Bears NFL Draft Preview: OL core in place but looking for edge upgrades

Bears NFL Draft Preview: OL core in place but looking for edge upgrades

CSNChicago.com Bears Insider John "Moon" Mullin goes position-by-position as the Bears approach the 2017 Draft, taking a look at what the Bears have, what they might need and what draft day could have in store. Fifth in a series.

Bears pre-draft situation
 
Neither Bobby Massie nor Charles Leno Jr. established themselves as close to dominant edge blockers through the 2016 season. Massie struggled early before settling in over the last half-season; Leno was expected to take a definitive next step but did not. As a result, tackle was an offseason priority, and the Bears made a play for ex-Baltimore Raven Ricky Wagner before he was lured to the Detroit Lions on a five-year deal that set a new standard for right tackles. The Bears then targeted Tom Compton, primarily a backup over five NFL seasons and ostensibly in competition for the role of swing tackle.
 
The interior has been cited as a strength with the axis of Kyle Long and Josh Sitton flanking Cody Whitehair. Long is coming off serious shoulder and ankle injuries, elected not to have shoulder surgery, but is expected back in full to open the season. Sitton earned Pro Bowl alternate status. Whitehair stepped in when Hroniss Grasu tore an ACL in an August practice and missed just two snaps all season.

Projected pre-draft starters
 
LT    Charles Leno
LG    Josh Sitton
C      Cody Whitehair
RG   Kyle Long
RT    Bobby Massie

Reserves

Tom Compton, Cornelius Edison, Hroniss Grasu, Eric Kush, William Poehls, Cyril Richardson.

Bears draft priority: Low
 
The "low" priority for the position stands in relation to need levels at other positions; the Bears need upgrades on the offensive line, most notably at tackle, and GM Ryan Pace has drafted an offensive lineman within the first three rounds in each of his two Bears drafts (Grasu 2015 third round, Whitehair 2016 second round).

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The problem this draft is that it is considered one of the poorest for offensive linemen. Loose evaluations suggest that the draft could go 15 picks or more in the first round before a tackle is selected. Compare that with: Four tackles went in the first 16 picks of the '16 draft. Three went top-13 in 2015, six in the top 24.  The 2014 draft saw four tackles picked in the first 16. Four tackles and two guards were picked among the first 11 of 2013.
 
This year, just finding a little quality depth will be an accomplishment.

Keep an eye on:
 
Forrest Lamp, G/T, Western Kentucky — One of several "top" prospects who may fall out of the first round. Lamp lacks some of the physical traits preferred in tackles but is willing to relocate. "I like to watch Ali Marpet, Cody Whitehair, Zack Martin," Lamp said during the Scouting Combine. "Those guys were all left tackles in school who got bumped inside. Similar to what I've been hearing [for myself], so I watched them all last year."
 
Cameron Lee, G/T, Illinois State — Bears arranged a private session with Lee, who started at both guard and tackle for ISU. The versatility is critical and attractive to teams looking to fill "swing" role inside or outside. Small-school prospect could drop into Bears' range on Day 3.

Good or better? Why offseason moves are making 2017 Bears better

Good or better? Why offseason moves are making 2017 Bears better

Improvement typically comes in incremental steps, not leaps. And the Bears of 2017, based on what they have done at a handful of positions, the latest being Thursday’s signing of wide receiver Victor Cruz, fit that template.

The clear organizational commitment is to build through the draft, even if injuries have undermined some otherwise apparent upgrades to starting lineups on both sides of the football. But if there is a “theme” to what GM Ryan Pace is doing to muscle up a sluggish roster, it is that the Bears are willing to take flyers on veteran players – with additions like four veteran wide receivers with injury and issue histories – that arguably point to a win-now mindset while draft picks develop and contribute.

Jaye Howard and John Jenkins. Make the defensive line “better?” Than Jonathan Bullard and Will Sutton, probably. But “good?” Mmmmm…..

The game-one tight ends last year were Zach Miller-Logan Paulsen-Gregg Scruggs. Now they’re Miller-Dion Sims-Adam Shaheen (based on a second-round draft choice). “Good?” Maybe, maybe not. “Better?” Obviously, based on Sims alone.

Mike Glennon-Mark Sanchez-Mitch Trubisky. Bears “better” at quarterback? Than Jay Cutler-Brian Hoyer-Matt Barkley, probably. “Good?” Mmmmmm…..

The decisions to sign Glennon and Sanchez to the quarterback depth chart have sparked their shares of understandable cynical skepticism. But Kirk Cousins and Jimmy Garoppolo were not available in trade, so the Pace decision was to gamble on upside with Glennon over the known quantity of Brian Hoyer (the preference of some coaches) and certainly Jay Cutler, for whom “potential” and “upside” no longer applied.

Add in the aggressive draft of Trubisky and the result was three possibilities of hits on a quarterback (Sanchez and Connor Shaw being combined here as a pair entry in the hit-possibility scenarios). All three were deemed an improvement over Cutler and/or Barkley.

The results may not vault the Bears all the way up to “good” at the pivotal position for any franchise. But “better” is sometimes all you can realistically manage.

Taking a wider-screen look at wide receiver in this context… .

Coach John Fox has cited the need for the Bears to establish the ability to get yardage in bigger chunks. Accordingly, all four of the veteran wideout signings this offseason – Cruz, Rueben Randle, Markus Wheaton, Kendall Wright –  have posted yards-per-catch seasons of 14 or longer.

All four won’t be on the opening-day roster, but all four offer the promise of major impact. Cruz, Randle and Wright have had seasons of 70 or more receptions, and Wheaton topped out at 53 in 2015 with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Randy Moss, Terrell Owens and Jerry Rice weren’t available, so “good” was hard to achieve in an offseason in which Alshon Jeffery and Eddie Royal were expected departures long before their exits. But are Cruz, Randle, Wheaton and Wright, with Kevin White and Cameron Meredith, a “better” starting point than Jeffery, Royal, White, Bellamy, etc. of a year ago?

Obviously. But players with even moderately established NFL “names” (like Cruz, Randle, etal.) are typically available for a reason; teams do not routinely give up on talent. And none of the four come without significant shadows on their NFL resumes, whether for injury or other questions.

Cruz missed most of 2014 and all of the 2015 season, and hasn’t played a full season since his Pro Bowl year of 2012.

Randle was described as a head case by scouts and was so bad that he was let go in the Eagles’ cutdown to 75 last year, followed by disparaging comments from those in and around the organization.

Wheaton flashed promise in his 2014-15 opportunities as a part-time starter but played just three games before a shoulder injury landed him on IR last season.

The Tennessee Titans thought enough of Wright, their 2012 first-round draft choice, to pick up his fifth-year option going into las season. But by week 14 he was benched for tardiness and was a healthy DNP in game 16, announcing after the game that he already knew he was not in the Titans’ plans for 2017.

The prospect of the Bears going from 3-13 to “good” borders on fantasy. But if being among the NFL’s busiest this offseason hasn’t propelled the Bears to that level, the results point to “better.” At this point, that’s something,.

How big of an impact will Victor Cruz have on the Bears?

How big of an impact will Victor Cruz have on the Bears?

The Bears inked Victor Cruz to a one-year deal on Thursday, adding another receiver to an already crowded corps.

But it never hurts to add a veteran one to a young group, especially with a new starting quarterback.

Cruz is 30 years old and isn't the same Pro Bowl-caliber player he was before missing the entire 2015 season with a calf injury, but he surely has a lot left in the tank and can serve as a great mentor for the Bears receivers.

Just how big of an impact will he have on his new team? See what the SportsTalk Live panel had to say in the video above.