Draft could close gap between Bears, Packers

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Draft could close gap between Bears, Packers

Monday, April 25, 2011
Posted: 8:56 a.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

The gap between the Bears and the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers can be reduced to seven points, basically the winning margin of the NFC Championshp game. But if the Bears are going to close the gap or even keep pace with the Packers, it will begin next Thursday night.

Or else.

The reason the Packers were (and are) better than the Bears right now boils down to the simple fact that Green Bays performance in the draft has been substantially better than the Bears.

Consider:

Of the Bears starting offenses and defenses in the NFC Championship game, barely half (12 of 22) were their draft choices. That doesnt include safety Chris Harris, who was their draft choice (2005) but they had to trade with Carolina to get him this time. It does include, however, Tommie Harris in his final game of a declining Chicago career.

On the other side, 14 of the Packers 22 starters were draft picks.

That wouldnt be terribly impressive except for the fact that Green Bay had nine draft choices on injured reserve, including starters like linebacker Nick Barnett, safety Morgan Burnett and tight end Jermichael Finley. No Bears draft choices were on the final IR list.

The bigger point

Bad as too many recent Bears drafts have been, the Bears have not embarrassed themselves in drafts this decade the way they too often did in the 1990s with a Stan Thomas, Marcus Spears, John Thierry, Pat Riley, John Allred and Cade McNown.

At this point at least their top picks in four of the last five drafts are still on the roster, and later-round picks like JMarcus Webb, Kellen Davis, Zackary Bowman, D.J. Moore, Henry Melton and Johnny Knox have at the very least held onto roster spots.

But the point is hardly the number of drafted players are still on anyones roster. That becomes a case of figures dont lie but liars figure.

The real point is blue players, the elite-level players, players you win because of, not just with. These are the players relied upon to lift your team in situations like playoffs, not the bottom third of the roster. Of that bottom third, nearly half of those will be inactive on game days anyway.

In the past five Super Bowls every team had blue players already in place. More important perhaps, they landed at least a Pro Bowl player in the drafts of at least one of the previous three years:

2006 Colts (Bob Sanders, Dallas Clark)

Bears (Tommie Harris, Nathan Vasher, Lance Briggs)

2007 Giants (Eli Manning)

Patriots (Logan Mankins, Wil Wilfork, Brandon Meriweather)

2008 Steelers (Heath Miller)

Cardinals (Antrel Rolle, Dominique Rogers-Cromartie)

2009 Saints (Jahri Evans, Roman Harper)

Colts (Antoine Bethea)

2010 Packers (Clay Matthews, B.J. Raji)

Steelers (Maurkice Pouncey)

Higher expectations

Contrary to some scenarios, the Bears need very much to score big with their first pick of the draft. Arguably, the strategy needs to be staying put for the best available player regardless of position.

It may be natural to assume that a pick in the mid- to late-20s cannot be expected to alter franchise history. But the Packers hit on Aaron Rodgers (25th, 2005) and Clay Matthews (26th, 2009). And they landed a starting offensive tackle as a rookie, an NFL hit by any measure, in Bryan Bulaga at No. 23 in the 2010 draft.

Trading down may be the convenient, even easier, approach. Adding picks is never a bad thing.

But that has produced next to nothing seriously noteworthy in the top rounds of any recent Bears draft. If little of franchise-turning impact is expected at No. 29, then what is anyone expecting out of picks even lower than that?

The Bears arguably have not found a franchise-mover in the first round since Tommie Harris at 14th in the 2004 and his stay at the elite level was over after 2007. Matt Forte (2008) is on the edge of stardom and Devin Hester (2006) is already there, but both were second-rounders and Hester achieved Pro Bowl status as a returner, not a position player.

Green Bay set itself at quarterback with a No. 1 pick (Rodgers). The Bears needed roughly twice that cost to settle that position (trade for Jay Cutler) after neither Rex Grossman nor Kyle Orton solved it.

The Packers secured more Pro Bowlers (Matthews, 2010 alternate B.J. Raji) in the 2009 draft than the Bears have in their combined first-round picks since Brian Urlacher in 2000.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

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