By Greg Gabriel–
(CBS) Just like a football team’s coaching staff puts together a game plan for each individual game., the personnel department develops a game plan for the draft, which goes hand in hand with free agency in the acquisition of players. The strengths of free agency will differ from the strengths of the draft in most seasons. When that’s the case, a team can hopefully come away from both processes with most, if not all, of their needs filled.READ MORE: Chicago Public Library Posts Archive Of Speeches By Mayor Harold Washington, Born 99 Years Ago Thursday
Going into the spring, the Bears knew they had to acquire help at inside linebacker, on defensive line, in the secondary, at tight end, on the offensive line and perhaps running back. In this year’s draft, the inside linebacker position wasn’t loaded with players who fit what coach John Fox and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio are looking for. They want fast, athletic, instinctive downhill players who show physicality at the point of attack. They found those players in Danny Travathan and Jerrell Freeman in free agency, so that need is most likely taken care of.
Another area the Bears wanted to shore up in free agency was the offensive line. Kyle Long might well be one of the most athletic offensive linemen in football, but moving him to right tackle last year turned out to be a mistake. He didn’t play as well at tackle as he did inside at his more natural guard position. So to upgrade the line, the Bears signed former Cardinal Bobby Massie to play right tackle. Chicago also signed two versatile veterans in Manny Ramirez and Ted Larson, both of whom can play guard or center.
While the Bears were happy with the development of Charles Leno at left tackle last fall, they still may want to upgrade that position in the draft. They could do that in the opening round with the selection of Ronnie Stanley (Notre Dame) or Jack Conklin (Michigan State). They could also wait and select players such as Jason Spriggs (Indiana), Germain Ifedi (Texas A&M) or Le’Raven Clark (Texas Tech) in the second round. In later rounds, the available players will be more developmental types.
Getting back to needs, the Bears still need another defensive lineman, an edge pass rusher, a cornerback and perhaps a ball-hawking safety. The strength of this draft is interior defensive linemen, and a player from that position group could well be chosen by the Bears in the first or second round. There aren’t many quality edge pass rushers in this draft, so if a team wants one, it will have to get one early or luck out on a developmental type later in the draft.
The likes of defensive ends Noah Spence (Eastern Kentucky), Shilique Calhoun (Michigan State) or Yaniin the second round or perhaps Shilique Calhoun or Yannick Ngakoue (Maryland) could be available in the second/third rounds. Spence is a first-round talent but because of character concerns, he could drop to the second round.
While the draft doesn’t project to have been safeties of first-round quality, there are some players who fit the need that can be selected in the second or third round. Players like Darian Thompson (Boise State) or Justin Simmons (Boston College) could come in and contribute as rookies.READ MORE: Chicago Weather: Cooler Than Normal
To have a chance at selecting these players, a strategy has to be in place. With the defensive line being so deep, maybe the Bears will decide to select an edge rusher in the first round and come back with the 5-technique player in the second or third. When a position is deep in talent, a club can afford to think that way.
On the flip side, when the depth at a position is weak and you have a need at that position, you better take that player early on because you may not get a chance to select a quality player there later. Still, you never want to drop down in value to select a player of need. Talent value always comes first, and the draft board is supposed to be lined up by value. When a club is on the clock and there are two players with equal talent grades there and one fills a need, then you can easily make that selection and never look back.
With the first round obviously getting most of the attention, the club has to be lucky too. In my mock draft earlier, I had the Bears selecting Oregon defensive lineman DeForest Buckner. In order for that to happen, at least two quarterbacks and running back Ezekiel Elliott have to get selected in the top 10. If that doesn’t happen, there’s no chance Buckner is there for the Bears.
What most clubs do — especially when they are drafting in the top 15 — is have a prioritized group of about four players that they would be happy to select. If the best of the group is there, the selection is easy. That can really be said about any of the four.
Where it can get interesting is if all four are still available. In that case, a team can look to trade down a few slots and pick up an extra draft choice as well as get one of the four players they wanted. That’s called prudent drafting. If a scenario like that happens to the Bears, it would give them six selections in the first four rounds, and with that they could hopefully fill all the needs they have going into the draft.
Looking at last year’s draft, the Bears did an excellent job. Even with first-round receiver Kevin White missing the whole season with an injury, the Bears still had four drafted players who started and/or contributed. Defensive lineman Eddie Goldman, center Hroniss Grasu and safety Adrian Amos all started, and Jeremy Langford played a huge role in the running back rotation.
If the Bears can come back and do that again this year, they’re well on their way to becoming a playoff contender in the NFC North.MORE NEWS: 2 Dogs Killed, 7 People Left Homeless After Waukegan Fire
Greg Gabriel is a former NFL talent evaluator who is an on-air contributor for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @greggabe.