With the release of safety Brandon Hardin in the final cuts, the Bears had let go of half of the first draft class of general manager Phil Emery. What remains in the surviving three players, however, is two starters and a possible third.
Yet the Hardin selection in the third round of the 2012 draft cannot be termed a total miss (he is eligible for signing to a practice squad). The reason why Hardin does not belong in the conversation with Jarron Gilbert, Juaquin Iglesias, Michael Okwo, Garrett Wolfe and other third-round flops lies in the philosophy behind the pick.
Hardin, who was injured in the Bears' final preseason game against Cleveland and likely heads to injured reserve, represents the cost of doing business the Emery way, which is not necessarily a bad thing. More on that in a moment.
The 2013 draft class has all six picks making the roster of a team coming off a 10-6 season. Three of the six are Day One starters — Jonathan Bostic, Kyle Long and Jordan Mills. Off that alone, Emery gets a generally very positive grade for his initial efforts at building the Bears through methods other than veteran free agents.
Alshon Jeffery (No. 2 in 2012) is a starting wide receiver. Isaiah Frey (No. 6) is the starting nickel back. Shea McClellin (No. 1) is not starting and has yet to show consistency at a first-round level, but he is a fixture in the rotation plans of defensive coordinator Mel Tucker.
(If you want to feel better about the first Emery draft, reverse the order: Jeffery was the 1, McClellin was the 2. There, doesn’t that feel a little better?)
A reach for some “ceiling”
Hardin by any standard was a reach, which too often turn out to be misses in the NFL. He was a cornerback at Oregon State who had missed his senior season with an injury but was being drafted to play safety.
The traits — size, speed — were there, but basing decisions on those have gotten the Bears and other teams into draft problems more than a few times.
Yet the Hardin pick was in line with an Emery philosophy of drafting more for "ceiling" — what is a player’s upside? — rather than the “floor” approach of Jerry Angelo and Tim Ruskell — at the worst, what’s the minimum we know we can get?
Emery’s approach has arguably worked very, very well. Long, a first-round pick at guard despite starting just five games last season at the position and that after converting from junior-college tackle/defensive end.
And while Jeffery was a productive wide receiver at South Carolina, sufficient concerns over weight and commitment circulated to where a number of teams did not rate him highly. Emery traded up in the second round to select him.
Hardin? Let’s see in a year.