What We Learned in Indy, Part I

Now that the NFL Combine is in the rearview mirror, the Chicago Bears can start putting together their draft board accordingly. What exactly did they learn in Indianapolis? Bear Report was on the scene all week long and puts together a list of observations. Let's start with the offensive prospects.

It just became a lot easier for Angelo to trade down in the first round
The running backs put on a sensational display at the Combine, specificially a stellar junior class headed by two-time Heisman Trophy runner-up Darren McFadden of Arkansas and his 4.33-second 40-yard dash. Rashard Mendenhall of Illinois and Jonathan Stewart of Oregon were also star performers, impressing scouts with their power and speed. Since Offensive Rookie of the Year Adrian Peterson almost single-handedly turned the Vikings into a contender this past season, there will be several teams in the market for an every-down back who can potentially transform an offense on the ground.

Assuming the Bears pass on a ball-carrier and remain committed to Cedric Benson, GM Jerry Angelo could very easily trade down to get one of the many highly-coveted offensive line prospects because 14th overall would be a prime spot for another club to jump up and grab either Mendenhall of Stewart.

Several offensive tackles can step in and start on the left side immediately
The Chicago offensive line is an a state of disarray right now, as veteran Fred Miller has been released and nine-time Pro Bowler Ruben Brown is not in the team's plans for 2008. John Tait is overdue for a move from left tackle back to his natural home on the right side, so the Bears simply have to land a left tackle capable of starting the moment he shows up at Halas Hall. Ryan Clady of Boise State and Chris Williams of Vanderbilt are both worthy of the No. 14 selection in Round 1, but Jeff Otah of Pittsburgh did not have a good week and Gosder Cherilus of Boston College is better off sticking at right tackle.

If the Bears choose to address another need in the first round, Sam Baker of USC and Carl Nicks of Nebraska are both solid prospects in a deep class who could still be on the board at No. 44 in Round 2.

Both Henne and Flacco might be out of reach in the second round

QB Chad Henne
Michael Conroy/AP Images
The Midway Monsters are not going to take another quarterback with their top pick because there are more immediate needs on both sides of the ball, but two of the signal-callers they do like might not be around at 44th overall in the second round. Chad Henne of Michigan showed as much arm strength as any passer in Indianapolis, plus his confidence and poise were noticeable all week long. Joe Flacco of Delaware needs to work on his footwork, but he's a monster in the pocket at almost 6-7 and 236 pounds and spins the ball beautifully with a seemingly effortless motion.

Both Henne and Flacco are moving up draft boards and could now be in the mix near the top of Round 2, so Angelo may have to think about Colt Brennan of Hawaii or Paul Smith of Tulsa a round or two later – both did well for themselves at the Combine and both have had lengthy conversations with team officials.

No need to get overly aggressive when looking to draft a receiver
Another position that impressed as a whole in Indy was the wide receivers, including several with the kind of prototypical size that scouts love. James Hardy of Indiana, Limas Sweed of Texas, and Devin Thomas of Michigan State are all at least 6-2 and 215 pounds, and each of them posted a 40-yard dash time better than 4.5 seconds. Some of the smaller wideouts also appear to be on the rise, namely Andre Caldwell of Florida, Harry Douglas of Louisville, and DeSean Jackson of California.

Even though the Bears cut Muhsin Muhammad and could very well lose Bernard Berrian via free agency, they can still grab a top-notch receiver prospect in the second or third round come April.

Legitimate competition for Benson can be found on the second day
Since all the junior tailbacks stole the show Sunday with breathtaking performances, scouts were again reminded just how deep the crop of ball-carriers is this year. Steve Slaton of West Virginia and Ray Rice of Rutgers may not be considered Day-1 draft picks across the league, but both were wildly productive in college and also ran well at the RCA Dome. Even lesser-known talents like Tashard Choice of Georgia Tech and Matt Forte of Tulane looked like they belonged, while Chris Johnson of East Carolina posted the best 40 time of the week – a blistering 4.24 seconds.

Angelo promised more competition for Benson in 2008 at his season-ending press conference back in January, and there will be plenty of quality options available up and down the draft.

To read Part II of this series, where we break down what the Bears learned from the defensive prospects, Click Here.

John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.

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