If Mel Kiper Jr. were picking for the Bears at No. 18 in the first round of this year's draft, his selection would be ... Florida junior wide receiver Percy Harvin.
Kiper has been ESPN's draft expert since 1984, and he listed the Bears' top needs as wide receiver, offensive line and quarterback on Wednesday's conference call for ESPN.
"Obviously, the quarterback situation has to be cleared up there moving forward," Kiper said. "But certainly wide receiver would be the one [position] you have to look at. Percy Harvin, if he was there, would be someone they have to consider."
Harvin is undersized (5-10, 180 pounds), and there is concern about his durability. He had ankle, heel and hip injuries at Florida that caused him to miss five games and a lot more practices. But even playing with a high ankle sprain and a hairline fracture in the national championship game, Harvin ran for 122 yards on just 9 carries and caught 5 passes for another 49 yards in the 24-14 victory over Oklahoma.
Although he's too small to be considered at running back in the NFL, Harvin rushed for 660 yards on just 70 carries last season, an average of 9.4 yards per attempt, while scoring 10 touchdowns. He also caught a team-high 40 passes for 644 yards (16.1 yards per catch) with 7 TDs.
Kiper said he would also consider a defensive end for the Bears, especially if Harvin is already taken.
"Their defense did not get it done in a lot of games, [so that] has to be looked at," Kiper said. "Tyson Jackson from LSU is a defensive end who would seem to fit the mold of the versatile defensive end they like."
Most fans would agree that wide receiver is the greater need for the Bears. If Harvin is gone, or if the Bears decide they need someone bigger to complement Devin Hester, there are still interesting options.
Nicks is also a junior, and at 6-2 and 210 pounds has drawn comparisons to Michael Irvin because of his size, strength, toughness and physical play. In his final game for North Carolina, a 31-30 loss to West Virginia in the Meineke Car Care Bowl, Hicks was a one-man show with 8 catches for 217 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Maryland's Heyward-Bey, also a junior, has blazing speed and flashed elite talent but also showed inconsistencies and disappeared for long stretches. Still, he's 6-3, 206 pounds and left Maryland as the school's No. 2 career receiver after just three seasons.
But the Bears can't count on Nicks or Heyward-Bey lasting until their second-round pick, which is No. 49 overall, so they might have to pull the trigger in the first round.
Nicks caught three TD passes in the Meineke Car Care Bowl. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
NOTES & QUOTES
Dent's sack numbers compare to many players already in the Hall of Fame. But with elite pass rushers like Bruce Smith and Derrick Thomas getting in this year, Dent and others, like Vikings defensive tackle John Randle, were passed over.
Despite being an eighth-round draft pick out of Tennessee State, Dent played in every game as a Bears rookie, and the next year began a 10-year stretch as one of the most dangerous pass rushers in NFL history.
In 1984, just his second season, the 6-5, 265-pound Dent racked up a Bears-record and NFC-best 17.5 sacks, as coordinator Buddy Ryan's defense emerged as the league's best, headlined by middle linebacker Mike Singletary, defensive lineman Dan Hampton, both of whom are already in the Hall of Fame, and Dent.
The next season Dent had an NFL-best 17 sacks, plus 1.5 more in the 46-10 victory over the Patriots in Super Bowl XX, when Dent also forced two fumbles and was chosen as the game's MVP. In the two playoff games leading up to the Super Bowl, victories over the Giants and Rams, Dent had 4.5 sacks, giving him a combined 23 for the season.
Those two seasons started a decade of dominance for Dent, who had double-digit sacks eight times, missing only in 1989 when he had 9 and '92 when he had 8.5. …
The possibility of Charles Tillman moving from cornerback to safety has been discussed since the day the Bears drafted him in the second round out of Louisiana-Lafayette in 2003.
The 6-1, 198-pound Tillman has more than enough size and toughness to handle a move to free safety, and his willingness to help out in run support has often been more impressive than his ability to shadow elite wide receivers one on one. But until the Bears acquire a better cornerback than Tillman they will resist moving him, even though free agent Mike Brown's days in Chicago might be numbered.
For right now, that's a big "but" because "starting" cornerback Nathan Vasher has not played anywhere close to the five-year, $28 million contract extension he signed on June 29, 2007, and he could soon be a salary cap casualty. And Vasher has missed 20 games over the past two seasons with groin and hand injuries.
CBs Corey Graham, a fifth-round pick in 2007, and Trumaine McBride, a seventh-rounder in the same draft, have shown promise, but the Bears aren't ready to go into a season with those two as their starting corners, even though Graham started nine games last season.
The Bears could use their first-round pick (18th overall) for a cornerback capable of starting right away. But Ohio State's Malcolm Jenkins, the safest bet, will probably be a top-10 pick. Illinois junior Vontae Davis is also a top-10 talent but comes with lots of baggage. …
It's impossible not to notice the swelling numbers of NFL coaches who played for the Bears, especially in the 1980s.
The irony is that none of them coach for the Bears.
Titans head coach Jeff Fisher was a Bears cornerback and punt returner from 1981-84. He spent the '85 season on injured reserve and served as an unofficial Bears assistant coach. Mike Singletary, the 49ers' head coach, a Hall of Fame middle linebacker, was with the Bears from 1981-92. Saints head coach Sean Payton was a quarterback on the "Spare Bears" team that played three games when the NFL Players Association went on strike in 1987.
Bears linebacker Ron Rivera (1984-92), the Chargers' defensive coordinator, was a Bears coach until he was shown the door at Halas Hall after helping the team get to Super Bowl XLI as its defensive coordinator. Leslie Frazier, the Vikings' defensive coordinator, was a Bears cornerback from 1981-85. Center Jerry Fontenot (1989-96) is the Packers' assistant offensive line coach, and Mark Carrier, the Ravens' defensive backs coach, was a Bears safety from 1990-96.
Most recently, Doug Plank was added to the Jets' staff of new head coach Rex Ryan, one of the twin sons of Buddy Ryan, the Bears' defensive coordinator from 1978-85. Plank was a Bears safety from 1975-82. And Al Harris, a Bears defensive end from 1979-84, was tabbed by Singletary to be the Niners' pass-rush specialist coach.
Keith Burns, a Bears linebacker in 1999, has been the Broncos assistant special teams coach the past two seasons. Howard Mudd, a Bears offensive lineman from 1969-71, is the Colts' offensive line coach, and Andy Heck, the Bears' offensive left tackle from 1994-98, is the Seahawks' offensive line coach.
For the past three seasons, Bryan Cox, a Bears linebacker from 1996-97, was the Jets assistant defensive line coach. …
The Bears have decided to move their full-squad minicamp up two months from late May to March 17-19.
That will give coaches, especially new staff members Rod Marinelli and Jon Hoke, scouts and other personnel evaluators a last look at the current talent in advance of the April 25-26 draft. The rookie minicamp will still be one week after the draft, the 10-week offseason program will again begin in April and most OTA practices will be in June.
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