about him as a second-round pick right now.
What makes him a great fit for Chicago is that he has great hands. His experience at running back gives him the benefit to make plays on the ball and get interceptions. Takeaways are what fuel the Bears defense.
With their final pick in the 2011 NFL draft, the Bears should stick with defense and try to improve their secondary. Charles Tillman had another solid season, but the opposite corner position was far from impressive. Zachary Bowman was supposed to be that other big-play corner, but he didn’t put it all together losing his job to Tim Jennings. Jennings is a nickel cornerback, and shouldn’t be a starter in this league.
In Round 6 Chicago is not going to get an impact corner, but they are going to get a guy in Thompson who will learn from Bowman and Jennings, but won’t compete for the starting spot.
Thompson flashes the ability to anticipate routes and put himself in position to make a play. He has good speed but doesn’t have the build right now to start in the NFL. With his speed, he could be a solid special teams player and possibly work his way into the secondary in the forthcoming years.