Da Bears 2008 Draft: A Tedious Analysis

This was an important draft for the Bears. More important than most, if only because they needed a good showing to become a contender again in only the second season since they went to the Super Bowl. As I’ve stated before, the 2007-2008 offseason has been brutal for Chicago, and I thought they needed to acquire “one running back, one offensive tackle, one offensive guard, one wide receiver, and one strong safety.” And that was at a minimum.

Well, since I wrote that the Bears did sign a couple of wide receivers; Marty Booker, who I do believe will be a valuable addition to the team, though he no longer has the skill to solve their wide receiver problems, and Brandon Lloyd, who may make a play or two but whom I do not believe will have any kind of noticeable impact.

I had my doubts about Jerry Angelo’s ability to make the Bears a contender again out of this draft. I think the Bears are pretty good at drafting players. Certainly not the best, but formidable at worst. But their forte is not drafting stars (with a few notable exceptions). What they excel at is drafting solid role players. Get enough role players and you can win a lot of games with just a few premier players. But the Bears don’t need role players. They need starters. And I was doubtful of their ability to deliver.

It’s really impossible to tell how well they did one day after the draft. In all fairness, it’s practically impossible to tell one year after the draft, regardless of how well (or bad) the draft looked through that first year. But I will say that I’m pretty excited.

I honestly think the Bears had a reasonably intelligent draft. There were a few exceptions, but in all I think they did a good job of picking players that they needed. I’m not a big fan of the philosophy that teams should always draft the best player on the board. I always thought you should draft for need first. And it seems like the Bears did pass on better players at a couple of points because there was a player who filled a more pressing need. And that made me happy.

I was a little surprised that they didn’t draft a quarterback. Not disappointed, though. I know people always want to point the finger at Grossman, but there were several more important positions than quarterback in this draft. It doesn’t matter who you draft, especially in this years weak QB crop, if you don’t have a good line and you don’t have a running game, a rookie is just not going to make a difference.

Steve Young tends to disagree. He summed up the unintelligence of the national football press succinctly with this comment on why they should’ve picked Brian Brohm instead of Matt Forté.

“So they feel better about Rex Grossman than they do about Cedric Benson? They’re already giving up on (Benson).’’

Uh, yeah! In all fairness to Young, there are 31 other teams so he probably didn’t get to watch much Chicago football. And he’s a quarterback so he has an obvious bias. But it was an incredibly stupid remark. Grossman lead them to the Super Bowl. Benson sucks and doesn’t want to work hard to fix it. This is a no-brainer, dude.

Anyway, here we go. Pick by pick:

With the first round pick, the Bears took Vanderbilt offensive tackle Chris Williams at number fourteen. I love the fact that they took a left tackle with their first pick. I was ready to give up on next year, and possibly the whole organization, if they didn’t draft an offensive lineman in the first round, and left tackle made the most sense. As I’ve heard several times already (so I can’t take credit for this idea), it allows them to move Tait to right tackle, a position where he’s much better. So it’s almost like getting two starters for the price of one. By far the smartest thing they could have done.

However, I was a little surprised that they chose Williams. Only two offensive lineman had been taken to this point (number one pick Jake Long and twelve pick Ryan Clady) so they pretty much had their choice of the litter. Williams was the probably the most logical choice just because he was the best natural left tackle, and if Clady was still on the board my guess is they would have taken him. But Williams has had some injury issues, and the Bears have been burned by critical injuries pretty much every year but 2006 lately (and they still had their share in ’06). Many people say he’s too “finesse” to get the job done in the NFL, but he seems like a very intelligent player with talent to spare, and if he can stay healthy he should make an immediate impact from week one. But that little health caveat did set the tone for the whole draft, as the Bears almost seemed intent on sabotaging their team as they picked one injury-saddled player after another. If things work out they’ll look like geniuses for drafting players higher teams took passes on. If the 2010 team consists of twenty five or so Mike Browns, it may not have one Lovie Smith or Jerry Angelo.

In between the Bears first and second round pick the Steelers drafted Rashard Mendenhall. Everybody in Illinois felt gypped. I’m glad they didn’t spend the fourteenth pick on him, but would it have killed them to trade up just once? Just this one time?

