By Adam Hoge-
HALAS HALL (CBS) — Bears general manager Phil Emery held his annual pre-draft press conference Thursday afternoon, addressing a number of topics in advance of next week’s NFL Draft.
Here’s everything you need to know from the press conference, but keep in mind this fair warning: Everything below is from an NFL general manager the week before the draft. Proceed with caution.
Six targets at No. 14
Emery said the Bears have six players targeted for the 14th overall pick.
“I’d be happy if two out of the six were on the board at our pick, and I’d be ecstatic if three out of the six were on the board at our pick,” he said.
So should you believe Emery when he says he has six targets? I think so. He’s not really giving anything away by revealing that information, and six is a believable number for that selection.
And why does it matter whether or not two or three of those targets are available at No. 14? Because that could give the Bears an opportunity to trade back a few spots and still draft one of those players.
Emery acknowledged that he has received some calls from teams inquiring about their first-round pick, which is pretty standard this time of year.
“To go down, just say in theory you go down six picks, that means you have to count your pick you’re giving up is one, and if you’re going to pick six picks later, you have to have six players on the board that have that graded value that you’re comfortable taking,” Emery said.
In other words, if the Bears have three of their six targets available at No. 14, they could theoretically trade back, but wouldn’t go back further than No. 17. That way, they’re guaranteed one of those three players. Of course, you need a trading partner and have to agree on a deal, which isn’t always possible.
The Bears would like to add more draft picks, but moving down in the first round will have a lot to do with what happens in front of them.
Rooting for offense
Emery has acknowledged the offensive depth in this year’s draft many times this offenseason, and he’s hoping his peers — particularly the ones in charge of the teams drafting ahead of him — see that depth as well.
It’s to the Bears’ advantage for more offensive players to go in the first 13 picks, because that will push the best defensive players back to No. 14.
And that’s why you should care a lot about the quarterbacks in the draft — even though that’s the one position Emery pretty much ruled out for the Bears in the first round. There’s a lot of debate about this year’s quarterback class, and no one seems to be sure if there will be an early run on quarterbacks or if teams will wait until the second round.
Bears fans should be rooting on the early run of quarterbacks.
Emery said he evaluated the quarterbacks closely this year for that very reason.
“You’re very cognitive of their talent level and where their perceived level is and who might take them and what that means in terms of your pick,” he said.
As for the Bears drafting a quarterback? I covered that here.
Defense vs. Offense
The Bears clearly need bodies on defense, but there are some small holes on offense they need to fill, despite all 11 offensive starters returning this season.
So how will the Bears’ seven picks be split up?
“That could mean all seven picks (on defense),” Emery said. “That could mean 4-3. If we pick up an extra pick, it could be 4-4.”
Of course, Emery doesn’t want teams counting, so he also threw in the obligatory idea that they could draft more offensive players than defensive players, but that would be a surprise.
I would expect at least four defensive player selected next weekend.
Scheme change evaluation
When the Bears’ defense takes the field next season, it’s expected that there will be changes to the scheme, although they will stay in a 4-3 base. Emery acknowledged that the scheme changes have “somewhat” changed the way they evaluate draft prospects, but overall it doesn’t sound like much has changed.
“I said when I came in the door: If I had my druthers, bigger would be better,” he said. “And we’re a little bit orientated that way, but we’re not going to pass up dynamic players regardless of their size.”
Interestingly enough, Emery later reminisced on the draft evaluation of Ravens outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil, who slipped to the Broncos in the fourth round of the 2006 draft in large part because he is only 5-foot-11.
“I mean literally when we were going through that draft process looking at him, we said there is a guy that everybody will say is too short to play that position but because of his shortness, he literally could rush standing straight up and down,” Emery said. “And all he had to do was lean in, and he gained leverage. His hat was hitting the armpit of the offensive lineman when they were crouched with a slight knee bend. He already had leverage on him. His lack of height was actually a unique tool, which he has shown that he can use at a very high level.”
Listening to Emery talk, it sure sounded like he was describing a prospect in this year’s draft: defensive tackle Aaron Donald.
