Draft Shapshot: Looking to April

We're still a month and a half away from the Chicago Bears being on the clock at the NFL Draft, but it's never too early to start the evaluation process. The experts at Scout.com take a closer look at the active roster, assess team needs, and predict who they think will be in the Windy City next season.

The Bears have re-signed two of their own, linebacker Lance Briggs and quarterback Rex Grossman, while allowing the Vikings to overpay for big-play wide receiver Bernard Berrian. Special-teams coverage standout Brendon Ayanbadejo is also gone, but he is easily replaced on a unit that is the NFL's best.

The only thing the Bears have done to upgrade a lousy offense is sign Marty Booker from the bargain rack after the Dolphins released him last month rather than pay him for the final season of a seven-year, $28 million contract that he signed while with the Bears in 2002.

Many of the unrestricted free agent linemen and wide receivers who could have helped the Bears have already signed with other teams, but there are still some who would provide an upgrade.

The release of Muhsin Muhammad and the defection of Berrian left the Bears with arguably the worst group of wide receivers in the NFL, and most of the few talented free-agent wideouts are already spoken for.

With increased inactivity, the Bears' No. 27 offense in 2007 could be even worse this year.

Booker helps because he's better than anyone else the Bears have on their roster. But offensive line remains an obvious weakness, and the top linemen are also already off the board.

Offensive line help has to be a priority in the draft, but there more work to be done on the offensive side of the ball. They need to get an immediate starter on the line in addition to getting someone to compete with Cedric Benson at running back and another quarterback to join the mix with Grossman and Kyle Orton, both of whom still have a lot to prove and have not shown that they are the long-range answers.

1. Offensive line: Ancient starters such as right tackle Fred Miller and left guard Ruben Brown won't be back. Miller was cut, and Brown wasn't offered a new contract. Left tackle John Tait, 33, would benefit from a move to the right side. Six-year veteran Terrence Metcalf was a flop when given a chance to replace Brown. There are no young stars in waiting in the pipeline, and center Olin Kreutz is entering his 11th season.

2. Wide receiver: The addition of Booker helps, but he'll be 32 before the season starts. Devin Hester remains a project, though a talented one. After three years, Mark Bradley has proven only that he has potential. The Bears are still waiting for the production.

3. Running back: It doesn't appear that Benson, the fourth-overall pick in 2005, will ever be special and he has shown no big-play potential, so a speed back is warranted. Adrian Peterson is an adequate backup and third-down replacement, and Garrett Wolfe is too small to be anything but a third-down back and change-of-pace player.

The Bears need a tackle and a guard, and with the 14th pick they should be able to get a player capable of challenging for a starting spot, which might be a necessity.

Ideally, they would like a player who could start at left tackle, enabling Tait to move back to his original spot on the right side. This draft is loaded with quality offensive tackles, but the problem is that several teams ahead of the Bears are also looking for help there. If there is an early run on the position, the Bears could find themselves settling for the fourth or fifth best tackle, perhaps someone who lacks the athleticism for the left side.

Michigan's Jake Long and Boise State's Ryan Clady are expected to be off the board by 14, but Vanderbilt's Chris Williams and Pittsburgh's Jeff Otah are strong possibilities, while Southern Cal's Sam Baker and Boston College's Gosder Cherilus could be available later in the first round or early in the second if the Bears trade down. Virginia guard Branden Albert is another possibility, since he might be able to play tackle.

Vanderbilt OT Chris Williams.

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