April 29, 2010

Mr. SKIA's post-draft ideas

One of the unintended consequences of the Bears trade for Jay Cutler -- and the ill-advised one for the late Gaines Adams -- was that it forced the Bears to act in free agency. That is, coming off a horrendous 2-14 year -- What? They went 7-9? Sure as hell didn't feel like it -- the Bears in seasons past would've tried to fill their multitude of holes cheaply and through the draft. But without a pick in the first two rounds and knowing that the beyond-disappointed fan base was clamoring for improvement, the Bears actually went out and spent.

And really, this is the second consecutive offseason where they made bold moves with no regard for cost. No one can accuse the Bears of being cheap anymore, although several people still will. Case in point: the reaction to the jettisoning of Alex Brown in the wake of the Julius Peppers signing. Look, Brown has been a solid player and a good soldier, but he's never recorded more than seven sacks in a season and will be 31 next year. The combination of Mark Anderson and Israel Idonije, both younger and cheaper, should be able to at least match Brown's production.

While I believe the Bears might have signed the relatively-inexpensive Chester Taylor as a complement to Matt Forte regardless, I'm confident that there is no way they would've opened the vault for Peppers if they were still holding the 11th overall pick. Instead we would've gotten an assfull of Jason Pierre-Paul or Derrick Morgan's upside, and while either (or both) of those guys might end up being a force, Peppers is one. Sure, he's also aging, but this team's window of opportunity is small -- the Bears have more old men in prominent positions than the Ft. Lauderdale Wal-Mart -- so they need players who can make an instant impact.

With the Bears still holding five mid-to-late round choices, they hadn't quite pulled a Mike Ditka, and decorum dictated that GM Jerry Angelo attend the draft and make their remaining selections. And considering their limited number of picks, most pundits gave the Bears positive reviews. Because I consider him the authority on all things NFL Draft, here's what Mel Kiper Jr. had to say:

I liked the Bears draft. I liked the pick [of Dan LeFevour]. I think 3-4 years down the road he can help you. ... I like the [Major] Wright pick, they needed help at safety. [Corey] Wootton was a first round pick a few years ago, but had the injury. I gave them a B grade.

And I generally agree with Kiper; basically, I like all the Bears picks but one. What follows is my selection-by-selection breakdown.

Round 3, Pick 75: S Major Wright, Florida; 5'11½", 206 lbs.
NFL.com #105, Scout.com #67, NFLDraftScout.com #134

The best thing about this guy? The name. Absolutely love it. Then again, I'm still wondering how the hell Major Harris didn't become the previous Michael Vick. Anyway, doesn't Major Wright just sound like someone who should be a badass headhunter back there?

In terms of his performance, I like this hit, and he scouting reports on him are generally positive. Most importantly, he brings a straight-ahead speed component that all the Bears safeties save Danieal Manning currently lack.

Best case: Mike Brown
Worst case: Craig Steltz
Money quote: "When you don't pick for the first time until 75, getting a coverage safety in Major Wright to band-aid a position of big need is a good job." -- Peter King, Sports Illustrated

Round 4, Pick 109: DE Corey Wootton, Northwestern; 6'6", 270 lbs.
NFL.com #42, Scouts.com #42, NFLDraftScout.com #71
The Bears best pick, in terms of value. Wootton likely would've gone at least two rounds higher if not for a catastrophic knee injury 18 months ago; while players can return from those kinds of things in eight or nine months, it's usually not until the following season that they round back into form.

Additionally, you can never have too many quality defensive ends, and given the relative uncertainty of both Anderson and Idonije, Wootton was a very good pick. Keep in mind, too, that the Bears are now at a net zero for defensive ends this offseason: They lost Brown and Adewale Ogunleye, and picked up Peppers and Wootton.

Best case: Richard Dent
Worst case: Dan Bazuin, Claude Harriott, Michael Haynes, Karon Riley, Pat Riley, John Thierry; and the list goes on and on (Henry Melton?)
Money quote: "I love the choice of defensive end Corey Wootton in the fourth round. ... He could be a steal." -- Pete Prisco, CBSSports.com

Round 5, Pick 141: CB Joshua Moore, Kansas State; 5'10⅞", 188 lbs.
NFL.com #273, Scout.com #198, NFLDraftScout.com #154

I didn't like this pick at the time, and I like it even less now. I don't think it made any sense from a standpoint of need -- I would've nabbed an offensive lineman here* -- or as the so-called best player available, as the respective rankings show. Is this guy really going to be any better than Corey Graham, Tim Jennings, Woodny Turenne, or last year's drafted Moore, D.J.? I'm skeptical. Meanwhile, I am certain the offensive line could use an infusion of both youth and talent.

* Which brings me to my biggest issue with Jerry Angelo's draft strategy. This was Angelo's ninth draft as GM. In the first year, he drafted two offensive linemen: Marc Columbo and Terrence Metcalf. In the intervening years, he has often used a seventh rounder on a lineman, doing so in each of the last four drafts, but guys drafted in Round 7 rarely crack an NFL roster. Beginning with the '03 draft, do you know how many picks Angelo has used on offensive linemen in the first six rounds? Three. Chris Williams ('08, first), Josh Beekman ('07, fourth), and Tyler Reed, ('06, sixth). Denver and New England, two franchises that consistently have very good offensive lines, have taken 13 and 11, respectively, over the same period.

