In two days it begins.
It's a time when rabid football fans, and even casual ones, participate in the three-day circus known as the NFL Draft – the outcome of which could affect their favorite teams for years to come. Radio City Music Hall will be filled excitement, anticipation, expectation and a lot of NFL gear. Some fans will openly cheer the picks of their team, others will silently question what their GM was thinking and Philadelphia fans will boo until their throats hurt.
The last seconds of the Super Bowl ticked off the clock 79 days ago. Since then, the labor dispute has dominated the interim, but in two days, we'll be able to put aside that mess and enjoy our annual event.
For Chicago Bears fans, this could turn out to be one of the most important drafts in years. The team was on the cusp of a Super Bowl birth last season, despite not having a first- or second-round pick since 2008. For the first time in three years, the team has draft picks in each of the first six rounds. If the right moves are made, it could put the Bears over the top and into the championship circle. Yet the wrong moves could push the team back for years.
Chicago has a Swiss cheese roster right now, with huge holes along the offensive line. Last season, the run game only averaged 3.9 yards per carry and pass protection allowed 56 sacks – the most in the league. C Olin Kreutz is declining and a free agent. He'll most likely return to the team but he won't be around for much longer. No one knows where Chris Williams is going to play. Frank Omiyale was one of the worst left tackles in the league last year. Right tackle J'Marcus Webb, while only a rookie, was wildly inconsistent. And Roberto Garza continued his years of average play.
At wide receiver, the Bears have some solid role players – the speedy Johnny Knox and the sure-handed Earl Bennett – but they desperately need a No. 1 guy. Devin Hester's workload will probably continue to decrease as well, thus saving him for the return game. Look for Chicago to target a big pass catcher in the draft.
CB Charles Tillman
At cornerback, Charles Tillman is getting long in the tooth and could move to safety soon. Tim Jennings doesn't look to be the long-term answer and D.J. Moore is better suited for the nickel. The Bears will need to grab at least two corners this offseason.
While Chicago has two Pro Bowl linebackers in Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher, those are the only two currently signed. Nick Roach and Pisa Tinoisamoa are both free agents, although one will likely return. The team needs to add depth and start thinking long term.
There are five offensive tackles widely considered surefire first-round picks: Tyron Smith, USC; Anthony Castonzo, Boston College; Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin; Nate Solder, Colorado; and Derek Sherrod, Mississippi State. If any of these players are on the board when it's Chicago's turn to pick in the first round, expect him to be wearing navy and orange next year.
Florida G/C Mike Pouncey is about the only interior offensive lineman considered first-round worthy. The Bears need a guy with his nastiness to create holes in the run game and would be hard pressed to pass him up.
At defense tackle, Alabama's Marcell Dareus and Auburn's Nick Fairley are both top 10 picks and won't be available to the Bears. The other surefire first-round DT is Corey Liuget from Illinois. The Bears may forego offensive line if he falls to them at 29.
Those are the seven players that I believe the Bears are targeting highly in the first round. They almost assuredly will not take a pass on any of those prospects.
I participated in a Media Mock Draft this week held by The Rob Long Show, FOX1370 AM in Baltimore. My job was to choose for the Chicago Bears with the 29th pick in the first round. I was sent the list of previous picks beforehand. What I saw on that mock draft is very likely to happen this weekend.
In that draft, the other media members plucked off all seven of the aforementioned players before my pick. I was left in a tough spot, just as the Bears would be. At that point, all that's left on the board are fringe first-rounders at the positions Chicago needs to address. Which is why, if this scenario plays out, GM Jerry Angelo will strongly consider trading down.
There are many teams picking at the top of the second round with needs at QB – Buffalo, San Francisco, Cincinnati, Arizona and Tennessee, to name a few. If those teams don't fill their QB needs in the first round, it's going to be a mad scramble for the second-tier of quarterbacks. There's a good chance one of those teams could approach the Bears in an attempt to leap frog the quarterback-needy teams in front of them.
Using a standard trade value chart, if the Bears were to trade down 10 spots, that would net them at least an extra third and fourth round pick, which would be music to Angelo's ears. Chicago could then still get one of the fringe-first rounders the team covets, while adding picks for later in the draft. It may not be the most popular move but it could prove to be the most prudent.
For our purposes though, we won't consider trade options. Instead, we'll look at the picks Chicago has (29, 62, 93, 127, 160 and 195) and play out some possible scenarios.
Let's use the results of the FOX1370 draft, where the top seven players on Chicago's board are gone. If the Bears are going to reach, it should be for an offensive lineman. My choice in the Media Mock Draft was …
29 – G Danny Watkins, Baylor
Watkins played left tackle in college but is projected as an NFL guard due to his size (6-3, 310). He's nasty in the run game and plays with solid fundamentals. He's NFL ready and would be an immediate improvement on the interior.
62 – DT Drake Nevis, LSU
Nevis, (6-1, 294) may be the quickest of the top defensive tackles not named Dareus or Fairley. He explodes off the ball and uses a good blend of quickness and power to work through and around opposing linemen. His ability to power into the gap could make him an extremely disruptive force at the next level.
93 – WR Niles Paul, Nebraska
Paul (6-1, 224) has good size and speed (4.46 40). He may slip to this point due to his off-the-field baggage. He's raw but has the physical tools to develop into a top producer down the line.
127 – CB Shareece Wright, USC
The Bears have shown interest in Wright, who has decent size (5-11, 185) and great speed (4.41 40). Injuries and academic issues limited him to only one full season as a starter in college, so he could slip this far. He's a project but shows great potential.
160 – LB Doug Hogue, Syracuse
Hogue (6-2, 235) is a converted running back with only two years starting experience at linebacker. He's not overly powerful but he's very quick and has good speed. He's outstanding in pass coverage as well. At the very least, his speed (4.62 40) would make him an asset in kick coverage.
195 – LB Mike Mohamed, California
Mohamed (6-3, 239) is smart, fast and experienced. He's a sure tackler that can turn and run with tight ends. He projects as a 4-3 linebacker at either the strong side or in the middle. A great value pick.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.