However, they did draft a running back with their second round pick, Matt Forté from Tulane. I’m not sure I ever watched a Tulane football game before, but he seems like a solid pick. Keeping with the “if he stays healthy” motive, he does have some health concerns, but is extremely versatile. Part of the Bears offensive problems last year wasn’t just that the running game couldn’t get going, it was that the running backs couldn’t do anything else right when they weren’t carrying the ball. Cedric Benson can’t catch and doesn’t seem interested in blocking at all (though in fairness he doesn’t really seem interested in doing much other than collecting money. He would have been a great first round pick . . . for the IRS). Adrian Peterson is a better blocker but certainly not an every down back and can’t catch. And Garrett Wolfe seems like a great player but is too small to block and not elusive enough to play a majority of snaps. So teams pretty much don’t have to worry about the backfield.

Forté should give them reason to worry. He is not an elusive back, but the Bears don’t require one for their offense. Their offense is based upon a tough, between the tackles, downhill running back. But Forté was an excellent blocker and receiver in college, essentially giving them another lineman and an extra option in case things go south in a hurry. And I heard he can sell the fake handoff very well. Jerry Angelo isn’t making any bold predictions about him being a “special back” (thank goodness), but does seem to think he can play three downs. I would still like to see da Bears make a real effort to sign Shaun Alexander, but if he’s right, and if both Williams and he stay healthy, the offense will improve immediately.

With the seventh pick in the third round, they chose Williams’ teammate, wide receiver Earl Bennett. Like Forté, he was projected to go much lower in the third round. His big knock against him is his lack of athleticism and speed, which would certainly seem to be crucial in the NFL. He was very successful in college, but many questioned whether he would be able to get enough separation at the pro level to be a solid wide receiver. NFL.com did project the Bears would pick a WR at this spot, but they thought it would be a speedy deep threat to take the place of Bernard Berrian.

Bernard Berrian was overpaid by Minnesota (even though I said his loss would “cripple the Bears”). But he was much better than anything the Bears are going to get in the third round, especially in the short term. But the Bears biggest problem is not the deep pass. Grossman and Orton both have strong arms, and Devin Hester and Mark Bradley can beat most corners deep. Their biggest problem in the passing game was, by far, a lack of a possession receiver who would force the cornerbacks to play inside, take the attention of a linebacker or two, and give Rashied Davis room to roam. They did a good job of buffering that problem with the addition of Marty Booker, but they still needed help. Bennett may not be a player who would be all the team needs, but when combined with Marty Booker he seems like a player who can make an immediate impact. Despite a lack of speed, he utilized excellent route-running, instincts, and catching abilities to become the SEC’s career leader in receptions . . . without playing his senior year.
Here’s what Sprint’s NFL Mobile has to say about the 70th player chosen in the draft: “Often characterized as one of the 2008 draft’s top possession receivers, Bennet shows too much wiggle and strength in breaking tackles after the catch to be lumped into this category.” Pretty hard not to be excited by that.

Suddenly I feel a lot better about the Bear’s offense.

Unfortunately, the good-fuzzy feeling came to a screeching halt. The Bears had a second third round pick twenty spots later, which they used on Arkansas defensive tackle Marcus Harrison. I understand why they felt the need to draft a defensive tackle. This position, which two years ago looked like one of the finest collections of players ever assembled for one team, has been in constant flux. Tank Johnson was in so much trouble the Bears finally released him, Dusty Dvoracek was being counted on and promptly got hurt, and Tommie Harris, one of the best tackles in the league, never really fully recovered from his season-ending injury in 2006. So it certainly makes sense to add some depth here. But it didn’t make any sense at all to do it with this guy. He seems talented enough; if ability was all he was drafted for he probably would have gone in the first half of the second round. But he started with one strike against him, as many felt he didn’t always play as hard as he should have. And then he started getting hurt (surprise, surprise). In 2006 he hurt his knee and had a concussion, and in 2007 he injured his ACL. Soon after his ACL injury he was arrested for possession of marijuana and ecstasy.

I don’t want to be judgmental. Certainly there are worse things than being caught with these two relatively minor drugs, as Pacman Jones can attest. But some would question the sanity of a person trying to add depth to a position plagued by injuries and legal problems by drafting someone who’s been hurt and in trouble with the law.

