'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.

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.