ADVANCE FOR WEEKEND EDITIONS, MAY 3-4 - FILE - In this Nov. 16, 2013, file photo, Pittsburgh defensive lineman Aaron Donald (97) in action in an NCAA football game between Pittsburgh and North Carolina in Pittsburgh. Donald is a top prospect in the upcoming NFL draft. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File) ORG XMIT: NY224
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Updated: June 10, 2014 6:36AM
Phil Emery is given to unremarkable sport coats and dress pants. Underneath is a completely different story.
Boxer shorts with red hearts? No. Well, maybe. But certainly below the surface is a guy who has felt the need to make a splash, to do something unconventional or unexpected with his first-round picks. That perception is based on a very small sample size, his two drafts as the general manager of the Bears.
The 2014 draft is the time for his inner wild child to give way to his outer church usher and do the prudent thing.
The Bears need a known-entity defensive tackle to help a defense that was awful last season.
They do not need another Shea McClellin or Kyle Long in the first round, which is to say they do not need Emery thinking so far outside the box he can’t get cellphone reception.
They need the best defensive tackle, one with whom people might have a passing acquaintance. Make it Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald, if at all possible. Try not to make it a safety, though the Bears very much need one. Safeties can be found anywhere in a draft. Picking one in the first round is often a waste, like buying household appliances with inheritance money. But why do I get the feeling that saying “Ha Ha Clinton-Dix’’ would bring a smile to Emery’s face?
Emery’s two first-round picks have been polar opposites. Long, who had four starts to his name as a college player, had an impact almost immediately at right guard last season. He ended up making several all-rookie teams. When NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced Long as the 20th pick of the first round, eyebrows were raised all over the league. That didn’t last long.
But you couldn’t blame the doubters. The year before, they had watched Emery reach in the first round with McClellin, an undersized defensive end who would do nothing in his first two seasons in Chicago. The Bears are moving him to linebacker for 2014. You might have seen the recent before-and-after photos from McClellin’s new workout regimen, the photos that show a fleshy defensive end and a skinny linebacker. Yikes on both counts.
It’s why you hope Emery gets the picture this time and realizes it’s OK to do the sensible thing. Sensible is good, Phil. Sensible is the new crazy.
Emery isn’t the first guy who has wanted to be viewed as a free thinker. The league is littered with talent evaluators who have their own way of analyzing players — nobody else uses our metrics! — and their own view of the world.
But why can’t Emery be that free thinker with, say, the Bears’ fourth-round pick? He needs to hit on this first-rounder Thursday. Whichever player he chooses with the 14th pick overall has to be a contributor right away. Not on special teams. On defense. The Bears need a defense its offense can be proud of. A stunning statement in Chicago, I know.
But they are a lopsided football team, with an offense that is “ascending’’ — one of coach Marc Trestman’s favorite words — and a defense that finished last season 32nd out of 32 teams in rushing defense, tied for 31st in points allowed and 30th in total defense. Signing free agent Jared Allen immediately gets the defensive unit out of rock bottom. But more, please.
Emery got Alshon Jeffery in the second round of the 2012 draft.
It was a great pick. Unfortunately for the Bears, he’s the only player who has made a real difference from that draft. Emery rebounded last year with Long and fifth-rounder Jordan Mills, who ended up starting at right tackle. Now he needs to do with the defense what he has done with the offense.
Not every first-round draft pick has to be an eye-opener. Sometimes the presumed best players in the draft actually are the best players in the draft. And you can still be a genius by taking one of them.
Donald, a brute in the middle for Pitt, looks like a player who can help right away. Seems like a no-brainer for the Bears, if he’s available. There wouldn’t be any drama, the way there was with the Long and McClellin picks. There wouldn’t be as many plaudits for vision, as there very well could be for the Long pick 10 years from now.
But sometimes obvious is just fine.