By Dan Durkin-
(CBS) After spending a week evaluating prospects in Indianapolis, Bears general manager Phil Emery and his cadre return to Lake Forest to finalize reports and slot their draft boards. So, in the spirit of the Combine, let’s turn the tables and evaluate Emery, and look at his successes, failures, trends, and see how well he’s scouted positions the Bears should look to upgrade this April.
Before we start data mining, let’s set some guidelines. Emery previously worked as an area scout for the Bears, scouting the Northeast region in 1998, and the Southeast region from 1999 to 2004. Rather than trying to determine which of those selections Emery may have scouted, I am excluding his first stint with the Bears.
In 2004, Emery was hired by the Atlanta Falcons as their Director of College Scouting, and held that post through the 2008 season. In 2009, Emery took the same job with the Kansas City Chiefs, and held it through the 2011 season.
Even though he wasn’t the general manager making the final say in the draft room, he was accountable for all scouting activities and helped shape the draft boards. Thus, this time span will be the scope of my evaluation.
Quite simply, the Bears have more needs than available resources. They’re saddled with a bloated payroll and must use the draft to improve production while lowering costs. However, after pulling off two trades last season – one high-risk success, and one low-risk flop – they have only five draft picks to work with. No pressure, Phil.
When you look at the current benchmark organizations – Baltimore and San Francisco – they’ve built consistent winners by acquiring not just starters via the draft, but difference-makers. Fifteen 49ers’ starters were draft picks, seven of which have been named to All-Pro teams. Fourteen Ravens’ starters were draft picks, six of which have been named to All-Pro teams.
How does Emery stack up in this regard? Of the 59 selections made during the time span, 22 are current starters, 22 are out of the league, and one has been an All-Pro (Roddy White). Those numbers don’t compare favorably with elite teams.
One encouraging trend is Emery’s had some success in the first-round. Players like White, Matt Ryan, and Eric Berry, are among the league’s best at their positions, and Sam Baker has evolved into a respectable starting left tackle.
However, there are also some first-round busts worth noting, none larger than Tyson Jackson. Jackson was the third overall pick in 2009, and in 4 seasons, has compiled 5 sacks. At $31M guaranteed, surely the Chiefs weren’t expecting to pay $6.2M per sack. Jackson joins Jamaal Anderson as another top-10 defensive end bust, so is this trend a harbinger of failure for fellow defensive end Shea McClellin?
The Bears lack top-shelf talent, particularly on offense, and the core of their defense is on the wrong side of 30. As it stands, you can make a legitimate argument to draft any position but quarterback or running back. Free agency should clear up some concerns, but this long list of needs affords flexibility to draft the best player available.
Emery likes to draft wide receivers, selecting one every year over the time span, typically in the first three rounds. White tops the list, but a guy like Jon Baldwin, who is trending towards first-round bust, tips the scales in the opposite direction. The rest of the list is filled with players either out of the league, or special teams contributors.
Emery likes to draft offensive tackles in the fifth-round. Three of the four offensive tackles selected – including Frank Omiyale – were fifth-round picks, the other was a first-round pick (Baker in 2008). Offensive tackle is the Bears top priority, and should be addressed in both free agency and early in the draft.
Emery’s had decent success drafting interior offensive lineman in the second and third-round. Jon Asamoah (3rd round, 2010) is emerging as one of the top young right guards in the league, and Justin Blalock (2nd round, 2007) is a steady starter at left guard. Center Rodney Hudson (2nd round, 2011) became the full time starter in his second season.
Emery’s had success scouting linebackers, which is a good sign for the Bears, who currently have one starter-grade linebacker under contract. Names like Curtis Lofton, Stephen Nicholas, and Michael Boley are all reliable starters.
Emery has yet to make drafting tight ends a priority, but has no choice but to this season. Outside of Tony Moeaki, who had a solid rookie season, none of the other three tight ends are starters, and two are out of the league.
Emery has drafted several cornerbacks, but hasn’t had success. Of the nine selections, six are out of the league, and only one is a starter, Chris Houston (Lions). While it may not top the list of Bears needs, both Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings are entering the final year of their contract. With no heir apparent on the roster, Emery must find a way to add young talent at cornerback.
With the new CBA rookie compensation model, the cost of rookies has decreased, thus, the draft has become even more vital to building a successful foundation. Teams that draft well maximize their cap dollars, and can then judiciously use free agency to fill holes.
The Bears have struggled to procure talent via the draft, forcing them to turn to free agency and the trade market to add blue chip talent, which in turn, eats up significant portions of their salary cap (see Julius Peppers). This trend must stop if the Bears want to take the next step as an organization and become a consistent winner, not a team that makes the playoffs once every five years.
In a short period of time, Emery has reinvigorated the fan base with his candor, transparency, passion, and the earnestness with which he approaches his role. He’s the anti-Angelo, which is undoubtedly a good thing.
Looking objectively at the available data, it’s imprudent to assume Emery’s presence alone will help bridge the talent gap between the Bears and the NFL elite. With a little luck, a full year on the job, and his guys calling the shots, the hope is his years as a scout will help the Bears turn the corner.
Will Emery boost his general manager stock with a strong showing this April? We’ll have a better idea in 57 days.
Dan Durkin joined The Score’s columnist community after finishing runner-up in the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois where he was a member of the men’s football team (despite his best efforts to join the women’s team). Dan is a longtime Scorehead, known as Dan in Wicker Park – even though he no longer resides in Wicker Park – who will be sharing NFL analysis and opinions. You can follow Dan on Twitter @djdurkin. To read more of Dan’s blogs click here.