Soak it in while it lasts, football fans. The only glimmer of normalcy that will occur during this off-season will be the 2011 NFL Draft, with the 1st round on Thursday, April 28th, the 2nd and 3rd rounds on Friday, April 29th, and the 4th through the 7th rounds on Saturday April 30th. Every year, the NFL draft is for some reason one of my favorite non sports related sporting events. I love watching to see the unmitigated joy a player gets from getting drafted (FYI the Tom Brady draft day documentary The Brady 6 starts tonight on ESPN in which he shows that joy and emotion over draft day). Also, it brings new hope for the upcoming football season. No other sport can have as drastic of turnarounds as the NFL from one season to the next, and a lot of that comes from hitting on draft picks each year in late April.
We here at Offhanded Dribble don't hide the fact that we are Chicago sports fanatics, so in preparation for the upcoming NFL Draft, it is only fitting to take a look at the current roster and how it is constructed, and make suggestions - because of course, we all know Jerry Angelo is scouring our blog for pointers.
Current Roster Contracts and Options withstanding
QB: Jay Cutler, Caleb Hanie
RB: Matt Forte, Chester Taylor, Khalil Bell, Garrett Wolfe
WR: Earl Bennett, Devin Hester, Rashied Davis, Devin Aromashodu, Johnny Knox
TE: Greg Olsen, Desmond Clark, Kellen Davis, Brandon Manumaleuna
LT: Frank Omiyale
LG: Chris Williams, Johan Asiata
C: Olin Kruetz
RG: Roberto Garza, Lance Louis
RT: J'Marcus Webb
DE: Julius Peppers, Israel Idonije, Henry Melton, Corey Wootton
DT: Anthony Adams, Marcus Harrison, Matt Toeaina
OLB: Lance Briggs, Brian Iwuh, Nick Roach, Pisa Tinoisamoa, Rod Wilson
MLB: Brian Urlacher
CB: Charles Tillman, Zach Bowman, Tim Jennings, Corey Graham, Joshua Moore
S: Danieal Manning, Major Wright, Chris Harris, Josh Bullocks, Craig Steltz
Special Teams: Patrick Mannelly, Robbie Gould, Brad Maynard, Richmond McGee
Other: Patrick Trahan (LB), Tank Tyler (DT), Harvey Unga (RB), Nick Reed (DE), Eddie Williams (FB), Onrea Jones (WR), Herman Johnson (G), Chris Johnson (CB), Levi Horn (T), K.J. Gerard (CB), Andy Fantuz (WR), Matt Gutierrez (QB), Todd Collins (QB)
QB: Starting QB is set, however there have been rumblings that the Bears are looking for a backup QB. The TCU quarterback, Andy Dalton, has gone through a workout with the Chicago Bears and may be an option. With glaring needs on this team, however, the Bears should not use a pick before the 5th round on a QB.
RB: Matt Forte is coming off a solid 2010 campaign. In Forte's 3rd full season, he rushed for 1,069 yards at a 4.5 YPC average and had 51 receptions for 547 yards. Forte had 9 total touchdowns (6 rushing, 3 receiving), and found himself as a significant asset in the Mike Martz offense.
The 2nd running back is the big question. What happened to Chester Taylor? Taylor signed big money in the 2010 off-season, which led many to speculate he would take over starting RB duties for the 2010 season. Taylor offered up a putrid 2.4 YPC average on 112 carries. He rushed for a total of 267 yards in 2010. Touted as his biggest strength, Taylor also only offered up 20 receptions for 139 yards in the 2010 season. There has been some speculation that Chester Taylor will be released once the lockout has ended, and these numbers do not support the claim to keep him. However, with limited resources through the draft, maybe the Chicago Bears brass views this past season as a statistical aberration and brings back Taylor for one more season. The backup running backs behind Forte/Taylor are Khalil Bell, Garrett Wolfe, and Harvey Unga (a supplemental draft pick from BYU, who was forced to enter the draft once he was kicked off the BYU football team for violating the sacred "honor code"). Wolfe has provided little to no spark as a runner, but has shown value as a special teams player. Bell has shown brief glimpses of ability, but is coming off a 2010 campaign which saw him receive no carries and inactive all season.
Running back is not a position of need, necessarily, but is one that is not deep (like most positions on the Bears). I suspect the Chicago Bears will bring Chester Taylor back for 2011, and rely more heavily on Matt Forte.
