INDIANAPOLIS The stock prediction for what the Bears will do with their first-round draft pick in April has been wide receiver. They have a shortage of good ones and uncertainty over the future of Johnny Knox after his gruesome back injury.
But at least one NFL insider has a strong leaning toward the other side of the football and coach Lovie Smith is saying nothing that contradicts this.
Matt Bowen, longtime NFL safety and National Football Post columnist, talked with CSNChicago.com Thursday at the Scouting Combine. Matt heard comments by Smith earlier Thursday and believes the Bears will go for a defensive end with their first pick, with Alabama rush terror Courtney Upshaw the first name he mentioned.
Pro Football Weekly reports that 38 percent of Upshaws tackles were made behind the line of scrimmage.
A big reason for his conclusion, which I second, is Smiths re-statement, in the wake of the New York Giants Super Bowl win, that defense still wins championships.
I'm totally convinced of that, Smith said. In order to win, of course, it's a biased opinion. I think the Giants have a strong defense, they have a running game and you need to be able to have explosion in your passing game, I think that's a big part of it.
The Giants won with a 4-3 scheme similar to the Bears but based on as many as four defensive ends used in nickel situations, all proven pass rushers.
A top-shelf wide receiver in free agency followed by a pass-rushing defensive end on day one of the draft.
The key is Smith and GM Phil Emery being of like mind on personnel priorities, which they presumably are based on conversations during the GM hiring process. Its pretty unlikely Smith was voicing a philosophy from what he knows to be his GMs.
In this episode of the SportsTalk Live Podcast David Haugh (Chicago Tribune), Nick Friedell (ESPNChicago.com) and Danny Parkins (670 The Score) join David Kaplan on the panel.
NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reports that the Bears will not use the franchise tag on Alshon Jeffery for the second straight year. Is that the right move? And what will Ryan Pace do with all of his team’s cap space?
The Bulls are winning but their new, young point guard doesn’t know his role. Will anything ever change with the Bulls?
That plus Scott Paddock drops by to recapping a thrilling Daytona 500 finish.
Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:
With the Bears holding the No. 3 pick of the upcoming draft, the obvious and automatic focus settles on Player A, B, D etc. "Best available" is an operating philosophy that routinely rules the moment.
But for the Bears and the 2017 draft, another overarching philosophical principle is in play. Specifically, what is the concept (for want of a better word) guiding what GM Ryan Pace is attempting to do?
Coach John Fox, as well as Pace, want a team founded on defense, running the football and ball security. They know the franchise need for a quarterback, but a team building on defense could reasonably be expected to weight their draft decisions toward that side of the football.
Meaning: A quarterback like Clemson's Deshaun Watson could alter the entire persona of the Bears and the Halas Hall building, but if the far-and-away best option at No. 3 is defense…?
What makes this draft and the Bears' operating concept intriguing is that the chances will be there potentially to build a true elite defense. Beginning at No. 3:
"I think [Alabama defensive lineman] Jonathan Allen is one of the two or three best players in this draft," said NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock via conference call on Monday. "What I like about him is he dominates outside…but I think he's going to make his money on an inside pass rusher. Inside or outside, I think he's a special player."
Behind that – and last year's No. 1, Leonard Floyd, addressed the rush-linebacker spot – is the secondary, with both cornerback and safety among the strongest positions in the draft.
"This is a great corner class," Mayock said. "If you don't get one in the first round, you can come back in the second or third rounds and really help yourself."
The safety group is such that Mayock posited the prospect of two going in the Top 10, maybe Top 5.
Deciding on a "concept"
One former NFL personnel executive maintained that the salary cap all but precluded building offense and defense equally, so the need was to define an identity and build to that, within reason. Former Bears GM Jerry Angelo opted a concept that built both offense and defense equally, but with designated positions ticketed for more cap resources: quarterback, running back, one wideout, two O-linemen, one franchise pass rusher, etc. Not all 22 positions are created equal but creating offense and defense simultaneously was doable.
"It's really what a team is looking for," said Mayock, speaking both of player preferences but in a way that extended to picking players for a scheme. Or philosophy.
Different concepts, like diets, work if you execute them well.
The Bears reached Super Bowl XLI with a Top 5 defense and a mid-teen's offense. The Indianapolis Colts prevailed in that game with a No. 3 offense and a defense ranked in the low 20's in both yardage and points allowed.