With their fourth round pick, Chicago picked up Craig Steltz with the 120th pick in the draft. I would have preferred they take a safety with their previous pick, as strong safety is a mess and Mike Brown can’t seem to get through a full season. But only two safeties were chosen between Harrison and Steltz, so I guess Angelo thought it wouldn’t matter too much to wait an extra pick. Steltz does seem like a solid player; he was a finalist for the Jim Thorpe award, and played for LSU so he went up against some pretty stout offenses. His college career showed a knack for being in the right place at the right time; he intercepted six passes last year and in 2006 became the first player in LSU’s prestigious history to intercept a pass in four straight games. He also had a sack and five tackles for losses last year, so he can be used as an extra rusher if the need arises.

I was optimistic that Adam Archuletta would play well for the Bears last year, and he didn’t. It was probably one of the biggest reasons why the defense was so bad. With the Tampa-2 defense, if you don’t have solid safeties the “bend but don’t break” defense turns into allowing one first down after another. It does bother me that someone both Lovie Smith and Jerry Angelo were so high on could be such a mistake; we’ve come to expect that somewhat on offense but defense is supposed to be the strength of the ball club. Hopefully they did a better job of analyzing Steltz or it will be a long season for the Bears defense.

With their first sixth round pick, the Bears chose corner back Zackary Bowman out of Nebraska. Another pick I don’t understand at all. First, corner back is one of the Bears’ best positions. They have two starters who have become perennial Pro-Bowl candidates in Nathan Vasher and Charles Tillman, Daniel Manning could be a starter on most teams, Trumaine McBride is a prospect any team would be proud to have, and Corey Graham is very solid on special teams and looks like he might end up being a pretty decent CB in his own right. So I’m not sure exactly what they want to do with Bowman. And he’s yet another player with injury problems (for those of you keeping track at home, this is the fourth out of six players). In the last two years he’s had a torn ACL, ruptured right patella tendon, and a hamstring injury. The Bears have been very good at using these types of picks to bolster one of the league’s best special teams units. My only thought is that was the purpose of this pick. Otherwise it seems to be more or less a wasted pick to me (of course, that’s what we thought of Trumaine McBride and Corey Graham).

Their next pick pretty much falls into the same category. With the 158th pick, and their second of the round, they chose Michigan State tight end Kellen Davis. The Bears already have one of the best tight end combinations in Desmond Clark and future star Greg Olsen. And even though Kellen Davis is a large, strong individual with a lot of natural skill, he’s not very fast and has poor work ethic. This pick just screams “return blocker” to me.

The Bears did not have a sixth round draft pick, but did take five – five – out of the seventh round. Most of these seem to be prospects for depth, which is pretty much the going assumption even if you don’t know anything about them. Ervin Baldwin is a defensive end from Michigan State who is very fast and played very well in the Big Ten. However, many feel he is too small to fight against the NFL’s O-lineman in the trenches. Look for him to be used primarily on passing downs and try to use his speed to run around the corner to get to the quarterback.

Chester Adams is a guard from Georgia who can also play tackle. Probably selected for this versatility, he’s small and doesn’t always play with passion. I’m a little disappointed that this was the only guard they drafted.

Joey LaRocque is an outside linebacker from Oregon who was an integral part of their rushing defense. He thinks of himself as a sideline-to-sideline linebacker, but lacks the top speed necessary to excel with that skill in the NFL. The Chicago Tribune thinks this was a special teams pick.

Kirk Barton is an offensive tackle from Ohio State, the fightin’ Buckeyes! He started all four years of college; pretty impressive when considering two of those four teams went to the BCS Championship Bowl. He’s more of a pass blocker than a run blocker and apparently didn’t have great combine numbers but makes up for it with heart and toughness. Another one of the Bear’s injury gambles, a surgically repaired knee probably kept him from going higher. Sprint’s NFL Mobile thinks he “will challenge for playing time early in his NFL career, if the opportunity arises.” For being taken at such a low pick, he has the potential to be a real steal for the Bears. I’m excited about this pick.

Finally, the Bears last pick was Marcus Monk from Arkansas. A large, strong wide receiver, he starred in the SEC but is relatively slow and had some knee injuries, which almost kept him from being drafted. However, he could be a valuable addition as a specialty player in the red zone. He may not make a name for himself in the NFL, but he’ll probably be on a highlight reel or two before his days are done. A very solid pickup for the fifth to last person drafted.

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