One of the biggest faults of former Chicago Bears general manager Jerry Angelo was his inability to make solid, productive selections in the top portions of his 10 drafts with the team. Round 1-3 were Angelo's bane – although he did have better-than-average success in the later rounds. Yet in today's NFL, longevity and success year in and year out is a product of building a roster through the collegiate draft.
Ted Thompson, general manager in Green Bay, has been doing it for years, culminating in the team's fourth Super Bowl championship last season. And it appears new Bears GM Phil Emery will also follow that blueprint. Emery spoke to the media this afternoon at Halas Hall and outlined his plan to develop Chicago's 53-man roster.
"We will emphasize balance in meeting our needs, but our goals and our orientation are through building this team and continuing to add good players through the draft," said Emery. "We want to raise our own. We want people to have passion for the Bears; that came into our home and were raised and developed in our home; that have the passion not only for the Bears, but for this city and our fans."
Emery served as an area scout for the Bears from 1998-2004, before becoming director of college scouting for the Atlanta Falcons, a post he held for five seasons (2004-2008). He then moved on to his current position with the Chiefs.
Emery's first pick for Atlanta in 2004 was CB DeAngelo Hall, a three-time Pro Bowler. His third pick was current Texans QB Matt Schaub, another Pro Bowler. Other notable picks by Emery: WR Roddy White (1st round, 2005); Jonathan Babineaux (2nd, 2005); G Justin Blalock (2nd, 2007); CB Chris Houston (3rd, 2007); WR Laurent Robinson (4th, 2007); and QB Matt Ryan (1st, 2008).
With the Chiefs, he selected S Eric Berry in the first round of 2010. Berry became just the first Kansas City rookie to make the Pro Bowl since Derrick Thomas in 1989.
Yet despite his strong history in the draft, Emery is not averse to plugging holes through free agency.
"There may be needs. We may have needs in one area. But there may not be free agents that will fill those needs in our eyes. So we will target them in the draft. There may be needs that there are more than one player that can fill those needs. We will target those players and develop a game plan to execute the plan to bring them to the Chicago Bears if we find imbalance and there may not be that college player. We will have to work those one against the other, and obviously our orientation would be towards the college players if they can fill our needs.
"I have a very good feel for where we're at as a team, and that will help greatly as we move forward in this planning process and evaluating pro free agents and how they fit against the draft."
Emery said it will be a collective process in both evaluating talent as well as in the draft war room.
"I look at it as a process," he said. "There's going to be a lot of voices that are involved. It'll be very professional. It'll be very thoughtful. It'll be people working together. We may have disagreements. But the professionalism comes in learning how to agree to disagree, and move on to the next player, where we can find a common ground and that player fits our system, our coaches, our community. It will be segmented.
"There will be a lot of voices from personnel side of it. In our system, our big meetings are in December. We move forward. The scouts will give us a rank ordering, of the players they've been assigned, per position. The coaches come into the process after the season, whenever that is. In our case, we hope it's in February."
While he has the final say in which players the team drafts, he said he's very willing to listen to the other voices in the room.
"Sometimes, you need that outside voice, to open up your mind to other possibilities. And I'm very open to those discussions. There will reach a point during this process where it will be coach Smith and myself developing the plan at the end. And it will be on players that him and I agree upon, in sync, that these are the right players for the Bears.
"And that's where the heaviest influence will come. At the end of the process, do we have it lined up right? Is coach Smith and I in agreement and in sync with these players, and do we have a plan for that player? Not only to draft him, but post-draft. A developmental plan. Knowing that players strengths and weaknesses. Knowing where he needs to go. That's where coach Smith and I will put in our body of work."
With his extensive scouting background, Emery plans to hit the road frequently to personally view potential additions to the roster.
"Typically, what I plan to do is to be here up through Wednesdays, and either travel Wednesday nights or Thursday mornings, see a game on a Thursday, see a game on a Saturday if it's in a location that we play, so that I can see roughly four teams a week in a different way."
Emery said the process of evaluation will be equally divided between input from scouts and the measurables recorded during the NFL Scouting Combine and player Pro Days.
"It depends on time of the year," he said. "The measurables are important in terms of high-end, productive players, playmakers, dynamic individuals. I kind of call it, and no offense to the ladies in the room, but the guys that are ‘men,' that everybody goes, ‘Wow! They play like men. They dominate others.'
"If one may be a little bit faster and they're both playmakers, we might lean toward the one with the better measurables. Because this is a big man's game. There are smaller players that have success, but overall, history will show you this is a big man's game."
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of Bear Report magazine and BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.