The Chicago Bears came into the offseason with a plan to upgrade the defense, which was historically bad last year.
To that end, GM Phil Emery signed four safeties, six defensive linemen, two Pro Bowl cornerbacks and a linebacker. Most believe that's just a start and that further additions must come in the form of draft picks.
Emery has stated he wants to get younger on defense, so it's likely the majority of the team's seven picks will be spent on defensive players. Yet that doesn't guarantee he'll spend a first-round pick on Pittsburgh DT Aaron Donald or Michigan State CB Darqueze Dennard or Alabama LB C.J. Mosley. All three are very talented players at the top of their respective position but none are without risk – Donald is small, Dennard is slow and Mosley is hurt.
So when it comes time for the Bears to select at 14th overall, don't be surprised if Emery once again strays from conventional wisdom – as he did with his previous two first-round picks – and takes an offensive playmaker.
The Bears don't have pressing needs on offense. The front five allowed the third fewest sacks in the league last year and Pro Bowlers litter the skill positions. Yet behind Martellus Bennett, there is little depth at tight end – Dante Rosario is just another guy.
Could the Bears be targeting another tight end to complement Bennett, and the rest of the passing attack, down the seams? If so, the Bears could be in the market for North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron, who is widely considered the top tight end in this year's class.
Let's break down game film of Ebron to see if he's the final piece of the puzzle, one that could propel Chicago's fifth-ranked passing offense to the top of the league.
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY Sports
Eric Ebron (6-4, 250)40-yard dash: 4.60
Bench press: 24
Vertical jump: 32
Broad jump: 10-0
-Very athletic. Ability to jump over defenders. Great balance. Dangerous after the catch. Very good on 0 screens.
-Played a ton in the slot.
-Very good at recognizing soft spots in zone. Knows how to sit when open.
-Good ability to snatch high passes. Soft hands. Can make all the catches.
-Uses hands well to fight off press coverage. Good routes, very fluid.
-Speed to beat safeties.
-Special teams experience a plus.
-Not a bad blocker at the second level but it's not his strength. He's not an in-line blocker. Don't even bother with him in short yardage.
-Tendency to jump over defenders could lead to serious injuries.
-Doesn't fight when ball is in the air. Needs to be more physical. Struggles to make catches in traffic.
Ebron is a pure pass-catching tight end, which doesn't necessarily fit the accepted role of a backup, which is to be a blocker. If the Bears are looking for a big-bodied, in-line mauler, they need to look elsewhere.
Yet Chicago is in a unique situation with Martellus Bennett, who is equal parts pass catcher and blocker. Bennett was on the field for 964 of the Bears' 1,070 offensive snaps last year. He was key in both run and pass games, and that's not likely to change going forward.
So the Bears are in a position where they can target a tight end that is more of a receiver, as Bennett can fulfill the edge-blocking duties.
Ebron would add another dimension to Chicago's offense, one that already features six Pro Bowl players: Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Jay Cutler, Jermon Bushrod, Kyle Long and Matt Forte. In Marc Trestman's first year as head coach, the Bears jumped from 29th to fifth overall in the NFL in passing.
How much better could the passing attack become if Ebron was added in the mix? His ability down the seam would give Cutler another viable target. He would force opposing defenses to match up, providing single coverage to the rest of the receivers.
The Bears play Green Bay and Detroit, two highly potent passing attacks, twice every year. Despite improvements on defense, it's inevitable that many of those contests will turn into shootouts. Adding Ebron could be the final piece that allows Chicago to not only win those shootouts but also to potentially develop into the top passing offense in the league.
You can be sure that's not lost on Emery.
Should the Bears select Ebron? Probably not. At 14th overall, the Bears could easily land an impact defensive player, which is where the real needs are. But if Emery wants to build one of the best offenses in the league, something toward which he's worked the past two years, then Ebron could be that first-round shocker.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fourth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. 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.