The Monsters of the Midway appear to be interested in an offensive tackle with their first-round pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, but factors beyond their control could make the pool of talent more shallow at No. 18 overall.
Andre Smith, a 6-4, 348-pound mountain of a young man who was once Mr. Football in the state of Alabama as an O-lineman, was originally projected to be a top-five selection. But the former Crimson Tide blocker surprised everyone at the Scouting Combine by first announcing he didn't have an agent, then telling teams he had no plans to work out, and then leaving Indianapolis suddenly without telling anyone supposedly to get together with his new personal trainer in Atlanta. Not only did his actions raise all kinds of red flags, especially considering the financial responsibilities teams face when taking a player that high in the draft, but it's been speculated that Smith could have serious mental-health issues – remember the unmitigated disaster that was Demetrius Underwood?
And with this year's draft once again loaded with top-level talent at his position, Smith has set himself up for quite a fall this April and likely cost himself tens of millions of dollars in guaranteed money.
With the Bears looking for a bookend to place opposite last year's first-rounder, left tackle Chris Williams, the Smith situation means prospects like Michael Oher of Mississippi and William Beatty of Connecticut will look all the more attractive to teams in front of Chicago not wanting to roll the dice with Smith. Even second-tier tackles like Eben Britton on Arizona and Jamon Meredith of South Carolina could benefit – it's difficult to forecast at what point Smith's upside outweighs his bust potential. And with Chicago going out of its way to get high-class individuals after the Tank Johnson and Cedric Benson fiascos, it's hard to imagine Smith with an orange C on his helmet even if he could be a steal at 18th.
Since the Midway Monsters may ultimately miss out on Oher and Beatty because of the inevitable Smith fallout, team officials have started to search beyond Round 1 for the answer at right tackle.
Ed Thompson, the senior NFL analyst for Scout.com, has told Bear Report that Jason Watkins of Florida had a formal interview with Chicago in Indianapolis at the Scouting Combine.
Watkins (6-6, 317) originally game to Gainesville as a tight end, but he grew into a reliable tackle and has experience on both the left and right side of the line. He's maintainted some of his tight end athleticism and is very fluid for a young man his size, proving to be especially effective blocking in space on screens and edge runs. While he is still raw and needs a little work with his technical game, he has a great deal of potential and could have his best football in front of him if he gets the right coaching.
The fact that there are so many tackles projected to go on Day 1 of this year's draft means Watkins will be pushed into the third or fourth round, plus he'll probably need a year or two of seasoning before he's ready to start on Sunday.
If the Bears miss out on Oher and Beatty in the first round and end up with, say, a wide receiver and a safety with their top two picks, Watkins may be a sound selection in Round 3.
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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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