For the past few months, Bear Report has made numerous educated guesses as to the strategy the Chicago Bears will take in this year's draft. We have highlighted the positions of crucial need, players of interest, private workouts, the presence of Bears reps at collegiate pro days and more.
Yet the wildcard is GM Phil Emery, who showed last season he's willing to be very active during the three-day meat market known as the NFL Draft. In 2012, his first as a general manager, Emery selected a player in the first round few predicted would land in Chicago, Shea McClellin. In the second round, Emery traded up for a big, playmaking wide receiver in Alshon Jeffery. He clearly doesn't follow any pre-conceived, cookie-cutter plan when it comes to the draft.
Over the course of this offseason, Emery has repeated his willingness to trade back from the 20th overall spot in this year's draft, in order to recoup picks the club lost in the Brandon Marshall and Brian Price trades last year. At his press conference before voluntary minicamp last week, Emery outlined the tier process he uses for first-round prospects and how that will affect his ability to trade back.
"Normally what we do is when we set up a plan for the draft, we will do it in the order of players we would trade up for at that pick; that we feel we'll still have a possibility, might be slim that they may still be there," Emery said. "They're first. Those are players that we would not pass up.
"Then we would have players in and around that pick that we feel will be available through our research that we know that with that pick we feel have the best chance of helping contribute on our team and helping us towards our goals.
"In the back end of the list would be players that if the players in front of them aren't available, those are the players that we would be looking for on a trade back. Hopefully you've got two or three or four of those players, depending on how far back you want to go in terms of designing your plan. Those players would be at the back end.
"So that whole grouping, say at 20, really you may end up having five, six players that you really feel comfortable (with). You have two or three out front that have a chance to come to you. Then you would include at least another four or five on the back end of that that you'd have ranked ordered in case you trade back. You're looking at the number of spots you're moving back and the number of players that you still feel comfortable with on that list. If the list is too small when it comes time to trade back and you don't feel comfortable, you've got some tough decisions to make. You may have to move even further back into an area of value, or you may have to take the best available player there if you don't find a trade."
Emery also said that, despite being short two picks already, he's not averse to trading up in the draft if the situation calls for it.
"It's less likely," said Emery. "Moving back is more attractive than moving forward. But if there's someone real closely, and all the plans that we've made we know the guy that we've targeted that can really make a significant difference for us is sitting in front of us in one pick, and that team in front of us is looking at the same guy at the same position. Would I pull the trigger? Absolutely I would pull the trigger."
Emery admitted that finding a trading partner, especially before the draft, can be very difficult.
"We've already had a couple of teams that have approached us," Emery said. "I approached a couple during the owners meetings. There are talks. They're back and forth. They're kicking things around. It doesn't get serious until you get close to the pick.
"My experience is that you may get two or three about three or four spots before your pick and then you may get more at that pick, but it gets real serious when you're on the clock. But certainly we've had discussions and we'll see how it goes. It depends on whether our player is at that spot and we feel like he has the value where we don't want to move out of the pick, or whether their player is on that spot."
One scenario that could help the Bears is a quarterback-needy team looking to move up to draft one of the top signal callers at 20th overall.
"I'm hoping [quarterbacks fall]. That would provide us value," said Emery. "If somebody's really coming at 20 for a quarterback, they're going to be willing to bring some picks to the party. So that's a good thing."
Most believe linebacker to be the club's biggest position of need. To that end, the Bears have had private visits with the two linebackers most agree have first-round talent: Notre Dame's Manti Te'o and Georgia's Alec Ogletree.
With Te'o, there is a lot of concern about his speed. At the scouting combine, he ran a 4.82 40-yard dash and didn't do much better at his pro day. Yet Emery said 40 times aren't the only way to judge a player's speed.
"[40 times] are important within a range of times that you find acceptable for the position," Emery said. "It would have to be sufficiently timed in terms of their speed. More importantly, [it's] their play speed. Does he have good play speed, very play speed, excellent, rare? We just go along with our scale. We ask our scouts to not look at the timed speed [but] to look at what they see in the fall, the tape and during their crosscheck assignments post the fall until February and put their own speed down for what they see as the play speed of the player. It's more important that's sufficient or better than it is his 40-yard dash speed."
With Ogletree, his issues have more to do with off-the-field problems than any perceived slights in his game. Emery said his vetting process for candidates is sound and he's comfortable in his knowledge of Ogletree's character.
"I won't get into specifics in terms of specific issues with players. But I'll tell you this, we do our homework," said Emery. "We work extremely hard at knowing the character of the players. You just dig in every direction possible. I will tell you that our scouts are very inventive.
"Part of their job I tell them is that they're 50 percent investigator and 50 percent talent scout. They take that to heart. They work very hard at it. They develop contacts. When you interview a player, players normally talk about people that are important during their career. They'll talk about people, youth sports coaches, and you reach out to those people and find out what that young man was like from those at 12 all they up through high school.
"Once you find those things out, you find out more people that are involved in their life and you keep searching until you get a wide variety of thoughts and then you've got to weed through there to where the truth is. That's what we ask our scouts to do, and at the end of the day, to put down a sentence or paragraph that summarizes their findings and their take on this athlete's personal behavior and character as it moves forward for the Bears.
"Then it's our decision, whatever we find out about their background, their personal behavior and whether any incidences they've been involved in off the field, whether we find those acceptable for us and whether the fit's right for us."
Ultimately for Emery, his job will come down to matching the strengths of players with team needs, attempting to find the best value with every selection.
"Unfortunately for us, some of the positions that I would say that are more attractive to us, there's teams in the league that there's a lot of interest in," Emery said. "There's a lot of folks that need offensive linemen. I'll go that far, OK.
"There's strong positions in this draft. I would say those positions are corner, safety – there's a number of starters in those two positions – defensive line [and] offensive line. I would say that the tight ends and the wide receivers are above average. I would say that the running backs and quarterbacks are average."
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.