One of my favorite episodes of Sports Night was the Draft Day two-parter. A more relevant pop culture reference would be Draft Day the movie, which I didn’t see. In any case, the NFL Draft holds a pretty solid place in our sports culture; it dwarfs the NBA (which is held back a bit by the lottery system; there’s only a month between when teams know where they’re picking and the draft itself, which inherently limits the amount of mock draft speculation) and MLB (held back by the fact that the drafted players are fairly anonymous, especially relative to NCAA football and basketball players) versions, and with this year’s draft taking place in May, there’s been an overload on rumors, speculation, and analysis.
Today is the day we’ve been waiting for. (Well, today is one day out of three we’ve been waiting for.)
Here are a few key questions facing the Bears:
1. Should positional needs be the deciding factor for the selection?
It’s tempting to think that when a team is seemingly so unbalanced in favor of its offense that rules out any chance of taking an offensive player with their top pick. In a perfect world, the best player available when the Bears are on the clock will be a defender at a position of need (relevant posts debating just which positions those are for Chicago can be found here and here), and in fact the Bears could use a defender at just about any position save defensive end.
But what if there’s an early run on defenders? (Plausible, especially if the quarterbacks slide.) What if when it’s time for the Bears to select, the clear best option available is an offensive player? I think, in that case, you have to take them, unless it’s a quarterback. A quarterback hopefully wouldn’t see the field in 2014, while just about every other offensive position could, in theory, be displaced. A tight end like Eric Ebron could see time along with Martellus Bennett. A wide receiver like Mike Evans could play in three WR sets. A lineman could find a home somehow. Even a running back, although I highly doubt any team drafts one in the first round, could serve as Matt Forte’s backup and get the touches Michael Bush received last year.
If Phil Emery and his staff believe that the best player available when they select is an offensive player, I think they will take him. I don’t think that’s a likely scenario, though; I think it’s likely that there will be players with similar grades from both sides of the ball available to the Bears at 14. Which leads me to the next question:
2. Should the Bears consider moving up or down from 14?
I think a team should always consider such a move. If you think the value you’re receiving is greater than the value you’re giving away, then that’s a transaction you should make. I think the Bears are much more likely to trade down than up, and in a vacuum, I think that’s smart; they have so many needs defensively, it makes sense to accumulate as many picks as possible. If there’s a group of players left that the scouts like equally, and a team wants to jump up to grab a quarterback, the Bears should absolutely listen. Building depth through the draft is hugely important, especially for a team like the Bears that has already committed to some fairly large free agent deals. (With Brandon Marshall set to receive an extension as well.)
Trading up is another matter altogether. You’d lose your ability to build depth, but at the same time, getting an elite talent is also a very good thing; it’s also a lot harder to find and acquire. If there’s a player (I’d assume a defender) the Bears absolutely love, and that player slides into a range where it wouldn’t be too incredibly expensive to move for him, I think that’s something the Bears will consider as well. (Again, the same value out vs. value in equation applies.) While I think this scenario is much less likely than trading down, and it’s probably a lot riskier, it’s still really exciting when your team does it. The Bears could give away a dozen draft picks to move up two spots for a player who would have been available anyway, and I’d still get a bit of a thrill out of it. (For about five seconds. Then I’d jump on Twitter along with everyone else to question the wisdom of the trade.)
The third, and perhaps most likely option, is to stand pat. If I were a betting man, I’d put money on the Bears making a selection at 14. There should be a quality player available at a position of need. Let’s hope it works out that way.
3. Who should the Bears target?
This is such a crapshoot. I’d probably take one of the safeties (Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Louisville’s Calvin Pryor), or Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald, if he’s available. But all of those players might be gone by 14. (That’s pretty unlikely, especially the idea of both safeties being chosen. But anything’s possible.) In that case, who should they target? I won’t pretend to be a scouting savant, but I think names like Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley, Virginia Tech corner (and possible safety conversion prospect) Kyle Fuller, and Oklahoma State corner Justin Gilbert all make sense.
But really, I could toss out 20 names. Drafting from such a large pool of prospects, with such a wide variety of needs on the roster, makes projecting what the Bears will do very difficult. (It doesn’t help that Emery’s last two first round picks were very under the radar selections. One (Kyle Long) has obviously worked out better than the other (Shea McClellin.))
Once the Bears make their selection, we can go about more proper analysis of how the player fits, whether they maximized the value relative to who else was on the board, and what the addition means for the team’s chances this season. And then, of course, we can jump right in to previewing rounds two and three.
This is an exciting day to be a football fan.