'Pre-drafting': What Senior Bowl revealed about OL, prospects

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'Pre-drafting': What Senior Bowl revealed about OL, prospects

Exactly what player, what position or even what side of the ball the Bears will address in the first two rounds of the 2013 draft (they dont currently have a third-rounder) wont truly be set until they send a card with a players name up to be read by Commissioner Roger Goodell beginning Thursday, April 25.

But several players have made impressions on veteran observers and if the draft breaks the Bears way, the possibilities at No. 20 of the first round becoming intriguing:

OT Eric Fisher, Central Michgan -- Fisher has wowed observers all week, coming in at 6-7, 305 pounds and performing well enough for NFL Network draft expert Mike Mayock to remark that Fisher reminded him of 49ers Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Staley, also from CMU, but the more I see of him, I think hes a better skill set than Staley was coming out of college. Mayock would not be surprised to see Fisher go in the first 10 picks.

OT Lane Johnson, Oklahoma -- Fellow NFL Network analyst Charles Davis termed Johnson a little more of a potential pick but and projected that Johnson, like Fisher, could put on 20 more pounds of muscle and slip into the first round as well. Johnson has agility a former quarterback and was a Sooner teammate of current Bear OT Corey Brandon, and Johnson was a tight end as a sophomore when Brandon was a senior.

But the draft scenarios can and often do change based on what happens in free agency. If the Bears land a starter-grade OT, or if they decide theyre OK with Brandon, Gabe Carimi, Jonathan Scott and JMarcus Webb as a group, the focus could be on guard, tight end or a best-available defensive player. The fate of Henry Melton also projects to affect Bears draft targets:

DE Alex Okafor, Texas -- If coaches decide that Shea McClellins future is not confined to hand-on-the-ground defensive end, the need will be for a pass rusher. And no team can have too many of those. Okafor impressed Mayock specifically with his work against Fisher, whod handled Okafor early but the power-rushing ability netted Okafor 12.5 sacks in 2012.

DE Datone Jones, UCLA -- Jones had 19 tackles for loss last season and Davis alluded to Jones suddenness as well as his ability to work at different spots in sub-packages. Mayock added the variable of the juniors, who are not working in the bowl practices but who have first-round quality as pass rushers and outside linebackers.

Bears numbers don't indicate 3-13, yet still lie

Bears numbers don't indicate 3-13, yet still lie

In doing some post-season wrapping up of my Nerdy NFL Notebook as we begin turning the page to the 2017 season, part of it involves compiling where each team finished in big-picture team offensive and defensive categories: overall ranking (total yards), as well as team rushing and passing ranks on both sides of the ball.

So if the Bears wound up ranked 15th overall in total yards gained and allowed, they should've finished…oh, 8-8, right? It adds to the deception of some of the deeper issues that focus on a lack of playmakers, which tied into their inability to make plays when it matters most. In John Fox's 9-23 start, 18 of those games have been decided by six points or less. They've won just six of those games. 

Offensively, the Bears ranked higher in total offense than five playoff teams: Kansas City (20), Detroit (21), Miami (24), New York Giants (25) and Houston (29). They wound up 17th in rushing offense, better than four teams who advanced: Seattle (25), Green Bay (26), New York Giants (29) and Detroit (30). And their 14th-ranked passing offense ranked better than the Giants (17), Kansas City (19), Dallas (23), Miami (26), Houston (29).

On the other side of the ball, they'd be even better off before allowing 109 points over the final three losses. Their total defense ranked better than Detroit (18), Green Bay (22), Kansas City (24), Atlanta (25), Oakland (26) and Miami (29). After being gashed for 558 rushing yards the last three games, they fell to 27th in the NFL against the run (better than only 30th-ranked Miami). But the seventh-ranked pass defense, despite collecting a measly eight interceptions (among only 11 turnovers), was better than nine playoff teams: Miami (15), Pittsburgh (16), Kansas City (18), Detroit (19), the Giants (23), Oakland (24), Dallas (26), Atlanta (28) and Green Bay (31).

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

What do all the hollow numbers indicate? A lack of complementary, opportunistic football, playmakers on both sides of the ball, a minus-20 turnover ratio, and a lack of quality and continuity at the quarterback position — to name a few. All of those playoff teams have more impact players (or kept more of their impact players healthy) than the Bears in 2016.

While some of the numbers aren't that bad to look at, and some even raise an eyebrow, there's still a deep climb from the most significant numbers: 3-13.

Bears' best rookies will have another learning curve

Bears' best rookies will have another learning curve

There's a sense of irony and, to a certain degree, concern about what changes the Bears' coaching staff has undergone.

Think of the best of Ryan Pace's 2016 rookie class: Leonard Floyd, Cody Whitehair, and Jordan Howard. They were brought along under the position group tutelage of outside linebackers coach Clint Hurtt, offensive line coach Dave Magazu and running backs coach Stan Drayton. The latter was the first to depart, shortly after the season ended, to return to the collegiate ranks on Texas' new staff.

He's been replaced with former 49ers and Bills offensive coordinator Curtis Modkins (also serving as that position coach in Detroit, Buffalo, Arizona and Kansas City). Howard certainly adapted to the NFL game well, more than anyone expected, as the NFL's second-leading rusher. One would think Drayton played a part in that.

Longtime John Fox assistant Magazu was also let go after the season despite the impressive move of second-round pick Whitehair to center the week of the season opener after Josh Sitton was signed following his release by Green Bay. Whitehair was sold as a "quick study" following his selection out of Kansas State, where he was a four-year starter at three different positions (but not center).

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Like Howard, he wound up making the All-Rookie team, but whether he remains in the middle of the line or not, he'll be getting his orders now from Jeremiah Washburn.

Rounding out the trio of All-Rookie selections was Floyd, who was brought along by Hurtt. He impressed Fox enough to be kept around from Marc Trestman's staff, and moved from defensive line to outside linebackers.

That's where he assisted Willie Young in morphing to a foreign role, yet still managing 14 sacks over the last two seasons. The Bears have yet to name a replacement for Hurtt, who's joined the Seahawks in taking over one of their strengths in recent years, the defensive line.

These three were already good, and the jewels of last year's draft. But if they're to grow and ascend into impact contributors if and when this team becomes a regular playoff contender, it'll come from new faces, new voices in their respective classrooms and position groups.