In my opinion, a team should use at least one mid-round pick on an offensive lineman every year. That's how you build a good offensive line. But the Bears, in the last eight years, have instead selected 13 defensive backs in Rounds 1 through 6 (12 if you don't count Devin Hester). Putting aside that even if you consistently ran the nickel, you would only play as many d-backs as offensive linemen, does Angelo really think this is the way to build a football team, from back to front? As someone so obsessed with getting defensive linemen -- he's selected 13 in the first six rounds since '03 -- it would appear that Angelo believes in the games-are-won-in-the-trenches axiom. I have no idea why he'd adhere to it on one side of the ball, and completely ignore it on the other.

Moore doesn't seem like much of a ball-hawk -- just six interceptions in his career -- but his tackle numbers were strong, and he was honorable mention All-Big 12 the last two years. He supposedly lacks top-end speed, but that's less important given the Bears' scheme than it would be elsewhere.

Best case: Nathan Vasher
Worst case: Roosevelt Williams
Money quote: "Josh Moore has a chance to be a nickel corner in their defense. He has nice cover skills." -- Prisco

Round 6, Pick 181: QB Dan LeFevour, Central Michigan; 6'3¼", 230 lbs.
NFL.com #115, Scout.com #70, NFLDraftScout.com #100

This appears to be the more contentious pick than the Moore one, but I disagree. Quarterback is basically the only position where a guy can increase his value league-wide while on the bench, and LeFevour was a significant bargain at this point. Plus, the Bears were one of the few teams in league that ran with only two quarterbacks last year, so this is a solid selection from a roster-makeup standpoint.

LeFevour, who went to high school just a few miles from where I grew up, put up huge numbers playing in the spread, and most believe that it going to an NFL offense will be a huge adjustment. But that's true of almost all college QBs, and LeFevour supposedly has the arm-strength, size, and athletic ability to at least be a serviceable backup. Considering that sixth-rounders are relative longshots anyway, getting a guy at this point who will almost certainly make the team is a sound investment.

Best case: A mobile Kyle Orton
Worst case: Craig Krenzel
Money quote: "LeFevour was considered by some to be one of the best quarterbacks in the draft, and was a good value at this point." -- NFL.com

Round 7, Pick 218: OT J'Marcus Webb, West Texas A&M; 6'8", 335 lbs.
NFL.com NR, Scouts.com NR, NFLDraftScout.com #267

Who the hell knows with this guy? Obviously, neither NFL.com (whose rankings went 350 players deep) nor Scouts.com (520) thought much of the cousin of longtime-Dolphin Richmond Webb, but I'm thinking that at this point, they might as well gamble on some enormous kid. Even though it has yet to work out in Angelo's first several attempts.

Best case: James "Big Cat" Williams
Worst case: Kirk Barton
Money quote: "He has the size to play at the NFL level, but its going to take a significant amount of coaching for him to realize his potential." -- ESPN.com

And those are your five newest Chicago Bears. If they are lucky, the Bears will end up with two impact players from this class. For obvious reasons, the smart money is on Wright and Wootton. But the real money's on Peppers and Cutler. If both of them don't play like superstars, it'll be far more devastating to the franchise -- and the fanbase -- than this draft ever could be.


A few other draft thoughts:

Gotta admire what the Lions did on Day 1, getting the best prospect in the draft (Ndamukong Suh) and then trading up into the back end of the first to nab Cal's Jahvid Best, a great kid that I covered when he was in high school. Getting impact players on both sides of the ball was huge for a Lions team that has been mostly devoid of talent in recent years. This should mark a huge upgrade for them, and I also liked the Amari Spivey pick.

I didn't understand why the Jets basically gave away Leon Washington (and a seventh rounder) in that deal with Seattle for a fifth-rounder. I know that he had a pretty severe leg injury, but Washington's extremely quick and relatively young. Maybe New York decided there weren't enough snaps for a three-headed monster in its backfield, which just means that not only did the Jets waste significant dollars on a badly-fading LaDanian Tomlinson as a complement to Shonn Greene, but also that the ill-advised signing cost them a productive player in Washington.

Finally, I enjoyed the hullabaloo over the Broncos picking Tim Tebow, a move pretty much universally panned by those not affiliated with the University of Florida and the non-bible-thumping populace alike. I'm no Tebow fan, but here's my question: If the traditional way of evaluating quarterbacks results in a failure rate of roughly 50% among first rounders, then what, exactly, did Denver have to lose? Allegedly sound first-round selections -- guys who didn't have questions about where they held the ball, or the length of their release -- such as Ryan Leaf, J.P. Losman, and JaMarcus Russell have been abject failures. So I just don't get raking a team over the coals for ignoring criteria that are clearly broken. Especially considering that with Tebow there's essentially a stop-loss, as pretty much everyone agrees he would make a very good H-back or tight end. And so even if he fails as a quarterback, the Broncos will still have a useful player. That, to me, completely mitigated any additional perceived risk, and made him a highly defensible first-round selection.

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