The Bears are back in the NFL Draft’s first round since 2008. Still reeling from Jay Cutler's sprained MCL and the fallout from the NFC Championship Game, Bears fans are looking to this weekend's draft as the start of our rebound. Here are the top ten alternatives, some more realistic than others, for the 2010 NFC runners-up at pick number 29.
A recent ESPN report said that GM Jerry Angelo is strongly considering trading out the first round and back into his mid-round comfort zone. Collecting draft picks should be the last priority here. This team wasn’t in the NFC Championship Game for no good reason. The Bears are one or two pieces away from contending again in 2011 — the kind of pieces that you usually get in round one.
The incendiary prediction of course is that the Bears should take a QB. The voices crying for that move argue that Cutler is not the leader or Super Bowl-caliber performer that will lead the team through a golden era. That debate is a bit grand. If the player Angelo wants at the positions he wants (O- or D-line) is not there, what’s wrong with developing a backup or having some trade bait on hand?
No one denies that Austin has round-one talent. Everyone mostly also agrees that the Bears need to add defensive line depth to compliment Julius Peppers. But this would clearly be a reach for a player the Bears may well be able to get in round two. Character issues plague Austin, who was dismissed from the Tar Heels. One NFL scout was quoted describing Austin as a, “finger-pointing, excuse-making con artist.” Hey, I dropped him to number eight.
The Bears will need shutdown, playmaking corners to consistently compete in what officially became Aaron Rodgers’ division back on January 23rd. Peanut Tillman may not have too many seasons left as a number one, and Tim Jennings and DJ Moore don’t quite have the physical gifts to replace him atop the depth chart. Colorado’s Jimmy Smith would be the best choice if he’s still on the board, otherwise Williams sizes up as a great fit for Lovie and Rod Marinelli.
The interior line needs as much of an upgrade as the tackle position. There is also the question of succession planning for the aged Olin Kreutz at center. Pouncey has drawn interest from all around the league, and seems likely to be in a Week One starting lineup somewhere.
Okay, so a consensus is forming that the Bears will take the best left tackle prospect available. Even Frank Omiyale would probably agree that’s a smart move. Sherrod has incredible size, and if there’s a run of OT’s in round one, he could be bringing his imposing frame to Soldier Field.
BC has produced a number of great linemen, but Costanzo may not have the size the hold his own at left tackle. Everyone agrees about his skill and athleticism, and in the last several weeks he may have become the most popular prediction for the Bears in the first round. Still, there are at least three ways the Bears could do better on Thursday.
At 6’8”, Solder was considered the top tackle in the class early on, but now may be available to the Bears. Solder struggled at the Senior Bowl and some consider him better in the run game. Regardless of the reservations, a specimen like Solder will probably not get past Jerry Angelo at 29.
Liuget has jumped up the draft boards, and looks to be a major run-stopping force. Here he represents that elite player that just might slip to 29. Whether it’s Liuget or someone else, Bears fans should have no fear of missing out on an offensive lineman in the first round. First, the O-line played much better down the stretch. But there are also great sleepers out there, like LSU’s Joseph Barksdale. Also, Dick Butkus is still the last Bears first-round pick from Illinois.
To top off the list, imagine that the lockout gets resolved hours before Thursday’s draft. NFL teams would be able to trade players again, and the Bears could move the 29th pick to a rebuilding team with a proven LT. The Bears would acquire Joe Thomas from the Browns, or some such. Ridiculous? Yes, but the point remains that the Bears are achingly close to having a great team. Counting on rookies to take us the extra mile is not the plan fans want to see Jerry Angelo executing.