WR: Wide Receivers in 2010 statistically had some of the best years of their career. They have Jay Cutler and Mike Martz to thank. Johnny Knox led the Bears with 960 receiving yards, and was tied for the lead in receptions with 51 (Matt Forte also had 51). Earl Bennett showed flashes of being a valuable possession receiver in the slot, and had 46 receptions and 561 receiving yards. Devin Hester, who continues his charade as a receiver, was fifth on the team in receptions with 40 catches for 475 yards. Devin Aromashodu, who showed flashes of a connection with Jay Cutler in 2009, barely made it active and will most likely be looking for work in the fall.
Receiver is position of need. Earl Bennett and Johnny Knox are capable options, but are not #1 receiver material. The Chicago Bears will be in the market for mid-round WR talent, or will be heavily scouring the waiver/free agency wires for available WR's once the lockout has ended.
TE: One of the few positions with depth. The Bears will not, and should not, be looking for a TE on draft day.
Offensive Line: Jay Cutler was sacked 52 times in the regular season. We all cringe at the visual of his head smacking against the ground against the Giants after his 9th sack of the 1st half. Offensive Line is this team's biggest need. Let's break down each position, and start from there.
Left Tackle: Frank Omiyale should actually be commended for the strides he made at LT this past season. That being said, I don't want to see him playing LT again. The Bears have been rumored to have interest in the Wisconsin Tackle, Gabe Carimi, who projects as a Left Tackle. It is my hope (not belief) that the Bears get lucky and a talented Tackle falls to them in the 1st round. Shoring up the LT will immediately improve this offensive line.
Left Guard/Right Guard: Oh, Chris Williams. Welcome to a group that includes Michael Haynes, Cedric Benson, Marc Columbo, Curtis Enis, Rex Grossman, David Terrell, etc. The laundry list of Chicago Bears 1st round draft picks who have underachieved as a Chicago Bear. Hopes were high that Chris Williams could anchor the offensive line at LT, but following his early season injury Williams was shifted to the interior at LG, where he performed average at best. He is still young, however my bet is the Chicago Bears use an early pick to draft an interior lineman to challenge Chris Williams and Roberto Garza.
Center: Olin Kruetz will be back, but I'm not sure how many more years we can count on that. Center will not be addressed on draft day in 2011. On a side note - Poor Olin will have to go up against Nydomakong Suh twice a year moving forward. Yikes.
Right Tackle: J'Marcus Webb is big, and fairly strong. He has terrible footwork, and below average mobility. He may have upside, but I hope the Chicago Bears are not relying on J'Marcus Webb as the only option at RT going into 2011. My bet is the Chicago Bears will not use a pick on RT, but will look to bring in a waiver wire veteran once the lockout ends.
DE: Defensive End looks to be a fairly deep position currently. Julius Peppers is a beast. What more can be said about Peppers last season? Not only did he pressure the quarterback often, but his presence alone made the rest of our defensive line better. Israel Idonije is coming off his best professional season with 49 tackles and 8 sacks. Idonije is a solid option for the Bears at DE, and can even spell at DT if needed. Corey Wooten showed flashes, and Henry Melton (who I think is too small for the interior line) also played well. Defensive end should only be addressed if the Bears are selecting the best player available in the later rounds.
DT: With the departure of Tommie Harris the Chicago Bears are very thin at defensive tackle. The roster is full of "other guys" who can contribute to a solid defense; they don't have a disruptive 3 technique which is crucial in a Lovie Smith defense. Many prognosticators believe the Chicago Bears will be using their 1st round pick in late April on a defensive tackle.
Currently, Mel Kiper Jr. from ESPN has the Bears selecting talented North Carolina DT Marvin Austin. Other sites have indicated an interest in Illinois DT Corey Liuget. When it comes to draft day, I hope the Chicago Bears select the most talented player available at a position of need. If one of the two names above is available, I have no issue with them taking a DT. I just hope that the Bears don't select a DT at the expense of a talent available on the offensive line, or even WR.
LB: Brian Urlacher bounced back nicely from his season ending injury in 2009, and had a great year in 2010. Lance Briggs is a solid all-around outside linebacker - between these two, you have two playmakers at the linebacker position. The rest of the linebackers consist of Brian Iwuh, Pisa Tinoisamoa, and Nick Roach with Tinoisamoa playing the majority of time when healthy at the Right OLB position. I don't for see linebacker being a priority on draft day, unless the Bears front office is planning on not bringing back Pisa Tinoisamoa next season. If that is the case, they may pursue an OLB in the late rounds to challenge Nick Roach/Brian Iwuh for starter.
