Chicago Bears GM Phil Emery will conduct his first draft with the team this weekend. In three days, he'll continue laying the foundation upon which his legacy will be built.
This offseason started with the blockbuster trade for Brandon Marshall and was followed with 10 free-agent signings. Throw in the six players that were re-signed and you get one of the busiest signing periods in recent Bears history.
At his pre-draft press conference today, Emery said his moves in free agency provide him strategic options heading into the 2012 NFL Draft. The team can either draft based on positions of need or go with the best player available.
"What we've done in free agency really allows us a chance to go one way or the other," said Emery at Halas Hall. "It's given us flexibility in terms of we can draft into a perceived strength, so that we make sure we get the player that's going to help us win a championship the quickest way possible. Or we can go and fill maybe what we perceive as a need. So it has given us great flexibility."
There are some glaring holes on the current roster, yet that won't dictate Emery's approach to this year's draft.
"We're very orientated towards finding the player that's going to get us [to a championship] the fastest, and if that means that player patched a hole, great," he said. "If that means that player is at a position of strength but he maybe is a little bit better at doing some aspect of his game is better than the ones we have, even though we have a strong position, we'll go that way if that's the player that's going to get us there the quickest."
By position, Emery laid out where he sees strengths and weaknesses in this year's class.
"Historically I would say this is a good draft for wideouts, defensive ends and tackles," he said. "I'd say it's a good draft for projecting offensive tackles to guards. There's a good number of offensive tackles you can project inside.
"I think where you see some weakness are the total number of running backs, from Rounds 1-7, to historic numbers, where they don't balance out and are a little bit behind. The top of the center draft is a little low with respect to number of players taken each round."
He also believes that there are specific expectations for players coming out of each round. In the evaluation process, Emery uses those expectations as a guideline.
"Usually the first and second round you want to come away with a player you feel is going to be a starter or somebody that is adding or contributing greatly to what you're doing in maybe in your sub packages at the minimum.
"The third- and fourth-round players, you're looking for players that contribute in a role that at least they're at that level. Historically if you look at it, a lot of the punt and kick returners, if they have that aspect of their game, even though they may be a role contributor at their position, they go in the third and fourth round because you have a defined role for them. They can contribute to your team right away.
"And generally from the fifth round down, you're looking at someone who's going to be a back up for your squad, provide quality depth. And what you're looking for there is players that have high measurables, meaning that their height-weight-speed is at a level that if they develop they have the athletic ability to continue to ascend. You want take players and be oriented toward players that are bigger, stronger, faster, so they can continue to develop in that role and possibly hit on a starter."
Emery said that, while he's looking for players that can help this team win right away, he evaluates prospects in terms of long-term potential.
"We look at players in a two-year forecast, and we grade them, ‘Who are these players two years from now?' When they come into camp that second year, sometime between camp and the midpoint of that second year, [we ask ourselves] are these starting level players? Are these complete difference makers? Do they have tools and traits that put them above, something rare that you know they can't miss?
"And what we're always looking for regardless of that level that you've designated on them – when you come time to take them either during the draft or free agency, do they make your squad better or worse? Does that camp player, somebody that you've graded as a camp free agent, help the competitive nature of your practices? And that's where you get better. The more competitive you are at each position, the more competitive your practices become, your team rises, the better you are."
Emery said he'll rely mainly on the information provided to him by his scouts, and not his coaches, during the actual draft.
"Our area scouts know those players' backgrounds, all the character information, their play history, their injury history, better than anybody else does," he said. "Although we've gone through those areas several times, if I have any last-second questions, I want them right there. That's who I want there.
"Our coaches are heavily involved. They've been a big part of the process. If we need to ask them a further question about them, we will bring them into the room. But they won't be there from the start to the end."
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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.