View from the Moon: The Bears' draft gaffe

357350.jpg

View from the Moon: The Bears' draft gaffe

Friday, April 29, 2011
Posted: 10:36 a.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

Bears grab Carimi in first round
Carimi draft capsule
Full Round 1 results
Complete Bears NFL draft coverage

Expect the aftershocks to the botched non-trade with the Baltimore Ravens to continue reverberating for some time, whether qualitative, quantitative or both.

The Bears embarrassed themselves and threw the late first round of the NFLs offseason showcase into chaos when they made an apparent deal with the Baltimore Ravens and respected GM Ozzie Newsome. The transaction was the Bears giving the Ravens the Chicago pick in the fourth round for the right to move up from No. 29 to Baltimores spot at No. 26.

But confusion over who was to call the Ravens and confirm left Newsome waiting and the Baltimore turn expired without a pick being made. Kansas City (No. 27) then got to the podium with their card and Baltimore was relegated to one spot later. The draft ground to a confusing halt, Baltimore management was livid, and Bears GM Jerry Angelo needed to offer public and private apologies for the mishandling.

The league was looking into the situation in the aftermath.

The Ravens still got the player they wanted with Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith and the Bears still got Wisconsin tackle Gabe Carimi, the object of their pursuit.

Troublesome questions
But whether the Bears are given any sort of penalty does not obscure some difficult questions.

First was the situation in the Bears draft room, which was operating with Angelo and player personnel director Tim Ruskell, a long-time Angelo associate brought in to revamp various aspects of the personnel operations. Whether Angelo or Ruskell should have made the confirming call to Baltimore is a concern, whether Ruskell didnt get it done or if he re-delegated the task, whatever time was short in a critical situation and something broke down.

Perhaps even more concerning, however, is why the trade was even happening in the first place.

Be in no doubt: A fourth-round pick is significant. Alex Brown, Todd Johnson, Ian Scott, Nathan Vasher, Kyle Orton, Jamar Williams, Henry Melton, D.J. Moore, Corey Wootton. All were fourth rounders, all were players who mattered or matter at various times.

But back to the draft situation:

Baltimore (No. 26) wasnt taking Carimi. Thats why they were willing to deal out of the spot. Kansas City (No. 27) jumped in when Baltimore hesitated and took Pitt receiver Jonathan Baldwin, so the Chiefs werent after Carimi.

New England already had taken tackle Nate Solder at No. 17, so the Patriots werent after Carimi. And the Patriots traded out of the spot, dealing the pick to New Orleans, which was moving up to take Alabama running back Mark Ingram. So the Saints werent after Carimi.

So why were the Bears close to giving up a draft choice of consequence when they apparently didnt have to? Teams do mock drafts to cover myriad scenarios and those can be complicated, given misdirections, misinformation and all the rest.

Homework missing?

But if the Bears were ready to deal away a draft choice for a player that was going to come to them anyway, the matter of who was supposed to call the Ravens becomes less troubling than how thorough was the homework done on what was happening around the Bears pick.

Mississippi State tackle Derek Sherrod also was on the draft board, eventually going No. 32 to Green Bay. Sherrod was not as highly rated as Carimi but was in that group of first rounders that the Bears saw. So even had Carimi been taken, the Bears were in position to still land their tackle.

The NFL is unlikely to deprive the Bears of a pick. The Bears could do a make-good move of some sort, perhaps giving the Ravens a switch of position at some point, possibly giving Baltimore a pick for a move in a later round.

But some qualitative scar tissue may linger. What will the reaction be if the phone rings in a teams draft room now and someone answers, then tells the room, Hey, its the Bears calling.

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.

Are Bears better than Texans, Broncos, Dolphins and others? Pro Football Focus says yes

Are Bears better than Texans, Broncos, Dolphins and others? Pro Football Focus says yes

Pro Football Focus has more than its share of both supporters and detractors of how it goes about grading NFL players. They break down every snap for every player, and while there are general agreements on what's seen by naked, untrained eyes who don't put the time and investment into its system that PFF does, there are other evaluations that seem to come out of the blue. While there's occasional guesswork on a player's particular assignment on a given play within its scheme, those of us who've watched and studied nuances of the game, or those who've played it, can usually identify how many jobs were done correctly.

