Even casual observers know the Chicago Bears need a talent infusion on the offensive line. Through his two seasons in Chicago, quarterback Jay Cutler has been battered and bruised. It’s no coincidence that Cutler was forced to exit January’s NFC Championship game with the Packers after suffering numerous hits during the first half.
Though credit goes out to offensive line coach Mike Tice for making chicken salad out of chicken____, he’s managing a unit that is becoming old at key spots and lacks talent. The Bears have struggled to run inside and on short-yardage plays the last several several years.
The draft class contains a handful of tackles with first-round grades, though it’s questionable if any will be around when Chicago selects at 29. More likely, the Bears will be tempted to use a favorite Jerry Angelo tactic—the trade down, and look for help later, or grab a defensive lineman.
Keep an eye out for Indiana’s James Brewer, a late bloomer who’s more finesse than power, but has a lot of upside. He could follow in the steps of former teammate Rodger Saffold, the top pick in last year’s second round, who started all 16 games for St. Louis. There is some depth at this position.
On the interior, guard prospects are below average, with Florida’s Mike Pouncey and overaged Danny Watkins of Baylor headlining a shallow pool. Several members of this year’s draft class are versatile, though, meaning they can play several positions.
Who will be the first offensive tackle selected?
With Olin Kreutz nearing the end, the Bears need to find his replacement this year. Florida State’s Rodney Hudson, Penn State’s Stefen Wisniewski, or Florida’s Pouncey (unlikely to be available at the Bears’ spot) would be an upgrade.
Anthony Castonzo, Boston College 6'7", 311 lbs: A smart (Rhodes Scholar nominee) tactician who combines brains and brawn. Physical and aggressive at the point of attack, yet athletic enough to deter oncoming pass rushers with a quick step. Experienced. Comparable to Dolphins Jake Long. Can be plugged into the lineup right away and start for a long time. Top 20 pick.
Tyron Smith, USC 6'5", 307 lbs: Early entry athletic tackle. Won Pac 10’s award for best lineman in 2010. Has been nicked up and didn’t workout at the combine due to December surgery for torn meniscus. Best pass protector in draft with extremely long arms and wingspan. Played only the right side, so questions remain.how he’ll handle a transition to the left side and facing premier pass rushers. Some observers question his football IQ. Top 20 selection.
Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin 6'7", 307 lbs: Aggressive, street-fighter type who gets by on toughness rather than an abundance of talent. Very confident, bordering on cocky.
Replaced current Browns tackle Joe Thomas at Wisconsin. Won Outland Trophy in 2010. Could be best suited for RT or guard long-term. Some durability questions. Mid first rounder.
Nate Solder, Colorado 6'8", 319 lbs: Intriguing prospect. Extremely athletic tackle who is a converted tight end. Unpolished, but gradually improving. Needs to add lower body strength to hold up at the pro level. Could get overrun by power rushers. Has the ingredients—size, arm length, feet, but needs more development. Will likely be drafted higher than he should due to demand for left tackles. Late first round pick.
James Brewer, Indiana 6'6", 323 lbs: Underrated, but is moving up draft charts. Possesses a nice blend of size, experience, and smarts. More finesse than power. Fits best initially on the right side. Nicked up in college frequently and could use added strength. Motor needs to run at higher level on consistent basis. Second round.
Mike Pouncey, Florida 6'5", 303 lbs: Follows in footsteps of brother Maurkice, a former first rounder in 2010 who stepped in as a starter for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Versatile performer, having played both guard and center with the Gators. Better suited for guard at the pro level. Athletic and well-sized. A notch below his brother in skill level, but should go in round one.
Danny Watkins, Baylor 6'3", 310: Overaged (26). Former firefighter. Canadian. Can win battles in a phone booth. Has short-area quickness and strength. Played tackle the last two years, but projects to guard or even center. Physical and aggressive at point of attack. Age might be a concern, but solid outing at the Senior Bowl has sent his stock soaring. May never be a Pro Bowler, but will line up and start for ten years. Late first round-early second choice.
Will Rackley, Lehigh 6'3", 309 lbs: Played left tackle the last two years, but build suggests a move to the interior. Caught scouts attention with his performance at the East-West Shrine game. Under the radar type, who may take time to adapt to pro game. Major step up in competition causes concern, but has the physical traits and competitiveness to make it.
Rodney Hudson, Florida State 6'2", 299 lbs: Versatile performer who can play all interior positions. Flashes enough short-area quickness to get to the second level. Displays tough, physical style. Plays to the whistle. Good hand-puncher but lacks explosiveness and won’t overpower anyone. High football IQ. Second-third rounder.
Stefen Wisniewski, Penn State 6'3", 313 lbs: Comes from good bloodlines as his father and uncle both played. Smart, strong, and physical. Looks like he was meant to play the position. Solid tactician. Durable. High football IQ and good character. Decent athlete who overcomes his shortcomings with instincts and experience. Mid-second/third round projection.