By Dan Durkin-
(CBS) As the lyrics go, “The waiting is the hardest part.” Mercifully, the wait for NFL draft hopefuls, teams and their faithful fan bases is down to one week.
After a productive offseason, the onus is on Bears general manager Phil Emery to add younger — and cheaper — talent to his roster. On paper, the Bears are a more talented team than they were last year at this time; however, needs remain on both sides of the ball, with the most pressing existing at every level of the defense.
The phrase “best player available” will be used liberally by grinning general managers when speaking about their hand-picked selections, but the words “at a position of need” will be omitted. The truth of the matter is, when a team is on the clock, they are calibrating exactly that, the highest-graded remaining player at a position where a talent deficiency exists.
Armed with seven selections, here’s the Bears’ priority list as I see it:
2) Defensive tackle (specifically a three-technique)
4) Running back
6) Tight end
7) Wide receiver
By now, you’re well aware of the top overall prospects available, but what about the later rounds?
Generically — and obviously — speaking, the goal is finding playmakers at every position, but coaches ask scouts to seek out players with specific traits. So, let’s take a look at some prospects I’ve taken note of last fall and during the draft process who may fit the profile the Bears are seeking at each position.
At safety, versatility is at a premium. The goal is to find a player you’re comfortable lining up as the single high, middle-of-the-field defender to keep a top on the defense and who can also drop into the box and play run support or blitz when his number is called.
At defensive tackle, the need is for an up-the-field one-gap penetrator who can press the pocket from the inside, and either beat singles or create them on the edge.
At cornerback, the profile is for a long-armed player who can play press man on an island, physically re-route in zone and is willing to come up and be a force defender in run support.
Realistically, any of these positions could be the pick at No. 14 overall, but here’s a graphic of players at each position over the first three rounds who fit the mold, with the highest ranked in each group appearing at the top of their respective column.
The Bears have benefited from running back Matt Forte’s versatility, productivity and durability for years. Currently, there isn’t a capable backup on the roster. But recent history shows that the draft is the best source of talent at this highly disposable position.
Given his preference for ’11’ personnel, Bears coach Marc Trestman requires a complete back who is adept at moving the chains as both a runner and receiver and is willing to stick his nose in front of a blitzer.
On the other side of the ball, the Bears enjoyed years of stability at the linebacker position, but that foundation has eroded. Last year, the Bears doubled up at the position, but questions remain, particularly at Mike linebacker.
The profile at “Mike” is a cerebral read-and-react player who can set the defensive front, be gap sound and stout in run support and is athletic enough to man the seam and middle hook passing zones.
Here are some middle round prospects at both positions who may pique the Bears’ interest as potential fits.
Given the Bears’ potent passing attack, you can never have too many weapons. This draft class is deep at receiver but thin at tight end.
The Bears possess a virtual basketball team in cleats, but they lack a shifty slot receiver with speed who can beat a fifth — or sixth — pass defender on shallow crossing routes or up the vertical seam. As I’ve mentioned before, the Bears were heavily scouting kick and punt returners at the Senior Bowl, so most of the prospects listed below are well-established returners as well.
At tight end, the Bears lack a complementary player to Martellus Bennett. His backups currently on the roster had a combined three receptions last season, and each is primarily an in-line blocker or receiver; none is a combination.
The need remains for a tight end with H-back qualities (line up on the wing, backfield or as the end man on the line of scrimmage). He needs to be a willing blocker who can also win in a single-coverage situation over the middle.
Here’s a list of some late round prospects who fit the mold.
Draft boards are typically filtered down to 100-120 players, grouped by grade levels, sometimes known as a “hot list.” As their pick approaches in each round, teams narrow down their decision to a group of five or six players before reaching a consensus.
So take a moment to do some scouting of your own. I mean, you have another week to kill anyway.
Follow Dan on Twitter @djdurkin.