What did Bears know about Kyle Long that rest of NFL didn’t?
BY MARK POTASH Twitter: @MarkPotash April 26, 2013 10:35AM
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Updated: April 26, 2013 4:54PM
The problem with working so hard to prevent information from getting out is that you also keep information from getting in.
In 1983 — 30 years ago today, in fact — the Bears were so hermetically ensconced in their war room that the Bears took Notre Dame guard Tom Thayer in the fourth round — unaware that the upstart USFL and former Bears coach George Allen had announced the signing of Thayer to a three-year contract.
General manager Jim Finks, in the midst of arguably the greatest draft in Bears history (acquiring seven players who would start in Super Bowl XX two years later), acknowledged the mistake but made the most of it.
‘’It’s embarrassing but it’s not the end of the world,’’ Finks said. ‘’Looking at the bright side, he’ll get some fine coaching and maybe end up in our stable someday.’’
The great Finks had such a golden touch, even some of his more curious moves— like drafting Ron Yary No. 1 overall in 1968 — turned into gold. Thayer indeed ended up with the Bears two years later and became an eight-year starter, including the Super Bowl victory in 1986.
Current Bears general manager Phil Emery didn’t make that same mistake Thursday night. But the Bears’ selection of Oregon guard Kyle Long does make you wonder if the Bears are so adept at keeping information from leaking out that they prevent some information from getting in — like the fact that Long was universally rated a second-round pick.
Mock drafts are mocked by NFL people all the time, but they can’t all be that wrong. I surveyed more than 200 mock drafts and none of them had Long going in the first 20 picks. And while none of the experts are in draft rooms, some of them have better credentials than others. Charley Casserly, a former GM, did not have Long going in the first round. Gil Brandt, a renowned NFL personnel boss who helped build the Cowboys into a powerhouse in the 1970s and 1980s, did not have Long going in the first round. Other draft analysts with legitimate NFL connections, also had Long pegged as a second-round pick.
ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. was the only draft analyst of any repute to have Long rated so highly. A week before the draft he ‘’played GM’’ and drafted three rounds of picks for each NFL team based on need and not best-player-available. He had the Bears taking Long at No. 20, but that was based on both Manti Te’o of Notre Dame and Alec Ogletree of Georgia being off the board, which they were not.
His analysis: ‘’With both Te’o and Ogletree off the board when the Bears get to pick at No. 20, I decide they can wait on better value at linebacker. So I took Long, a top-30 player in my prospect rankings, and more importantly for the Bears, an offensive lineman who can potentially fill in at a couple of spots. I think he could help immediately at guard and he has the athleticism and potential to be a left tackle at this level. He can certainly step in earlier at right tackle if needed. Long could be more physical, but with good coaching he could be a player because what he doesn’t lack is natural talent.’’
Kiper had Long rated as a top-30 talent, but he and the Bears are the only draft-related entities to acknowledge as much. At least Shea McClellin, taken 19th overall in 2012, was pegged to be drafted by 3-4 teams later in the first round. But there was no indication anywhere that Long was coveted by any other NFL team. On paper the Bears had a lot of room to move down in the first round.
‘’We had some conversations [about trading down] prior to the start of the draft,’’ Emery said. ‘’We had some people call us, but nothing that would take us off that pick. Kyle was the player that we targeted. We’ve targeted him for the last couple of weeks. He had to be gone for us to move back. We were not going to move off that spot if Kyle Long was still available.’’
The question that went unasked Thursday night was, ‘’What intelligence did you have that other NFL teams were as interested in Long as you were?’’ Because it appears that no other teams were.
Of course, if the Bears’ interest was that well protected, it’s possible that other teams had interest we never knew about. Nobody had Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel going to the Bills at No. 16 — but at least there were whispers that Manuel was moving up the draft boards and could be a first-round pick. Other than Kiper’s three-round GM draft based on need, there was nary a whiff of Long making a similar move on NFL draft boards.
If there’s any credibility in draft analysis, Emery’s first two first-round picks with the Bears are curious to say the least. Last year he passed on Stanford’s David DeCastro — considered by many analysts the best guard prospect since seven-time Pro Bowler Steve Hutchinson — to select McClellin. This year he passed on Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert and Washington cornerback Desmond Trufant among others to take Long, who was projected as a second-round pick.
Regardless, this is a Kenny Williams-type pick — it’s all about intuition and being a little smarter than everybody else — or at least seeing value in a player that others do not. Kyle Long has started five games of major-college football in his life. That’s not enough of a sample to base your decision on the tape — as all NFL teams insist they do. The Bears drafted Long because they sensed a great player as much as they saw one on tape.
‘’Jim Arthur, one of our assistant strength coaches, does a tremendous job of correlating information and pulling all the history of that position together,’’ Emery said. ‘’It’s called our athletic index score, or A-Score. [Long] is ... the number one offensive guard in the last 12 draft classes and that’s as far back as we go. He rates as rare. In our scale, 9 is rare. He rates as rare.’’
For now we’ll have to put our trust in Phil Emery — and the Bears’ new coaching staff. As Kiper said, ‘’with good coaching [Long] could be a player because what he doesn’t lack is natural talent.’’ That’s an important distinction. With head coach Marc Trestman and offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Aaron Kromer, the Bears appear to be better equipped to develop offensive players in an NFL-quality offense than they have recently. Sometimes it’s not the player that makes the draft, but the team.