Chicago Bears: The 5 Best Players the Bears Have Passed on in Recent Drafts

James Kries@@JKriesContributor INovember 9, 2011

Chicago Bears: The 5 Best Players the Bears Have Passed on in Recent Drafts

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    Like all NFL teams, the Chicago Bears have had their share of draft busts. Even worse than choosing an ineffective draft pick is passing on future All-Pro talent.

    Some NFL drafts are loaded with NFL-quality talent, so no matter which players a general manager settles on, there will always be undervalued talent taken in later rounds who turn out to be stars.

    Six-time pro bowler, Tom Brady, was passed on by many teams in the 2000 NFL draft, going to the New England Patriots as the 199th overall pick.

    The job of scouting, and picking talent that will have a lasting impact in the NFL, is not an easy one.

    The Bears have done well with some of their draft picks in the last decade. They are, however, no strangers to draft busts, especially in recent years under general manager Jerry Angelo.

    For every smart pick the Bears have made, such as Lance Briggs, Matt Forte, and Devin Hester, there have been not so successful picks, like Mark Bradley, Michael Haynes, and David Terrell.

    Looking back at successful NFL players that teams have passed on is a somewhat unfair exercise. While executives like Jerry Angelo get paid handsomely to scout talent and to have a good idea of who is NFL-ready, it's not an exact science.

    Having the benefit of hindsight makes us all armchair general managers who think that we know it all.

    With that in mind, let's look at the five best players that the Bears have taken a pass on in recent years.

Matt Schaub

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    In 2009, the Chicago Bears finally broke their decades-long streak of quarterback mediocrity by trading for current quarterback Jay Cutler.

    The Bears could have solved their constant quarterback woes earlier by taking a flier on Matt Schaub in the 2004 draft.

    All teams passed on Schaub multiple times, and even the team that drafted him, the Atlanta Falcons, traded him after using him as a backup to Michael Vick for three seasons.

    Schaub has found a home in Houston, and is most likely going to lead the Texans to their first playoff appearance this season. 

    Schaub made the Pro Bowl in 2009, and currently has a career quarterback rating of 91.7.

    The Bears had mixed results in the first few rounds of the 2004 draft, netting future three-time Pro Bowler Tommie Harris, Tank Johnson, and Bernard Berrian.

Greg Jennings

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    While it can be painful to let a great NFL talent get away in a draft, letting one slip to a hated rival such as the Green Bay Packers can't sit well with the Bears front office.

    Unfortunately, this has happened quite a bit in the last few years, as the Packers have built a championship-caliber team primarily through the draft.

    In 2006, the Bears had a somewhat decent passing game on their way to the Super Bowl. When he wasn't throwing to the opposing team, quarterback Rex Grossman threw to wide receivers Muhsin Muhammad and Bernard Berrian, both making major contributions on offense.

    Some more depth at the wide receiver position would have helped, however, and still undrafted late in the second round of the 2006 draft was wide receiver Greg Jennings.

    Jennings would go to the Packers with the 52nd overall pick, 10 picks after former Bears safety Danieal Manning went to Chicago.

    Now in his sixth season with Green Bay, Jennings is coming off his first Pro Bowl appearance, and has caught 46 career touchdowns in the Packers' high powered offense.

DeMarcus Ware

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    For generations, the Bears have always believed in the philosophy of building a winning team around the defense. Bears general manager Jerry Angelo has had few offensive successes through the draft.

    While it was a noble effort on Angelo's part to improve the Bears offense, drafting Texas running back Cedric Benson with the fourth overall pick in 2005 would have to be considered a failure for Angelo.

    Benson had talent, but because of injuries and off-the-field incidents, Benson never panned out in Chicago, and was released before the 2008 season.

    The one year the Bears should have done their homework was 2005. With a lot of future stars on offense passed up by the Bears, there was one future defensive star the Bears should have locked up.

    DeMarcus Ware went to the Dallas Cowboys seven picks after the Bears drafted Benson. The linebacker out of Troy has made the Pro Bowl the last five seasons with Dallas.

    Ware, who is primarily used as a pass rushing outside linebacker, has racked up an amazing 92 sacks from 2005 through Week 9 of the 2011 season.

    With the addition of Ware, the Bears would have had an All-Pro linebacker corps for the ages with Ware, Brian Urlacher, and Lance Briggs.

Aaron Rodgers

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    2005 proved to be a bumper crop of talent in the first couple of rounds of the NFL draft. Teams that were stuck with eventual busts picked the wrong year to fumble the ball at the draft.

    The first two rounds saw several future stars and talented players drafted, such as Ronnie Brown, DeMarcus Ware, Shawne Merriman, Roddy White, Logan Mankins, Lofa Tatupu, Nick Collins, and Vincent Jackson.

    In the first two rounds of the 2005 draft, the Bears settled on Cedric Benson and Mark Bradley.

    Perhaps the most talented player of the 2005 draft was quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The Packers, who were still happy with Brett Favre leading the offense at the time, added Rodgers late in the first round with the 24th overall pick.

    After Favre was gradually nudged out of Green Bay, Rodgers has become of one of the game's elite players. Coming off of a Super Bowl win last year, Rodgers is posting historic numbers through Week 9 of the 2011 season.

    While the Bears still think they have their quarterback for many years to come in Jay Cutler, they will have to contend with the talented Rodgers in the NFC North division for probably another decade.

Troy Polamalu

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    Probably the biggest draft-related reversal of fortune in recent years for the Bears, occurred in 2003.

    The Bears chose Penn State defensive end Michael Haynes with the 14th overall pick. Haynes would become a major bust for the Bears, totaling only five and a half sacks in three years. The Bears released Haynes in 2006.

    Two picks later, the Pittsburgh Steelers took USC defensive back Troy Polamalu. Polamalu continues to enjoy a spectacular career. For the last nine years, Polamalu has shut down passing games, and has been a major force in the Steelers' run defense.

    The future hall of famer has been to six Pro Bowls, and won two Super Bowls with the Steelers.

    Imagine Polamalu prowling the field with Mike Brown in his prime at safety. The Bears then might have had an answer for Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith in the 2005 NFC playoffs, or for Peyton Manning and the Colts offense in Super Bowl XLI.

    From 2004 through 2007, Mike Brown suffered numerous injuries, and only played in 21 games for the Bears. His leadership and talent was greatly missed during that stretch, and the Bears have gone on to draft numerous safeties, with few positive results.

    Troy Polamalu was definitely the big one that got away in 2003, and he still is one of the NFL's elite players.