Tuesday, PFF released its rankings of all 32 NFL rosters but in essence focused on the quality of each team's starting lineup, listing the Bears — are you sitting down? — 18th in the league. That's ahead of the likes of the Ravens, Saints, Texans, Dolphins, a Jaguars franchise that's had tons of high draft picks in recent years, as well as the Broncos and Lions (whom they rank 28th). The top five are the Falcons, Patriots, Titans, Packers and Steelers (the Bears play three of those teams in September alone). Among other Bears opponents, they rank the Panthers 10th, Vikings 12th, Buccaneers 13th and Eagles 15th.

[BEARS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

Their evaluation is based on each player's final score from last season, "elite" and "good" being the top two levels, followed by "average" and "below average" to "poor." The only Bear earning elite status was inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman. Another nine Bears finished with good grades: Jordan Howard, Zach Miller, Josh Sitton, Cody Whitehair, Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Danny Trevathan, Adrian Amos and Quintin Demps (who earned his grade in Houston).

Those earning average grades were Cam Meredith, Kendall Wright, Kyle Long, Charles Leno, Jr., Pernell McPhee and Prince Amukamara. Below average: Mike Glennon (in mop-up duty in Tampa Bay), Kevin White, Bobby Massie, Leonard Floyd and Jaye Howard. The only Bear earning a poor grade among projected starters was tight end Dion Sims (with Miami). The other potential flaw is that PFF lists Kyle Fuller (no grade) and Bryce Callahan (average) as starters when Marcus Cooper and Cre'Von LeBlanc likely have the inside track to start at cornerback and nickel back, respectively.

How did the Bears get to 18th, above three playoff teams and another that won the Super Bowl two years ago? Well, all of those other teams have more elite players at certain positions, but it's offset by a number of spots occupied by more players with poor or below average grades. The Broncos (25th) for instance, had four elite players, just another four falling under the good grade, but five players listed as poor.

Jordan Howard wants to lead Bears... and lead the league

Jordan Howard wants to lead Bears... and lead the league

So Jordan Howard finished second in the NFL in rushing in his rookie season, despite just a dozen carries in the first three games. The fifth-round pick joined the man who beat him out for the rushing title, Ezekiel Elliott, as one of just five rookies in history to average five or more yards per carry on over 250 carries. And he set the Bears' rookie rushing record with his 1,313 yards while becoming just the fourth in franchise history to rush for that many yards in a season.

Sounds pretty hard to top, like we might be set up for the dreaded sophomore slump.

But...

"Things are a lot different this year because I know what to expect," Howard said during the team's minicamp two weeks ago. "I know all the plays and things like that. I’m not out there thinking, so I can just play free and fast.

"I definitely feel like a veteran 'cause I know what to expect and can help the young guys on the plays that they're not understanding. I’m just more comfortable and want to be a leader."

One of the other things we learned about Howard last year is he's low-key, a man of few words. So the Indiana product by way of UAB will make his points verbally when needed, but his actions will speak louder.

"He was a rookie a year ago and didn't even go in trying to be a leader, telling a five-year guy what was up," said head coach John Fox. "I think with time, and obviously with production like he had, I think it's a role he can fall in to. We're in a performance-based business and even in that locker room, what they do on Sundays gives them some credibility."

One of the concerns about Howard coming out of college was durability, but he answered the bell once he became the starter in week four against Detroit. And he probably wasn't used nearly as much as he should have. The good news about that is he was subject to less wear and tear, averaging just 18 carries per game from that Lions game on.

But besides taking more of a leadership role, Howard wanted to work on his speed without sacrificing the strong base that, paired with keen vision and work by the offensive line, allowed him to hit holes quickly and charge toward the second level of opposing defenses.

"Just improving on the little things – my conditioning, my weight, catching passes. And looking for ways to finish runs better," says Howard. "I feel like I’m in much better shape than I was at this time last year, a little more toned-up."

"It's just training," said Fox. "When you get to that it's more like track speed than football speed and I think he proved pretty worthy of that a year ago as a rookie. Y'know we all can improve on things, and that's the expectation. He's trained hard.

"This time of year last year he wasn’t even practicing," Fox remembered. "I like where we are, we’ve brought in more competition, and he’s better for it. He’s kind of gotten used to an NFL season, he’s come back ready to roll, but he still has work to do before we get to training camp."  

Oh, and the 22-year-old has a couple of other goals he didn't mind sharing, besides being a leader and getting a little faster.

"First off, make the playoffs. Be the leading rusher, and just help the team in any way I can and stay consistent."