CB: Charles Tillman had a great year last year, but is injury prone and progressing in age. The Tim Jennings/Zach Bowman duo left much to be desired in terms of man and zone coverage. D.J. Moore was fortuitous in his placement for 5 interceptions last year, but couldn't crack the starting lineup at CB - he played almost exclusively nickel back. D.J. has good instincts, but his size and speed will limit his potential. Joshua Moore, a 5th round pick out of Kansas St. last season, was mainly inactive all year. Corey Graham played great special teams, however his coverage ability and speed makes him unlikely to be an option at CB.
CB has been a need for several years. If talent is out there, the Bears will draft a cornerback in the early rounds of the NFL Draft.
Safety: Chris Harris and Danieal Manning played the majority of the year at the two starting safety positions. Safety has been an issue for the bears since the first time Chris Harris departed following the 2006 season. Major Wright was limited all year with a nagging hamstring injury, but expect him to be given a starting role next season for the Chicago Bears. Much like cornerback, the Bears will draft a safety in the early to mid-rounds if the talent is there.
In predicting an NFL draft, it really only makes sense to guess positions a team will pick. It is incredibly hard to pick out players and where they may fall to. Also, there is a big chance that the Chicago Bears will trade their first round pick down to increase the amount of picks they have on draft day. Alas, this is why I am writing this article -so here goes nothing:
1st round - 28th pick: Gabe Carimi (OT - Wisconsin)
Gabe Carimi is a talented offensive lineman who can play either the tackle or guard position. Carimi took over for Joe Thomas in 2007, and has been a starter at Wisconsin ever since. Carimi is big (6'7" and 314 pounds) and has the footwork necessary to play both positions in the NFL.
For a complete summary, please visit Chad Davis at http://draftbreakdown.com. Here is an excerpt from Mr. Davis:
2nd round - 62nd pick: Christian Ballard (DT - Iowa)
Christian Ballard is a talented defensive tackle with good strength and decent speed. He has good potential, and could possibly be able to play the 3 technique in the future. Some prognosticators have Ballard playing DE, however his size (6'5" 297 lbs) and ability to stop the run makes his a defensive tackle in my book. Right now, Ballard is projected as a mid to late 2nd round pick with the intention of playing DT at the next level. He is quick and agile for his size (4.8 40 yard dash) and plays with a great motor as you can see in the clip below. My only fear is teams will project him as an outside end in a 3-4 and he will be picked earlier in the 2nd. I watched Christian Ballard the last couple of years, and he has impressed me every time.
For more analysis, we turn to Matt De Lima of FFtoolbox.com.
Christian Ballard, DE, IowaAlthough his teammate -- defensive end Adrian Clayborn -- gets a lot of credit, Ballard is a very special player in his own right. Ballard can play anywhere along the line and is excellent against the run. He uses his strength to blow up running lanes, penetrate into the backfield and get his hands on the ball-carrier. As the draft approaches, some may argue he is the more NFL-ready prospect between he and Clayborn. Ballard's strength is simply understanding the game. He sticks to his assignment, very quickly reads plays and sniffs out misdirection very easily. He lacks brute strength and instead relies on quickness and good pass-rushing fundamentals. He deploys a well-balanced arsenal of pass-rushing techniques and uses his hands well in space. Though he struggles making tackles in traffic, he does have great tackling technique in wrapping his man.Last Updated Mar-29-2011 by Matt De Lima
3rd round - 93rd pick: Greg Little (WR - UNC)
Wide Receiver is going to be addressed one way or another, and I can see the Bears taking a flyer in round 3 on a big target like Greg Little. Greg Little was suspended for the 2011 University of North Carolina season for improper benefits from boosters/agents and it was rumored also that he was facing suspension due to his poor academic record. Little is 6'3 230 and ran a pretty decent 4.53 40 yard dash for a receiver his size. Little has tremendous athleticism, suiting up for the UNC basketball team. His draft stock will hurt due to questions in his maturity, and the fact that he hasn't played organized football in a year, however there is little doubt that Little has the tools needed to be successful at the next level.
Rounds 4 through 7
4th round - 127th pick: Cortez Allen (CB - Citadel)
Corner is a position of need, and Cortez Allen is a big body and to be honest, he is from a little known football school which is often a forte (no pun intended) of draft pick choices for Jerry Angelo and the Chicago Bears.
5th round - 160th pick: Justin Boren (OG - Ohio State)
Lots of Big Ten players in my list for some reason... Boren is projected as a late round pick that can play some guard and center, which would fill several needs for depth.
6th round - 195th pick: Ray Dominguez (OT - Arkansas)
7th round - No Pick
Thanks for reading - what do you predict the Bears do on April 28th?