Not surprisingly, Donald’s name came up in the next question with the suggestion that the Bears could draft him.
“I wouldn’t count on that one,” Emery said. “He’s a very good player. Usually teams, when the dust has settled usually teams understand who the top 10 players in the draft are.”
Seems like a good time to bring back the warning that this is an NFL general manager talking the week before the draft, but it sure sounds like Emery thinks Donald will be gone by No. 14. Maybe he wants Donald taken that early so other players fall back, but if that’s the case, he should get his wish. For what it’s worth, I also believe Donald will be taken earlier than No. 14.
Moving corners to safety?
This is a deep draft at the cornerback position, and there’s a significant drop-off at the safety position after the top two players (Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor). When that happens, teams will start to evaluate cornerbacks to see if they can be converted to safety, which Emery admitted his staff has done this year.
And he even prefaced that revelation by saying, “I’m actually gonna give you some information today that has truth to it, OK?”
“We’ve looked at every corner that has length as a possible safety,” he said. “We’ve looked at him as a scouting staff, and I reassigned them again to go look at that equation.”
Of course, there’s always risk involved with moving a player to a new position because you are projecting their abilities to do a job they haven’t done before. Emery once again referenced his own decision to draft Brandon Hardin two years ago and move him from cornerback to safety, admitting, “I put Brandin in a position he couldn’t succeed, and that’s on me.”
So what does Emery need to see to make a similar gamble again?
“You have to feel the player has the intelligence to do it,” he said. “More importantly, that he has the instincts to do it.”
One corner with length to keep an eye on — and this is just my evaluation, not Emery’s — is Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller, who might be an option at No. 14.
Extra draft prep
Most of those who I have talked to have not enjoyed the extra two weeks to prepare for the draft this year, but Emery loves it.
“I don’t know what they’re complaining about,” he said. “This is the juice in the personnel cycle. This is where the fun is.”
Emery added that because the unrestricted free agent market went long for them this year, the extra space before the draft “has been very beneficial.”
“It’s allowed us to have less rushed conversations and to look at things from all different angles and to think future and now and to have those conversations and to come back and revisit and to try to look at fitting this piece of the puzzle from all different angles,” Emery said.
So what’s there left to do with a week to go?
This is the time period when teams really work hard on the undrafted free agent market. It’s difficult because they need to project which players won’t be selected and make sure they are prepared to pounce as soon as the draft ends.
“You work very hard at identifying what that pool is,” Emery said. “You have to guess from the fifth round down which of those players are going to make it through the draft. And you’re in contact with players that may get drafted. But you want to stay in contact with them as much as you can — pre-calls, in terms of, ‘Do we have your right number? Just want you to know that you’re in our plans, and good luck in the draft.’ And making sure they’re healthy and they’ve stayed out of trouble and those type of things.”
Ideally, the rookies signed after draft are ones who were actually on your draft board and managed to slip through the cracks to go undrafted.
“We have a separate undrafted rookie free agent board,” Emery said. “It’s initially set up with just the players that you have undraftable grades on. For us, in our system, that’s a 54 grade. So only the 54 players are up there. As we get buried in the last five or six picks, we take all the players that are left on our board. We put them on top of those prior free agents, and those are the players that you want to be orientated toward and start going after as soon as you are legally able to at the end of the draft. Those are the ones that you want to attack with phone calls, especially the ones that fit for what your needs are.”
— The Bears actually do their own mock draft based on historical values, one in which they look at how many players at a certain position are usually taken in a round and then compare that to the depth in this year’s draft to make an educated guess on how this year will play out.
— Don’t forget that Bears assistant defensive line coach Clint Hurtt coached at Louisville last year. Emery acknowledged that Hurtt and defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni (who most recently coached at UConn) can provide “very valuable information” on players they coached in college.
— Emery acknowledge that there “ are a number of players that we like that are rehabbing from injuries.” However, he also said his preference would be not to draft those guys. If they did, it would be because the Bears’ team doctors have determined that that player would be ready to play this fall.
Adam Hoge covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.